The Embodiment of Truth

Day of Pentecost

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13)

 What is truth?

In today’s world of ever-expanding technology and information, it is difficult to know what is true these days.  One of the places where people seem to find a lot of truth is in Wikipedia.  Whenever you do any kind of search on the internet, Wikipedia is right at the top, providing information on that topic for you.  But what is Wikipedia and what are its truths?

Last fall, I was at a meeting when Wikipedia was discussed.  The Rev. Dr. Todd Bolsinger presented the fundamental aspects of Wikipedia.

  1.  Wikipedia is an encyclopedia – one that those who participate in it have the goal of building a great encyclopedia.  It is not a dictionary, a newspaper or a source document – it is striving to be a great online encyclopedia.
  2.  It has a neutral point of view – They strive for articles that contain multiple views; verifiable material, editor’s personal experiences; not interested in the truth; instead they represent multiple points of view
  3. Wikipedia is free content – Anybody can use, edit and distribute the information that is received.  Respect copyright laws but since all contributions are free, no editor owns any property.  All contributions will be mercilessly edited and redistributed.
  4. Wikipedian’s behave in a civil and respectful manner – they show respect and are civil even when you disagree, avoid personal attacks, avoid editing wars; they are open and welcoming of all perspectives.
  5. Wikipedia does not have firm rules besides these rules – be bold and do not worry about making mistakes.  If you think you can do it better; do it; the outcome is assured.  The old documents are preserved; sin boldly

Therefore, if we think about Wikipedia in terms of truth, we realize that it is ever-expanding, ever discovering new truths each and every day.  However, William Barclay would say that Wikipedia is not discovering their truths but God’s truths.  Every time we write a new poem, record a new song, make a new scientific discovery or invent a new device, we are uncovering truths that originated with God.  Like Wikipedia, we are expanding our knowledge of God every time we pick up the Bible, every time we come to church, every time we gather as a community; in essence, every time we breathe.

We are writing and editing our truths all of the time.

 The truths that we knew when we were younger have changed.  The truths we knew about church from fifty years ago has changed.  The truths we know about our community has changed.  The truths we know about life has changed.  Truth is a living breathing mechanism that is always being added onto.

The problem comes when the truth of the past becomes embedded in tradition and thus set in stone.  It is then difficult to discover new truths when we are stuck on preserving old truths.  The Holy Spirit is though filling us with new truths all of the time.

William Barclay says that each time we write a poem or a new song or discover a new treatment for an illness or develop a new test, every time a scientist discovers something new; we are learning new truths about our world, about each other and about God.

However, the embodiment of truth is not in me or you or the writers of Wikipedia.  Truth ultimately comes from God because everything we learn, everything we discover all has its roots in God, our creator.  The truths that we discover were put there by God for us to discover when we were able to understand them.  And this truth is embodied in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Our truth is a culmination of discovered truths.

We learn new truths from previous truths we have learned.  For instance, we do not teach children algebra until they have learned other truths about math: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  From this foundation we slowly build on those truths so that we can better understand more complicated truths like Algebra or Geometry or Calculus.

In Sunday school, we teach our children the basic truths about God: we are loved by God.  As we grow older, we learn deeper truths about sin, forgiveness, salvation, righteousness, incarnation, resurrection, etc.

Peter at the time of Pentecost

In the Acts story for today (Acts 2:1-21), Peter builds on the truth of the Jewish community in order to teach them about Jesus.  When the Jewish nations had gathered from all parts of the world in Jerusalem for the celebration of Pentecost (fifty days after Passover), and they saw what happened when the Holy Spirit came down upon the small band of disciples, they did not understand.  Peter gently reminds them about what the prophet Joel had said, “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams.”

In this way, Peter could say that what they just witnessed was the fulfillment of that prophecy.  This prophecy though was not easy to swallow for the Israelites gathered there that day.  Even though they were devout and observant Jews, in order for them to believe that this was the fulfillment of the prophecy, they had to believe that Jesus was the Messiah who was promised to come to save them from their enemies.  They had to believe that Jesus was the way to their salvation.

This was made possible because the Spirit generated inspiration as well as information, and power to speak with new and bolder voices. The Spirit came and cut through all their anxiety, confusion and wonder and boiled everything down to a singular mission of truth. The Spirit wasn’t about eliminating the human element, but empowering it!

The Spirit thus empowered Peter to say the words that the people needed to hear.  Not all were converted that day but their number did change from 120 to over 3,000 converted and baptized Christians.  However, there were no deep theological discussions that day.  Peter simply pointed to the Old Testament and then pointed to Jesus as the one who saves.

It was about building on what they knew and needed to know at that moment in time.  The rest of God’s truth about Jesus would come in time.

Jesus in the Gospel of John

When Jesus was teaching his disciples, he knew that he could teach them only certain truths.  He knew that they were not ready to hear all of the truth.  Therefore, Jesus teaches them what they could understand at that moment and when they were ready, the Holy Spirit would be there to teach them more.  It would be to their advantage to have the Advocate come because the Holy Spirit will embody these functions:

  • the Holy Spirit “will testify on my behalf” (15:27);
  • Second, “He will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment” (16:8);
  • Third, “He will guide you into all the truth” (16:13);
  • Fourth, “He will declare to you the things that are to come” (16:13);
  • And fifth, “He will glorify me” (16:14).

Everything that was embodied in Jesus, would be embodies in the Holy Spirit and in turn what God and Jesus knows would be embodied in us.  Through the help of the Holy Spirit, new truths are being revealed to us every day.

In fact, in spite of what some people may think, there is no one person, no theologian, no commentator, no college professor, no pastor; no Christian that knows everything about Jesus.  It is why we need to study not only the Bible regularly but also what others have written.  We cannot just listen to one voice.

Every one of us has our own truths, what works for us, but unless someone else corroborates our truths, they cannot be held up as absolute.  I go by the rule of three.  If at least three people say the same thing, then it must be true.

Let all those with ears, hear.

In the story of Greystone Presbyterian Church, the members did not realize where God would be leading them when the church across the street offered to purchase their building.  Over time, they realized the truth about their congregation and realized that God was moving them towards new truths about their mission and ministry in their community.  For a long time they embodied a certain truth about the church but now they were embodying a new truth about the Church of Jesus Christ.

You see hanging about us some ideas and dreams for the church as you move forward.  They were the thoughts that some people shared with me.  In each one of these ideas is truth.  The question will become whether these truths are ones that this community will embrace.  Let us be dream new dreams with boldness.

Through the help of the Holy Spirit, we would figure out what will be true for this congregation at this stage of its history.

We are called to embody the truth.

It all comes down to the truth and authentic living.

Pentecost is a reminder that if we really want to know the truth, we have to allow the Spirit to embody in us the image of God revealed in Jesus. The Spirit offers the way, the truth and the life of holiness, authenticity, steadfast love, faithfulness and the boldness to speak the truth to the world.

As Wikipedia continues its desire to build the best online encyclopedia, let us also continue to strive to understand God’s truth for us in this day and in this time of our evolution.

May the power of the Holy Spirit open our hearts and minds to the new truths revealed to us this day!

To God be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.

Teaching Elder Kathlyn R. Nealand

Interim Pastor, Congregational United Church of Christ, Farmingville, NY

My thanks to these sources which were referred to and inspired this sermon:
[1] Homiletics Online, “Your Spirit Guide”, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15; 5/27/2012

[2] Barclay, William, The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of John, Volume II, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 1975, 2001; p. 226-229.

{3} Notes taken from a lecture given by the Rev. Dr. Todd Bolsinger on Open Source Systems, November 18, 2011.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s