Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

Listening and Truth

Sunday, April 9, 2006

 

 

John 18: 33-38


Rev. Dean Snyder

 

We know Pilate. We who live here in this city know him well.

 

He got into government because he believed in the empire, in the spread of civilization and education, in the roads that were being built to allow economic development and trade. He believed in the great vision of Pax Romana, the peace of Rome.

 

And, of course, he was ambitious, too. He wanted to do good and he wanted to do well.

 

He worked hard enough and he was good enough that his name made the list of those chosen to be on the list of procurators who would be assigned to manage one of the regions of the empire: an honor, an accomplishment.

 

He was assigned to Israel. It was not a plum assignment. It was as backwater as any assignment could be. It was a difficult assignment. Israel was unruly. They refused to worship Caesar. They insisted on clinging to their own outdated primitive religion. They resented paying taxes even more than most. They had this legend of a messiah, which resulted in all sorts of would-be revolutionaries claiming the title and leading rebellions. They tended toward religious fanaticism. It was a difficult assignment. Pilate got the short straw. It was a make-it or break-it assignment.

 

We know what happens in government. We start out with commitments and values and beliefs. We have commitments and values and beliefs, but over time we manage to hold to only as much of our commitments, values and beliefs as will get us one more vote than our opponent.

 

We start out with a great vision for our administration, but we compromise to keep the peace, to appease this constituency or that one. We do what we need to do to keep the taxes being paid and sent to Rome.

 

Our superiors in Rome want us to spread education and culture, but most of all it seems they want, bottom line, the taxes needed to run this vast empire of armies and highways and departments.

 

It is not much different in the church. We start out with a commitment to Christ and all Christ means and stands for, and then we become pastors and superintendents and bishops, and over time we make compromises to appease this group or that. Compromise is not a bad thing. All leaders need to know how to compromise.

 

But over time, you can start to forget what it is that called you into this work in the first place.

 

It is not much different in business I suspect. You begin with a commitment to excellence and customer service but the weight of keeping the ship afloat just wears you down.

 

We know Pilate. We are Pilate, in one way or another. We, each one of us, are Pilate.

 

Then one day they bring us this person Jesus whom they want us to kill. He is disturbing the peace. He is fermenting revolution. He is challenging the establishment. He is blaspheming.

 

And he stands before us in his peasant clothes. And we ask him what his story is. And he says: “For this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth.”

 

And we say to him, “What is truth?”

 

It is a cynical question, the cynicism that comes from our commitments and values and beliefs having been drained out of us by endless compromises – death by a thousand paper cuts.  

 

But it is also a wistful question because we would like nothing more than to throw off our responsibilities and the demands laid on us by the bosses back in Rome and go out and lead revolutions ourselves.

 

What is truth? We say…Pilate says.

 

Jesus doesn’t answer Pilate. He just stands there.

 

We have been focusing on listening this Lent. All listening – if we are really listening – is about seeking truth. If we really want truth, we listen to every voice…every voice.

 

But finally, when we have listened and listened and are still listening, Jesus is silent…because truth finally is inside ourselves. Finally, when all is said and done, we need to listen to the voice that speaks deep within ourselves.

 

Jeanette Barker has a poem in our Lenten booklet I love. The last verse includes these words:

 

“Playing ancient stories, reading psalms, walking slowly, inviting peace, a word shimmers. She carries the word for a while like a friend sparkling in her pocket…”

 

We listen to the ancient stories, to the psalms, to the voices all around us, but then, in the depths of our own self, if we dare go there, a word shimmers.

 

We find truth finally by listening to the deepest voice within our selves.

 

And there is another thing Jesus and Pilate teach us about listening for truth. Truth always takes us toward the cross. It always takes us the way of dying to self.

 

This is what Jesus does and Pilate finally chooses not to do. To die to our ambitions and needs for the sake of the larger truth that we have sacrificed on the altar of getting by.

 

There is an ancient book that didn’t make it into the Bible. There has been a lot of fascinating talk this week about the Coptic Gospel of Judas. Jane and I are going to see a copy of the manuscript this week.

 

There is another book called the Acts of Pilate…like the Acts of the Apostles, except the Acts of Pilate. The Acts of Pilate dates to about the 4th century and it is written as a dramatic telling of the crucifixion of Christ as told by Pilate. It was written after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and it was written in part to make the Jewish religious authorities look like the bad guys and the Romans look like the not-so-bad guys.

 

But what I find fascinating about the Acts of Pilate is that much of it describes Christ’s descend into hell between Good Friday and Easter Sunday to rescue souls from hell. 

 

It is a fitting story for Pilate to tell…a fitting story to put into Pilate’s mouth. Because Pilate has put himself in hell…like many of us live in something like hells we have made for ourselves trying to do good and do well, trying to get by.

 

So, the Acts of Pilate is a reminder that Christ came to rescue us from hell…and that if we listen, the voice of truth, the voice of Christ, still speaks inside us – Christ knocks on the doors of our hearts, invites us to walk with him the way of the cross, which is, at the very same time, the way of resurrection.

 

 

 

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