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Dec 10, 2017

Truth Telling

Truth Telling

Passage: Mark 1:1-8

Speaker: Father Will Lowry

Series: All

Category: All

Keywords: advent

What do prophets do? The simple answer is that they are truth-tellers. And truth-tellers are essential, but not very popular.

I am reminded of the scene from the movie "A Few Good Men" where Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise have a standoff in the courtroom. 

Col. Jessep: You want answers?

Kaffee: I WANT THE TRUTH!

Col. Jessup: YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!

John the Baptist is portrayed and known as a prophet. But, not just any prophet. He not only echoes the words and sentiment of the great prophet Elijah, whose return would signal the coming of the Messiah, but is often seen as the manifestation of the 2nd Elijah - ushering in the Messiah. 

Fulfillment and expectation are powerful and prophetic Advent themes more than worthy of a sermon or two. But, I think it is best if we get down to brass tacks and focus instead on what a prophet actually does. 

So, “What do prophets do”? 

The simple answer: Prophets are truth-tellers. 

They are not fortune-tellers, not forecasters of the future, not doomsday prognosticators. They are only predictors of what is to come if that future makes sense because of or due to present behavior. They are analyzers of the “now” for the sake of moving toward a different future. 

Truth-tellers are essential, but not very popular. There’s good reason for this, too. As the saying goes, sometimes the truth hurts. Or maybe Gloria Steinem says it better, and I’m paraphrasing - “The Truth will set you free, but first it will really tick you off”. 

There are any number of instances that I can think of in my life that fit these truthful cliches and I’m sure you can come up with your own. 

Telling someone the truth or being told the truth is an exercise in looking into a mirror. We are forced to see what we’d rather not see, or have ignored, or perhaps even decided it has nothing to do with us.

And when the truth is suppressed?

Foundations are then built on falsehoods. Cracks occur, chinks in the armor give way to rust, buildings crumble. Things go wrong, the truth bubbles up.

You know what else happens when truth is suppressed? Crucifixion. 

John the Baptist, as Mark portrays him, on this second Sunday of Advent should be about truth-telling. Otherwise, Advent, even Christmas, will be sentimentalized, simply the frenzied weeks before Christmas that lead to a glossed over story about shepherds and sheep and an adorable little baby in a manger.

But we all know the truth about cute little babies. They cry a lot, they have dirty diapers, they keep you up in the wee hours of the morning, and they need the most attention when you don’t have any left. Little babies are hard work.

And to be human means really hard stuff, too. We forget that we are not self sufficient, that we make mistakes, we hurt each other, and we turn our backs to God even though God has given us everything we have and made us everything we are. We ignore the fact that we cannot do anything on our own - it is by God’s grace and love that we are a part of this world. 

This is the truth of Advent and Christmas. This is the truth about the Incarnation, God deciding to become human means that God committed God’s self to everything that it means to be human - Joy and Happiness, yes, but also the desperate need for comfort (Isaiah 40:1-11); anxiety but also the radical presence of peace (Psalm 85:8); postponement and anxiousness, but also the security of promise (2 Peter 3:9). 

Jesus enters into the entirety of our humanness - into the powers that perpetuate sin, into our structures that nurture sin and allow sin to be seen as justifiable. 

He comes to take them on by telling the truth and being the truth - the truth that names our own complicity, our own conformity, our own acceptance to the kind of sin that tolerates inequity and injustice, that believes we have “gotten past” the -isms that exclude and excuse, that insists on the protection of institutional ideologies that rationalize acts of dehumanization.

The beginning of the good news happens in the middle of nowhere (Mark 1:3) and not at the center of power. The good news of truth and justice for all will be cried out by the prophets willing to accept it all.

The truth will be known in the outskirts, in the unexpected places, the spaces where boundaries have been crossed and that needed to be torn down long, long ago.

The Good News of truth also happens inside of us. 

It seems that the truth, if we are willing to listen, will not be shouted from the halls of justice but from our hearts and minds that are in the knowledge and love of God - the Redeemer.

For this week, here on the second Sunday of Advent, we are being called to repentance for our own individual sins, which we know are many, and are perhaps easier to admit because we can keep them to ourselves. Who would even have to know? It’s just between Jesus and me, right?

But, the harder truth this week is to admit our communal sin, our national sin, our global sin, in the presence of one another, that seems regularly to refuse repentance in favor of blame and fear of being found out.

This may not be a very popular message. It may very well make a few people uncomfortable, but, the beginning of the Good News needs prophets.

The beginning of the Good News demands truth-tellers willing to stand from the margins and speak to the center. The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ promises, for the sake of the world that God loves, that God’s love will be told, truth and all. 

Repent, make straight the pathways of the Lord.

Be the truth tellers that each of us are called to be. 

Amen.