St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Easter
May 19, 2019
“When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come.”
Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. Isaiah 59:13-15 This could be an editorial from today’s paper. In fact, Isaiah wrote it 2,800 years ago. Then as now, where can we go and find the truth? Editorials? Headlines? Television has channels and choices, but which can you trust to be truth? The internet has an astounding amount of information, but can you believe everything you see there? Even churches: the many messages and doctrines, emphases and influences—are we hearing the truth spoken? How can we tell?
Jeremiah, 150 years after Isaiah, lamented, “This is a nation that does not obey the voice of the Lord their God nor receive correction. Truth has perished and has been cut off from their mouth.” Jer 7:28 For him, as for Isaiah, truth evaporates when God’s people leave God out of their lives and reckoning. That’s an old idea, we may think. Today people ask: Isn’t it possible to find truth apart from God? Is it?
St. Paul predicted that such an effort would be made. He wrote, “In the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power... always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth… They will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” 2 Tim 3:1-7; 2 Tim 4:3-4 This day has come. Paul accurately describes our nation in 2019, and perhaps says much about us.
Imagine Jesus Christ living as a human being here on Earth, walking on our soil, breathing our air, eating our food. Think of His divine presence, standing on our sidewalks. He wears shoes and pants, a shirt, and His hair is shorter than you remember, His beard neatly trimmed. He walks up Salem Street and stops at the glass doors to our narthex, and looks at the magazine rack by the restaurant. He reads the Chico News and Review headlines. What does the Son of God think of what He might read there, and inside the cover, about our world and what people are doing in it?
Truth has evaporated, and is not being taught to many kids in school. Instead, they are being asked to determine what they want to believe about the way things are, even about themselves at such a young age. They are trained in a version of the past that leaves out God. Christian students are ridiculed for thinking God made the worlds. History is rewritten to blacken the role of the church. Good is called evil and evil good. A preacher, reading certain verses from the Bible from his church pulpit, might be accused of hate speech. If we can’t read it in the Bible, where then can we find Truth? One serious effort published online to categorize newly imagined sexual orientations lists 116 genders. Tumblr.com
A man I knew was enraptured with new age writings and I tried to discuss with him the truths of our faith, so he immediately backed himself into the “your truth” and “my truth” dodge that people use, intimating that truth is subjective and only a personal experience. I said that when we die and go to whatever is Ultimate, we’re going to all find out there is One capital T Truth about everything, whatever that is, and no longer be able to merely hold our own opinions. He got angry enough to punch me. Where is truth?
Jesus was leaving the world. He told His disciples He had to go. They were devastated, and one asked, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:5-6 When we die, whatever is out there, whatever is True, capital T True, will happen to us all and we will not be able to negotiate with it, redefine it, compromise with it, or deny it. If we have been completely at fault in our understanding and beliefs in this life, that moment will be shocking, and quite possibly an everlasting horror. If we enter eternity with the wrong idea, with a “wait and see” attitude, a “they’ll have to let me in” strategy, an “I’ve lived a pretty good life—better than most people” opinion about ourselves, we’re in for a cruel surprise, and the only ones we’ll be able to blame are ourselves.
Jesus said I am the truth. Truth is a person, not a times table, or a date in history, or a dictionary definition. If all of human history, all our endeavors, every mighty deed and heroic act, all religion, time, and combined purpose lead to anywhere, our Lord says it is going to lead through Jesus to the Father, or else we are leading ourselves nowhere. “I am the way, the truth…no one comes but by me.” If Jesus is telling the truth, we ought to know what that Truth is.
Before Pilate, He gave testimony of Himself. “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” John 18:37-38 Jesus told the disciples the previous night a very important truth. “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.” That’s quite an offer. All truth. Everything the Father has He will show us through the Spirit of Truth. Where is this Spirit of Truth?
Is it in government? No government is itself the Spirit of Truth, though some may speak truth. Too many governments serve their own power and truth is the first casualty of that cause. And any larger government means smaller citizens. Our government is too large and often speaks untruth.
