January 20, 2019
Scripture: John 14:5-7, Matthew 25:37-40, John 18:36-38
Truth…what is it actually, where is it to be found, where might it be, where did it go…?
We are now, and have been for well over a year now, in a time of unprecedented attacks on ‘Truth’…both as a concept in general, as well as in terms of what can be trusted in. And in particular, we are experiencing a deep distrust of the truthfulness of the stream of information coming from all sources which we previously trusted to provide accurate accounts. Accounts, which by and large had been in agreement with each other, but were now coming to the population from polar opposite viewpoints and with deeply contradictory conclusions or perspectives.
It is a time that is deeply distressful and which causes a high degree of anxiety not just for those who may be members of a targeted group, but for everyone who probably never thought they would have to worry about what was or what was not the truth, at least as far as what we all were being told. And yet, that is indeed the case as our nation has become so deeply polarized and divided.
And a part of the problem is that there are kernels of truth to be found in all points of view, just a lack of agreement on what is most pressing or what is the best path forward. Consider the debate on Climate Change, a critical issue that gets hung up on how much of it may or may not be due to human causes, all while the ice caps continue to melt faster and faster and weather patterns become more and more dangerous and life-threatening if not deadly. No one can refute that the earth continues to visibly suffer and decline in the eyes of everyone. Lately I have even heard reported that there are efforts to come against this lack of assurance as to what is ‘truth’ by news programs that purport to sift through all accounts and all sides of arguments in order to allow you to make up your own mind, or mobile phone streaming services that claim to be the most truly impartial source of information…but who knows whom to trust when it comes to claims such as these?
In the end, we are increasingly left to wonder, ‘What actually is the truth? How are we to know and how are we to make decisions when we are unsure who or what to trust in? Is there somewhere, someone, something, or anything we can look to in order to help us ascertain what is true and accurate information?
This is a strange question to ask in a time when religion and faith in general have been on the decline across our nation, and indeed across the world. For in previous times, even as little as 50 or 60 years ago faith or religious beliefs were the first and primary source of truth for large portions of the population. The teachings of the faith, or scriptures, or other holy documents were seen as containing the real truth, truth that went beyond the wisdom or ways of the world in terms of its accuracy and its capacity to be trusted in. And I say it is strange because that is just no longer the case, religion or faith is no longer the ‘go-to’ it once was, leaving a sort of vacuum in terms of reliable sources of truth that can be widely believed and accepted.
And yet in some way, our faith may still be the best or most reliable source of truth that we have as believers. But even here within our faith we have a wide array of differing viewpoints in terms of what is the truth with a capital ‘T’, versus what is opinion, or worse, not to be trusted at all. In fact, at least from my vantage point it seems as if the gospel story of our Lord, the record of the accounts of the life of Jesus and their meaning as reported in the four gospel accounts is being wildly and differently interpreted these days. In fact, there are times when I find myself asking if certain views or practices held by many are truly Christian at all. Now I know that there is no way that I can or should claim to be the one source of ‘Truth’, but I also know that many of these faith understandings or the actions that flow from them and that seem to vary widely from the gospel message simply cannot be true.
In fact, as I look out across the landscape of our shared faith and belief, it appears that the gospel message has been stretched almost to a breaking point between these virtually opposite poles of understanding and conviction. One ‘side’ of the ‘understanding or belief’ publicly claims that it is in fact the one ‘true’ Christian faith. However, upon closer inspection it is apparent that much of the underlying commitment comes not from a close reading of, or adherence to the gospel account, but rather in fact stems from an understanding of the nature of God that is not at all consonant with the gospel account lived out and attested to by Jesus. This side of the faith argument views God as a vengeful and wrathful warrior, and rather than focusing on the new commandment instead seems to make their primary aim an effort to hold tightly onto a couple of social issues as their means of motivation and retention of church membership. These hot button social issues, which we are all familiar with, too often cause these of the faith to spend far more time condemning and far too little time seeking community or reconciliation…far more time judging and far less time loving as Jesus did.
The ‘other side’, those individuals who do not hold on so tightly to these divisive social issues, and which in many cases do not even claim to be Christian, seems to be much more closely aligned with the words of Jesus that call for us to welcome the stranger and refugee, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and to shelter the homeless…
It is no wonder that there is such confusion running rampant throughout our society when even the basic tenets of our faith are so scattered in disagreement and frequent misinterpretation. How do you know what to believe? Whom should you trust, how should you live into the gospel call fully? What truly is ‘fake’ and what can be trusted as real and true? What do the gospels and the words and teachings of Jesus tell us as to the nature of ‘truth’?
