Skip to comments.One Parish’s Communication–Why Truth Matters Today: A Meditation on Holy Week
Posted on 04/10/2006 9:21:35 PM PDT by sionnsar
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
What is truth? In the surreal haze of Good Friday, Jesus remains focused. He tells Pontius Pilate that He came into the world to bear witness to the truth. Pilate, being a product of his time, is driven by politics, popular opinion and personal agenda. Pilate responds, What is truth?
Two thousand years later we still question, What is truth? Many believe that truth is universal, absolute, and unchanging. They point out that truth common to all societies proves the existence of universal truth. For example, as C.S. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity, no society thinks it is acceptable for soldiers to turn and run from the enemy in battle.
The universal or catholic church believes that truth, taught by Jesus and revealed in Holy Scripture is the faith, once delivered. It is the same truth that guides the church today and the lives of those who profess the faith. Acceptance of this truth means that the people of God are called to live Gods truth. As disciples of Christ, the faithful are expected to call others to His truth.
This approach does not mean that Gods people are called to judge others. Judgment is left to God. But the faithful are to know the truth, acknowledge the truth, live the truth and help others to do the same. This belief requires that when others stray from God, the faithful dont turn a blind eye; but with love and respect, call those lost back to the universal truths of the church.
Others argue that times change and so does truth. This approach is not viewed as contrary to the existence of God or faith in the church. Truth, however, is viewed as relative, something that changes from one generation to the next as it is interpreted by what is popular or commonly accepted in that time.
This rationale espouses human reason as the vehicle for truth. It infers that faithfulness to God and the truth are manifest simply by being loving and hospitable to one another. It is an approach of inclusion evidenced by an, Im OK, youre OK philosophy of life. Truth is seen as a credential to sanction behavior rather than to guide it.
The Anglican priest and spiritual director, Reginald Somerset Ward (1881 1962) offered this description of truth:
(Regarding) the Persistence of Truth: Whatever fears, adversities or doubts assail you, go forward calmly in the knowledge that the truth persists, and will prove itself in persisting. Though prayer be hard, though your soul walk in darkness, though your spiritual memories be shadowed by many a doubt, go forward secure in the knowledge that the truth of God endureth to all generations, and by its endurance will prove itself the very truth.
What do you think? Is there an absolute truth in which you believe? Do you think God calls us to a truth once delivered that lives even today? Are we asked to mold our lives around Gods truth, or are we charged to adapt Gods truth to the commonly accepted beliefs of our time? Does truth change based on societal filters through which it is viewed or does it persist through all ages because it is the truth? Are reason and truth compatible?
Palm Sunday is the most paradoxical day of the church year. We begin by recreating Jesus triumphal march into Jerusalem. Hosanna to the Son of David! we cry. Twenty minutes later, reading the Gospel together, we call for our Lords crucifixion. The contradiction is almost overwhelming.
So it must have seemed to Jesus closest friends on Good Friday two millennia ago. It had been a mere few days since the crowds adoration of Jesus had reached such a fever pitch that, the evangelist Luke tells us, the very stones would have cried out in praise had the people been silenced. Yet the sky had darkened, the mob had turned on its hero, and a condemned Jesus hung helplessly on a disgraceful instrument of torture. How did it happen so fast?
Look at those who came in contact with Jesus during that final week of his life on earth for the answer. During that week, the Pharisees watched in dismay as Jesus performed miracles that drew crowds away from their own legal authority. The Sanhedrin feared that Jesus dramatic overturning of the tables in the temple would disrupt a profitable business and threaten the civil order that they had negotiated with Rome. Pontius Pilate balanced a wish to release an obviously innocent man against a carefully calculated political assessment of the positive effect of Jesus execution on his relationship with the Roman authorities. The crowds and even Jesus own disciples, anticipating a mighty military Messiah who would free them from Romes oppressive rule, could not comprehend a Christ who willingly handed himself over for execution without so much as a mild protest.
They came from different walks of life. Some loved Jesus like a brother; others despised and feared him. Yet all had something in common: None understood Jesus. All were looking for a political solution and a kingdom of their choosing, when what was at stake was a spiritual turning point for Gods kingdom: the establishment of salvation through Jesus death on the cross. All failed to see Jesus for who he is: the way, the truth, and the life.
Pontius Pilate provides us with the clearest example. On Good Friday, Jesus declares to Pontius Pilate, For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice. Pilate, in one of the most cynical moments in all human history, replies, What is truth? Having no relationship with divine revelation, having no absolute truth except political expediency, and dependent on the consensus of the corrupt Jewish authorities and the mob assembled at his gate, Pilate succumbs to their demands crucify him!
