Spirit of Truth by the Rev. Earl M. Gould Sunday, May 23, 2021

Year B: Pentecost Sunday

Primary Text: John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Jesus, before he is crucified, according to John, promises that after his death he will send the advocate; – the counsellor, the paraclete, another descriptive for the same phenomena… the Spirit of Truth.

Today – Pentecost Sunday – the Gospel is from John recounting Jesus’s promise of sending to us this “Spirit of Truth”. Jesus says to his disciples then, and to we who listen for the word today … “When the Spirit of Truth comes, this spirit will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13)

How are we doing these days? Is the Spirit of Truth flourishing, thriving among us?

The problem: All truth is “somebody’s truth”. We all know truth matters, but it’s not as easy to find or know as we maybe thought. We yearn for truth – we need it, yet its perfection seems always beyond our reach. And, there is always more than one side to a story.

Well, our Gospel has a take on Truth. There is such a thing as truth, even if it is more elusive and strange than we could imagine. What’s more, it is the truth that will set us free, – free to live as new creation, and become truth tellers in our own right.

John’s Gospel takes up the question of truth at key points.

In the prologue John says the law was given through Moses, Grace and Truth came through Jesus the Messiah. (John 1:17) That’s an interesting combination; grace and truth”.

In trial Jesus tells Pilate his mission in life has been to give evidence about the truth. “Truth” says Pilate, “What’s that”. (John 19:37-38)

Pilate’s cynical question actually resonates with our society today. There’s no such thing as absolute truth, we might say. Whatever doesn’t fit the agenda can be waved away.

We’ve recently seen banners on “News”,

Covid-19 is fake:

Climate change is fake.

In the Gospel’s proclamation – Jesus says to the bewildered Thomas: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life”. (John 14:6)

This could be taken in the sense – arrogant claim of the powerful. I think rather – truth here is the strange, gentle, yet also powerful truth of divine love overcoming all that destroys life.

The Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus personifies Truth.

Jesus …“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”. (John 8:31-32)

Remember the prologue “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”. (John 1:5)

On the one hand, it is important that we not “demonize” our opponents. But neither are we called to be naïve. There is such a thing as evil in this world.

This instinct not to call out evil for what it is is one of the tactics that evil itself employs in order to smuggle in its deadly purposes under the noses of those who, though not themselves in the grip of evil, are nevertheless unwilling to confront it for fear of looking arrogant, or causing too much of a fuss. On our TVs evil is often dressed in the finest tailor made suits wearing the whiter than white white shirt, sporting a tie you would never find in the local mall. And neither is evil only male, it is not gender specific, especially in our generation.

What we need to be reassured of – my friends in Christ, is that the world of lies is the world of death. God keeps telling us, “I created this world – it is good! The corruption and decay that infect it is trash.”

On Easter Day Mary’s tears are turned to joy because truth itself is reborn.

Truth must be told that will confront lies. The greatest crimes of our time, such as the Nazi massacre of Jews – are able to happen because people who know about them don’t speak up. Many politicians have discovered that people will detect and confront a small lie, but if you tell a really big lie, people will assume it must somehow be true, despite appearances.

Jesus confronts his opponents as they are confronting him. When they don’t like what he is saying to them, they accuse him of being demon-possessed. The truth he is telling simply won’t fit into their models of how the world works. They are frantically presenting the world the way they see it, the way they want it to be.

N.T. Wright, retired Bishop of Durham, Church of England and ongoing New Testament scholar, in his 2020 book Broken Signposts we read: “Truth as we find it in this world is a broken signpost. The Pilates and chief priests of this world have knocked it out of whack. We don’t trust it anymore.” But the longing for truth stays alive in the depths of our soul.

Thomas Wright helps us see: The new creation Jesus brings comes from somewhere else – from God – rather than being created from within the present world.

