The Truth as Reality, as God
A sermon based on John 18:33-37
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on November 22, 2015
by Rev. Scott Elliott
I noticed that I have not started a sermon with a bit of humor for a few weeks, so here’s a joke on this the last day of the church calendar year:
Once upon a time Pontius Pilate was looking for a new advisor to help him administer Palestine. Pilate had narrowed the candidates down to an accountant, a philosopher and a politician. Pilate interviewed each candidate separately and asked each: “How much is two plus two?” The accountant immediately answered “Four.” The philosopher thought for several minutes and equivocated “I’d say four plus or minus one.” But when Pilate asked the politician “How much is two plus two?” the politician stood up, peered around and motioned silently for Pilate to come in close and then whispered “How much do you want it to be?” Pilate hired him on the spot.
I stole that joke to joke to make the point that Pilate and earthly power often have no interest in the truth. That’s a point in the lesson today. Earthly power has long tended to eschew truth. We are told in the Gospel of John that Jesus IS the Truth. In chapter 14(6) Jesus declares “I am the way the truth and the light.”
Our reading today from John Chapter 18 is about Jesus’ trial. Trials are a cultural process purportedly set up in order for a fact-finder to find facts to judge and determine truth. Pilate who is judging Jesus in a capital case has no interest whatsoever in finding or upholding the truth. Jesus– the Truth– is literally right before Pilate’s very eyes but he refuses to see or accept it.
We all know that two-plus-two in reality equals four, but the Pilates of world and many who hold and seek earthly power don’t want to face reality, truth. Jesus in our reading tells Pilate that he came “to testify to the truth and whomever accepts the truth listens to my voice.” In the next verse beyond our reading Pilate’s response to Jesus is “What is truth?” That response can be heard to summarize Pilate’s blindness and caviler approach to truth in the face of Christ, who is THE TRUTH. Pilate did not listen because earthly power tends to do not deal in reality, but rather in what best maintains their power.
In John chapter 8 Jesus tells his followers “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” As Christians we understand that to mean when we know Jesus it will make us free. And not free to do what we want like Pilate and ignore the truth and reality, but free from the chains that bind us. We are liberated through truth, reality, Christ. It’s the difference between earthly power and heavenly power. And that’s really the struggle throughout the Bible. Who are we going to side with? Earthly power? Or heavenly power?
Today is Reign of Christ Sunday, which is also called Christ the King Sunday. It’s the end of the church year and it’s a day where we particularly remember that Christ, heavenly power, is our sovereign not the Pilates and Caesars and the like’s earthly powers. It’s a day where we celebrate the promise of Christ’s reign. A reign where we live for love knowing that it– love– serves to bring heavenly power closer and closer to breaking in all over existence.
Making God, not just as Paul claimed what we live and move and have our being in, but making it so we become aware of that reality and seek it as our truth; believe in it as our truth; and live it as our truth. The result is that we no longer just live in the Sacred ocean of God but are transformed in such a way as to be aware of the Sacred and feel and act like we are soaked by the Sacred, by God. Our reality becomes God and not as an “it” sort of God, but a very personal is-ness within and all around our beingness.
I like how Marcus Borg puts it. He writes that we can understand God as
referring to a reality that is more than personal, not less than personal. This reality is sometimes known, experienced, as a presence– as having more the quality of a “you” than an “it,” Thus the personal language for God is appropriate, so long as “the one in whom we live and move and have our being” is not reduced to “a person,” a supernatural person about whose existence one can argue. Reality, “is-ness,” “what is” is. The question is not whether “is-ness” exists, but what it is like.
God is our reality; our “what is;” our “is-ness” . . . out Truth.
On this day the tradition of the church is to take time to remember all of the saints in our lives who have left the earthly plane by death this year, as well as other saints who have impacted us personally in the span of our lives. We do this because those saints represent to us love soaked lives that are complete in one respect but in truth continue to influence us, and in reality continue on in our lives from this year and into the next. God, reality, “is-ness” “what is” includes those saints now and we remember and honor that–and them.
