Testify to the Truth

TEXTS: Revelation 1:4b-8, John 18:33-37, Mark 13:1-8

What is Truth?

With sights and sounds of Thanksgiving past and Christmas coming we hear the music.  We can almost hear strains of a strange song singing of “Christ the newborn king.”  On this final Sunday of the worship year, Churches around the world celebrate Jesus as king. 
Next Sunday we begin a new worship year with Advent awaiting Jesus’ birth. Our worship year takes us through the rhythm of birth, life, death, resurrection with Jesus. That’s how we learn and live this pattern of life with God in Christ under the rule of Christ. The rule of Christ is lived in contrast even conflict with the rule of the world. The Way of Jesus confronts the way of the world with a different truth – with God’s Truth. That is the message and meaning of our journey with Jesus which we are always on. We have learned and lived it all along The Way to Jerusalem with Jesus and the disciples. All this comes to a head in a climactic encounter in Jerusalem in John’s gospel heard today. Jesus was arrested and on trial as a threat to the powers-that-be.  Religious authorities convicted Jesus and sent him before Pilate, Herod’s ruler in Jerusalem.

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Judeans?’  Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’  Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Judean, 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 Judeans.’  Pilate asked Jesus, ‘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?’

Jesus often asks hard questions. Here Pilate asks one of life’s biggest and hardest questions: What is truth? How do you know truth? Our quest for truth may not be easy but it is essential.
This fall I have been aware of many truth claims written and in public discourse. It has not been an encouraging effort. Truth claims are frequent and formidable. Most claims to truth seem to me to be anything but truth.

Testify to the Truth

Jesus “came into the world to testify to truth” – as he told Pilate. Jesus is the revelation of God’s Truth; it is the truth of God’s upside down kingdom. Jesus is God’s self-disclosure of the fullest truth of what has always been and always will be. It is truth embodied in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This climactic Christ the King Sunday is simply to name and claim that truth again.

N. T. Wright’s new book is called How God Became King: the Forgotten Story of the Gospels. God became king in Jesus establishing God’s reign on earth as in heaven.“The ‘kingdom of heaven’ is not about people going to heaven,” Wright says, “It is about the rule of heaven coming to earth.”  Disciples of Jesus must forgo the world’s way of power for The Way of Jesus.
Wright criticizes “neo-Anabaptists” who try to be the light of Christ without engaging the world True Christians shun the world’s way of power and expect suffering (Paul Schrag, MWR, 6/11/12).

Almost 500 years ago Benedictine monk Michael Sattler anguished long over Jesus’ words: “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free,” John 8:31-32. The search for truth led Michael Sattler to leave monastic life in south Germany in 1525. A year later he joined the emerging Anabaptist movement and became a key early leader. The following year Michael Sattler was burned at the stake as a heretic. Sattler testified to the truth of Jesus and found true freedom even in death. Powers-that-be heard Sattler testify to the truth and considered it heresy worthy of death. Michael Sattler became an early Anabaptist martyr and our Mennonite ancestor in faith. There is now a Michael Sattler House next to Saint John’s Abbey to testify to truth anew. On May 20, the date of Sattler’s martyrdom, Catholics and Mennonites seek truth together.

What is this truth we testify to?  Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines truth as a “transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality.” In Greek, the word for truth is aletheia, meaning un-hidden that is deeper revealed reality. One of the best names for God, that I know, is the Really Real — or the Truly True! We know that a primary name for God is Love; but God is also Ultimate Truth.  No word sums up Gandhi better than the odd word satyagraha meaning “insistence upon truth.”  Satya is from a word meaning truth and graha is from a word meaning love (ahimsa).  Satyagraha is a commitment to truth, nonviolence, love of enemy – as a way of life. It is to win over our enemy not winning over our enemy…..a key concept of truth!
Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life for the truth of Jesus lived out in Gandhi.  In Flannery O’Connor’s wisdom, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.”

Beware….birth beginnings — Mark 13:1-8

With that big word of truth from one gospel we turn to another gospel. This worship year we have been living with Jesus mostly in Mark’s gospel….also in John. Last Sunday was the final gospel from Mark and I want to conclude with it.  Jesus finally arrives in Jerusalem with his disciples after a long journey with many encounters. The disciples learn ever so slowly – not unlike us and all disciples. They come to the great Jerusalem temple and are greatly impressed…. ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’  Jesus says, ‘Do you see these great buildings? This will all come crashing down.’ Jesus is speaking a greater truth than literal prediction. He led them away to gain perspective. When Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple,  Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’
Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;
A new world is being born — again a hint not only of death but of advent and birth to come.  This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

The final encounter with Jesus in Mark’s gospel that we hear for this year is also a truth quest. Disciples are impressed by great buildings. [Cinci: Cathedral, Presby, Synagogue, City Hall]
Great structures, be they buildings or leaders or powers or systems, impress and dominate us. Jesus warns us that however great these structures and systems are they are collapsing.  Jesus warns us to beware of these false truth systems and powers that lead us astray. Many will use the name of Jesus for truth claims that are false truth. We hear of wars and rumors of wars and their false truth claims to peace. Beware and aware, but don’t be alarmed – don’t be afraid – their end is coming. These are birth pangs, the beginning of the truth of God’s upside down kingdom in Jesus.

We can summarize Jesus in Mark’s gospel in a few words – these words from Ched Myers: “The gospel was written two millennia ago to help imperial subjects learn the hard truth about their world and themselves….This story is by, about, and for those committed to God’s work of justice, compassion, and liberation in the world….Repudiating the authority of both the Judean ruling class and the Roman imperium, Mark’s Jesus envisions social reconstruction from the bottom up. His practice of radical inclusiveness among women, outcasts, the poor, and the unclean questions all forms of political and personal domination. This Jesus calls for a revolution of means as well as ends, enjoining his followers to embrace nonviolence and to risk its consequences. At the center of the story stands the contradiction of the cross – life given, not taken – representing the only power that can remove the ‘veil’ over the nations.”
(“Mark’s Gospel: Invitation for Discipleship” in The New Testament – Introducing the Way of Discipleship edited by Wes Howard-Brook and Sharon Ringe, 40-41).

The plain truth is that all truth claims that look and sound like dominant powers and people, or dominant systems and structures are not truth. They are not the true Jesus and not God’s truth.

A new book entitled A Faith Not worth Fighting For: Addressing Commonly Asked Questions About Christian Nonviolence is edited by Tripp York (Mennonite) and Justin Bronson Barringer,   Various writers address questions about Christian nonviolence including “What about Hitler?” Shane Claiborne summarizes the gospel truth in his Afterword: Early Christians said, “For Christ we can die but we cannot kill.”  That is the truth at the heart of the gospel… Jesus, give us the courage to follow you (231).

Today we hear the strains of John’s Revelation: Grace to you and peace from the One who is and who was and who is to come… from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness [to truth], and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To this One who loves us and freed us from sin [violence]… to this One be glory…for ever and ever. Amen. Look! This One is coming [again]…So it is to be. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

The Spirit of God in Christ is now and forever calling and leading the Church into the fullness of God’s truth – the truth of God’s peaceable reign in Christ on earth as in heaven.

After 9/11, June Alliman Yoder and J. Nelson Kraybill wrote a Christian Pledge of Allegiance.
I pledge allegiance to Jesus Christ, and to the kingdom for which Christ died –One Spirit-led people the world over, indivisible, with love and justice for all.

Amen, come Jesus Christ, and make us testifiers to your Truth!