Monday, April 28

Sixth Sunday of Easter - The Spirit of Truth

New Testament: Acts 17:22-31
Psalm: Psalm 66:8-20
Epistle: 1 Peter 3:13-22
Gospel: John 14:15-21

First Peter tells us to be ready to give a defense to any who ask. People I know, people we know, our culture asking, about our hope, our faith. Do we know how to answer? Are we ready to give a defense? As I prepared this sermon I was listening to David J’s album Urban Urbane. David J was a member of the seminal Goth band Bauhaus, who broke up and went on to do their own projects you may be more familiar the Peter Murphy or Love and Rockets and Daniel Ash. David J went on to do more experimental rock and jazzy projects. Urban Urbane as an album deals with as the album title indicates the realities and contradictions of our urbanized world. At the end of this album comes the son No Faith, hear is a questioner, asking the questions, and asserting both a longing for truth and the loss of truth.
No Faith by David J, Album Urban Urbane

Well, I don't know what
The question is
But, Lord give me an answer
Don't know the question
But please give an answer
Searching high, searching low
High, low

I got no faith
In no Catholic churches
Can't waste no faith
On no, no capital purchase
I got no faith in no
Cosmic casino
Run by some guru
In a white stretch limosino
Searching high and low

I got no faith
In no academican
I got no faith
In no evangelist
With a mission
I got no faith
In no government in session
Neo-fascists practiced
In the art of false impression
Searching high and low
Where to go?

I got no faith
In no national institution
Built on an arms deal
And compulsory contribution
No faith in the rich
No faith in the poor
Little faith in anarchy
And no faith in the law
Searching high
Searching low

I got no faith
In no, no human nature
Look at all the armies
And the rape of Mother Nature
I got no faith
In no marital status
Resulting in attrition
And eventual hiatus
Searching high
Searching low
High, low
High, low

How do we answer such questions, such a searching? We too struggle with these questions and yet we are hear. We have some hope in the midst of our own questions. We have been facing some of our own doubts In the face of the resurrection of Jesus in this season of Easter. There are claims of truth in the texts we have been reading, but we do not want to be exclusive. And so we wonder at the words of Jesus that say I am the Way the Truth and the Life. Even so Jesus’ words in John claim a unique position. The particularity of Jesus of Nazareth is necessary for knowing god. All three of our texts say things like the World does not know God, that even when cultures or religions may have some inkling of God, even as creator that that portion of knowledge is ignorance, if it does not lead to Jesus Christ the one risen from the dead. Our texts I think should cause us to doubt what we believe about truth, about inclusive and exclusivist positions concerning the Church.

Our position on truth is perhaps understandable. If truth is abstract and non-relational, if it is something I either poses or don’t, if it is something I can wield in self-righteous satisfaction and demand that others then do as I say because I have the truth and others do not, then our objections to an exclusivist truth are on the right track. Though this reading of our Scriptures is from a position of power and pride foreign to the texts themselves. What I ask of us tonight is to admit that the interpretations we have heard are mistaken and to look at the texts before us from their perspective when Christians were not the powerful but the persecuted, and hear then what our this attitude can tell us about truth and the accounting of our faith and hope.

There is no coercion in this presentation of truth, though there are clear boundaries, but they are permeable boundaries. No one is beyond the bounds of God’s love, not even the dead who died in the flood because they would not repent. In these texts there is no fortress wall, but in the end either you know God in Jesus Christ as the one who is raised from the dead and are saved or you do not. If you do not you are invited to know Jesus Christ. There is no other way to fully know God, who is creator, except as trinity, father Son and Holy Spirit, not because some human said so, but because God has only acted in full self-revelation in Jesus Christ. If you want to know the truth one must be in relationship with Jesus Christ, because Jesus Christ is God and God is truth. This is the logic of these passages.

