“What is Truth”

John 18:33-38, November 25th, 2018

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

 

“Hear now these words from the gospel according to John, chapter eighteen, verses thirty-three thru thirty-eight.”

John 18: 33-38

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters, again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’  34 Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’  35 Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I?  Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me.  What have you done?’  36 Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world.  If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’  37 Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’  Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king.  For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’  38 Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’  After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, ‘I find no case against him.

“Having heard the accounting of Jesus standing before Pilate, we are left with the question: “What is Truth?”  Together, let us open our hearts to the truth of who Jesus was and now is in our hearts and in our lives today.”

 

“What is Truth”

Thanksgiving has now passed and, also what is known as the busiest shopping day of the year: “Black Friday!”  Meaning of course that retailers around the country are believing that their earnings for the year will end in the black, they shall make a profit off our spending habits rather than in the red which is a negative number.  Black Friday also marks a dramatic shift into the holiday season!  Consequently, we now abruptly shift away from celebrating our abundant harvest, into a spending frenzy based on our current customs surrounding the gift of Christmas.  All this is of course pushed and propelled by merchants everywhere we turn!  The joy, the love and the good cheer that goes with gift giving is about Christmas, yet, the merchant’s frenzy to get us to buy, buy armloads of gifts and toys has very little to do with the four weeks of Advent and Christmas itself.  Of course, one positive which comes out of all the publicity that comes from the holiday shopping spree, is that everyone becomes aware of the fact that something special and exciting is going to be celebrated on December 25th!  And that is the truth.  Also, many of the needy being feed and given clothing, and many poor children are given toys to play with as well.  This is also the truth.

Yes, indeed, the countdown to Christmas has begun.  We ourselves, after our worship service today, we will begin the task of decorating our sanctuary.  We call it the hanging of the greens.  Hopefully, many of you will help out or a few of us will be here a long time.  This of course is just the beginning of our accelerating and busy, busy schedules.  And there in lays the truth!  Not the truth which Pilate was speaking of.  Nor is it the truth to which Jesus was referring.  No, in order to understand the truth of which our scripture points us to – we do not need to go shopping or do we need to adorn our homes and churches with garland and such.  All though it is a lot of fun and they do bring smiles and joy to those that gaze upon such festive beauty.  This also creates a moment when everyone is given an opportunity to experience the splendor of what Christmas truly means.  But, we Christians, whom have come to know about God’s love, and the hope, peace and joy which comes from having a relationship with Christ, we know, or we ought to know that Advent, which leads us to our Christmas Eve service, is about a lot more than just: the holidays, decorations, parties and presents!  This is a truth we must at least acknowledge as well!

Let us therefore start our deeper discussion with these words from the theologian David Ewart.  He begins by telling us what this writing is asking us to do.  “…the text today, calls us to live in the midst of an impossible possibility: hearing and belonging to One not of this world but born into this world out of love for this world so that truth-light-love might abide in this world – and they in us.” /David Ewart/ David has put all the right words in play for us to ponder.  Love, light and truth are the keys to understanding this dialog between Jesus and Pilate.  Realizing that Jesus comes from the essence of God is something which Pilate, and a great many people even today do not grasp nor understand.  Yet, it is the heart of what we need to come to understand.  Pilate was dazzled by Jesus and saw his innocence, yet, politically, he could not justify releasing him, so he executed him.  We know this to be true.  Nor did Pilate grasp Jesus’ reference to his being a king but not of this world.  I think many people, Christians as well, do not grasp this either.

Perhaps it would be helpful if we switch over to the beginning verses of the gospel of John, which opens his accounting of Jesus very differently than does Matthew and Luke.  John begins at the beginning, not with his genealogy, his family tree and pedigree, but rather with his core, his spirit, his essence and his relationship to God.  Our very complex understanding of our God, whom has many faces and many functions and roles in the multifaceted understanding of life, as we know it, begins at the beginning!  Chris Haslam, from the Anglican Diocese of Montreal tells us, “Jesus’ kingship begins with the opening verse of the gospel of John.”  ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’ (John1:1)” Now let us lift up the words which Jesus spoke after Pilate asked Jesus if he were a king.  “Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’  Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king.  For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’” /John 18:37/ Jesus is the voice the word of God.

