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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

November 4, 2018

 Truth With a Capital T

Exodus 20:1-17; John 14:1-7

            In John 18, Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate and declares that He came into the world to testify to the truth, and that everyone who belongs to the truth listens to His voice.  Pilate looks at Jesus, and asks, “What is truth?”  It is a cynical, tired question by a Roman authority who wishes he did not have to contend with the Nazarene at all.  But it is still a crucial question for us: “What is truth?”  When we swear-in a witness on the stand in a court of law, we ask, “Do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God?”  We want to determine what is true from what is false, because we still believe truth matters.  Where do we go to find truth?  And can we find places where we can confidently stand on truth in a world crowded with prejudices, preferences and opinions?

            In 2005 comedian Stephen Colbert coined the word “truthiness.”  “Truthiness,” said the comedian, “is ‘What I say is right, and nothing anyone else says could possibly be true.’”  Now the word “truthiness” has even found its way into the dictionary!  “Truthiness is the quality of seeming to be true according to one’s intuition, opinion or perception without regard to logic, factual evidence, or the like.”

            In a world of “truthiness,” it is more important than ever to be able to ask, “What is truth?” and to care deeply about the answer.

            This weekend people of many faiths gathered to observe with our Jewish brothers and sisters Shabbat – the Jewish Sabbath.  Outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh Rabbi Jeffrey Myers spoke on the Torah.  Myers was criticized earlier in the week for welcoming President Trump when he came to visit and pay his respects.  Many, including the Mayor of Pittsburgh, refused to greet Trump, believing that his divisive style was somehow responsible for this hate crime that has so deeply wounded us all.  I love what Rabbi Myers said, “You can’t fight hate with hate.  It just will not work.  If we are to heal, there is only one path and that is the path of good.”  Paul said the same thing to the Romans in what I regard as one of the most important ethical truths ever uttered: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

            We are all forever indebted to our Jewish covenant brothers and sisters for ethical truth, for the standard that enables us to discern truth, to tell right from wrong.  In fact, the Jewish people bequeathed to us both ideas of liberation and law.  Bruce Feiler, in his book on Moses, says, “Wherever freedom is spoken, it is always spoken with a Hebrew accent.”  God delivered the Jews from bondage into freedom.  Before Caroline Bryan read the commandments, we heard that God was the one who delivered Israel from bondage into freedom.  And the God of Israel is always a God of freedom, who stands against oppression, for justice and for peace.  But we also are indebted to the God of Israel for law – the notion that there are ethical standards, truths, that define for us right and wrong.

            The Ten Commandments were given to Moses by the Liberator God, Yahweh.  They were divinely revealed on Mount Sinai, and as such, they are not the Ten Suggestions, or the Ten Opinions, or the Ten Pretty Good Ideas.  No: They are the Ten Commandments, divinely revealed, immutable laws.  Truth – not truthiness!  “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”  They not only enshrine moral and ethical truth – they command it from us.

            So Judea-Christian faith is deeply wed to moral and ethical truth as the foundation for our whole life.  The Ten Commandments are never an easy or a convenient standard, but they do express Truth, with a capital T.

            But even more to the point, truth for the Christian is personal, centered in the person of Jesus Christ.  John’s Gospel opens with the truth claim, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us … full of grace and truth.”  Or as Eugene Peterson, another great Christian who died this week, put it in his paraphrase of the Bible, “and the word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”  In John 8, Jesus says, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31).  And of course, in our text this morning, in John 14, Jesus answers Thomas’ question, “Lord, how can we know the way where you are going?”  Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.”  Now sadly, too often, Christians have used these words as “a club” – to exclude, demean, or diminish others.  They forget that Jesus also said, “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  Jesus said from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Jesus uttered these words of self-definition not to exclude or to demean anyone, but rather to invite, to embrace, to include, and to welcome.

            Christians believe that in Jesus Christ, Truth became personal, and could be known in the Incarnation, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus Christ is “Truth with a capital T, and in the singular,” as my mentor and friend, Tom Gillespie, used to say.

            “Jesus comes to us clothed in His Gospel,” said Calvin, and we find the truth about God, the truth about who we are, and the truth about who we are meant to be in Jesus Christ.  We are not left to imagine or to construct God from our wishes or preferences or our fears.  God has come to us in Jesus Christ, whom Karl Barth called “the one sufficient Word of God.”

            Jesus Christ is God in human flesh, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,” according to the Nicene Creed, who “for us, and for our salvation, came down from heaven and became truly human.”

            This is never a truth we can be arrogant about, because Jesus embodies truth that calls us to humility and to love.  There is no arrogance in love.  H. Richard Niebuhr, in his book, The Meaning of Revelation, said, “at best, we have finite access to an infinite God.”  We are human, which means we are limited, not all-knowing.  But we have received God’s self-revelation of Jesus Christ “the way, and the truth, and the life.”  We never need to apologize to anyone for this truth.  It is our hope, our health and our salvation.  What we do need to do is live into the truth of Jesus Christ by embodying His love.  Remember the truth Jesus shared?  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  This is the truth, with a capital T, that we need to show the world.

                                                                                    Amen.

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