Rev. Lyle McKenzie Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria
2 Samuel 23:1-7 / Psalm 132:1-18 / Revelation 1:4b-8 / John 18:33-37
Who knows what Pilate’s next words are? He asks Jesus, “What is truth?” That’s sounds like a question for our time. And a reminder that it is not a question unique to our time.
What is truth? The Victoria author, Esi Edugyan, who this past week won the $100,000 Giller Prize, for her book, Washington Black, in her acceptance speech which she spoke with genuine surprise and humility at having won a second time, said, “I just have to say that in a climate where so many forms of truth telling are under siege, this feels like a really wonderful and important celebration of words.”
Truth under siege. I think we understand what she is saying. And it is not confined to our neighbours to the south, although the example from the White House and its daily global reach is the most identifiable. But it is true – or false, of many other places and people of our world as well.
Because some believe it works. Not caring about, not struggling with, willing to throw off for any self-serving purpose, to deny, manipulate, question, mock, invent, the truth, works, providing political, economic, or whatever advantage. And it can. As it has in other times, in Jesus’ time, in every human time.
Pilate questions Jesus if he is King of the Jews or not. We need to remember as we hear the word “Jews” in John’s Gospel, it was written at the end of the first century when Jewish Christian separation, animosity and even persecution is well entrenched. The story places primary responsibility for Jesus’ arrest, false trial and death on the Jews, especially the leaders, but the people as well, pressuring Pilate to do what he does not want to do. This is historically questionable. And its history of contributing to and justifying anti-Semitism since, is horrific in its consequences. When we hear these stories, we need to hear the word “Jews” to mean Jesus’ own people and their religious leaders, which is a continual challenge to us and those of us as leaders claiming to be Jesus’ own people in our words and actions for God’s truth, or contrary to it. The challenge is that we not deny the truth of Jesus and love of others in our world.
Jesus’ reply to Pilate is that if he was an earthly king, his followers would be fighting for him, as some wanted to do. But Jesus’ dominion/reign is not from here. Pilate then questions, “So you are a king?” And Jesus affirms for this he was born and for this he came into the world, to testify to the truth. Jesus’ sovereignty is in testifying to the truth, belonging to the truth. And that brings us to Pilate’s question, “What is truth?”
Esi Edugyan words are, “in a climate when so many forms of truth telling are under siege, this feels like a really important and wonderful celebration of words.” Words, the Word is where we find our truth. Not as some form of absolutes, of inerrant literalism, but as (and I almost want to ask the Confirmation students if they would like to finish this sentence) God’s “living address” to humanity, God’s seeking people out in love and challenge that changes us and this world. That’s the truth that we hold on to in a “really important and wonderful celebration of words” every time we and any and all of God’s people gather, read, pray, meditate, sing, join in service, offer ourselves, are washed, and share in Jesus’ meal, live and die, in the Word of the one who is truth and sovereign over this world, to reign in righteousness and peace, forever and ever. It is a really important and wonderful celebration of words of truth.
And it feels today on this last Sunday of the Church year, this Reign of Christ Sunday, when we celebrate the final hope in God’s dominion fulfilled, fully realized, as Revelation envisions, “the one who was, who is, and who is to come, and Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth, who loves us and freed us from sin by his own sacrifice, and made us his dominion in glory forever and ever, will come to this world, for every eye to see.
What truth, what hope is that? I have told in other contexts and in a sermon many years ago about one of my first experiences of seeking justice with indigenous people. I was just beginning in ministry, serving in my first call in Calgary, and attended an event in Edmonton put on by the Synod Social Justice Committee. It was a circle of conversation with the Lubicon Cree people, a small community of Cree who were missed in the original Treaty 8 negotiations with the Cree of that region in the late 1800’s. They have been fighting for status and recognition since the1930’s. Their lands were especially affected by oil exploration in the 1970’s and 80’s destroying most of their trap lines and polluting water sources drawing national and international attention. The Chief at the time was Bernard Ominayak. He spoke softly but purposefully of the devastation to his people, the loss of employment, health, and traditions and culture of the land, and the many deaths of his people, young and old. We listened, we asked questions and expressed our concern and asked how we could be of support. As the night ended, I shook the hand of Chief Ominayak and thanked him and said he and his people were in my prayers and hopes for a resolution and healing. He said thank you.
On November 14, the Lubicon Lake Cree people of Little Buffalo, Alberta, signed #453 Treaty with Canada and Alberta for Land Entitlement and compensation. My first thought was of thanksgiving after such a long hard journey. Premier Notley remembered talking with her Dad about the plight of the Lubicon around the dinner table when she was a little girl. My second thought was about Chief Ominayak. He was not mentioned in the TC article, but the first person quoted was Denise Ominayak. And I wondered is this a daughter, a sister, another relative who is finally seeing this long yearning and hope that I saw expressed that night, realized, fulfilled. The struggle and pain and generational trauma are not all resolved by this step. But it is no small step after so long an injustice. I said a prayer of thanksgiving even as I sighed and can still remember the intensity of sadness of their chief more than thirty years ago.
On this Sunday of hope in the Reign of Christ fulfilled, once and for all time, and even now in our time, Christ’s reign here and not yet, does this remind and inspire us to not lose hope, to see what we say and do here in the Word of hope that is Jesus’ address to us and all humanity in truth and love, is really important and wonderful in the face of many forms of truth telling that are under siege? And that we will keep gathering to hear this truth and hope in God, inspiring us with others to continue the good faith and fight for the Reign of Christ fulfilled now and for eternity. And to catch glimpses once in a while, in longing for justice and peace fulfilled, a dream of healing and freedom realized… In all our relations, let it be so. Amen.