Preacher: The Rev. Kate Wesch
Scripture: John 16:12–15
What is TRUTH and where can you find it in today’s world? Well, it depends upon the subject I guess. To learn the truth about things in the ocean, I would ask an oceanographer, about cancer, an oncologist, about the great musical tradition of the church, Tom Foster. We live in a culture of scholars and specialists who are the repository of a body of real things, events, and facts around particular subjects. To say that more plainly, if you want to know the truth about a particular subject, you can ask an expert.
That’s clear enough until we throw in things like a Google search, arm chair experts, or my new favorite – someone who just knows they are right – they feel the truth and know it in their heart. Apparently, this is called truthiness. You may have heard this relatively new term, coined about a decade ago by Steven Colbert in the inaugural episode of his show on Comedy Central. But the idea of truthiness, “truth that comes from the gut, not books” actually has a long history in philosophy.
It comes out of 19th century British philosophy and the term “emotivism.” Emotivism meaning “all moral judgments are nothing but expressions of preference, expressions of attitude or feeling.”
This idea was picked up and developed further in the 1980s by Catholic theologian Alasdair MacIntyre in his book, “After Virtue,” as he used the phrase to reflect on modern moral arguments, a pluralistic society, and rising individualism. When there is no common ground, bankrupt culture, and a lack of shared truth, what is left? This all naturally leads to where we find ourselves today in this consumer driven culture, in this political climate, existing primarily within the kingdoms of our own making in which “truth” comes only from the gut. In the words of George Costanza, “Just remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it.”
So, all of this makes me wonder: How important is truth? Where do we find it? How do we act on it? As I was writing this in my office in Christie House last Thursday, bits of a conversation from the hallway floated into the room, “that’s just not true,” I heard. “They are smart guys, but on this topic they can’t see the truth.” And earlier that day over breakfast, I heard my children having a similar argument. My 5-year-old daughter hollered. “Tell Myles to stop saying THAT! It’s not even TRUE!”
True, truth. It’s everywhere. What one person knows or holds to be true, even fervently believes can be in direct opposition to the person sitting beside them, even when those two people like one another, love one another even. Truth is complicated. When truth is disputed, is it ignorance, confusion, or simply a lack of information? Is one person right and the other wrong in every situation?
We could say it all boils down to semantics when deciphering what is true or not. To follow that thread for a moment – truth is defined several ways in the dictionary alone: first, the common body of real things, events, and facts – two, a body of true statements and propositions, and three, a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality.
These definitions are well and good as long as we can all agree upon how and who decides what is the body of real things, or true statements, or a spiritual reality. Therein lies the problem. We could debate that from now until eternity.
Now, don’t worry. I’m not going to give you some flimsy metaphor of the Trinity in honor of this feast day and declare it “truth” from the pulpit. That would be disingenuous as well as making a mockery of its deep mystery. The relationships in and among God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are deep, wonderful, yes mysterious, and worthy of much conversation. But what I want to focus on today is obviously truth and the way in which modern definitions of truth shed light on our understanding of the Holy Spirit.
As Jesus says to the disciples in John’s Gospel, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” Jesus goes on to say, “The Spirit will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” Jesus was clever, so very clever and everything he did or said was intentional. As he neared the end of his kingdom teaching and drew ever closer to the cross, he was preparing the disciples for what was to come next.
When you think about it, if Jesus – the Word – the incarnation of God in flesh – brings a distinctive revelation of God to humanity, what happens when the incarnation ends? What happens when Jesus is no longer walking among us on earth? Jesus knows the answer and he is giving it to the disciples over and over again in the hopes that they might truly hear him, that they might hear the truth.
Here’s the answer: The Spirit of Truth will come and this is how. To glorify means to make visible the presence of God. (Hold that in your mind as you listen to the next part.) Just as Jesus makes visible the presence of God, the Holy Spirit will continue to make visible the presence of God-in-Jesus in a new way. And in these verses of scripture, we are calling the Holy Spirit the “Spirit of truth.”
So, back to the question: What happens when the incarnation ends/when Jesus is gone from this earth? Who comes then? And the answer is the Holy Spirit, also known as the Spirit of truth. He’s here, she’s here, the Spirit is here to guide us which sounds really nice and comforting, but how does that work?
I have a story from recent experience of how prayer and the Holy Spirit led my family back to truth. Most of you will smile and nod knowingly as you’ve walked this road before, but we’re at the beginning of this parenting journey. We have young children just beginning to leave the sphere of our influence to start establishing autonomy as people in the world. Our oldest is in school now and has friends we do not know who come from families with whom we are not in relationship. That is new for us.
So, a few weeks ago, we encountered the first problem – of many I’m sure – in which our daughter was engaged in a friendship that had taken a strange turn and left us struggling to figure out how to support her. I watched our 5-year-old wrestle with family vs. friendship, with issues of belonging, loyalty, identity, and culture. As I talked to her about the painful issues she was contemplating, she kept saying “that’s not true. You don’t believe me.”
And then, it clicked. She needed to hear the truth. Despite whatever it is she might hear on the playground or at the lunch table, she needed to hear the same truth she has heard every single day since she was born – the truth I know is embedded upon her heart. “You are a beloved child of God.” I told her. “And you are part of this family. God loves you and I love you. Your dad loves you and your brother loves you. That is the truth.”
For us, for Christians, this is the one big TRUTH, and it is the same for you and for me. You are a beloved child of God and God loves you. Knowing that truth and accepting it allows you to step into the next stage of the journey, the part where the Spirit of Truth will guide you. The Spirit of Truth always guides you to belovedness – this I believe – to your own belovedness, or your child’s belovedness, or your neighbor’s belovedness.
Which brings us back to the original question: What is TRUTH and where can you find it? We know that the Holy Spirit continues to make visible the presence of God-in-Jesus in a new way and that happens in big ways and small ways. It happens in the actions of those living true lives. We see embodied Incarnation (I know that sounds redundant) walking around in the faithful and true lives of people who strive to live in God’s kingdom. They are the ones always looking beyond themselves, beyond their personal gain or control, and into ways and means of making the world a better place. Last week’s sermon caused us to consider a Spirit filled life for ourselves and every person we meet. Living a true life is much the same and every beloved child of God is capable of such a life.
Consider truth. Consider where you find it, why it certainly does matter and is important. And in prayer, consider how the Holy Spirit can guide you in choosing how to act upon it.