Is it in science? It could be, for science ought to be a search for the truth about our universe. The outer edge of the physical universe is the limit of its quest, for to say anything about what lies beyond, or that nothing lies beyond the cosmos, is theology. Science delves into theology, and it isn’t good at it. The truth is turned into fables. And when politics and cultural fads take the reigns of science, no truth may come from that direction.
Is the Spirit of truth found in history? That depends on who is writing the history. The victor writes it one way, and another victor in another age rewrites the history another way. History used to begin: In the Beginning, God. Now it begins with dead matter, evolution, cavemen, superstition and finally the dialectic.
Is Truth’s Spirit found in religion? If so, which one? Is there one God, or many, or none? Should we worship the earth, or each other, or an invisible ancient man on a throne? Are we His children or the devil’s, or are we gods, or merely highly evolved animals? If you can’t answer these questions, the Spirit of Truth is a stranger. These are fundamental issues, the foundation of truth, without which we have no basis to claim any truth.
In the days of Alexander the Great, cynical Diogenes held up a lantern and searched for one honest man. He should have waited, for Jesus never lied to anyone. He is the Truth. Diogenes might also have consulted the Jewish scriptures, for they also were true, and spoke of the One who was coming. If he were to hold his lantern up to you or me, would he see an honest man or woman?
One of the greatest and longest lasting gifts Christ gives us is not just a new teaching, for He only showed us the truth already hidden in the Law and the Prophets. It’s not only the facts of His life, for He died and rose and ascended, leaving us without His physical presence. It’s not just in the establishment of His apostles, for men have been known to lead themselves astray and quickly. The glory of the New Covenant is that Christ and His Father sent to us the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Truth. And as this Spirit settled upon the upturned faces of 120 amazed new Christians, their understanding of truth so expanded, so illuminated, so confirmed them in Truth, capital T Truth, that they couldn’t keep it to themselves and 3,000 people were convinced along with them that first day.
This Spirit of Truth is yours, if you welcome Truth. This truth may scorch you a bit, but that’s a good thing, for as you begin to see things as they are, you see yourself more clearly too. Ouch! But that’s good, for an honest man or woman will say, “I am a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness and transformation.” Truth, a Person, will communicate to you what you need to know about your world, your relationships, your weaknesses, your failings. The first truths you may learn are all about yourself and how untrue you’ve been up to now. This is the moment of truth for if you stop the process at this point, you will quench the work of the Spirit who seeks out all things and is sharper than a two-edged sword. Quench His action in yourself, and you will cease to know the Truths that make any difference in your life.
Too long did I quench that Spirit in my own life, and stunted my own spiritual growth and life and effectiveness. All Truth is scary, and may seem like death to you, at first, but it is the only real adventure life will ever offer you. Real adventure. Not a theme park or a video game. Real. Are you ready for real adventure?
Welcome the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth to fully take you up, to penetrate the darkest recesses of your soul and reveal to you what is unworthy, what is untrue about you. Become, for once, and remain an honest man, an honest woman. Diogenes might be disappointed, for he was sure there wasn’t one and it would spoil his theory.
Truth is a Person. His Name is Jesus Christ. He sends us His Spirit of Truth to live inside of our spirits and that Spirit is to lead us into all Truth. The lies are so tiresome, and we hypocrites can’t keep up the pretense any longer. Let’s start upon the only real adventure and find out all He shows us. If it hurts, it only hurts so long, and then… well, let’s see what’s next.
St. James wrote us that every good gift comes from above, from an everlasting true God. He created us in truth and for truth. Therefore, let us speak carefully, listening closely, and avoiding outrage. Lay aside the junk truths of our age, and its “superfluity of naughtiness”, its overflowing of poisonous lies. But instead, ingest with humble thanks the inscribed Word of God that is the truth and is able to save our very souls.