Progressive and conservative Christians bicker and debate the use of inclusive language when speaking of the three personalities of God.  Words like he or she, mother or father and Lord or Lady, none of which help us grasp the essence of our triune God.  The Old Testament speaks about our Heavenly Father, a God of fire and brimstone, the Creator God!   Moses was first introduced to God at the burning bush where he was told to call the Great One, “I AM.”  It has been debated whether the Spirit is to be referred to as she rather than he.  Yet, the biggest confusion centers around Jesus.  Is he a King or is he the Son of God, or the Son of Man.  Yet, the Christmas story displays him as the Messiah, the long awaited Messianic One, anointed by God to come and rescue the people of God!

I like many ordained clergy refer to the understanding of the humble birth of the Christ Child as our God coming to us in human form.  Our incarnate God we say.  Which means the personification of God, God alive, in person.  God embodied in the birth of Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary.  This debate as to who Jesus was, was contemplated and meditated upon at the famous gathering of the Forefathers of Christianity.  They came up with something called the Nicene Creed, at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.  It argued the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  What it still affirms today, as a crucial aspect of this discussion, is that Jesus is one hundred percent the essence of God and at the same time one hundred percent the essence of humankind.  This conclusion leaves us able to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus with Joy realizing that God has come to us, in humble form, to live amongst us.  Bringing with him the Light of God which through the word of God brings light into the darkness.  From these simple statements we can seek out the truth.

Pilate asks Jesus if he is indeed the king of the Jews.  Basically, Jesus tells him, yes, but not of this world.  One theologian sums up for us Pilates confusion.  “It would be hard for Pilate to form any conception of a kingdom not of this world, a kingdom of which the subjects did not fight with carnal weapons to defend its king, or to extend its borders.  He was a soldier and the representative of a monarch whose power rested on the sword.  But such a kingdom was Christ’s.” /B.W. Johnson/ Pilate’s confusion was shared by the Jewish nation as well.  They understood the Messiah as a Savior who would come like a great ‘warrior king’ and free them from the Romans.  But we moderns know this was not who the man Jesus was!  As we enter into the Advent season, we shall ponder this in our hearts.  For we too are often unclear as to exactly who Jesus was

What exactly is Advent anyhow, some of may ask.  It is the approach of something spectacular; it is the dawn of a new era, a new age.  Advent is the nearing of our celebration of the birth of a baby named Jesus, born of a poor and common village woman named Mary.  It is the rise of new hope for humankind as we pause to remember the old, old story of Jesus and his glory, Jesus and his love.  As the season of Advent emerges let us prepare ourselves for the renewal of hope, the re-emergence of the message of the peace that Christ brings, the Joy that we all can experience when we accept the love of God and the light of God into our lives!  The paradox, the truth of this matter, is that we must view it from where we now reside and exist.  Yes, it is nice, wonderful at times, to be caught up in the Spirit of Christmas, caught up in the frenzy of the holidays and all that Advent is meant to bring into our hearts, yet we must not close our eyes to the reality, the humanness which surround us on this day as well.

The full story of Jesus only starts with his birth yet, it culminates, it takes on a totally new meaning with his execution; which is not the ending, but only the beginning, as the Spirit of Christ rises from the grave overcoming the sting of death!  The man Jesus was clearly caught up in the political realm of the roman empire and that of the elite and corrupt leadership at that time within the oppressed Jewish community.  A scholar named John Purdy puts a twist into this old and complex narrative by bringing it back into the light of the Twenty-First Century.  “Is it, as popular piety would have us believe, the story of an innocent man set upon by a gang of corrupt officials and a mindless mob?  Is it not rather one more enactment of “our daily morality play,” with each one dutifully playing his or her assigned role?” /John C. Purdy/ What he is saying to us ‘is’ that we are living in a real- world event, in which we all are a part, and it is way more than a play.  He is inferring that the roles we live into, in our day to day lives, may put us into situations where we are the mob that must decide the fate of the innocent.  We are the eyes and the ears of the people of God in this modern time.  How will we use our hands to aid those in need?  How will we judge those that stand before us, in judgement?