Like my past few sermons I’m going to turn to a definition, it’s important we know meanings in discussions. The Greek word in John that is translated into English as “truth” is “aletheia” a word often used by Greek philosophers when discussing reality. It should come as no real surprise, then, that the Westminister Dictionary of Theological Terms defines truth as (quote)
That which accords with reality or is genuine. . . In the New Testament Jesus is truth (citing the Gospel of John)
My Harper Collins Bible Dictionary notes that “The Greek word for truth is primarily intellectual: truth is known, not trusted or relied upon” and then that dictionary adds
The Gospel of John builds on the [Old Testament] understanding that God is true or real. Christ reveals God and thus reveals truth . . . Doing Christ’s word enables one to know the truth and so be free. This Christian freedom is not due to possession of correct knowledge but rather comes from relationship with that which is real, namely, God.
In our lesson Christ stands before earthly power fully exposing God. Reality as it should be, as it was created by the Word of God, is in Pilate’s plain view. THE Truth is before earthly power’s very eyes and Christ even tells Pilate that he came “to testify to the truth and whomever accepts the truth listens to my voice.” But as if Christ was on another plane, or another world Pilate disregardingly asks “What is truth?”
The answer is Truth is reality and reality is God. And if that is true, then any and all discussions, debates or quibbles about God cannot to be about God’s existence unless they are about reality’s existence – which is hard to argue plausibly since we exist in reality. It is ipso facto here. Reality is what we live and move and have our being in. Reality is God.
I was recently honored with a request to provide the invocation for a local gathering of a political party. Theologically, pastorally I’d name what I did was to ask those good folks to take some time to open up to the reality, the truth, the God that we are discussing, I asked them to do so by whatever name they might know that reality. I spoke to those earnestly involved in trying to do good through earthly power words meant to evoke heavenly power– the two can meet.
I am going to read that invocation taking out only a few words referring to political positions and I also changed the political party name to “our faith” for us today I believe that this invocation will work for those of us here today and actually for most people who line up with either political party (there is hope in that – most people are very interested in Truth).
The invocation is intended to help us make connection to what we’ve been talking about this morning: reality, God, Truth. Here’s that invocation . . .
If you would please close your eyes for just a short meditation (or if you it makes you more comfortable stare at the floor in front of you) . Take a moment to breathe deep . . . in and out and listen . . . listen and feel that pull, that draw, we feel in ourselves and in this room toward well being . . . well being not just for our self and [our faith], but for others, for the greater community . . . the country . . . and the world, for creation.
That call to well being for others and creation is a constant beckoning and beacon within our still and thoughtful selves.
It doesn’t matter if we name the source of that call nature, intellect, compassion or God. What matters is our response to it.
It’s there, it’s here . . . and the wonder of it is that each person present in this room not only feels and hears it, but is here [today] as a response to it.
We are here to be a part of doing something about the well being of others and creation. ///
We are here because Black Lives Matter.
We are here because Women ARE entitled to equal pay and equal status and control of their bodies.
We are here because immigrants, people of color, and different faiths deserve honor and respect.
We are here because every child is not just valuable when they grow up and join the labor force, but in every moment of their life from birth to death.
We are here because the lives of citizens in uniform – and their families– matter to us before, during and after they serve this nation.
We are here because it’s long past time to end the terror of mass murders that haunts our nation.
We are here because no one should be denied legal rights based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.
We are here because the less fortunate among us have a right to ENOUGH– enough health care, food, shelter and respect.
We are here because this beautiful place in Ohio, and rest of this magnificent earth we inhabit need protection and care.
WE ARE HERE TO ANSWER THE CALL FOR THE WELL BEING OF OTHERS AND EARTH.
Bless each and everyone of you . . . for being here and for the work you do in response to that call.
Let us be forever mindful and grateful to the source of the call– by whatever name we might give it.
And may we be so successful in our efforts for the well being of others and earth, that the day will finally arrive when we fulfill our repeated pledge to be . . . one nation . . . indivisible . . .with liberty . . . and justice . . . for all.
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