Monday, April 09, 2012

Truth Without Judgment

Sermon preached on Good Friday (April 6, 2012) at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene: John 18:1--19:42

          Pilate asks, “What is truth?”

          Who knows what he meant by that; it was more likely than not a cynical dismissal of Jesus.  But if there is one single question the Gospel of John is meant to answer, it is this one, “What is truth?”

          In regards to truth, you might already be where Pilate is, mistrusting of anything that calls itself truth.  On the other hand, you might be someone who thinks they have a handle on the truth. There are things that you are certain about.

          Mistrustful. Certain. You may be one or the other or a mix of both.  Mistrustful. Certain. They actually do have something in common: they both involve making judgments, and pretty cut and dry ones at that.

          Neither of these things are what Jesus means by truth.  He came to show a different path to truth, not just a different truth but a different way to truth.  That path, that way, is without judgment.  Jesus came to show us truth without judgment, and he claimed that this was the only truth that could set us free.

          It may be vitally important that we re-discover this aspect of Christianity.  We live in a world of constant judgment.  Everyone has to have a firm opinion about everything.  We are constantly being encouraged, if not commanded, to choose up sides.  And a different opinion is not something to have a conversation about, it is something to scorn, and it is something to be defeated.

          You might remember that early on in John’s Gospel is the first appearance of Nicodemus, whom we just heard aided in the burial of Jesus.  Nicodemus came to Jesus as a seeker, intrigued by what Jesus seems to be about.  Jesus has established his authority by his deeds.  Nicodemus gives his judgment:

Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.

          It is as if Nicodemus wants Jesus to know that he has passed the test.  Jesus more or less says, “What test?”
Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.

          At first glance that does not seem to be a reaction to Nicodemus’ statement at all.  But I think it is.  Jesus is changing the basis on which Nicodemus makes judgments, or, better, the way Nicodemus finds the truth.  Truth is found not in human judgment, but in being in the presence of God right now.  You have to see with “born from above” eyes, that is, “Jesus’ eyes.”

          When we read or hear the Passion stories, we are often encouraged to put ourselves in the place of one of the characters:  Peter, Judas, Pilate or one of the more minor characters.  But what if we move, for instance, from Pilate’s seat of judgment, to Jesus’ place of the one being judged?

          The question of truth in this story is not a question of who is doing the right or wrong things, or figuring out the right way to describe how it is that Jesus saves us through this event.  The question of truth in this story is whether or not we want to be where Jesus is.[1]

          And where is that?  Despite a certain kind of bravado from Jesus in this Gospel, he is in a world where he is not in charge.  He himself is subject to that world of the Spirit which he described to Nicodemus, where the wind blows where it chooses, you do not know where it is coming from or where it is going.

          This is the consequence of not judging the world, which Jesus repeatedly says he is not here to do.  Again, back in the Nicodemus story, come the famous verse from sports posters:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.

          Too often the next verse is overlooked, and it is meant to be directly connected:

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

          We so much want it to be true that we can save the world through proper judgment.  We never will.  God will save the world through not judging at all.

          It is a costly way. It is no wonder that even many (most?) of us who call ourselves Christians, and are sincere believers, find this a very difficult way to follow, and opt for the way of judgment time and time again.  Because if truth is truth without judgment, than the forces of judgment, alive and well in our world, may very well run right over us.  After all, they ran right over Jesus.

          Where is the good news in that, because even on Good Friday we need Good News?  It is simply this:  The truth about me and the truth about you is a truth without judgment.  God is not particularly concerned with judging us. God is concerned with loving us.  If we can accept that love without judgment, we will be far more radically changed than by any divine threat of retribution because of our sins.

          If we can learn to accept love without judgment, than we can learn to give it too.  And if we can do that, Jesus says earlier in John’s Gospel, than we will know the truth and the truth will set us free.

[1] This is suggested by Rowan Williams in Christ on Trial: Hoe the Gospel Unsettles our Judgment (Eerdmans, 2000), p. 133

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