What is Truth?
Posted on March 11, 2018 | Posted by Pastor Daniel
Pastor Daniel’s sermon for March 11, 2018 on John 18:28-40
Standing together alone, away from the leaders who came at dawn with this accusation, away from the disciples who still hide in the shadows. Standing together alone, Pilate tries to get to the bottom of all this, tries to understand what’s going on, tries to understand Jesus’ perspective. Struggling, he asks “What is truth?” Such a philosophical, metaphysical, head-scratcher of a question. A good question to ask Jesus.
Or it would be, if Pilate wasn’t such a Johnny-come-lately to the story. Reminds me of an extended family member who shall remain nameless and has a habit of falling asleep in the first five minutes of a movie. And then, two hours later, right during the climactic scene, she wakes up and says “What’s happening?” That’s Pilate. On what will be the final day of Jesus’ life, after three years of work and miracle and confrontation, Pilate strolls in and asks “What is truth?” Well…
Truth is the voice of one in the wilderness called him the lamb of God. Truth is he called disciples out from under a fig tree and into new life. Truth is he tore apart a temple and told a Pharisee at night of God so loving the world. Truth is there was water and then there was wine – a lot of wine. Truth is there was a woman at a well, and he knew everything about her, even her six husbands, and he still offered her living water. Truth is the man was blind, but now he sees. Truth is another was dead but now lives. Truth is he stooped before Peter and Judas with a towel and washbasin, knowing that between then and now neither would live up to their call.
Truth is that over the past few years a whole lot of people began to have a hope they’d never had before. Some of it misplaced, most of it misunderstood, but all of it born of grace. Truth is a whole lot more people will receive that hope in the years and centuries to come.
And yet, King of the Jews, you ask? Truth is his kingdom isn’t from this world. Stop thinking so small, Pilate.
What is truth? Well …
Truth is the claim of blasphemy isn’t the religious leaders’ real concern, and it certainly isn’t yours, O Governor. Truth is this trial has been coming for sometime now. For all those truths mentioned before, they’re more than inconvenient. They’re threatening. Threatening to established structures of power and influence. And threatening to the peace between those religious leaders and Rome. Though maybe peace isn’t the right word so much as a truce. A truce that hadn’t given ordinary folks life or hope, that is until this threatening truth appeared on the scene.
Truth is the religious leaders who brought him here and now wait outside to avoid religious defilement, truth is they’re already defiled. Defiled by their greed and their dismissal of the poor and of him. But that sort of defilement doesn’t prevent them from enjoying the Passover meal because according to the rules that they administer, it’s more about who technically sentences death than whether it is just.
Justice wasn’t their concern. And, truth is, justice isn’t really your concern either. You’re just trying to keep riots from breaking out. They want you to find a reason to kill the man, and truth is you’d love to appease them if that’ll keep the truce. But if you can’t, if you can’t find a legal way to execute him, then truth is the calls from the crowd for death will suffice. Truth is, this is a verdict in search of a trial, not the other way around. Truth is, truth is truth isn’t the concern.
What is truth?
Truth is this part of the story should be more foreign to us than it is, right? Abuses of power, phony trials, status quo taking priority over justice, over the truth. Truth is, we know all that all to well.
In a society that doesn’t seem to care for truth. Where historical events and scientific fact have become partisan. A society in which where you live and what you make and how you vote determines what you believe, even though we like to think it’s the other way around. A society where justice is often replaced by plea deals and troubling arrest patterns. A society where these fad words like “messaging” and “optics” and appear all over the place and consumer polls matter a lot, but truth gets hardly a mention.
Truth is we can’t just blame it on society, either. After all, we’re all part of it. And when you get right down to it, we don’t often consider truth either. In part because the hustle of daily life doesn’t lend itself to head-scratcher questions, but also in part because we’re torn on truth, too. When you’ve got an atheist neighbor on one side and a Buddhist on the other. When the guy in the next cubicle swears the world is only 5,000 years old and hairstylist promises that the civil war wasn’t about slavery and your daughter marries a guy who thinks capitalism is inherently a fraud and your aunt is convinced you can live to be 120 years old if you drink beet juice twice a day, you start to wonder if anything is true anymore. And that’s not to mention the real hot-button debates we have over climate and guns and vaccines and war and the rest – all of which seem to revolve less and less around facts, around truth. We live in a world that doesn’t just fight over truth, doesn’t just use and abuse truth to get what we want – we live in a world that’s not so sure there really is such a thing as truth. And when you live in that for long enough, you start to believe it. Or even if we don’t believe it, we’ve accepted it. We’ve become truth-skeptics.
