Sermon for CHRIST THE KING
YEAR B, 2018
‘The King we didn’t choose’
The philosopher Sam Harris has a little book called ‘Lying’. It’s a brief book, but not an easy read. It’s not an easy read because its a painfully forensic analysis of why lying is a bad idea in [almost] each and every circumstance. In this analysis, without intending to, it reveals something fundamental to our human nature – we don’t like being faced with the Truth.
And it’s an uncomfortable read because most significantly we don’t like to be confronted with the truth about ourselves. As you read the book, over and again Harris exposes evasions that are pretty much common to us all, lies that is, and their unwanted outcomes.
In 2006, the former US vice president Al Gore released a film entitled ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ – it was about the impact human activity was having on the Created Order. It was and is an Inconvenient because it requires humanity to radically change the way we live together, and that is not convenient. You can’t slip it into your life as it is at present, between 3 and 5pm on a Monday, for example.
What is more it demands far more in terms of change for we wealthy westerners living in liberal democracies, than it does for so many of the world’s population. That is it is a truth that is very inconvenient for us – thus it is largely gone ignored, not just by the climate denier constituency, but pretty much by everyone else. In a sense, the truth is that we are all climate change deniers, for our lives do not bear witness to this truth.
Bearing witness to the truth in our lives is a matter of conforming our lives to the truth, and in our case as Christians, of conforming our lives to The Truth.
If small truths, like climate change are very inconvenient – The Truth is Completely Inconvenient – it requires us to change everything. Put another way, as Jesus commands, it calls us to die to our old way of existence, and to follow him . . . as we saw in the case of the rich man, this is Very Inconvenient. Put in the terms that the Scriptures put it, he was unwilling to Repent. [And if you think Climate Change is a Big truth, how recently may I ask have you been overwhelmed by the Truth of God?]
Repentance requires us to face the Truth, as the rich man did – the inconvenient truths about ourselves, irrespective of their convenience, and then act in accordance with The Truth. The Fear of the LORD is the beginning of the way of Wisdom
But we have two problems – firstly that change requires of us a degree of humility about ourselves which is all but absent in these days. We note that the truth about ourselves is the hardest to face – it is in more ways than one, too personal, as we shall see . . .
GK Chesterton’s words in a letter to the Times of London, “What is wrong with the world today? I am” are not words likely to fall from the lips of the vast majority of us. our media point us everywhere to ‘the source of our problems apart from the human heart.
Such honesty as Chesterton’s, such truth telling is as rare today as it ever has been in pretty much every sphere of life. Politics is mired in double speak – political leaders won’t speak the truth for fear of those who don’t want to face it – and it is worked out at the level of our personal lives – and that is because those whom they represent do not themselves wish to be confronted with inconvenient truths about ourselves. The Truth often embarrasses our own sense of who we are – or the person we’d like to be thought to be. Our actions before others often fall into an attempt to impress – or, put another way, to deceive
Sam Harris’ book tells the story of a friend who went to visit someone. She’d intended to take a present, but had forgotten to buy one. ‘Fortunately’ for her, the hotel she was staying in had very luxurious bathroom products in a nice bag. She picked one off them up and went to her friends - accompanied by her small child. Her friend was thrilled with the gift, and asked where it had been obtained, to which Harris’ friend replied with the name of an apartment store, only to be corrected by the child who said, ‘No mommy, you got them from the bathroom’ . Bringing a gift was meant to elevate Sam’s friend in the eyes of her friend ‘Oh how Kind, how thoughtful!’ The reality was she hadn’t been kind or thoughtful, and was exposed and such and as someone who would lie to save her own self image . . . it’s not a pretty story
Yet, honesty about who we are is rare – Groucho Marx amusingly said ‘I would never want to belong to any club that would have me for a member . . .’ – perhaps it’s an aphorism that we’d all do well to adopt.
If, the first problem with Truth, that it is Inconvenient to us, our second problem is perhaps more pernicious. For we live in an age in which it is not the words of Jesus we remember, but the words of Pilate in reply. ‘What is Truth?’ Although we say a great deal about ‘Post-Truth Society’ the reality goes much further back in time that the past few years. After all I only have to say ‘on the one hand you have scientific facts, and on the other religious opinions’ you will feel the power of this abandonment of Truth at the deepest level. Truth is relegated to ‘matters of opinion’, even within the Church.