One writer analyzes our text and challenges us.  “We have been sent by Jesus to be practitioners of the Truth.” /Norb E. Kabelitz/ We are the followers of Christ.  We are the disciples of the man Jesus.  Furthermore, we now are part of the community of this age in which we now live.  We are the ones whom need to speak out, speak out for those that are wrongly condemned or persecuted.  We must carry on the practice of Jesus, the Christ Child, born of the woman Mary in a city of David, called Bethlehem.  Even as we find ourselves caught up in the crowd, that wave of humanity, or that mind-numbing mob… let us not be mindless as we perform and act out our roles, our tasks and our responsibilities in this modern narrative.

Amen.

 

Pastor’s Advent and Christmas Letter, 2018


 

Thanksgiving was a blessed day, filled with gratitude, turkey and pumpkin pie, surrounded by family and friends, near and far!  What a joyful way to begin the Advent season which brings us to our Christmas Eve service @ 7 PM, that commences with lessons and carols and concludes with our traditional ‘Candle Lighting’ ritual as we sing ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Joy to the World.’  Yes indeed!  The season is upon us and the celebration of Christ’s Birth is near at hand!

My prayer for one and all, is a pray which instills a ‘Shining Star’ for all to follow, reminding each one of us to strive to find a way to remember what this season is all about!  Praying that in our remembering we shall seek out ways to pass-on the message of Hope – for there are so many of our neighbors that need to be lifted-up!  Praying that our hearts will be filled with Peace, as we live into this season of Christmas!  My prayer continues as we live our lives with Joy – as we go about our day-to-day activities, one joyful moment at a time!  Let us always feel the Love of God in our hearts being constantly reminded that the love of God culminated on that first Christmas morning, as the ‘Light of God’ was born to ‘Shine’ in the world; overcoming the darkness that lingers all around us!

Prayer is certainly something we all ought to keep close and use frequently, as we hustle and bustle through our shopping lists, buying Christmas gifts, addressing and mailing Christmas cards and all our annual traditions, including a party or two here and there.  Make time on your busy schedule to visit your local church on Sunday’s and celebrate with others on Christmas Eve in a service which points us to the presence of the ‘Light of God!’

I pray that you will feel God’s hope, peace, joy and love this season!  Letting every Christmas light, decoration and ornament, remind you of the ‘Shining Light of God’ which was transmitted to all the world – at the dawn of the early light, on that first Christmas morning.

Have a Blessed season & have a very Merry Christmas!   

Pastor Tim Woodard

Sermons for December 2018

Sunday Worship Services at 10 AM


 

December 2

First Sunday of Advent, Light the first Advent candle – Hope

Communion Sunday

 

Sermon Topic:    “Faith as a Way of Life”

Scripture:            Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

 

December 9

Second Sunday of Advent, Light the second Advent candle – Peace

Read the Statement of Faith

 

A Christmas Cantata

  

December 16

Third Sunday of Advent, Light the Third Advent Candle – Joy

Sermon                “Look for the Light”

Scripture:            Isaiah 42:1-9

 

December 23

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Light the Fourth Advent Candle – Love

Sermon:              “A Baby is Born”

Scripture:            Matthew 1:18-25

 

December 24

Christmas Eve @ 7 PM, Light the Christ Candle

Lessons and carols

Candle Lighting Service ending with “Silent Night”

 

December 30

First Sunday of Christmas

Sermon:              “The Chosen Ones”

Scripture:            Luke 2:41-52

 

“Taking a Step toward Peace!”

Isaiah 2:1-5, November 18th, 2018

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

 

“Hear now a reading from the Old Testament, found in the book of Isaiah, chapter two, verses one through five.”

