I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving and a blessed day. Often the Sunday following Thanksgiving is the first Sunday in Advent. From time to time, however, there is another Sunday that pushes Advent back a week. That is true this year. In the life of the church today is considered to be the Reign of Christ Sunday.
A brief overview: whether the Reign of Christ Sunday is the Sunday before or after Thanksgiving the Reign of Christ Sunday is always considered to be the last Sunday of the Christian year. In many ways, this is like the New Year’s Eve of the Christian year. The beginning of the Christian year begins with the First Sunday in Advent with the anticipation of the coming of the Christ child. The year continues through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the documented Acts of the followers of Christ in the early church. This Advent we begin Year C of a 3-year rotation of scripture.
This Reign of Christ Sunday wraps up Year B and provides today’s scripture focus. This scripture reading triggered two things I remember from days-gone-by TV. One was Edith Ann – a Lily Tomlin character on Laugh In. Lily sat in a huge chair as 5 year old Edith Ann. She would go on and on about something and end the story with: “. . . and that’s the truth.” Then end the statement with her concept of an exclamation point – a big raspberry.
I am also old enough to remember the original TV show, “To Tell the Truth” with hosts Bud Collyer and Garry Moore. I always thought this was an interesting show. This is how it works: Three individuals claim to each be the same person. The panel of celebrities like Kitty Carlyle would question the guests in the hopes of sorting out who the imposters are and who is telling the truth. By the process of elimination, each celebrity then selects one of the three. After their votes are in, the person who is telling the truth stands – often to the bewilderment of the panel and the audience.
Upon reflection I find it interesting that to play this game, two contestants have to lie and they have to lie convincingly. There is something about that which bothers me. Yes, it is only a game, but what are we teaching our children when they watch it? That if we’re clever enough we can get away with anything? That it’s ok to lie? The more I think about it, the more I become disturbed and ask: when is it ok not to tell the truth?
Several years ago I realized that I was not always truthful and became much more intentional in telling the truth – little things and big things. Telling the truth is not always an easy path. From time to time, I must admit, that I realize that I fall back into the old habit of fudging the truth, and to be honest, I am not very proud of that fact.
In today’s Gospel lesson we find Jesus and Pilate engaged in a difficult conversation. Every riddle-like answer Jesus gives in response to Pilate’s questions bring him closer and closer to death. When Pilate asks: “So you are a king?” Jesus answers, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth.” This is a significant question in Jesus’ day as well as our own. What is truth?
In an article written by Lee Griffith some time ago, entitled The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God, (The Other Side, 1999) Griffith writes, “The principality and power known as the United States of America seems incapable of addressing any problem without resorting to war. We have a ‘war’ on crime, a ‘war’ on poverty, a ‘war’ on drugs, and, most recently, a ‘war’ on terrorism. The point Griffith so eloquently makes is that we don’t “identify the problems as social issues to be resolved, but as flesh-and-blood enemies to be attacked.” And notes this is why the ‘war’ on poverty turned so quickly into a war on the poor.
These wars must be defeated rather than transformed. In other words, when we work to resolve problems we need to see people and not issues. With a war mentality, however, we detach and distance ourselves and don’t see people but rather objects in the way of our goals.
Mahandas Gandhi, in explaining his conviction that the end never justifies the means, emphasized that the means must always be good in and of themselves.” Griffith cited lies and violence as two examples of means that are never good in and of themselves and wrote; “I found in the Scriptures the only acceptable alternative to the lies and violence that our various ‘wars’ demand.” Griffith points to the gospel and upholds the way that Jesus preached the truth, lived the truth, and is the truth.
Truth,” Griffith continues, “is embodied in Jesus as he searches us out and calls us to re-member him. Truth is the path of discipleship, the way in which we are called to walk. Truth is what guides, strengthens, and sanctifies us for that walk. It is word, knowledge, and deed: Speak the truth, know the truth, do the truth. Born of discipleship, truth is the fruit by which disciples are known as followers of the one who is truth. Truth, finally, can never be separated from love. Truth is not the goal we are called to pursue. It is the life we are called to live.”
When Pilate asked, “What is truth?” Jesus spoke no answer, but his life reflected that truth is the willingness to suffer rather than to retaliate, to answer injury with forgiveness, to find in death the path to life and that any claim to ‘truth’ is a lie if it is divorced from love – not merely the love that we speak or feel, but the love that we do.” Griffith pointed out that there are lies that serve as pretext for bombings and assaults and retaliatory strikes on other countries and even groups within the US.
At the time Griffith was writing this article in 1999 he was focused on the embassy bombing in Kenya and Tanzania and for the retaliatory strikes in the Sudan and Afghanistan. He could have written these words today. He continues: “These distortions of fact point to the larger distortions caused by hatred [and I would add fear]. The truth was absent from any of these attacks, not because they lacked a basis in fact, but because (like all violence) they lacked a basis in love. No truth was spoken or done. “Truth opposes deceit, and freedom opposes captivity.” And as John put it, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
Griffith points us to the truth about real terrorism when he writes: “So this is the terror of God: God’s Word doing truth as it cuts through all lies and defeats all violence. This is the terror of God: Jesus undoing violence by suffering it and defeating it in resurrection. It is in the face of this terror that the kings and generals hide. We are called to “believe in no terror but the terror of God’s Word, which is doing truth and undoing violence through [love].”
Doing truth gives us the courage to face the lies of systems and peoples that lead to hatred, inequity, violence and destruction. To tell the truth – this is what we are called to do, and we need to develop deep habits of speaking the truth to one another, face to face. I find this happens regularly within the interfaith community here in Las Cruces. We need to develop deep habits of speaking the truth to those who lead our country and those who set policies. We need to develop deep habits of speaking the truth whenever and wherever we witness attitudes and acts of injustice or unfairness or discrimination or hatred or violence. We also need to develop deep habits of hearing the truth as well. Hearing the truth is difficult. But we need people around us regularly speaking the truth – and we need to listen.
Speaking the truth is difficult. Hearing the truth is difficult. Speaking and hearing the truth in love doesn’t make it any easier, but to tell the truth, it is the life we are called to live. And as Edith Ann would say: “And that’s the truth!” May God give us the courage to do so. Amen.
Copyright DMC 2028