What is Truth?
Let us pray:
Lord, the light of your love is shining, in the midst of the darkness, shining.
Jesus, Light of the world, shine upon us.
Set us free by the truth you now bring us.
(Lyrics from “Shine, Jesus Shine” by Graham Kendrick, 1987)
Well, we made it. Today is the 26th and last Sunday after Pentecost, the end of ordinary time. Goodbye to the green and hello to the purple. Traditionally, this Sunday is known as Christ the King Sunday, the end of the liturgical year and the last Sunday before Advent. A quick click at episcopalchurch.org’s Dictionary of the Church yields, “Feast celebrated in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran Church on the last Sunday of the liturgical year. It celebrates Christ's messianic kingship and sovereign rule over all creation. The feast was originally instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and celebrated on the last Sunday in Oct. It has been observed on the last Sunday before Advent since 1970.”
Well there is certainly no shortage of kingly images in today’s lessons, and some pretty awesome ideas for fantastical drawings. There are thrones with fiery flames and burning wheels of fire, streams of fire issuing from the presence of the Ancient One on the throne, presentations, and the giving of everlasting dominion, glory and kingship.
Historically, the people of Israel find themselves oppressed once again by foreign rulers and are looking forward, yearning for better times and Daniel’s prophecy offer them a vision of the coming of a new king and the restoration of Israel.
The epistle from John’s revelation serves up more apocalyptic literature with the seven spirits before the throne, and a figure who will bring wailing to all the tribes of the earth coming with the clouds. While these wild images may be fun to draw, and if you are interested in history and symbols it’s a heyday, what I want to focus on today is the idea of the Kingdom of God and Christ as our king.
Betrayed by Judas Iscariot, arrested at night and brought to Pilate’s headquarters for interrogation, Jesus offers us a glimpse. “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” (John 18: 36). Twice in today’s gospel Jesus explains that his kingdom comes from somewhere else.
Indeed, the kind of kingdom, dominion, lordship, authority and power that we are celebrating today on Christ the King Sunday is NOTHING LIKE the examples and understanding of kingship of the people of Jesus’ time and even farther from our current understanding of the leadership exhibited by those in positions of power today. Pontius Pilate continues his interrogation erroneously thinking he has trapped Jesus into a confession, “So you are a king?” Jesus answers, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into this world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). In the next verse, not included in today’s lectionary, Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?”
Indeed, what is truth? Certainly, this question has become blurrier and more muddled as of late. I find it somewhat amusing, but also saddening, that some time ago the Register Guard felt it needed to add a new feature telling us which stories weren’t really stories, but were truly fake news. And a recent NPR story explained, to my amazement, that new technology makes it possible to create startlingly realistic video clips of speeches by famous figures that were never actually given, using their words and images from other speeches it’s possible to fabricate what appears to be truthful representations. As we continue to see what can only be described as a battle for the truth as leaders deny scientific facts of climate change to the detriment of our world, and as the truth seems to be so wantonly brushed aside as irrelevant or merely rebranded, reinvented and re-spun as one’s own personal truth, Jesus’ assertion and Pilates’ question loom even larger. What is truth?
Today’s Gospel and our celebration of Christ the King make it quite clear: For this Jesus was born, and for this reason Jesus came into the world, a healthy little giggling, dribbling, baby boy, to testify to the truth. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. Jesus is love incarnate come to shed the dazzling brightness of this one truth: God so loves each and every one of us that the ultimate power and authority, the King of kings gave it all up to shrink down to our size, to take on human form and live among us, knowing and experiencing our pain and joy, living and dying as one of us. We know this to be true, Christ Jesus came into the world save sinners. The Apostle Paul, eye witness to blinding truth declares this to his young protégé Timothy: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). The truth of Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection, and ascension are the backbone of our Christian faith, and while we may not understand exactly how all of these things took place, our faith, our community, that great cloud of witnesses, helps us to believe and struggle together to keep believing and growing. This is truth. Together as community, we experience the loving power of God’s kingdom as we care for one another, as we come together to pray and worship and remember Jesus’ ultimate example of love, true love, laying down one’s power, one’s throne, crown and authority, giving up one’s life, complete emptying, kenosis, modeled by Christ our King, for no other reason nor motivation than the unification and reconciliation of all of God’s beloved children and all of God’s beloved creation.
The collect for today lays out God’s plan for governing the world: it is God’s will to restore all things in God’s well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords, that the people of the earth divided, confused, seeking and searching for truth, may be freed and brought together under the most gracious rule of Jesus.
Yes, Jesus is our King, but the Kingdom of God is an upside-down kind of kingdom, an inversion of power, a last shall be first, and least shall be the greatest kind of kingdom. It is a kingship not secured by force, but instituted by love. Christ the king is our example of how to lead, how to be truthful, how to love. Jesus, our good king and shepherd guides, guards, and values the lives of every single one of his lost sheep. “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
We gather here today in this place to hear God’s word proclaimed, to confess our sins and receive forgiveness, to share the peace and be reconciled, to worship and come together at the table to celebrate the Eucharistic feast, our preview of the great heavenly banquet to come at the end of time. This is our prophetic vision.
We come together seeking to know and then to act on this truth. “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (1 John 3:16). And so fed, reconciled, and reminded of God’s love for us, we are called to go in peace to love and serve the Lord, to honor our king by living into this truth, by showing and sharing God’s love with all whom we encounter.
My brothers and sisters, listen closely and carefully, for everyone who belongs to this truth listens to Jesus’ voice and then they set out on The Way of Love. Look, he is coming! Jesus is coming with the truth that fills hungering hearts with love, acceptance, value, healing and reconciliation, and the truth that we are all welcome, invited and expected to take our place, to receive, reflect and share in the love of God’s Kingdom. Amen. Come Lord Jesus!