Three things I’d like to draw our attention to concerning our relationship to this truth that is being in relationship with God. 1) Our relationship to truth is in our being priests. We are to handle our words, and those we speak to about the truth as if they are holy things as though we are priests attending to our most sacred duty. 2) While we are called to recognize that other cultures and religions may have some sense of the truth of God, we are also called to proclaim that only in relationship to Christ can that portion of truth be fulfilled. 3) The truth is about entering the divine relationship of the Holy Trinity who is truth, which thus the truth compels us to obey Jesus’ command to Love, but it is only in the relationship to Jesus that we find this love that is truth.

First Peter is a bit of a rambling epistle and so there is much packed into this brief epistle and this brief passage. It is difficult to pin down one theme. But a theme in this epistle is our priesthood as members of the Church. Our priesthood is derivative from Christ’s. The holiness then spoken of our priesthood is not our possession, but something we receive. Peter begins his epistle calling us back to the time of the Exodus when God took slaves out of Egypt and then called them a nation of priests a holy people, not because of their worthiness but because of what God had done. Our priesthood is not a source of pride but of humility.

We encounter the priestly theme in our passage when Peter moves from discussing our suffering and persecution to how others and we may respond to our suffering. So, in the midst of our struggles in life we are to sanctify Christ in our selves, in our hearts, we are to remember our priesthood our being set apart. Then so having remembered our set apartness in Christ, we are to handle the demand and our answer as to why we have any hope, with gentleness and fear (RSV says reverence). We are to handle the question and our answer, the questioner and the relationship with the carefulness of handling holy objects. This approach to our defense or answer is one of careful attention as a priest attending to the most sacred duty. There is no pride or cavalier attitude allowable in the moment of handling holy things. Our faith, the reason we can have hope in the world and those who notice our faith and our hope, are not to be treated cavalierly or roughly but with holy fear. We are called to answer gently. We are not to act rashly or out of anger or even out of a need to persuade. We are also not to act as if Jesus Christ makes no difference. We are to handle the situation as holy that is to se that occasion and our faith and the person we encounter as a holy thing that we offer to God as priests. We do so because Christ did this and acted as priest not only for the living but also for those souls who having rejected the truth of God in the times of Noah were preached to by Christ. In baptism we are like Noah saved form the flood, for in it we are given a clean conscience through the Resurrection of Christ. We are priests; we have hope and faith because of the work of Christ and our identification with the priestly work of Christ in baptism. As priests we are to proclaim this truth about Christ and the salvation that is found in being identified with Christ’s.

This is also the proclamation Paul gives in Athens when he finds a very religious and inclusive people, so inclusive that they include an altar to their ignorance, to the unknown God. Athens is perhaps not far from where we are at in our context today. In some sense we still harkens back to this seat of philosophy and intellectual center, Plato and Socrates. Our philosophers, intellectuals and many beyond the walls of the academy share this attitude today both of intellectual dispute, search for truth and attempt to be inclusive of all assertions of truth. We learn from Paul that we don’t have to condemn this that we can look into our culture and find the portions of the truth that is known or discovered. Paul goes beyond praise and demonstrates from their own poets’ praise of Zeus that they know something of this God, who is creator, even if this knowledge is, in comparison to knowing Christ, ignorance. Paul recognizes that in culture there may be bits of truth, the beginnings of God’s self revelation, but he is clear to the Athenians that this truth is ignorance if it is not joined with the knowing God in Jesus Christ, who is raised from the Dead.

