Sermon Manuscript November 25, 2018
Rev. Nicholas J. Dorland
Scripture: John 18:28-38
“What is Truth?”
On this transition day I want to look a bit in depth at Pilate’s question to Jesus, ‘what is truth?’ I believe this question will transition us well from our sermon series to Advent, and will also highlight Jesus as the one who reigns over all creation. This Sunday is typically a transition day between the end of one church calendar and the start of a new one. This Sunday is known as either the Reign of Christ, or as Christ the King Sunday. Jesus is talking to Pilate in this conversation in John’s gospel account about whether he is a king and if he is the king of the Jews? Pilate is trying to concede to the officials and people who have brought Jesus to be tried for religious crimes. Re-read vv. 37-38.
This question could be interpreted in many ways, and alone by itself it means one thing, but within the context of this conversation it is a very distinct question. I want to look at the question of truth in both ways. Out of its biblical context the question ‘what is truth,’ is a rather large question to answer. This is especially true in a world and society that has relativized truth to such a degree that ‘facts’ and checking our facts becomes the way we judge truth. Relative truth means that we all have our own way of defining or describing truth and it is subjective to all of us. My truth is mine, and your truth is yours, and my view cannot dictate or critique you and your view on truth. To answer the question is to say, ‘well that depends on what you define as your truth,’ and then go from there. At times we might bring in the facts and use that as our measuring rod for truth, but just because there are facts doesn’t mean those facts are constructed into truth. For example the facts show that there is a greater number of ice cream sales in the summer, and the facts also say there are more gun deaths in the summer as well. Given those facts alone we could make a statement like, “because there are more ice cream sales in the summer there are more gun deaths in the summer as well.” This isn’t true; correlation does not mean causation. Just because the facts show a correlation doesn’t mean that one causes the other. So the facts don’t always point to truth, and likewise truth can occur apart from facts.
Creation, the flood of the whole world, Jonah and the whale are all disputed stories because of the lack or unbelievable facts they present. I say that and for some of you that might be a relief and for others it might be a new way of thinking. There is still truth in these stories even if the things we consider to be facts do not hold. Was Jonah really swallowed by a large fish; no, probably not. The truth of the reluctant prophet that God redirects to speak of God’s mercy to those in Nineveh holds even if Jonah isn’t literally swallowed by a whale.
So the question we are looking at what is truth could be subjective, it could be based in fact or not, and it could be part of a larger story that is true. Another way to answer this question would be a wondering question if there is any truth, any overarching or ultimate truth that is like the large umbrella under which every other truth must fall. Sometimes we call this an absolute truth, or we look at moral truths. I believe that God and the story of salvation told about in scripture is truth, the culmination of which is Jesus the Christ who lived and died and rose again to bring us back into right relationship with God. I can say that on this side of the biblical story and it makes sense to us all, especially being that we are Christians. I wonder what Pilate is curious about as he asks Jesus this question?
Is Pilate searching for an absolute truth, is he searching for a moral truth, is he wondering if Jesus has some new truth that will reconstitute his own life? We don’t fully know without reading what comes before and after the question in our story. I believe we could entertain an idea that says that Pilate’s question is everyone’s question. We are all wondering what is true, what is more and less true, what is true for us individually and what is true for us corporately. We are wondering if there is an absolute truth or if all truth is subjective and relative. We wonder if we have the truth, or we wonder how our viewpoint differs from others. In our most recent sermon series I started talking about what was most true about us as opposed to the narrative of shame that we hold inside or project onto other people. So what does Pilate mean, and what more particularly does Jesus mean?
Re-read vv.33-38. Jesus is talking about testifying to the truth of God’s love for all of the world. Jesus is talking about the heavenly kingdom where God is all in all and where peace reigns. It is a kingdom that has come because Jesus has come to earth, but it is also a kingdom that we cannot fully see yet. The truth Jesus is speaking about is that God has not left us alone or abandoned, but has come to us and healed us, and forgiven us, and made us whole again. Pilate’s question is not answered by Jesus immediately, but given the rest of John’s gospel we come to know the answer. We come to hear that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and that we all come to know God and believe God’s love through him.
So on this transition day as we ask ourselves what is truth, rather than think that is all relative, and rather than think it is an unanswerable question I hope we point to Jesus Christ. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and he is already reigning in the heavenly places. We know that he has come and brought us our peace and our salvation, but we also know that he will come again. We know that he will continue to reign in this kingdom that has no end, and we know and believe that we will be part of it as well. I believe that this is the most true story we can know and live into: that Jesus died and rose again and is Lord of all, and one day even though we will die, we will rise again and be with God as well. May this be true for all of us, and may we share this truth with all. When the facts come into question may we remind others that truth is not always dictated by facts. To end I want to say that truth is something we choose to believe in, and others may not choose to accept this as the one truth. Be kind, be courteous, and be sure of the truth that has claimed you in the gospel story. Amen!
