“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.