Isaiah 2:1-5

1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.  3 Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”  For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.  5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

“Having heard this prophesy from the Prophet Isaiah let us now open our hearts in anticipation of this message which is contained within it.” 

 

“Taking a Step toward Peace!”

On this Thanksgiving Sunday, your pastor ought to have picked a scripture like Psalm 100, to help us all get into the spirit of thankfulness.   “Make a joyful noise to all the earth.  Worship with gladness; come into the presence of the Holy One, with singing.  Know that our God is with us.  It is by the hands of the Creator by which we are, and therefore we belong to the maker of all the earth.  Enter the gates of paradise with thanksgiving, praising God with all your hearts.  Give thanks, blessing the name of the one who watches over us.  For God is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever and ever to all generations.” /Psalm 100 adapted/ Amen.

Let us begin this Thanksgiving week by reflecting upon thankful celebrations not that long past.  When we consider the age of the Psalms and words of the Prophet Isaiah, our current human life spans are but a blink of the eye.  Therefore, when we look back into our childhood memories, they really were not that long ago.  As a child we all have some memories.  Let us raise up those precious few moments when our hearts were filled with thankfulness and joy.  How many of us can remember waking up to the fabulous aromas of that Thanksgiving turkey as it begins to heat up and cook in the oven?  When mom or was grandma or aunt Helen or Uncle Ted who came bringing that freshly baked pumpkin pie or was a pecan pie? Sometimes it was freshly baked apple pie!  As the family, the friends came together there was a sense of thankfulness that everyone was home.  Even cousin Johnny got a leave from his post in some far-off place to be home!  What blessed memories come if we allow them into our hearts once more.

I do know that memories fade and present times invade those precious spaces in our hearts.  The horrific accounts of innocent members of loving families shot down, murdered while they worshipped.  Sweeping infernos of flames overtaking whole communities.  Our hearts go out to those whose lives have been so dramatically altered forever.  Now how do we prepare for our Thanksgiving feast this season?  Many of us are involved in providing fresh turkeys to families in need, others of us may be donating to a soup kitchen that will serve huge numbers of needy folks across the county this Thanksgiving.  Perhaps, invitations to those who live alone will be extended by others that can add a plate at their own tables.  So, so many possible ways we can make someone’s life a bit more thankful as we share with others this season.

What we cannot do, as we prepare to enjoy our time of thanksgiving this year, we cannot forget those whom have suffered losses.  We cannot forget the homeless or the hungry; the migrant, the immigrants who have left their homeland because things have become hopeless there… do to wars, famine and devastated economies.  Each with their own sad stories to tell; and for far too many… their tale of woe has not yet reached a peaceful ending.  The least we can do, is remember them in our devotions and in our prayers.  Even in our own country, areas of California have been wiped away, whole communities burned to the ground with death tolls still rising.  The survivors, they are now homeless having lost everything they possessed.  It is the words of the prophet Isaiah to which they must turn.  Praying for the visions of restoration and wellbeing.  They, like the families living without a homeland, they are lost and need the hope that Isaiah proclaims!

Their prayers are enhanced by the words of Isaiah.  “In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.”  /Isaiah 2:2/ Meaning of course that the kingdom of God will be established in a high place where all nations would eagerly seek to come together as one!  What a hopeful vision!  Can you look through the dark skies?  Can you see past the harsh borders of isolated countries, whom have forgotten the visions of the Prophets of old?  Can you see beyond the flames of destruction?  Let us look beyond the ragging Blizzards of a northern winter or a torturing dangerous trip along a roadway engulfed in a Santa Ana wind, in the midst an out of control fire storm!  Let us look with hope to a future vision of peace.

