God Was Among Us

God Was Among Us

 John 18:33-37               Rev. Tyler Amundson               November 25, 2012
     Generally I struggle getting into the text from John today.  This text is the one about the encounter between Jesus and Pilate.  This is a text riddled with problems and prejudice.  It contains a section of the language of the John that seems anti-Semitic.  It share thick political language included by the gospel writer.  This text is also one of those texts that is commonly used make Christianity a faith that is exclusive, stating if you pray, do or act right then you “…belong to the truth.” [1] This text is incredibly messy and hard to understand. Yet, in this text many find hope and vision for a Christ that can demonstrate that truth is not given to the mighty.
     John 18:33-37
     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.’ [2]
     “Space cadet, come in space cadet.”  Who talks like this?  John’s version of Jesus does apparently.  Pastor Marianne did a sermon series on the “I Am” statements in John and in every introduction she pointed out that if someone talked like this today we would be curious of their mental status.  Yet, here is John’s version of Jesus making a remarkable and strange statement all over again.  “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” [3] Why would John’s version of Christ make this statement?
     Paul Tillich a widely known Christian theologian of the 20th century gives a great background to this question:
“The question of truth is universally human; but like everything human it was first manifest on a special place in a special group. It was the Greek mind in which the passionate search for truth was most conspicuous; and it was the Greek world in which, and to which, the Gospel of John was written. The words, here said by Jesus, are, according to ancient custom, put into His mouth by the evangelist who wanted to show the answer of Christianity to the central question of the Hellenic mind: the question of truth. The answer is given also to us, for we too, ask the question of truth. And some of us ask it as passionately, and sometimes as desperately, as the Greeks did.”[4]
     Tillich’s background on this text makes it powerfully different, than a strange statement from Jesus.  It is an ancient part of church tradition about how to demonstrate this experience of Christianity to people of different backgrounds.  The truth that John describes is the experience of God and of Christ.  For the followers that have experienced God, they believe that it can change the world.  It is their truth that they want to share with the world. 
     In case you were wondering intellectuals speak of the time we live in now as post-modern.  In fact some even think we are post-post-modern where we are located in time now.  For the academic community time is defined in the mindset of the time period and what methods people use to think.  The truth of all of this talk about the time we live in, is that there is constantly never an agreed upon name for a time period until it has gone by.  Most of us are probably wondering why I shared this useful (on Jeopardy) piece of information.  Here is why, post-modern thinking dictates that truth is not one piece of factual information.  It instead holds that my experience of the world and the ways in which I interpret their meaning is a truth.  Each of us has a truth to share and there is no way to simply demonstrate a singular truth all around. 
     Let me tell say that if everyone has truth, it makes life very interesting.  This is why in Seminary I had a class that was entirely devoted to defining what “ritual” means.  It sounds crazy right?  I spent 3 months of my life, 4 hours per week, talking with a group full of very smart people about what ritual is.  Then I went home and spent another 6 hours reading about it, every week.  This sounds crazy, and it is.  However, the fact is scholarship does this because the goal is to better understand our behavior and the universe around us.  If we each have a different truth then by sharing our truths we learn from one another.  While I grew tired of talking about one idea for that long, I learned a lot from a group of very smart people.  I learned deeply how ritual impacts our culture, lives, faith, and hope in the world.  Spending time watching ritual and listening as others shared their insight helped me to understand my own truth better.
     As a part of Christian community we seek to learn the truth about how to live our lives and follow a God of love.  A doctrine we hold strong to be is one of diversity.  We are only able to share God truly if we are able to share God diversely.  This is incredibly challenging because of what I described above.  We could sit and talk for hours about nothing, but our experience of God.  For many of us this would feed our needs and experience of God: sitting and expressing the nature of God, praying in many forms, or spending time in song or mediation. For others of us this does not meet our needs.  We need to share our experience of God by doing things to make the world better physically: growing food, feeding the hungry, building shelter.  All of these ways of experiencing God are our truths. 
     Christianity is about a community of people that come together to share their truths.  As a community we invite people to join us, so that we might learn from them more truth.  In each person’s being we find bound up a piece of the truth of God.  At times there is darkness in our lives and our truth becomes hidden from us, but then we hope the community will catch us and remind us of our truth and light. 