This speaks powerfully of what this truth really is and how it comes into being. Have you noticed how John keeps telling us this God – this one God who created us, this God to whom Jesus bears witness and whom he claims in some strange sense even to embody – is the God of love.  Creation itself was made through love and will be remade through love, remade over and over again.

And that is why Pilate’s “truth” – the truth of empire, the truth that comes via a sword – can only ever be a partial truth, and when revealed for what it is – becomes an untruth. Admittedly – that is the way the world is at present. But it’s not the way it was meant to be, and it’s not the way it has to be.

If you collude with Pilate’s truth, you are becoming part of the people of the lie. Pilate seems to have won. He has the power to crucify Jesus, and Jesus acknowledges that he really does have that power. (John 19:11) And he exercises that power. He tries to remove the signs of truth, as people of the lie always do.

But the ultimate truth is the self-giving love that made the world and will remake the world ….

For truth and love to show its fullness the corruption that has infected the present creation must be allowed to do its worst and thereby exhaust itself.

Jesus’s followers will be commissioned to be people of the truth. This will be immensely costly for them, as it was for Jesus. But they will be directed into this calling by the Spirit, now called the “Spirit of Truth”. This is the promise Jesus gives his disciples, gives us today … The helper we are given is the Spirit of Truth; it will live with us, within us.

This is truth telling and truth living. John’s commissioning: (John 20:19-23) the Spirit will enable Jesus’s followers to be for the world what Jesus was for Israel.

And here we see resolved the problem of the paradox of truth in today’s world. The notion of truth itself, and the way in which it slips through our fingers right when we want it most, might lead us to despair. On its own – the human quest for truth is a heartbreaking journey/passion.

But when we see Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life – we always, again and again and yet again find truth leading the way through death and out the other side into God’s new world, giving us the Spirit of Truth…. so that we can speak truth to power, be the creative truth that will keep bringing a new creation into being. Yes – part of the challenge of following Jesus, then and today – is to learn the difficult, dangerous but soul enriching art of speaking fresh, healing truth in the world that often still seems to be ruled by Pilate and his buddies.

Maybe for you as well, I confess: lately, I have been dragged down – listening, watching too much “News”. Lies seem to have the upper hand. I desperately needed this Gospel reading today to come into my life to remind me that the lies that are filling the sound bits of life are not the final word.

First: it is a faith statement – my friends in Christ: we are Easter people. Our companion is the living Christ – who lives with us and within us by the miracle of the Holy Spirit.

Second: we are agents of truth. We are not passive observers in this world. Maybe we can’t do much. What we can do is never belittled by our God.

For me, personally, like never before –preparing this sermon helped me see the irony of Pilate asking Jesus “What is truth?” Pilate is looking right at Truth when he is asking the question!

We don’t have to be masters of philosophy and theology – all we have to be is followers of Jesus: Not in the sense of mindless robots, but in the sense of doing our best – knowing truth and grace go hand in hand.

Don’t rely only on your own sense of what is true. You can deceive yourself. What really works is getting others to go along with the lie.

The role of the Church in the world is to discern what is truth for our time. It is indeed a frightening time when some part of the church becomes part of the lie. But two thousand years of Church have shown truth eventually prevails.

In my community – a local mini-mall, at Cavalier and Portage is undergoing a major repair. A big sign tells us what we can readily see with our eyes “New Facade Underway”.

Our dictionary has two definitions of facade:

First – the principal front of a building, facing onto a street. I’m sure that is the meaning the sign intends.

However the second meaning of facade came to me –“a deceptive outward appearance”. The sign came through to me as a metaphor of how we tend to live ….  “a new facade underway.” We are always updating our outward appearances. But we don’t have to. We are each beautiful as we are – in the eyes of God. God takes us as we are – in love, and transforms us into the person God would invite each of us to be.

When the Spirit of Truth comes, this spirit will guide you into all the truth. (John 16:13)

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. (John 14:6)

If you remain in my word, you will be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. (John 8:31-32)

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it, because the Spirit of Truth is here among us …flourishing!

Amen. Amen.