The particularity of this claim of truth and that the truth is manifest in someone raised from the dead is too much for the Athenians. It is also too much in our context. Perhaps too much for we who have faith in Jesus Christ? I too have struggled with this. What of those who remain with only the portion of truth? In college I had a professor who was Buddhist with whom I studied Buddhism. If it were not for Christ raised from the dead I could have easily become a Buddhist or Hindu. In my conversations with my professor we talked and I saw in him the gentleness of Christ and the presence of the Spirit, and yet I also had to admit that it was partial, that I could recognize the Spirit because I knew Christ. My professor thought challenged me, to recognize the difference and incompatibility of Buddhism and Christianity. I could not follow Buddha and believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and God. Christianity did not claim that Jesus was a Buddha one who had just achieved enlightenment like everyone else can with enough time. We believe that God was in God’s fullness in Jesus Christ, and the Resurrection is the sign of that the universal truth was in one particular human being. Some of those philosophers and religious reject the Paul’s proclamation of this truth, and remain in the ignorance of the altar to the unknown god, others hearing this connection between their acknowledgement of ignorance of the truth ask to hear more, and some like Dionysius the Aeropagite, accept Paul’s proclamation. Paul wavers neither from commending the small bits of truth their culture has come to nor from asserting that Jesus Christ, the one risen from the dead is the only full revelation of God. The only way to come into the full truth their culture and religion already recognizes is to accept the risen one.

It is the risen one, or rather the one who is to be raised, who speaks to us about our being sent the Spirit of Truth, if we show our love for Jesus by keeping his commandments and thus being in relationship with him. Through Jesus we have relationship with The Father and the Spirit of Truth. These are intended as words of comfort Jesus gives to the disciples knowing he is going to his death and they will be fore a time scattered. There is an assurance that the disciples will not be bereft of relationship to Jesus or God. The assurance that we are not left alone as Jesus’ followers. These words then are not intended to boost our egos as believers, but to give comfort and assurance of relationship. If these words are used for a basis of self-assurance and pride then such an interpretation is a lie foreign to the Spirit of Truth. The Spirit, the advocate, the one who is given so that we may remain in relationship with Jesus Christ, who is one with God the Father, is the Truth as Jesus is the Truth, because all are one and God in relationship in truth and love. Remember the commands Jesus gives are summarized in the command to love one another, spoken at the beginning of this speech of Christ’s that he gives just before he is arrested, which we heard weeks ago on Maundy Thursday. The assurance of these words is that in all that is going to happen in all the confusion that the followers of Jesus are not being left without relationship to Jesus and to God, who is trinity. The Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, are all the truth, we are to relate in love to the truth and obey the truth out of love. This truth should bring us to love one another and neighbor, because truth is a person, and the truth is to be in relationship with the God of Jesus Christ.

All our passages are about truth because God is the truth, the god revealed to us in Jesus Christ who is raised from the dead. There is no other God, but this God, no other full revelation of this God than in the incarnation of the Son as Jesus of Nazareth. This truth as such can only be received in relationship. This isn’t about my experience or my truth this is about the Spirit of Truth who is given to those who enter into relationship with God through the one who is the incarnation of God and thus died and rose from the dead. This is not faith in me as a preacher, or us as Christians or the Church as separate from Jesus Christ, but faith in the Raised one Jesus Christ. Through faith we enter this relationship. By God’s saving acts in Jesus Christ we are made holy and made to be priests. We are to handle ourselves our words about the truth, which is God, and those who demand an answer to why we have hope and faith with reverence and gentleness. We are to be gentle, to act out of love, to hold all things reverently. In so doing we both acknowledges that in various cultures and religions there is some truth and that there is only one complete revelation of God. There is only one who has the whole truth and that is Jesus Christ, because Jesus is God. All other knowledge experience and understanding of God, is partial and thus also an ignorance. But we are to show forth the love, to show that truth is a person, with whom through the incarnation we can have a relationship. We then as Christians as members of the Church, the body of Christ, are possessed by the truth we do not posses it. We only can proclaim what we have received, we are made holy not by our having something but by the act of God in Jesus Christ through Baptism. Salvation is about being in relationship with God. From this relationship come the proclamation and the truth claims of the Church. Everything is bound up with Christ, the one risen from the dead, as the full revelation of God. God came in our midst to reveal God’s self to us and save us through that revelation because without it we only had our ignorance, our meager groping after the truth and God. In the end all other truth claims even ones that get it partially right are ignorance in comparison to knowing and having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, who is the truth, and who give us the Spirit of truth, which is expressed and given in gentleness love and compassion.