Harrowing Of Hell
May 12, 2024

What is Truth?

The Rev. Lex Breckinridge

To watch the sermon click here.

“What is truth?” That’s Pilate’s famous question at Jesus’s trial the day after the events in this morning’s reading from John’s gospel. Holding Jesus’s life in his hands, Pilate asks “What is truth?”  A good question. And a timely question for the age in which we find ourselves. We’re often told that we live in a “post-truth” age, an age where news that might be disagreeable can just be dismissed as being “fake news.” We live in an age of what some call “alternative facts.” Don’t like the facts in front of you? Make up your own facts! It’s like that great line from the Marx Brothers movie, Duck Soup, where Chico says to Margaret Dumont, “Who you gonna believe? Me or your lying eyes?” How did all this come to pass? For one thing, we no longer share a common source of information as we did when we all got the news brought to us by Walter Cronkite every night at 6:30. Sure, we still had plenty of heated conflicts when we all got our news from Walter Cronkite, just as we’ve had throughout our history. Conflict is nothing new. But while may have had heated disagreements over our interpretation of particular facts, at least we were dealing with the same set of facts. Not today. In this very online age where social media reigns supreme, our sources of information are fractured and fragmented and as numerous as the stars. Want your corn flakes flavored with some tasty liberal bias? I’ve got just the thing for you. Or perhaps you’d prefer a hearty dish of fiery right-wing propaganda? Here’s your menu! Because we no longer share the same set of facts, we set up our little camps and build walls around them. We aren’t even listening to the ones with whom we disagree so we just yell at each other. Does it make your head spin? Does it stimulate your anxiety? Yeah, me too. Let me suggest that the reason that we are living in an age of anxiety is because we are untethered from the Truth.

So what is truth anyway? I submit to you that the whole of John’s gospel answers that question. Let’s see what I mean. This morning we join Jesus and his friends on the night before his trial where Pilate will ask his provocative question about truth. Jesus is telling his friends goodbye and he’s been doing this over the last four chapters of the gospel in what scholars call the “Farewell Discourse.” Jesus has been telling his friends that although he’s going away, he’s not abandoning them. He’s sending the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to be their guide, to be with them and in them, in all the challenges and hard work and undoubted pain and suffering that are to come. And he’s concluding this long goodbye with the prayer we heard just now. Jesus is praying to his Father for his friends. He’s praying that they may be one as he and his Father are one. He’s praying that they be sanctified, that is, made holy, in the truth, the truth which is the very Word of God. Jesus is grounding his friends in the truth. And it turns out that truth is not abstract. No, the truth is organic. Truth is a living and breathing reality. Truth, it turns out, is embodied, truth is incarnated, in the person of Jesus, the Word made flesh, the One through whom we see and know and experience the Living God. At the beginning of his long goodbye to his friends, Jesus has said that he’s going ahead to prepare a place for them. Of course, the always anxious Thomas pipes up and says, “Lord we don’t know where you’re going, how can we know the way?” Remember Jesus’s answer? “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” I am the Truth. Not I’ll tell you about the truth or I’ll describe the truth. I AM the Truth. Jesus embodies Truth.

Want to know the Truth? Look at Jesus. Look at his life. Look at what he did. Look at what he taught. Look at how he treated other human beings. Look at how he laid down his life for others. Truth is active. Earlier in his long goodbye, Jesus used other images to describe what the Truth looks like.

“I am the sheepfold. I protect the sheep and keep them safe from wolves and bandits.” 

“I am the gate to the sheepfold. I open the gate to welcome the sheep– –all of the sheep—not just my sheep.”

 “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd knows the sheep—really knows the sheep, and the sheep know him– and he leads the sheep.”

“I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower. Those who are my friends are the branches, the living branches, of this living vine. I nourish them and they are whole and one with me as my Father and I are whole and one with each other.”

And Jesus lived the truth in action. At a wedding feast that was about to become a disaster because the wine had run out, Jesus caused six large jars of water to instead be filled with the finest wine, wine in abundance, which was a sign of the abundance of God’s love for the world. He healed the ones who couldn’t see and the ones who couldn’t walk. He looked deeply into the eyes and the heart of a woman who had been shunned by the respectable people and let her know that she was loved. He calmed a raging sea by his mere presence on the water. He fed 5000 hungry people with only two fish and five loaves of bread. “I am the bread of life,” he said. I AM. He continuously confronted the religious authorities pointing out their hypocrisy and their corruption and inviting them into a place of humility and vulnerability where they might know God. He brought life out of death when he raised his friend Lazarus from the tomb. This is what Truth looks like, and this is what Truth does. Jesus’s friends, who have been witnesses to all of this, are now beginning to see and know Truth. As Jesus said to them earlier, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

So on this last night of his life, Jesus tells his friends that they are consecrated in the truth. He tells them they are to trust in the truth and take the truth out into the world. They are to live that truth by doing the work he has called them to do in his name—the work of justice and mercy, the work of healing and reconciliation, the work of feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, the work of caring for the sick and the wounded and the prisoner, the work of peacemaking. This work is holy work. This work is the truth in action. Jesus doesn’t pray to his Father to remove his friends from the “world”, from the forces of evil and darkness that oppose the truth. Jesus asks that they be protected by the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, while they are in the world doing the work of living into the truth. His prayer isn’t about escaping from the challenges, the anxiety, the pain of the world. No, the prayer reminds his friends that in the midst of all of the challenges, the fears and the anxiety, they are not alone.

My dear friends in Christ, in our own age of anxiety we too are not alone. Like Jesus’s friends, we too are guided and covered and protected by the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. As we come to know the Truth and live into the Truth and do the Truth, the Truth found in the Risen Christ, we will find that we are part of something larger than ourselves.

The beauty of a community like Epiphany is that at the end of the day, all of us come here looking for the same thing. We come in search of the Truth. As we share our doubts and uncertainties, our discoveries and our joys, we will find the courage to continue on this great human journey with which we have been blessed. We will find the courage to live and thrive in the sea of fear and anxiety that is raging around us. In a few moments, after we have shared bread and wine in the Real Presence of the Risen Christ, we will say these words in the Post Communion Prayer:

 And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.

We are being sent out to know the Truth. We are being sent out to live into the Truth. We are being sent out to do the Truth, to love and to serve in the name of the Truth. No sitting on the sidelines. Truth is a verb. It’s active.  So take heart. Be of good courage. Like Jesus’s friends, you have been consecrated in the truth. The Truth that will set you free.