What is truth?
You know, despite the punctuation, I don’t think Pilate was asking a question at all. Instead I think he was making a claim that seems to fit in today. A post-modern rallying cry from an ancient politician. Or maybe not a rallying cry, maybe a lament. For as much as we’ve questioned the very existence of a truth, as much as we’ve relented to the idea that you’ve got your truth and I’ve got mine, we still long for truth. We still long for there to be, not just facts, but some central truth. Something we can hang our hat on. Something that can serve as a cornerstone of sorts that we can build our values and lives around. We long for truth, even as we lament what is truth?
I imagine Pilate asking that non-question with a sigh of resignation before walking out the door. But, I wish he had stayed and waited for an answer. I wish he’d given Jesus a chance to respond.
I don’t know what he would have said. Maybe Jesus would have listed off all those truths that I mentioned earlier, told the story of his life so that Pilate might know that there is a truth. Or, maybe he would have just kept silent, knowing that Pilate likely wasn’t going to get it in the context of a corrupt capital trial, knowing that the dye had already been cast and that he’s fate was sealed, so to speak, and that the sealing was all part of the story, part of his coming kingdom, part of the truth.
Or maybe, if Pilate had given him a chance to answer, a chance to respond to his resignation, to his lament – our lament – that there really is no such thing as truth, that the world is fuzzy and we seem to just float through it aimlessly without any cornerstone, without true north. Maybe if Pilate had let Jesus respond to all that, Jesus would have simply said I am.
I am the truth. He’d already said it once before. I am the way, the truth, and the life. And all of those healings and miracles and teachings and confrontations, I think those were all ways of saying it, too. I am the truth.
He said he came to testify to the truth, and the truth is … well … the truth is Jesus. Jesus is the truth. Who he is, and what he’d done leading to that fateful day, and what he’d do three days later, and what he does each and every week here at this table and at that font and in your hearts as the cynicism and lamenting of this aimless world melts a little and you discover the love and grace of God rooted in this man who stands before Pilate and his non-questions. All of that is the truth. Jesus, and all that you’ve learned and experienced about him. Jesus is the truth.
The cornerstone sort of truth. The sort of truth you build your other deep truths around, your values and your priorities. The truth that tells us not just who Jesus is, but really who we are, too. Beloved and called and never alone.
I wish Pilate had stayed and heard Jesus out. I wish he heard Jesus say I am. I am the truth. But, truth is, even if Pilate didn’t hear him, we can. In this fuzzy and aimless and truth-skeptic world, listen to the one who is truth. For you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. Amen.
Before we launch into our hymn, I wanted to say one more thing on this day that we sort of make the new co-pastor calls for Pastor Dan and myself official.
Truth is I love being a pastor of Ascension. In this last year or so as we’ve considered the new calls, it’s often been said that co-pastors are part of the DNA of Ascension. It’s happened at least a couple times before, and while it isn’t written into our constitution or anything, this move shouldn’t surprise us. It’s sort of part of who we are.
But I think there’s a deeper part of who we are that leads to this co-pastor tendency. It isn’t that our pastors see themselves as colleagues in ministry, though that’s true. More, it’s that we all see each other as colleagues in ministry. From teachers to ushers to musicians to board members to seniors who serve meals to kids who help clean up. I suppose this isn’t unique to Ascension, but here we are all in this together. Together we receive God’s grace. Together we listen for God’s call. Together we care for one another and seek to make God’s love known in the world.
Today we mark Pastor Dan and I becoming co-pastors, and I couldn’t ask for a better partner in ministry. But rest assured, I believe that we are all partners in ministry here. And truth is I love that. I love being a pastor here.