Scripture Readings: Isaiah 59:1-21 and John 4:23-24
The title of this sermon says it all. Truth is known through living, truth is living, and truth requires living to be true. Of course, I don’t really understand what I’ve just said, but nonetheless it’s the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!
First, truth is known through living. Whatever truth is, we may be the only creatures on earth able to know it, because our living involves awareness that we are living. Truth is at least what we understand to be true. Of course, we can be wrong, but understanding that we are wrong means we also have some sense of what is or might be true.
Scholars have long debated our ability to know the truth, and today it is commonly held that we construct our knowledge and so can’t know what really is true. Is light a wave or a particle? It depends on what we measure for. Does nature or nurture determine our character? Answering requires examining not only nature and nurture, but also the way we think about nature and nurture. We know now that knowing requires filtering reality through our minds, and so we do not know reality in itself.
Nonetheless, within our living, within our knowing, and within the stories we tell about living and knowing, we know some of what is true. In Isaiah 59 the prophet tells the people of the nation of Israel that their "hands are defiled with blood," that "no one brings suit justly, no one goes to law honestly," that "the way of peace they do not know." Certainly this is hyperbole, but wouldn’t it be true to say much the same about our nation? "Therefore justice is far from us," the prophet proclaims to Israel. Isn’t this also true today?
The truth is, we know enough truth to have no good excuse for not being more truthful.
Second, truth is living. We can think about truth, so truth is part of our being. When we speak of truth, we are talking about our lives and our world. By truth we do not mean some reality that is simply there, but we mean what draws us to live more truthfully. This means God is true for us only insofar as God enters our lives.
There is truth in the teaching of John 4:23-24 that calls us to worship God "in spirit and in truth." Whatever else this may mean, it must mean that hymns and prayers and sermons and rituals are only true, if they are sung and prayed and heard and performed "in spirit and in truth.”
As the God we know cannot be our God apart from our knowing, so the God we living beings worship must be a living God.
But is this living God simply a figment of our imagination? We create everything we know, in part, so we also create God. Yet, it seems unlikely that on our own we have created the universe, and we can’t know that God is merely our creation. We come from the cosmos. So, if we are able to imagine a cosmic God, perhaps the cosmos is sustained by God, as we trust we are.
Third, truth requires living to be true. What is true for us is only true if we live it. So, we who proclaim to know God’s love must be loving, if the love of God is to be real, in us, for others.
All this talk about God, of course, is metaphorical, for we have no other way to talk about what for us matters most. Faith, hope, love, beauty, justice, goodness, forgiveness – these words all point to a living reality that participates in the creativity of the cosmos. The truth of these aspiring words is in their power to draw us toward more virtuous and wondrous ways of living.
If truth is known through living, and is living, and requires living to be true, what might this mean for the life of the church?
In prayer, truth means opening the heart. When we pray to God, we err if we ask God to do for us what we want done, or to give us what we don’t have. Instead, we are to pray, as the Lord’s Prayer teaches: "thy kingdom come, thy will be done." True prayer involves praying for the truth of God’s love to be more fully revealed in and through our lives.
In reading scripture, truth means living faithfully its story of faith. Much of the Bible is fantasy rather than fact and story instead of history, but its living truth is in the living faith of those who read it. This truth frees us to read the Bible critically, as human literature that aspires for truth and has inspired many to live more truthfully.
In worship, truth means loving God and one another. The New Testament says almost nothing about how to worship, and presents Jesus as rejecting the religious practices of the temple. The gospel proclaims that God does not require animal sacrifice or paying off powerful priests, but only living the truth! As the prophet Micah wrote to his people: "what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)
The church will never be more than a beacon of light pointing beyond itself to what’s true, but it should never be less. Our calling is not to defend the truth, but in faith to live more truthfully.
Truth is known through living, truth is living, and truth requires living to be true. The whole truth? Hardly. Nothing but the truth? No. The truth? Yes. If we live it.
June 8, 2003