Sunday, November 25, 2012
John 18: 33-38, NT page 113 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “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?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. Sermon On the wall of our church library are the pictures of nearly every pastor who served First Presbyterian Church in her 201 year history. All of these pastors pictured are male, as none of the associate pastors have made this wall of distinction. Some served for over 20 years, one only two, and now, if only temporarily is the picture of Bob Duncan who served this church as her preacher from November 4th, 2012 to November 4th, 2012. Bob’s picture fits in up there – he looks as wise as the other preachers. He also has the appropriate hair line, and while my own hair line is rapidly retreating, once I have a picture made and hung on that wall I will be the youngest among a crowd of distinguished clergy, and compared to some I look much more like their grandson than the man who fills their same office. It was a bold choice you made to call me, who, on my first day, was only 30 years old. Many people, who know this to be a church of great distinction, meet expect me to be older – and while I look forward to one day looking like the kind of person who actually knows what he’s doing, the advantage to being a young pastor is that I am allowed to ask questions that some would be too self-conscious to ask. You see, I have nothing to lose because so many people assume I’m too young to know what I’m doing. There is a refrain to the hymn following this sermon. “This is an unfamiliar hymn,” Marcy told me, “so how would it be if the choir sang the stanzas and the congregation sang the refrain?” This question was met with silence, so Marcy asked, “Joe, do you know what a refrain is?” I’m worried about getting older, because it’s not my ignorance that I’m going to lose. What I’m going to lose is the freedom to ask questions, because the more wizened you look the more people assume that you know, and the more you stand to lose if you have to ask. I am convinced that, while it’s been all over the news lately, very few politicians actually have an idea what a “Fiscal cliff” is, but all of them have to pretend that they do – if they didn’t think of what they’d stand to lose. Or how would it be, if instead of making an authoritative declaration, referees at football games asked the fans for advice on close calls. Fans give them advice freely of course, but if the officials showed any sign of weakness or indecision the very essence of sports would change forever. Not everyone can go asking questions, especially people who stand on the house of cards that power and authority can be. Still, Pilate does what so few are courageous enough to do, asking Jesus, “what is truth?” This is his final question, and without even an answer from Christ Pilate bravely stands before the Jews and told them, “I find no case against him.” A bold move, considering how much this Roman authority, assigned to control the Jews, stood to lose. Jesus has a way of forcing people to take inventory of themselves, and rather than simply answer Pilate’s first question, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” as though Pilate were simply appeasing the religious authorities, who, if Pilate didn’t play his cards right, could insight a rebellion that would lose Pilate his job and possibly his life. Pilate tries Jesus only because he is asked to do so by a certain group of people who happen to be the kind of people that you shouldn’t make upset. You don’t go standing up to them, because they can put you back in your place. You don’t go ruffling their feathers, because they are the kind of people who talk. You don’t go asking too many question either; they’ve already supplied Pilate with the verdict he is supposed to deliver, and if Pilate is smart he’ll just do as he’s told, but there’s more to Pilate than that. “What is truth,” he asks. Is truth what will keep me in power? If it is, than certainly the truth is that Christ is guilty and deserves to be condemned to death. That’s what the religious authorities want, so if truth is power than truth for Pilate is whatever will keep him in power. Is truth what will keep the peace? If it is, than certainly the truth is that Christ is guilty and deserves to be condemned to death. A rebellion could ensue over protecting an innocent man from a mob that wants his head, so abiding by the truth must mean doing what will keep the peace. But what if the truth is something else entirely – what is truth, Pilate is bold to ask. Such an important question that often goes unasked because we already know the answer we’re supposed to give. You’re supposed to laugh about how Uncle Bob is so much fun at Thanksgiving, and not worry if he had a few too many, but what if the truth came out? You are expected to keep quiet about the boss who skims off the top; he says it’s no big deal, but what if the truth came out? And you can get used to pretending to be someone else, not really ever being yourself to ensure that the love you want won’t go away, but what if the truth came out? What is truth? You know what it is, and it’s as terrifying as death. All it would have taken for Christ to leave that trial with Pilate, to walk away a free man, would have been a little white lie about who he was and what he came to do, but rather than live that lie Christ chose death, because Christ refused to be anything but true. That’s a scary thought for people like me, who would rather keep their mouth shut than risk upsetting someone, even someone who’s wrong. And it’s a scary thought for people who want to be loved, who need to be loved, for being true about who you are means risking being rejected for who you are. Of course Jesus can do it, of course he can embody the truth, he’s Jesus. But even Pilate, he is brave enough to question what could have gone unquestioned. To ask: is it really the truth if it feels like a lie? Is it really love, if it can be lost for just being yourself? Is it really justice, if it means condemning an innocent man to death? Is it really authority if maintaining it means bowing low to the cruel and the manipulative? Just what is truth? Know that once you’ve found it, the truth can set you free. Amen.