A Sermon preached by Rev Peter Coley on 31 December 2017
Readings: Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Psalm 148, Galations 4:4-7, Luke 2:15-21
When the time had fully come……
Aim: to see that Christ’s arrival is the arrival of truth into our world.
2017 draws to an end. I wonder how you would characterise the year? I think I would say it was the year of untruth! The year when Fake news has been the order of the day and has fundamentally undermined world order and confidence in its leadership. We now have world leaders in place who seem to jeopardise the very life and security of our planet, running on a mixture of fear, ignorance or ego. Whether in America, in North Korea, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Russia or….
You couldn’t blame anyone for echoing the words of Pontius Pilate to Jesus, ‘what is truth?’
As we have just celebrated the birth of a child in Bethlehem, are we not totally out of touch with this world of untruth believing in such things? Are we like the schoolchild who described faith as ‘believing in things that you know are not true’? This is tremendously important because if we don’t know why we believe we are sunk before we start.
As we begin a New Year I want to say with all my heart, I am a Christian because in a world of untruth I believe the Christian message to be the truth!
I would like us to take a look first of all at what people today might consider as truth before looking to what the Bible has to say. So come along with me on a journey for truth.
1. Four views of truth in our world. Truth is a disputed territory today as it has always been. But in the 21st century the West suffers from what we might call ‘truth fatigue’ after so many battles in history over truth, we’re tired of fighting about it, yet still people can’t seem to get away from the question.
2. i. people may say truth is what works We can’t know what’s really ‘out there’ . As long as you do what makes you happy and leave others to do the same, what does the truth matter? Truth is what works, a practical useful aid to a contented life – provided you don’t try to make anyone else believe it too. Essentially this kind of truth doesn’t really matter.
ii. Secondly, truth is what you make it. Here we construct our own truths a little here a little there. There is no truth ‘out there’. What we think about the world, is to a large degree determined by the society we live in. Truth is a social construct that enables us all to live together peacefully. It’s a bit like private property – I have my own car, I have my own set of truths, and others may have theirs. The only universal truth is that it’s always wrong to say someone else’s truth isn’t true! Here truth is good but only in as much as it may help the wheels turn in our society!
iii truth is what science tells us A third group might say, truth is what science tells us. Look how far we have come in understanding the world, we can map distant parts of the cosmos, clone animals, cure diseases, build tiny robots, send information anywhere at any time.
Why only yesterday on the radio a professor was saying it may be possible to use artificial intelligence to create feelings in robots! Science clearly works, why wouldn’t we trust it to give the truth? With this truth we can take a firm intellectual stand, we can test, we can look at the data, the scientific method is proven. These are the only true statements. Religious claims are meaningless because no experiment can tell us if they are true or false.
iv truth is a tyranny to be resisted Finally, there are some people who believe that truth is to be resisted. A tyranny no less. Where you have someone who claims to know the ‘truth’, there you have someone trying to dominate, exploit or oppress others with the pretext of bringing them in line with the ‘truth’.
It has to be said that each of these views has at least a kernel of truth and they are not to be disparaged, perhaps some of you are very close to these notions of truth yourself. Yet if they are the truth then they must be questioned.
To the idea of truth as that which works I would say how do you decide what ‘works’ in the first place, whether for an individual or society. And what do you do when what works for one person actually harms another. Something politicians struggle with daily!
And to the idea that ‘truth is what you make it’ either as an individual or as a society, then what do you say to a society that physically mutilates women or tolerates sexual abuse of children or sends children out with suicide jackets? If their truth allows such things how can you say they are wrong?
As to the idea that truth is what science tells me, is itself not a scientific statement it is a belief, it is a philosophical statement. And so by its own definition becomes meaningless. After all there is so much more to life than what science can show me, about relationships, the human condition, about what it means to live a good life and my place in the world.
iv ‘Truth is a tyranny to be resisted’. Now wait a minute. If truth claims are to be overthrown, then why not this one!! It too claims a power as dominant as any religion encouraging all people presumably to comply with its claim!
So what is truth? In the words of Pontius Pilate as Jesus stood before him on trial? We begin to see it in Jesus words to him. ‘For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’
If only Pilate had known that the truth was standing before him, looking him in the eye.
3. Truth is a person The Bible teaches us that truth is not an abstract idea, but rather a person – the person of Jesus Christ. The one who said to his disciples I am the Way the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father but by me.
We have heard from the apostle John in our Christmas Day reading ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. In Jesus the truth took on human nature.
Jesus did not only live a perfectly truthful life, he is the truth incarnate. He is God in human form and the truth in human form. He came to confront our lies, transform our minds, heal our hearts and liberate us from the slavery of deceit!
4. God is true But Jesus is not only the truth, truth is an attribute of God’s own nature. God is true. We can cast ourselves upon Him for he is trustworthy. Time and time again in the Psalms we read of this God ‘that his ways are perfect, his word is true, he is trustworthy and faithful’. There is nothing false in Him. He alone knows all reality he is the original truth, and all truth derives from him.
5. What God says is true God is true and His words to us are true. As the psalmist has said ‘All your words are true; all your righteous words are eternal.’ Where do we access God’s speech –his words? In the Bible itself!! Yet for many people including Christians this remains a closed book, we do not see it as an essential part of truth seeking. God spoke through the human authors of Scripture. Jesus said to his disciples ‘But when the Spirit comes he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what He hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.’ From these words of Jesus we see that the Holy Spirit, the one who came at Pentecost, is the Spirit of Truth the one who inspired the gospel writers and prophets from of old.
6. We find truth in allowing God’s truths to become our own. The Bible tells a sprawling, epic narrative, beginning with the creation and ending with the recreation of all things. It speaks of how God created people to enjoy the world he had made and fellowship with Him and flourish. Yet the bible tells us people rebelled against God choosing to disobey Him and sin entered the world affecting each and everyone of us. Yet from the beginning God had a plan to rescue people and the creation from sin’s predicament by sending his Son into the world as man – Jesus – who lived a perfectly truthful life in our place. He was the embodiment of truth. Yet Jesus was crucified by people who like us, loved lies rather than the truth. Yet this death we know and his subsequent rising from the dead, was the means by which, if we turn from our sin we can be reconciled to God, forgiven and adopted into his family whereby we call him ‘Abba’, as Paul tells us in the epistle reading. The whole point of the Bible is to tell us how to be rescued from sin and how to live out the salvation that God offers. We are called to submit to, trust in, and follow Jesus. As we do this the Spirit of God will begin to enable us to start thinking God’s thoughts and begin our journey of truth seeking. And this says Jesus is the only way to live, because in following the path of truth we follow the path of freedom, for Jesus tells us that ‘the truth will set you free’.
What is truth? Yes it is ‘out there’ waiting to be discovered in the person of Jesus Christ the Way the Truth and the Life. We are not left to devise our own paths to truth, we are lead to it by the Holy Spirit. Here is truth that works for all humankind and gives us a world view that explains all we need to know about why the world is like it is, why I am like I am, and how I need a Saviour to rescue me from my human condition, I can’t do it on my own! Here is truth that enables us to see that each scientific discovery is only unearthing the truth that God has always known. Here is truth that far from being tyrannical gives liberty to the captives, sight to the blind and good news to the downtrodden. Here is truth to be discovered, truth to be experienced as it opens us up to God, truth to share with the world. Let’s discover more together in the hard journey for truth as we move into 2018.
When the time had fully come, God sent his Son into the world, full of grace and truth.