Theologians, Progressive Pastors and even Evangelical Conservative Christians will proclaim writings containing words such as these spoken by Pastor Ben Cremer.  “We all see dark places we long to see light invade.  We turn on the news, talk to our coworkers, and look at our family.  We do not have to look far to find the dark corners of our life in desperate need of light.”  All Christians, at every end of the theological compass, we all seek the Light of God to overcome the shadows of darkness that plaque our country sides far and near!  This is true even if we misunderstand each other in the doing!  Christianity speaks of the coming light of God in the form of God’s mercy and grace portrayed in the image of the chosen one, the Messiah!  Other world religions, not Christian, yet, God fearing people like ourselves whom also long for the light of God!  They also see the dark shadow of evil that is hanging over humanity and they too long for the Light of God to overcome it!

The prophetic vision of Isaiah is a powerful one!  “Nations, shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” /Isaiah 2:4/ One theologian approaches these words in this way: “This vision of weapons of war turned into agricultural tools, images of death-dealing turned into food-producing is a promise for ‘the days to come.’  Biblical visions in both testaments come to us from the future, longing to shape the days in which we are living.” /Barbara Lundblad/ This vision blows the tops off the foolish words of all the dictatorial self-proclaimed egotists that think their understanding of humanity is better than the wisdom of the ages going back to the beginning of time!

If we are to find peace, we must begin with ourselves.  Peace shall begin when we commence to allow the love of God to fill every aspect of who we are and what we hope to be.  No one can help others find peace until we ourselves experience it.  Peace is a gift which we all are offered.  All we need do is open our hearts to find where God has placed it!  Isaiah, he was at peace as he proclaimed the vision which God put into his heart. Yes, he saw the plight of his people and yes, he saw the darkness of hatred, and all the other verbs which describe the evil which resides where the light of God does not exist.  Yet, he endeavored to continue to write and give the hope of God’s vision to those he served.  The writing we read today is that vision.  Let’s us lift it up once again, asking God to bless these words and helping humanity to keep persisting and living into their meaning.

As we look all around us, taking in the human nature of all humanity, let us not be discouraged.  Rather, let us continue to look to all the good which has been brought to bear in a world, a world so filled with the dark side of our nature as humans.  I look to this church and we the people in it, as-well-as all those whom have been a part of this fellowship over the years; many whom have passed on into Heavens gates, and others whom have moved out of the area.  Let us look to their examples, many of whom did great things to propel this church ever forward to where it is today.  With these thoughts in mind, let us continue to be the church that God has envisioned it to be!  Let us continue to look for the good in all things and all people.  Let us look for the hand of God in the community, the country, and the world we live in.  Remembering always, that peace comes from God, thus as we strengthen our personal relationships with our Creator, so also, shall we strengthen our contribution to a world that sorely needs the peaceful hand of God.

Looking forward into the week ahead, let us live in a way, a way in which when the next generation looks back at us, we will have left them some good examples to follow.  Perhaps some of us will cook a turkey or something specially that someone else will remember with joy many years from now.  How we choose to mark the celebration of a good harvest, big or small, let us be ever mindful that those around us are watching.  May they see our acts of kindness and compassion as-well-as our faith in God’s faithfulness.  Maybe they will remember how you taught them to take the core, the pit out of a fig, replacing it with peanut butter before rolling it in powdered sugar. Then offering them as snacks while the turkey cooks to that perfectly desired point.  Perhaps it will be the bowl of walnuts you left for guests to crack and pick at, that sparks a fond memory.  Maybe, it will be the canned yams or the sweet potatoes they enjoyed or the eggnog they indulged in.  Whatever the memory, plant some good ones.  That may be the memory which helps them in a tumultuous, a turbulent holiday in the future yet to be.

I want to leave you with these uplifting words from a theologian I truly enjoy.  “One of the important aspects of looking forward to something better is to look at ourselves. The good news is that the light of God, God’s gracious presence, means we can choose to be the kind of people who are essentially living light, living out of a spirit of kindness and generosity and compassion.” /Alan Brehm/ Thanksgiving without God – it just is not possible.  Consequently, let us all be sure we bow our heads in prayer as we consume whatever we call a Thanksgiving meal, even if it is beans and hotdogs!  Let us give thanks for all that we are fortunate to have.  May we always remember to pray for those whom are less fortunate and to offer a hand when the opportunity presents itself.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Amen.