And These Three Agree – Br. Keith Nelson
Note: This is the third and final part of a sermon preached by three Brothers: Jack Crowley, n/SSJE; Sean Glenn, SSJE; and Keith Nelson, SSJE.
I want to circle back to that obscure but evocative passage in John’s first Epistle:
The Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth. There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree.
The testimony is one, as the Spirit is one, but it seems the encountering of it is (at least) three-fold: in the baptism we share; in the costly self-offering we must each make; and in the speaking of the Spirit of Truth on the tongue of each believer in living witness.
Three preachers do not regularly step up to this ambo on a single occasion, but the fact that today we are three merely underscores something essential about this life: the mutuality of our common witness and the complementarity of our testimony to the Truth. We are a community of preachers because we need each other’s help to lay hold of and live in the Truth. As the nucleus of a wider fellowship we are “sustained by many energies of mutual service”: the Truth proclaimed from many mouths, moving in many hearts, and lived in many lives.
Proclaiming and receiving the one who is Truth is always interactive, reciprocal, and dynamic. It is a response to as much of Truth as we have managed to let into our small, individual lives. It calls forth a response in others: Others whom Truth – that is God – has equally called by name, long before we entered the picture. The ring of Truth – when we hear it, from whomever we hear it – helps us fine-tune our capacity for more of it. Along the way, we are enlarged, made more spacious and more free by the Truth released in this call-and-response process: the risen Christ in you rolling away the stone for the risen Christ in me to step out into a larger world.
There are three that testify. Empowered by water, blood, and Spirit, we encounter in John’s gospel witness another trio: those disciples present at the tomb on the first day of the week. We learn that the ways they arrive at belief are different; and yet interactive, reciprocal, and dynamic. John consistently paints a portrait of the beloved disciple as a model of the way we are meant to believe: readily, deeply, personally, and from the depths of our hearts. But when the Truth is too large or too close, too blurred by tears or too raw for the reckoning, another response must coax us to believe: so Mary’s mourning makes her first to the tomb; and Peter’s boldness makes him first to step inside; as the beloved is the first, not to understand, but to believe. And in the Spirit these three agree.
Many responses to the empty tomb jostle side by side, even in the same person. It is the Spirit of Truth in our mutual witness who will sustain us on the road we share to that broad, open place in the heart of God.
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The brothers of SSJE rely on the inspired kindness of friends to sustain our life and our work. We are grateful for the prayers and support provided to us.
Br Keith: Thank you for this brilliant clarity. I was pondering the other day on how believers can believe so differently yet still worship the same Risen Lord. This has helped me organize my thinking. Wonderful. Elizabeth Hardy+