The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany: Sunday, January 29, 2016
Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
Jesus says, “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.” (John 18:37)
What is truth?
This question has never seemed more relevant to our faith and our society. But this is not the first time humankind has grappled with such a question.
Over the centuries, science has tested and stretched our understanding of truth causing the constants of our lives to shift and transform. One monumental shift in our worldview has been the modern conception of space and time.
Long ago, Aristotle believed in an absolute, infinite universe–space and time remained independent, constant, eternal, and unchanging despite other variables. Later on, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein unveiled new ideas of a relative, finite universe. Science observed that two observers could experience time and space differently depending on where they stood in the universe. Two truths. And so science looked to the speed of light as the new constant by which we measure absolute truth.
But within the last few years, scientists have realized that even light is not constant; it too can vary depending on the conditions slowing down when passing through water or a lens.
So if light, our ultimate constant in the universe is not so constant after all, what does this say about our quest for truth?
The relative, interdependent qualities of God’s Creation humbly remind us that we humans do not know everything–in fact, we need one another if we are to grasp the whole truth. Science shows us that the quest for truth requires active engagement with the world and an ongoing dialogue between past and present. It urges us not to rest in absolutes but to seek deeper meaning in life’s mysteries through the dynamic process of learning, testing, reflecting, and revealing. Science gives us encouragement that even our errors and inaccuracies can point us towards deeper growth and understanding.
Perhaps most of all, science grants us a glimpse of the incarnation–the beautiful paradox of the finite that manifests the infinite, the concrete that opens us up to the universal, and the physical that becomes a doorway to the spiritual, the true path towards walking humbly with our God. (Richard Rohr)
The incarnational revelation of God made manifest in our lives is also revealed in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, more commonly known as the Beatitudes.
Living daily into the spirit of the Beatitudes involves looking at them as a collection of the whole, rather than looking at each one individually. Each is related to the others, and they build on one another. Those who are meek are more likely to hunger and thirst for righteousness because they remain open to continued knowledge of God.
If we approach the Beatitudes this way, we see they invite us into a way of being in the world that leads us to follow God’s truth. In this way, the Beatitudes become a model for spiritual growth and Christian discipleship. In this way we are led to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
But the journey of Christian discipleship–the journey towards justice, compassion, and humility–is not always easy. Paul says: “for the word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
Following Jesus can be as hard and painful as a double edged sword. Anyone who has gone through a process of self-reflection and discernment knows this. Anyone living through today’s times has experienced this. God’s truth can be difficult to hear, and sharing Christ’s justice, compassion, and humility with others can be equally as difficult. But now more than ever, we Christians need to take time to inwardly and outwardly reflect on what is God’s truth? Now more than ever, we Christians need to actively engage our world not resting in the comforts of our faith, but seeking to live more deeply into the way of truth.
We recognize when we follow the Spirit of truth not because it is easy or comfortable but because it is accompanied by justice, compassion, and humility. If these three are not present within our lives and in our society, then this is not the way of truth. If these three are not present, then we Christians have some work to do.
But remember, truth is not a sword to be wielded over others nor a weapon that dominates and destroys. Rather, truth is the surgeon’s knife that wounds only to bring clarity, healing, and life. If we wield the truth as Jesus teaches us–if we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God–then pain and conflict and even persecution will become that which is life giving and liberating.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for you will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for you will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for you will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for you will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for you will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for you will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:1-12)
Jesus radically reveals that spiritual grace and growth often begin in the valley of life’s shadows–in the day-to-day lived experiences of walking, stumbling, falling, and rising with God. If we continue each day walking the way of truth–the way of justice, compassion, humility, we will move from paths of suffering to paths of compassion to paths of sacrificial love. The Beatitudes remind us that the journey of true Christian discipleship is not always easy, but it will lead to a life of extraordinary grace and blessing and transformation.
Thanks be to God for that!