Chesterton again puts it in terms of both ourselves and wider truth. He says that we have suffered as it were an earthquake regarding Truth – that once we took the deep Truths of our existence – say religious truths about the person of Jesus Christ, which is fundamental to our entire faith – that he is the eternally begotten Son of the Father, was born of the Virgin Mary, the Incarnation of the Divine Logos, that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate and on the third day rose again – once we took such things as Truth, and questioned ourselves. Now he says we are certain about ourselves, and unsure of everything else is relegated to the arena of mere opinion.
Earthquakes as we know create liquefaction – the solid ground turns to quicksand. Much of the current malaise of the Church is that so much of what we decide in synods and the rest is built on no firmer foundation than the quicksands of public opinion. For it often seems we have given up on Truth – it being too inconvenient, not conforming itself to our lives . . .
As I said earlier, we take Pilate’s question ‘What is Truth?’ with far far greater seriousness than the words of Jesus. As if his dismissal of The Truth rested on some very firm ground indeed. Witness the ending of today’s gospel – the words of Jesus regarding The Truth. I wonder if any of us can remember them?
We All remember what Pilate said in response – ‘What is Truth?’ The tired question of someone to whom the Truth was inconvenient. The Truth is always inconvenient to those who think they are in command of their own existence – who think they are their own sovereign authority – news of another King will always destabilise the sandy foundations of our existence. If The Truth is out there, then my very existence is called into question – Jesus facing Pilate undermines him with his words
‘For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to The Truth. Everyone who belongs to The Truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate Must dismiss this – if The Truth is out there, then he must change and conform to it, or lose his very existence. ‘What is Truth?’ is his impoverished attempt to flee from the Truth. He tries to divert and engage in a philosophical question about Truth
when it is staring him in the face.
Pilate, the Roman, a speaker of Latin in a world where several languages would be used commonly . . . What is truth? in Latin is an anagram of ‘The One standing before you’
Everyone who belongs to the Truth listens to my voice . . . The Truth is not something inside our head – it is something we are to belong to, and if we belong to the Truth we listen to the voice of Jesus.
‘I am the Good shepherd of the sheep . . . My sheep hear my voice.’ He is the Good Shepherd, the True King – those who belong to Him hear his voice . . . they respond to Him
Jesus does not merely mouth timeless truths like mottos on cereal packets or lines from self help guides – He Is the Truth – Hearing His voice, continuing in His Word we are truly his disciples; ‘and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ . . . ‘if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.’ To Know Jesus Christ, is to know the Truth
The Truth is Personal. Knowing the Truth sets us Free, but the Truth is not an abstract thought, it is deeply personal – it is Jesus himself
I am the Way and the Truth and The Life
As Jesus says to Pilate – ‘Everyone who belongs to the Truth listens to my voice . . .’
We hear his voice, we listen to his voice. This is our way to Freedom from the deceptive voices both surrounding us and within us – the voice of Jesus is the Word of Truth which sets us free from the Deception of the Cosmos which binds our hearts and minds and imaginations and wills – yet it is Personal – and as I said earlier, all but too personal. Facing Jesus Christ is to face the Truth about ourselves, for he manifests the Truth of Everything, nothing is exempt or left out
Facing the Truth is truly Inconvenient – it calls us to profound Change, to deep repentance – – to orient our lives to the Life of the World, the Truth of the World, Jesus Christ, and to walk in that light, freed from deception without and within.
We have come to the end of the Church’s year. We have over twelve months heard the whole gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing has been missed out – our picture of The Truth, embodied in Jesus is complete. He stands before us. Christ the King – Inconvenient, almost in the extreme – not one we would choose for ourselves. But then if we truly need saving, then only one we wouldn’t choose can do this. And the Church in her Grace does not let us go at this point, rather we advance next week into Advent – we do so Looking towards the One who is coming towards us
For our lives to bear witness to the Truth as He comes to us, they need to be conformed to the life of the one who is the Truth. This is the way of Repentance, of Facing The Truth and acting in accordance with it, it is the Way of Life for us all who bear the name of the one who is the Truth.
King Jesus – not a King we would choose for ourselves, for when we face the Truth we know we need a Saviour. Facing the Truth we know we’d not take the inconvenient way. Only in following the King we wouldn’t choose for ourselves are we saved.