Summary: Absolute truth is found in Jesus.
THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
April 24, 2005
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
The Very Rev. M. Anthony Seel, Jr.
“Jesus the Truth”
On Tuesday, white smoke billowed out of the chimney above the Sistine Chapel, bells tolled and the Latin words "Habermus Papam" were spoken into St. Peter’s Square to announce the good news that a new Pope was elected by the Conclave of Cardinals. Except that the news wasn’t universally received as good. On The Early Show on CBS, John Roberts called Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI “the man who was seen as too controversial to head up the Church,” adding “Many Catholics… found nothing to celebrate.” Words like “rigorous fundamentalism, and strict traditions,” were used to describe Pope Benedict XVI.
The descriptions on NBC’s Today show included “hardline, doctrinal hardliner, hard line ideology, hard edge, instinctive conservative, staunch conservative,” ‘The Enforcer,’ and God’s Rottweiler.” ABC’s Good Morning America was no better. The ABC line on Pope Benedict XVI included pejoratives like “absolute values, against relativism, and ‘papal enforcer.’ CNN’s American Morning contributed “the Vatican’s chief watchdog for doctrine,” and “a fierce opponent of liberalism.” NPR’s Morning Edition chipped in with comments on “his fierce stands supporting Church traditions and against religious pluralism.”
I could go on, but you get the point; the end of the world has moved dangerously closer because of the election of Pope Benedict XVI. Why are the major media players in America so upset? It is because the new Pope believes in truth and believes that the Roman Catholic Church knows the truth. According to Pope Benedict XVI, “everything falls apart without truth.” To hold to a confident view of truth and faith cannot be countenanced by the American media elites.
Yet, if we look at our gospel lesson this morning, we see where this kind of faith in knowing truth comes from. I need to caution you up front that I am asking you to put on your thinking cap today. We are not and will not be a church where you park your brain at the door.
Our gospel today is taken from John’s account of the Last Supper. Judas has left the table and the assembly to do his dirty work, and Jesus is giving some last words to His followers before His arrest later that evening. Jesus continues His Last Supper discourse, saying,
vv. 1-4 Let not your hears be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be going."
These words of Jesus are often read at burial services in the Episcopal Church. Picturing heaven as a mansion with many rooms where Jesus has gone to prepare a place for all His loyal followers is an engaging image. His promise to return to take us with Him to heaven is a comforting and reassuring message. Trust in God the Father and Jesus the Christ are essential for the disciples as Jesus prepares them for all the difficult events of that evening and the next day.
vv. 5-7 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."
One of the features of the Gospel of John that I like is its forthrightness. Unlike Mark, there is no “messianic secret” in John. Jesus’ true identity is seen from the very first chapter. His true identity is made especially clear in the seven “I Am” statements that dot the Gospel of John. Raymond Brown, the greatest contemporary scholar on the writings of John, has this to say about the “I Am” statement in Jesus’ answer to Thomas:
[Jesus] is the way because he is the truth or revelation of the Father
on how to interpret the three nouns [the way, the truth, and the life],
so that when men know him they know the Father (7) and when men
see him they see the Father (8). He is the way because he is the life -
since he lives in the Father and the Father lives in him (10-11), he is
the channel through which the Father’s life comes to men. [The
Gospel According to John, XIII-XXI, p.628]
Jesus doesn’t present Himself as a truth. He presents Himself as the truth, and this kind of universal claim doesn’t sit well in sophisticated societies like our own that place a high value on diversity and inclusivity. But, if the diversity and inclusivity of our society is based on ignoring differences that really matter, how is it actually helpful to anyone? There must be a way that we can say in love and without rancor or violence that there is a better way than just suspending all thinking and never coming to any conclusion about what is or is not true.