What is Truth?
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
March 21, 2021 Fifth Sunday in Lent
Jeremiah 31:31-34; Gospel of Thomas 77 and 70;
and John 17:20-23a and 18:37-38a
here is a pdf of the readings: 3-21-21 Service Readings 2
Call to Worship: Welcome to the United Church of Strafford, Vermont, on this Fifth Sunday in Lent and Truth Sunday. Today we will hear the choir sing a hymn by the 17th Century pastor and poet, George Herbert. It reflects his theology and approach to poetry, controversial at the time, which looked for the presence of divine light as the inner truth within mundane things. It begins,
Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for Thee.
The poem then uses the image of a window pane for looking beyond the surface to see a deeper truth.
A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav’n espy.
Herbert then introduces the metaphor of alchemy with the word “tincture.” We can transform anything by connecting it to the Spirit’s purpose and truth.
All may of Thee partake:
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with this tincture—“for Thy sake”—
Will not grow bright and clean.
The next verse gives a beautiful image for the transformative power of the clause, “for Thy sake.”
A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
Makes that and th’ action fine.
The philosopher’s stone used by alchemists cured diseases, gave virtually eternal life and turned metal into gold. Herbert says, look, we have this power now.
This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.
Jesus emerged from the wilderness transformed, full of the Spirit. That Spirit is our innermost truth, and our calling is to let its light of love flow through us, turning all it touches to gold. Let us worship together seeking the Truth we need today…
the sermon begins below
What Is Truth?
A young man was buying a piece of land that had a boundary dispute with a neighbor. There had been accusations of loggers stealing trees, shots had been fired, a trailer had been torched. The buyer went to talk with the neighbor to see if it could be resolved. The man greeted him gruffly. His son had his jacket pulled up to reveal a pistol.
They had different backgrounds, different politics. The young man was new to town, the neighbor had lived on that land almost all his life, but as they talked they found that the other place the neighbor had lived they shared in common. They appreciated the same things, they laughed at the same things.
Then the young man pulled out an old town map he had found. He had discovered that an allowance strip laid out between properties in the 1700s had never been assigned. He said neither of them owned the disputed land, and maybe they could agree to manage it together.
The neighbor said he thought that would work. They shook hands. The young man noticed as he turned away that the son’s jacket now covered the gun.
We cannot see another person’s truth when we remain full of aggression or defensiveness. It takes an inner shift to be able to attain compassion and kindness in a stressful encounter.
Thomas Keating emphasizes that the goal of the spiritual journey is not heaven but to attain here on earth the Christ-like love that comes at the stage of oneness with God and neighbor.
Lent was designed to promote this inner transformation. The themes of Lent’s last three Sundays are Struggle, Truth and Oneness, and they each represent a stage on the spiritual journey and a state of being along that journey.
Knowing this map can speed our arrival at the oneness humanity needs in order to survive its own technological powers. I have time only to sketch it out, so fasten your seatbelt.
Struggle corresponds to the stage of our spiritual journey called Purgation where we reduce the hold our selfish ego has over us through the state of being called kenosis, meaning self-emptying.
Truth corresponds to the stage called Illumination, and the state of being that is called metanoia, meaning expanding the vision of our heart and mind to attain a new perspective more like the heart and mind of Christ.
Oneness corresponds to the final stage and goal of the spiritual journey, Union, and the state of being it brings is agape, a love like God’s for all creation.
Struggle leads to Truth, the Truth reveals Oneness, Purgation opens us to Illumination, Illumination leads to Union, and we flow repeatedly along the way through steps of kenosis to metanoia to agape.
Jesus said to Pilate that he came to testify to the truth. Pilate asked, “What is truth?”
It’s a good question. We have just spent four years being bombarded by thousands of lies. Our society is polarized by two completely different versions of the truth. The failure to agree on what is true endangers our democracy and our planet.
“What is truth” is an urgent question for us as individuals, as well. The Spirit of the universe has created us to serve its purposes. The world’s religions agree that, at its core, our purpose is to have compassion and act with love using our gifts to serve the well-being of all creation.
The Spirit calls us each in our deepest heart, it gives us vocations, things we love to do, dreams we long to fulfill. The Spirit needs us each to find this truth within us and bring it forth, as we heard in the Gospel of Thomas.
The Greek New Testament word translated as truth means literally unhidden. Last week I talked about Struggle on the spiritual journey being a path spiraling up a mountain. The path of Truth is a spiral climbing down to discover the truth that lies hidden under a lifetime of distractions, old wounds, addictions, self-concerns, social or parental expectations and more.
Thomas Merton had a famous incident where he saw revealed “at the center of our being…a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God” He wrote,
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness. . . .
“I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts… the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed.” [Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Doubleday: 1966), 140-142.]
This is the truth that appeared to the young man and his neighbor when they laid aside their defensiveness and realized they stood on shared ground.
It is the truth that Aldo Leopold saw looking into the eyes of a wolf he considered an enemy and seeing the green fire of its secret life burning there. He saw the earth’s oneness and every part’s importance. Leopold’s vision of that truth shaped the ethics of today’s wildlife management and environmental movements.
To see the truth is to see as God sees. This is the Illumination we need, the metanoia. It is what the wilderness gave to Moses and Jesus, and what Lent tries to help us attain.
Let us pray in silence inviting the Spirit of Truth to open our eyes to see, and our hearts to love…