     Truth is not meant to be static, it is meant to create connections among people.  This is why stories are so much more powerful to us than written fact.  There are many truths wrapped up in hearing a story, and we can all learn something from a new story.  A story can inspire one person, significantly different than another person.  Sharing our stories in a Christian community can help us to encounter God in the multitude of ways that represent a God that sustains us. 
     This idea of church has been shared in different iterations throughout history.  One example happened during 12th century in Europe, the man associated with this idea of shared truth shared by many people as being church was Joachim of Fiore.  Joachim is important to Christian history because his vision of the church would keep coming up, over and over again.  It was a story about what the church could be and so it inspired people to adapt and think they knew what truth he spoke of.  Joachim’s vision went like this: There were 3 ages the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Joachim was from a strong Catholic background and was a part of the Cistercian order.  Joachim’s vision represented an age of law, grace, and of an overwhelming grace that would bring all people into a utopian age of understanding and cooperation.  Joachim attributes all of this vision to a dream he had during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  This “age of the spirit” and overwhelming grace was to come around his time in history and he wrote beautifully about the amazing grace that would be shared with all. [5]
     Joachim’s vision was his truth and it guided his entire understanding of the world.  It must have been an encounter with the divine because the inspiration to share it was there for Joachim.  The challenge is that for some Joachim’s truth became the only truth, a truth victorious for all others.  Many would adapt Joachim’s vision of church, and in so many different ways it is remarkable.  The sad truth is they would be either extremely radical claiming the only truth or persecuted because they would rise against someone else who claimed the only truth.  Joachim is one example of a story of a truth of the Christian faith. 
     Joachim’s “age of the spirit” is inspiring because it speaks of a time when people share grace and God’s love in an unprecedented way.  It was and is an amazing truth about the power of God’s love experienced by one man.  In truth it shows us an example of an experience of God’s love, so overwhelming Joachim would devote his life’s work to it.  Joachim’s truth teaches us that this experience of God spans the ages and is a worthwhile endeavor.  It also teaches us the reality of ages when only one truth was possible.  It is our reality to live into an age of diverse truth, where we can learn from one another our experience of God’s love. 
     John’s gospel points to this sharing of the truth.  Jesus is thoroughly rebutting this claim that the only truth is that he is King.  The gospel instead points to a hope that other truths about Christ might be known.  The truths of a Christ that rebutted violence, instead of calling in the soldiers. A Christ that spoke love, instead of instituting a new law.  We get a vision from John that there is a new truth, and it is for the community of believers to learn from one another.  A truth guided by a Christ that saw surrounding people with love and grace as more valuable than more death and conquering.  Instead of one more temporal king that would fail them, Christ was a God who came near. 
     Paul Tillich finishes his statement about the gospel and truth in a way that demonstrates how we might seek truths that sustain us on our journey through life.
“And this leads to the last word which the man who has written the Gospel and the Letters of John has to say about truth: that the truth that liberates is the power of love, for God is love. The father of the lie binds us to himself by binding us to ourselves—or to that in us which is not our true self. Love liberates from the father of the lie because it liberates us from our false self to our true self—to that self which is grounded in true reality. Therefore, distrust every claim for truth where you do not see truth united with love; and be certain that you are of the truth and that the truth has taken hold of you only when love has taken hold of you and has started to make you free from yourselves.” [6]
     Let us find ways to invite people into our community that we might learn from their truths.  For it is through knowing the truths of others in love that we experience God.  Joachim’s age of the spirit was one sharing of God with us, and visions of God’s love have continued throughout the ages. 
     Blessings and Amen.

[1] NRSV John 18:37
[2] John 18:33-37, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), Retrieved from www.bible.oremus.org, November 22, 2012.
[3] NRSV John 18:37
[4] Tillich, P. (1955). The new being. Religion Online. Retrieved from http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=375&C=21
[5] Burgess, S. M. (1997). The holy spirit: medieval roman catholic and reformation traditions. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Inc
[6] Tillich, P. (1955). The new being. Religion Online. Retrieved from http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=375&C=21

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