Sermon Manuscript November 4, 2018
Rev. Nicholas J. Dorland
Mornings like today I wake up and look around at the beauty of the Fall. I don’t know if you know this, but fall is my favorite time of year. It has all the things I love about life: color, beauty, humility, change, comfy clothes, warm beverages, and warmth from fires, and a season of thankfulness followed by one of giving to others.
I look around on mornings like today and after looking at all the beauty, and reflecting on all these things I open my mouth and speak, “this is all good.” And with those words I voice the truest words ever penned or spoken of all the created world. They are God’s words, and they remind me of my place, my worth, and my responsibility. It is truly humbling to meditate on the world around us and think of our place in it all. I wonder, are any of you moved to that point in reflection where you look around and say, “this is good!?” I wonder do you ask, “how am I worthy of all this, why do I matter to God, or maybe it’s the thought of, “God wants me to care for all of this!? That is a large task, I don’t know if I can!”
The last few weeks of this series I have mentioned our humble acceptance of our limitations. “We are only human after all, what more is expected of us?” Today I am not going to deny the importance of this humility. It is extremely important that we remember we are not perfect, we are not in control of everything, and that we are creatures living among the creation with other creatures. This past Sunday we talked about our imperfections, grace, and the things we desire in relationships like courage, compassion, and connection and how these attributes and desires are gifts. We dwelled particularly on the fact that grace is a gift, and that God bestows grace upon us as a way to welcome us into relationship and growth.
It is humbling to know that God would bestow such honor on us to call us into this kind of relationship, but then again we recall God walking around in the garden with the first humans.
The psalmist declares humility as they survey the night sky and the heavens above, “who am I, and what are humans that you are mindful of us?” Given the vastness, the beauty, and the intricacies of the universe that we now know through modern scientific discovery I think the gravity of this statement is amplified. We are so small, so seemingly insignificant, we are a speck among specks in an infinitely vast universe that is ever expanding! Truly who are we to God that God would take notice of us? Here is where the clincher comes: God has created us and made us to be caretakers with God. The psalmist says, ‘you have made us a little lower than God, or than the heavenly beings,’ and we have been crowned with some of the same majestic traits God has of honor and glory but to lesser degrees. This points back to Genesis 1 with the image of God language.
Those true words I spoke of in the beginning today, are those true words that are spoken in the beginning of God’s story with humanity. The myth of creation is something that continues to ground us, as theologians of old recall for us in their own context who God is, who we are, and what God thinks of all the creation. Here is the glaring truth that we all too often forget. We are called good, and we along with all of creation are called very good. Originally, purposefully, and deliberately God is saying that all that was created was made to be good. When we question our worth, our place, or if we make a difference we can recall the myth of creation and the words of Psalm 8. We are made good, and we were given power by God to exercise care and stewardship over all of creation as partners with God!
If I wake up every morning like today and can recall these truths I will be moved to praise God every morning. What is awakened in you when you hear that you are good, and you are made with a purpose? When you consider all of life’s joy and beauty and when you consider how insignificant we seem, and yet God has bestowed power and responsibility on you, what does that say to you?
I hope we know that the most true thing about us is not sin, is not the fall, is not brokenness and mistrust and failing to be good stewards of all around us. No, the most true thing about us is that we were and continue to have goodness in us, we were and continue to have a role to play, we were and are worthy in God’s viewpoint to be partners in sharing in caring for all of creation. We have been made just a little lower than heavenly beings, but God thinks that this partnership is so important that God is willing to fight for us. I hope we are moved to praise when we consider our original goodness, and that God has fought to make sure we know that, and can actually live into that.
While it isn’t the truest thing about us it is still true that we have failed. We are imperfect, and we are only human, and we have not been able to fulfill that role as partner in care. We have laid waste to our earth, and we misuse our relationships with all of creation. We take dominion and twist it into domination. One commentator (New Interpreters Bible Commentary) said it this way, “Dominion without the recognition of God’s claim on us and on the earth becomes domination.” I think we tend towards those destructive tendencies. What keeps us in check, who keeps us in check, and how do we reclaim our original goodness, our original purpose and move towards more grace filled living?
It is for us to know both a right sense of humility, and also the right level of responsibility we have to live into the goodness we were created with. When we are not dwelling in shame any longer, and grace has come in, and we begin asking how should I live now,? this is where we go. We humbly confess our limitations and imperfections, we embrace the truest things about us, and we take responsibility for making sure shame, brokenness, and sinful living are not the dominating forces we have known them to be.