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What is truth? – Br. James Koester

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Br. James KoesterDaniel 7: 9 – 10, 13 – 14
Psalm 93
Revelation 1: 4b – 8
John 18: 33 – 37

Several years ago, while I was still a parish priest, some parishioners came to me with a question. Robin and Anne were actually Baptists, but since we were the only church on the island where they lived, they attended the Church of the Good Shepherd. Some of the things that we as Anglicans took as a matter of course, were of concern to them, or else simply puzzled them. On this particular occasion, they had questions about the use of the lectionary.

Since the lectionary was, they felt, simply a human construct, what would happen if I believed God desired me to proclaim a certain message that in no way related to the appointed texts on that particular day. Would I, they wondered, be free to choose other readings? I don’t remember my answer. I think it was pretty wishy-washy. What I do remember, after nearly forty years, is the question. It still haunts me.

Were Robin and Anne to appear today and ask me the same question, I would have a very different answer. The real question is not, what if God wants me to address something outside the scope of the readings on any particular day. The real question is what to do if the lectionary forces you to look at something you would rather not!

A few years ago when I was on holiday, I attended church with my parents, and the preacher very clearly avoided saying anything about the gospel, because he didn’t want to address the subject of divorce, which was part of Jesus’ teaching that particular Sunday. I don’t remember what he said. What I do remember, is what he did not say.

I face a similar situation today. Years from now, you may not remember a single thing I say, but you will remember that I avoided the question that is on everyone’s mind. So, I’m not going to avoid the hard question. I’m going to plunge right in to the deep end of the pool.

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.’[1]

Our reading ends there. But, the very next line should send shivers down your spine.

Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’[2]

What is truth, indeed.

In a post-truth world, where truth isn’t truth[3] and where facts are in the eye of the beholder,[4] we exist in an alternate reality where alternative facts[5] shape life and death decisions. And just to be clear, I’m not calling out any one particular person or political party, because alternative facts come from The White House, Downing Street, Saudi Arabia, Moscow and countless places in between.

We live in a post-truth world, and that’s a problem.

But, the problem is not new. A recent article[6] by Peter Crumpler, in the Church Times quotes Pope Francis as calling disinformation snake tactics and reminding us that the serpent in Eden created the first fake news. The Pope likened disinformation to mimicry, that sly and dangerous form of seduction that worms its way into the heart with false and alluring arguments.

Pilate’s question to Jesus could have been asked just as easily in Eden, as it was that first Good Friday; as it is today in press conferences in the capital of any nation in the world, or a board room, or a conference room, or a dinner tables, or a water cooler. Wherever people gather to exchange information, we could ask with Pilate, what is truth?

The paradox for Pilate is that he was staring at truth right in the face. I am the way, the truth, and the life,[7]Jesus reminded his disciples in John’s gospel. For the Christian then, coming to the truth, no matter the subject, is an act of revelation whereby we come to know Jesus, who is truth. There are not alternative truths then, because there is not an alternative Jesus. Truth is not in the eye of the beholder, because Jesus is not in the eye of the beholder. Jesus is the revelation of God. As the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us. Jesusis the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.[8]

Our quest for the truth, no matter how seemingly insignificant is for us as Christians, nothing less than our quest for God, as revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Even something as simple as 2+2=4 is a manifestation of God, because it is true. To deny the truth, to hide the truth, to hide from the truth, to falsify the truth, to fake the truth, is to allow our hearts to be swayed by the lie first told to us by the serpent in Eden: you will not die.[9] Every time we reach out to grasp an alternate truth, we have been seduced once again by that wily serpent, the father of lies[10].

As Christians, as people of truth, and of theTruth, and as followers of the One who is Truth we have a commitment to the good news narrative of the gospel. Again as Peter Crumpler says in his article in the Church Times, Christ’s gospel [has a] potential to bring transformation, hope, and a commitment to a better world.[11] He goes on to quote from a book by Matthew d’Ancona entitled Post Truth: in defending the truth, powerful counter-narratives are required: stories that … call their listeners to growth and maturity rather than irrationality and huddled fear of conspiracy.[12]

The One who is Truth, is also the One who is Love, for God is love.[13] Truth then as a manifestation of Jesus, is a manifestation of love. Just as there are not alternative truths, there are not alternative loves, for God is one.[14] Truth then should call us, as Crumpler says, to growth and maturity, and I would go on to say, love. If something does not call us into a life of transformation, hope, and a commitment to a better world, it cannot be loving, and therefore it cannot true. Irrationality and fear are the opposite of love and truth because they bring deformation and hopelessness both to ourselves, and the world which God so loves.[15]

As Christians our vocation is to stand in opposition to the world that has been seduced by the Great Deceiver, Satan,[16] for by our baptisms we have been made a member of Christ, a child of God and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.[17] As a baptized people we cannot be anything other than a people who profess the truth, and the One who is Truth.

For us, truth is not an option. Truth is not an extra. Truth is not in the eye of the beholder. Truth is who we are, and whom we profess. Truth is true, because truth is Jesus Christ.

Since the dawn of time, the Pilates of this world, with their ear cocked to the voice of the Serpent, the Great Deceiver, Satan, have asked what is truth? and they have stretched out their hands to grasp at lies. But, as women and men drenched with the water of baptism, we have an answer to that question; an answer that brings transformation and hope to the world. Our answer is staring Pilate in the face. Our answer is Jesus Christ.

So whenever you wonder if something is the truth, or if someone is speaking the truth, ask yourself if it is a manifestation of Jesus. If it’s not, then that is the real fake news. If it is a manifestation of truth, then it will be a manifestation of Jesus, who brings transformation and hope, and you will catch a glimpse, even just a tiny one, of the world that God loves, and a world over which Christ reigns.


[1]John 18: 37

[2]John 18: 38

[3]Meet the Press interview by Chuck Todd with Rudy Giuliani on Sunday, 19 August 2018

[4]Ibid., 19 August 2018

[5]Meet the Pressinterview by Chuck Todd with Kellyanne Conway, date uncertain

[6]Church Times, We Have to Face Up to the Threat of Fake News, Peter Crumpler, 19 October 2018, page 16

[7]John 14: 6

[8]Hebrews 1: 3

[9]Genesis 3: 4

[10]John 8: 44

[11]Church Times, Peter Crumpler, 19 October 2018, page 16

[12]Ibid., page 16

[13]1 John 4: 8

[14]James 2: 19

[15]John 3: 16

[16]Revelation 12: 9

[17]BCP, Canada, 1962, page 544

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2 Comments

  1. Ruth West on November 30, 2018 at 02:52

    I loved this sermon, Br. James. It is popular these days to embrace the notion that there are many ways to heaven. Jesus makes it clear, as you quoted, “I am the Way, the Truth, and no one comes to the Father, except by me.” He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. In a political atmosphere laden with untruths, we cannot allow ourselves to believe lies, or even half-truths which also are lies. May our own ears not be “cocked to the voice of the serpent”, but always open to the voice of the Truth, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Thanks for this good message.

  2. Bob Wilson on November 27, 2018 at 08:04

    Thank you James for this sermon. I too added this line and opened my sermon this Sunday “and Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?””. This was after my retreat week before last at the Monastery and talking with a fellow priest who agreed it made sense to read this with the Gospel reading and preach on it if it struck me which it did! I am glad I am not alone.

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