St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Easter, May 15, 2022
“Howbeit when 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 shew you things to come.”
JESUS STOOD chained before the Roman governor, weary and bleeding from recent beatings. Pilate hated how the Jewish priests were making him handle their problem. He questioned the man before him, expecting a lunatic, but hearing instead a man nobler than himself. “Are you the king of the Jews? Hm?” Jesus quietly said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, then would my angel armies do battle to save me.” Pilate was surprised at this fantastic claim, but thought to enlist further evidence. “So, you are a king then?” He asked.
Jesus answered: “You’re saying that I am a king. To this end I was born, and for this cause I came into the world. I bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.”
Pilate choked down a laugh. “What is truth?” he scoffed. What indeed? John 18:37
Today, truth is whatever you make of what you see, what you feel, what your opinions are. You can be male or female, as you wish. You can think what you will, or not think at all, and always be right. God forbid anyone should argue against your ignorance. What is truth? Faced with mountains of information, a superhighway of data at our fingers, Wikipedia available with any subject imaginable in the little mobile computer phones we all carry, and the wise cyber overlords of Google determining what we may see, quashing whatever they believe must be throttled. We hear and we see and we believe. But we choose the door we enter, and in that chamber we learn to fear, and learn to lust, and learn to hate, and we learn nothing at all.
Fahrenheit 451 was the 1953 Ray Bradbury story of the world without books. Any volume of printed matter was gathered by firemen and burned. Today, here in the enlightened 2022, just try to sell, even give away, your old Britannica encyclopedia set. No one wants it. It takes up too much room. And it’s out of date. Anyway, nobody reads. It might as well be burned. Yet, it’s like so many volumes of things older than 50 years, things that—if we don’t destroy them—they will not change, like the discovery of this continent or the Constitution. But the past will change, for us, if we can’t look it up, can’t study it, can no longer find out the facts for ourselves, and have it be the truth.
I’m preparing to teach a year of Theology at our seminary. The definitive text for Anglican theology is a ten-volume set called Dogmatic Theology by Francis J. Hall that was written over 100 years ago. It’s written in high academic style, and sets out every argument for and against every claim to truth we have for who God is and what He means to us. It’s hard sledding to read it, but read it I must because Anglican theology hasn’t changed since he wrote it, not for us, and my job is to make this catholic approach to the Christian truths accessible to a new generation of priests.
If we didn’t still have these books, what we mean by Anglican would be as negotiable as the channels on YouTube, and just as suspect. One video I found there shows a priest who describes Anglicanism as an equal mixture of Roman Catholicism and Calvinism. Well, it is for him. But that’s a terrible misuse of the word Anglican. We are, in fact, by definition, more catholic than the Romans, which means our faith does not ever change, from the days of Peter and Paul to now. It can’t change. It was once given to the saints, was declared in every nation, was inscribed in Gospels and Epistles, and stands for all time. One truth. The Roman Catholics have changed it. The Calvinists have changed it. We maintain it and seek not ever to change it at all. In the words of St. Vincent of Lerins, our catholic, or universal, faith is that which has been held true always, everywhere, and by all Christians.
Today, we have heard there is your truth and there is my truth and both may be true, even if they contradict: the postmodern motto. Now, in some ways, postmodernism has freed us from the scientism of the Modern Era, the belief that everything is established and proven by science. “We follow the science,” is a claim of governmental agencies and bureaucrats who do nothing of the kind. Their version of science is godless, and often wholly dishonest.
But the study of God is itself a true science, is in fact the queen of sciences, and gives us the purpose and meaning of our cosmos. Truly, Albert Einstein said that “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.” If you don’t follow the science to God, you are still trapped by your own faulty opinions.
Jesus at His Last Supper used a precious hour after the meal to prepare His twelve Apostles for the days ahead. He acknowledged their anxiety over what He clearly was about to undergo, and He promised a good outcome. He told them He was going away, but that He would return, someday, and then take them with Him to wonderful mansions being built for them. In the meantime, the world might hate and even kill them, but He would be with them through His Spirit, the Comforter, who was already with them, but would soon live in them, leading them to all truth. That is the Spirit of truth, and the Spirit speaks all that the Father and the Son show Him to speak to us, leading us to all truth. By His inspiration, we all can know such truth to lead our lives that our world will change for the better because we’ve been in it.
The Christian story today is mocked. Some will change it in order not to offend. Some will leave it because it costs them the respect and love of others. Have we been tricked? Is this really a fairytale that we comfort ourselves by? Something to tell children to quiet their fears? You can turn it into that, just a felt-board Jesus, a cartoon savior, a puppet Christ who teaches us to be nice. But that’s not the one who did in fact say, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Jn 8:32 “The hour comes, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.” Jn 4:32 “God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”Jn 4:24 “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” Jn 14:6
What is truth? Britannica only scratches the surface, though its 30 volumes ring with innumerable facts. Online research can connect us with a million hits via Google, and yet none of them proves their assertions merely by being on the first page of suggested answers. Siri may seem certain of her artificially intelligent answers, and a plethora of talking heads on screen give you the benefit of their paid-for opinions.
Where do we find the bottom line, the truth, the successful end of our quest, and how will we know when we’ve discovered it? Churchhill once said, “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.” Do we bump into truth in the darkness, only to carom off in another direction, glad to have survived the collision?
Truth is hard to establish. Eyewitnesses to the same event may differ widely in what they believe they saw. A corpus delicti, a cellphone video, a bloody glove, a laptop, a dossier, a sworn affidavit, a cross, a crown of thorns, an image mysteriously appearing on a long linen cloth. Nothing proves anything beyond reasonable doubt.
But this stubborn fact remains, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” This man told us that He is the truth. He proved it by dying, and then rising to life again, never again to die and promising his followers everlasting life. It isn’t in telescopes or petri dishes or launch pads that this fact will be established, but in the lives and hearts of millions, even billions of believers in the living Jesus. It's true or we’re sunk. He’s the truth or we are complete fools.
Yes, it’s subjective. Yes, it could all be a very clever deception, but then why create such a fool’s paradise as the Church? Who benefits by our following a man dead 2000 years? What else explains the actions of eleven men and a gathering of women and other disciples who were far more willing to witness what they’d seen than to save their own lives? Independent sources all say that He lived and died on a cross, and the evidence of His Resurrection would be sufficient today for a conviction in court or a scientific journal peer-reviewed article.
He is truth. And so must we conclude and for all our lives declare it. He is truth, and everyone who says otherwise is lying. Never be afraid to say you believe in Jesus Christ.
O ALMIGHTY God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men; Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.