To start with, the nature of our God and indeed that which we and all Creation were patterned after, is ‘relationship’. We worship a trinitarian God, a God always and forever in relationship, and a God who throughout the whole of the scriptures calls us to that same mutually affirming and loving relationship. In all our dealings we are told to love first and foremost…to love God, to love one another, and to love ourselves. Jesus fought hard against rigid and divisive legalism of the Hebrew faith of his day and dismissed age-old understandings out of hand if they did not uphold the commandment to love one another and seek first the kingdom, the righteousness, and the justice of God (diakosune). Perhaps we too may want to consider how much of what passes for Christianity today is of the same cloth as that legalism Jesus so despised.
So, in line with this underlying call and command, something is ‘True’ if it speaks in and of love, if it fosters and supports caring and compassionate community, if at its heart, it is bent towards justice for all people…including all races, all nations, all women, men, and children, all faith expressions, all sexual and gender orientations, all ages, and individuals of all economic strata. If a claim or policy reflects these holy concerns it springs from the well of God’s truth.
Secondly, something is true if it upholds a passionate concern for the ethical and responsible stewardship of Creation, such that generations to come will be able to enjoy the blessings of a healthy and abundantly productive earth.
And thirdly, something is true if it not only sees all individuals as children of one God and as equally deserving of care, justice, and compassion, but accepts as well that this is not currently the case and is therefore committed to working actively to bring about the Day of the Lord when these conditions and this community shall belong to us all.
I once was asked, or in fact challenged to say what it was that I considered as my own ‘personal authority’. What it was I held on to as the source of ‘truth’ for me, what I considered as sacred in drawing guidance and inspiration from. And after considering for a moment I replied that I trusted in the voice of the Spirit of God within, as it led me into understanding of God’s call on my heart and what that meant in terms of how I was to act. The one who had asked me, a fellow minister just shook his head in disappointment as he disagreed strongly saying that the scriptures and only the scriptures were or could ever be trusted as the authoritative word and source of truth.
And now, over thirty years later, and when looking the confusion and mistrust that varying and wildly different interpretations of those same scriptures have caused in our society, I must say that I still trust in the inner voice of the Holy Spirit far more than in the scriptures alone. For someone, somewhere always has to interpret, has to attempt to shed light and meaning onto those words. And I choose to listen to and to follow the instruction given by Jesus in the gospels; to love, to seek justice and reconciliation, and to hold fast to true community wherever it may be found. For if truth is ever again to be a shared belief and working principal or principals, then it must be grounded in love and justice…all else that would seek to conceal or divide, to injure or exclude, to diminish or destroy, is just noise and babble, not at all worthy of a moment of our time or our trust.
…let us seek first the kindom of God and his justice…for faith hope and love still do remain…and the greatest of these still is…love…
An Order for the Lord’s Supper
(Note: ‘Leader’ in regular print, ‘All’ please respond with print that is in bold)
Friends: This is the joyful feast that is offered to all the children of our God! And though our table today is different and not what we might expect as a table of our Lord’s blessing, nonetheless we approach it in order to celebrate the goodness and grace with which our Lord has so richly blessed us, as well as to be reminded of the deep call upon our hearts to serve one another in love. And as we do, we affirm that we will seek to accept the call to truly engage as a people who find it in their hearts to turn to the Lord in order to hear ‘holy truth’, and to commit to follow after that truth in all our ways, in all we do and in all we say.
We confess that we have ignored the rising tide of misinformation, untruth, and the manipulation of facts that so pepper our news intake, both in print and on the screen. We admit that we have gone blithely on our way, tired of all the noise and confusion, all the while forgetting that real people, real needs, and real injury are being caused by this reckless abandonment of an insistence upon a common social truth and integrity, both within our society and from those called and chosen to lead us as a nation. It is almost as if we need a fourth ‘monkey’ in that old cartoon, three that intone, ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’, and finally a fourth one with shoulders shrugged and labeled, ‘do nothing about evil’ that is swirling all around us.
Teach us Lord to seek your voice as we search for the truth into which you seek to lead us, as a people, as a nation, and as children of the one God of all. Help us ever to seek the unity of life that all God’s children must pursue as we await and participate in the revealing of your kingdom here among us…
People will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God.
Lord may it be increasingly so that our ministry of love and compassion in your name reaches more and more of your people in need. May our awareness of and engagement with the ongoing battle for truth being waged that seeks to control the hearts and minds of us all, embolden us to bring forth your word and your call for love without borders or conditions. Empower us Lord to set aside all untruth that would seek to divide or isolate, diminish or destroy, and instead enable us in all truthfulness to insist on acting ever and always in genuine love and compassion.
