There’s a song we used to sing in church all the time when I was growing up. Most of the time it was the “invitation song,” one we would sing right after the sermon as a way of welcoming anyone who needed prayer or wanted to respond. Here are the words that are burned into my brain:
There’s a fountain free
‘Tis for you and me
Let us haste, o haste to its brink
‘Tis the fount of love from the source above
And He bids us all freely drink
First of all, you’ve got to love a song with the word “’tis” and “haste” in it, right? It’s like reading from the King James with its “thees” and “thous”. But more important is its message: There is a fountain of love that is welcome for anyone who wants to drink. It is for everyone.
As I read Sarah’s chapter on the Spirit and have thought through Trevor’s excellent post from earlier in the week, the childhood memory of that song kept popping up. And it’s got me thinking a lot this week about truth and fear and inclusion — thoughts that I need to get out.
So, let me first tell you a couple of things that I wholeheartedly believe.
1. Truth is universal
Just this past Sunday I used 1 John 5:20 in my sermon. Right at the end of his letter John writes, “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true.” The word true here is so interesting. It’s essentially a synonym for real. Jesus makes things clear so that we can see reality.
I believe that there are things in the world that are true and right and good. And these things are universal. One of the things scripture does is point these things out to us. It encourages us to see what is right and pursue it.
But let’s be honest — humanity has discovered many of these things on their own. Cultures from around the globe and throughout history have known it is wrong to murder or steal. They didn’t need a stone tablet to point it out to them. Why? Because it’s not just true in the sense that it’s an idealogical concept to be assented to. It’s the reality of our existence. These things exist everywhere among everyone. They reveal themselves in our lives.
2. God moves in the world (and often in ways we don’t expect)
One of my favorite themes of Scripture is how God’s story is advanced by “outsiders” — non-Jews that show tremendous faith. People like Ruth, Rahab, Naaman and Cornelius. While the Jews talked about themselves as God’s People, and they were certainly the main focus of the story, the Spirit has never been confined to one group.
Paul makes this point several times in Romans (especially ch.3 & ch.9) as he talks about inclusion of the Gentiles. But it’s also all the way back in the Hebrew scriptures. The prophet Hosea spoke for God when he said, “I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’“
God often shows up in places we don’t expect. He always has.
Now if both of the above are true, then there are a couple of implications for us:
1. No one has an exclusivity on the truth
This is a common human problem, but one we see too often in religion. And my faith tradition is no different. I love my heritage, but as I mentioned last week, we have sometimes fallen into thinking that we resurrected true Christianity in the 19th Century. There are still portions of our movement that believe they are the only ones who believe correctly, that they are the only ones going to heaven.
And we get into a lot of trouble when we think that truth is something that we own all by ourselves. Religious groups throughout history believed they had found the “true way” and became suspicious of anyone outside of their own borders.
But truth doesn’t work that way. Truth is founded in a person, but evident all around us. Truth is about reality. You can’t own it, you can only participate in it. And God has never respected the walls and borders we build between ourselves anyway.
2. We don’t have to fear one another
This is where the beauty really comes to life for me. If truth is universal, if God doesn’t recognize the lines we draw between us, if truth isn’t something that we can own but can only participate in, then we don’t have to be afraid to celebrate truth wherever it is found.
When we see someone advocating for peace and understanding,
when we see someone caring for their fellow human,
when we see someone sharing what they have with someone in need,
when we see someone working for justice and mercy,
when we see someone standing up for the oppressed,
when we see vibrant examples of love and grace,
then we can celebrate the truth that is being exposed in the world.
And it doesn’t matter the source.
No matter if it is a Christian
or a Muslim
or a Buddhist
or a Hindu
or a Sihk
or an agnostic or atheist.
We don’t have to be afraid.
We can celebrate truth wherever it is found.
And then we can talk about where this beautiful truth comes from.
We can have conversation instead of arguments.
We can have dialogue instead of building walls.
Because the truth is not exclusionary. It doesn’t cut people out. It is a fountain of love that bids everyone — everyone — to come and drink.