What is truth, and how does Jesus truth differ from the pathetic imitation of it held by those around him? The Anglican Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright, one of the most respected New Testament scholars in the world, explains. As far as Pilate knows, the only place you get truth is out of the sheath of a sword . . . . Political truth, my truth against your truth, my sword against your sword, with those two meaning much the same thing . . . . Somehow, through the cynicism, the casual local custom, the misunderstandings, the distortions, the plots and schemes and betrayals and denials, the Truth stands there in person, taking the death that would otherwise have fallen on the brigand [Barabbas] . . . . Truth is what Jesus is.
University libraries often inscribe the words, The truth will set you free, over their doorways. The full context of that quotation occurs in Johns Gospel (8:31) when Jesus is speaking to Jewish converts: If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. It is only by becoming a disciple of Jesus, only by continuing in Jesus word, that we will know the truth. We cannot come to truth by reading all the books in all the libraries of the world, or by reaching a well-reasoned consensus. We come to truth through a relationship with Jesus Christ, through the study of Holy Scripture, and through learning to recognize the voice of truth as revealed in the Lord: I know my own and my own know me, Jesus declared. And they will heed my voice. (John 10:14) If we continue in his word, we become his disciples and we will know the truth and be set free: free from sin; free from enslavement to the many charms and temptations of this world.
Sadly, there are too many Church leaders today who would tell us otherwise. Frank Griswold, the Presiding Bishop, admonishes us to speak of pluriform truths. There is no one truth (e.g., Jesus), there are many truths (e.g., Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, etc.) During Easter Season 2005, the Rev. George Regas, Rector Emeritus of All Saints Church in Pasadena, preached at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.: I think it is a mistaken view to say Christianity is superior to Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism and that Christ is the only way to God and salvation, he said. I dont believe Jesus is the only truth about God. . . . Jesus is [merely] a window through which I can look out upon God, upon the nature of the creation and upon the reality of human existence. As one local Episcopal priest claimed at a recent clergy gathering, the Episcopal Church is a place for all religions.
But to believe in everything is to believe in nothing. If we replace Gods revealed truth with a truth based on our own understanding, experience, politics, or consensus, we open ourselves up to every fashionable cause and idea in circulation. The consequences of such a fundamental transformation in the Churchs understanding of truth have been as tragic as they were predictable. Charles Colson tells of meeting an Anglican priest in Sri Lanka a few years after the Anglican Bishop of York had publicly denied the virgin birth and referred to the resurrection as a conjuring trick with bones. Colson asked the Anglican how things at his mission were going. The priest shook his head. The bishops denials, he explained, had provided a means for proselytizing Muslims to persuade Christians to begin attending the local mosque. Even Christianitys Bishops, the Muslims would tell the locals, dont believe that Jesus was divine. They are killing us with our bishops own words, the priest added sadly.
So, during this Holy Week, let us ask ourselves: Are we in the Episcopal Church so very different from those close to Jesus in his last week on earth? In a sermon preached in May of 2005, the Rev. Edwin Bacon at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, urged the church to political advocacy in many areas including income redistribution, universal health care, same-sex marriage, and an end to the Iraq war. He continued: What will we give our lives for? Jesus answered that question on the Cross but, my friends, the Cross was secondary. For Jesus would never have known what to die for on the Cross if he hadnt answered the question of what he would give his life for at the Table . . . home to outcasts and sinners. Like those with Jesus during his final days, Bacon misunderstands Jesus. The cross, he says, is secondary, its importance usurped by contemporary political concerns. He fails to see that what is really at stake during Holy Week is spiritual truth that lasts for all time.
At this parish it is our desire to resist the temptation to redefine the fundamental nature of truth, however difficult that may be. We believe that God made us in his image, not the other way around. Christianity has always believed that Jesus is truth, that Gods sacred revelation in Scripture is truth. Truth is not a matter of consensus or politics. We will do our utmost to remain faithful to this truth in Jesus Christ, and we will urge others in the Episcopal Church to do likewise.
But let us be clear. No one, no matter what side of the current Church disputes we are on, is completely immune from the sin of pushing Jesus aside in favor of our own agendas. All are called to the age-old disciplines of prayer, study of the Scripture, and humbly listening for our Lords voice. As we walk through these difficult times in church history, we are all called to such radical obedience to Christ that we, individually and corporately as a church family, demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
To do any less is to deny the absolute truth of a Savior who humbled himself, even to death on a cross, for the sake of our salvation.
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
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