Give us courage and willingness to stand against these powers of hatred and misinformation as we seek your word and your truth as revealed by your Spirit in our heart of hearts, guiding us into ways of discipleship that echo your own words and your own example. Help us to be servants of your truth as we seek to be lights of hope in a world increasingly turned towards chaos and confusion.
This morning’s altar truly is one of our Lord’s tables. It is intended to shock us into acknowledging that ‘truth’ is under real attack within many corners of our culture and society as certain voices and powers vie for dominance and control. It is intended to be a stark reminder that ‘truth’ is not only precious and necessary for a people to function together in true community, but also to cause us to reflect upon the person of our Lord Jesus who proclaimed that he himself in fact ‘was the truth’…that he was the one we should look to in order to discern what it was that we were called to follow after. By having the letters on our table face fall off into a disconnected jumble, this table is meant to challenge and call us to address this increasing lack of common agreement as to basic principles and rights, as well as to the growing divide between the call to love and compassion, and divisive acts, words, and policies currently tearing at the very fabric of our society, and indeed of the world order as a whole. And perhaps we should also consider that as these letters fall off and down, so too might the faith be losing its power to lift up the message and call to personal sacrifice and service which our Lord listed as of first importance.
And it is from this table of truth in crisis that we will receive the bread and wine of our sacrament this day…a table of concern and challenge, a table set in increasing darkness as we await the dawn that can only emerge as those called to love seek after, find, and then live into the only truth that can truly set us free…the truth that we are one family of one God…being called into one community of compassionate mercy, justice, and grace.
Help us to begin to reverse this trend towards confusion and powerlessness as we profess and insist that all people are worthy of God’s love and compassion, that all people have a place at the table of our Lord, and that every soul must be so welcomed to it…so that we may begin to find our way into the day of our Lord’s blessed community…a community in which all feel free indeed to come from the east and the west, and from the north and south.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus invites all those who trust in him to come and share this meal which he has prepared for us to receive even from this table of the call to search for truth that endures, truth that uplifts, truth that redeems. Our Lord invites all, without exception, and beckons us as well towards ever greater awareness and willingness to be true vessels of love to all people as we respond to the word of the Spirit of our God, that word of love and truth. This table here before us this morning is holy because our Lord has made it so through our recognition of the difficult challenge that it places before us…and because our Lord is always present in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the one cup. Let us reverence this meal shared together in love…amen
As we receive this meal, may our eyes be opened to the great need for a common truth that speaks of, and reflects your love…your love that accepts no bounds or restrictions, that everyone may come to know of your love and grace. And in so doing, may we all come to know the freedom that comes from trusting in your steadfast love alone. Amen
Litany for a return of ‘truth’
Leader: O Lord our God, we proclaim that you love and cherish all of Creation, every one of your children created in the image of your love,
People: We are your people, we are called in loving service to proclaim your truth.
Leader: Whenever the search for truth is hindered, wherever falsehood and misinformation replaces your call to love and compassionate concern for one another,
People: Draw us close to you Lord, that your Spirit might reveal your thoughts, your ways, your truth within us as individuals and as your people gathered.
Leader: Empower and persuade us O Lord to seek to help those suffering from the effects of untruth, from policies and decisions that seek to divide or exclude, from all that would diminish hope or opportunity for any one of our brothers or sisters,
People: Use us O Lord in this difficult but critical ministry in your name, and by your strength.
Leader: Use us O Lord as we seek to lift up the power of love that knows no bounds, of community that knows no stranger, of truth that embraces all,
People: Through Christ our Lord, we pray. Amen.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God
It is right to give God our thanks and praise
It is right, it is good, it is joyful to be able to give thanks to you, Oh God of mystery and miracle. When there was only darkness, you made light. When we cried out to you from captivity, you claimed us to be your own. When we forgot our love for you, you did not forget us, but sent your prophets to turn us around. Over and over again you renewed your promises…with a bow in the sky, the parting of the sea, bread from heaven and your own beloved Son. And so, we praise you, joining our voices with the songs of the angels and with all those who sing in heaven and on earth saying:
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory, Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.
(All please come forward and stand in a circle around the communion ‘table’)
The Lord Jesus, on the night of his arrest, took bread, and after giving thanks to God, broke it and said: “This is my body, which is for you; do this, remembering me.”
In the same way, he took the cup after supper, and said, “This cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this, remembering me.” Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord, until he comes.
(Distribution of the bread- all wait to be served before partaking)
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Everyone who comes to me will never be hungry; all who believe in me will never thirst.” (Partake of the bread)
(Distribution of the cup-all wait to be served before partaking)
Jesus said: I am the vine, you are the branches. Cut off from me you can do nothing. This then is the cup of our salvation. (Partake of the cup)
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen