Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr,
Each year the people who publish the Oxford Dictionary choose a Word of the Year.
For 2016 it is Post-truth which means: “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Post-truth, in other words, describes the power of the fake and hyper-partisan news that came to dominate this past Presidential campaign. As I read about post-truth this week I was reminded of our conversation last Sunday about the fictional family we might encounter at Christmas dinner, Uncle Jon and Niece Nancy, and how it is impossible even with new information, or logical reasoning, or a preponderance of evidence to change their minds on a given topic.
One reason for this is post-truth. You see, what happens is that fake news creates confusion intentionally, to punch holes in facts, with the goal of creating doubt about everything in the hearer’s mind. A newspaper account I was reading calls this the “Fun House effect” (New York Times Dec. 6, 2016). Pope Francis calls it a sin. My Mom calls it lying, as did my grandmother and great-grandmother. Moses, from the Bible, calls it bearing false witness. This sermon today, however, is not about the sin of lying. That would be preaching to the choir. No one here lies, or at least no one here thinks lying is a good idea. Today’s sermon, rather, is about how to be a person of truth in this post-truth world. Now to do this requires understanding of how the sin of post-truth works. It begins with the voluminous proliferation of fake and hyper-partisan news, which comes at us in vast quantities.
Then, in the face of uncertainty caused by not knowing what is true or not true,
people opt to just line up with their side, their team. Here is the logic: If we can’t tell what is true, then we’ll assume that our side is telling the truth, and the other side is a bunch of liars. And, if for some unusual reason, our side turns out to be lying, then we assume they were lying for our benefit and so our team can win. And that makes it OK, since it is our team, and no one wants to be a loser.
That is the post-truth world, and it results in greater and greater polarization.
Now this impulse toward polarization is not new. Arguably it has been around since Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden. We certainly see it reflected in today’s Gospel. John the Baptist, from his jail cell, sends his disciples to ask Jesus: “Are you the one?” Meaning to say: “Are you the Messiah, are you the leader of our team? To which Jesus responds: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, and the deaf hear.” Cryptic? Yes – because it’s Kingdom of God code that we’ll unpack shortly.
But first, let’s finish examining this Gospel because it shows how Jesus differentiates between Kingdom of God truth, and idols of lesser truths. Jesus starts by saying: “of those born to the world, those born to follow things & ideas created by humanity, no one is greater than John.” What Jesus means here is that: no team is better than John’s team, and no team leader is better than John. In the world of insiders and outsiders, where there are winners and losers, if you must pick a team, go with John’s team. It is certainly better than following Uncle Jon or Niece Nancy. And yet, in the kingdom of God, Jesus continues, the least is greater than the greatest winner in a world of lesser truths. John himself knew this, or rather he knew something wasn’t quite right in his world, and that Jesus had a better way; which is why he said at the baptism of Jesus, that he wasn’t worthy to even untie Jesus’ sandals.
So, Jesus sent John a coded message through the words of the prophet Isaiah:
The interpretation being: “John, the Kingdom of God is here, it is very near, it is this close… and John, it is different than you had thought it would be.” It is not about a Messiah that wins. It is not about a political leader. It is not about defeating the Romans and putting the Jews in charge. It is about the truth; the truth that God is king.
In the code words of the blind, lame and deaf, Jesus is pointing John back to Isaiah, as a way of reminding him what it is like when God is king. Let’s take a closer look at Isaiah so we can know what John remembered. We begin with Carmel and Sharon and Lebanon. These are the powers, the kingdoms, the big teams that people side with. They are great, to be sure, great like the Democratic party or the Republican party. They are great like the Sea Hawks or Sounders, or the Canadian Government. But God says there is something greater, something that has more impact, more power, more influence, and more grace… it is the glory of the Lord.
Now you may not know this, but you have all seen the glory of the Lord. Anyone willing to admit it? Well, we all are going to see the glory of the Lord today. Who wants to see the glory of the Lord? Shut your eyes. Count to 3- 1, 2, 3. Open your eyes. Look around… There is the glory of the Lord. The glory of the Lord is right in front of you. The glory of the Lord is a living human being. You are the glory of the Lord. I am the glory of the Lord. Your neighbor is the glory of the Lord.
It is like this: when you build a church you can build it any number of ways. But no matter how you built it, it doesn’t become a church until you put a cross in it. The cross is the stand-in-image for the person of Jesus. We see the cross. We see Jesus.
We know it is a church. Right?
The glory of the Lord is like that. When God made creation, God was making a temple. And God filled it with the things necessary for it to work well. God made the sun and the moon and the stars; the land and the oceans and all of the fish and insects and creepy crawlies and animals and dogs. This was good. This temple was very good. And at the end, to identify creation as a temple, God set within it the stand-in image for God. That is what the Bible tells us in the book of Genesis at the end of the creation story, God said: “Let us make humanity in our image and likeness.” God set us in the temple to be the image-bearers of God. Our very presence is a living reminder that God is King, and this earth we call home is God’s temple. It is God’s kingdom.
We are the glory of the Lord, and we are more powerful than Carmel or Sharon or Lebanon. But sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Our hands feel weak, and our knees feeble, and our heart afraid. But Isaiah reminds us to fear not, for the Lord is on our team. God is greater than any terror our worst enemy could rouse. God is with us. We are the glory of the Lord. Who is the glory of the Lord? We are! What are we? The glory of the Lord! We are the image-bearer’s of God. Right? Right! We reside in God’s temple. Right? Right! We are more powerful than Carmel or Sharon or Lebanon or any party or principality. Right? Right!
God is with us, and we are the glory of the Lord! That is the truth, in this post-truth world. That is our role to be the image-bearers of God. How do we act as the image-bearer of God? Act like Jesus would act if Jesus had your life, or your life, or my life.
How do we know how he would act as you or me? Read about Jesus. Study Jesus.
Learn about his character, by learning about his life. If you feel trapped by the insidious nature of post-truth; if you are just tired the crap that floats across your computer screen, if you are sick of the lies and the power grabbing leaders of this age; then turn your attention to Jesus. Learn from him. Seek him. Think about him.
Here is what I’ve committed to doing. Maybe you’ll join me. I’ve given up my habit of scouring my multiple news-sources every day, and have gone on a post-truth diet, replacing my compulsive news consumption with reading the Gospels. I put a Bible app on my phone. When I’m looking at my phone no one expects I’m reading the Bible. I do scan the news, but just enough so as not to miss anything that matters. You know how long that takes… sixty-seconds. We are in this temple together, all of us. We are all image-bearers of God. We are the glory of the Lord…. Aren’t we? That is the truth, even in a post-truth era.