There used to be a show on T.V. that I really appreciated. It provided a wonderful window into the human condition with it’s philosophical and even theological allegories. It was a show that would have been at home as a teaching tool in the best of universities. You of course by know know that I’m referring to Corner Gas.
There was one episode where everyone was going to go and play a game of baseball and they were hiding their beers in other containers. They knew it was illegal and since Karen and Davis, the two police officers were going to be playing, everyone was sworn to secrecy. The thing was though, Karen and Davis knew they had beers, and everyone else knew that Karen and Davis knew they had beers, but as long as no one said this out loud, everyone was happy. As long as no one said anything Karen and Davis wouldn’t have to do anything about the crime.
This is actually a common occurrence. It’s so common that there’s even a term used to describe this kind of situation – it’s called a consentual illusion. It’s the myth that everyone is expected to buy into in order to preserve the status quo. They’re the things we’d rather not talk about because saying it out loud will make them real – sure these pews are comfortable, sure we’ll be able to fill our church with people again one day, of course Jim knows what he’s talking about.
This isn’t a new thing. 2000 years ago, it was common for a Roman emperor, a caesar, to declare himself a God. Julius was of course seen as a deity and his successors would then refer to them selves as “the son of god.” Then comes this itinerant preacher from the backwoods of nowhere named Jesus. People start calling him the Son of God. This was in itself a treasonous offence because it threatened an important consentual illusion. You see, no one really thought Caesar was a God. Unless his power has addled his mind, even Caesar didn’t really believe this. But it was important that no-one actually say the words out loud because then the illusion would break down, Caesars authority would weaken and with it, the empire.
You see, Jesus didn’t get himself in trouble for speaking lies, or even saying things that weren’t already in the minds of many. Jesus’ biggest transgression was to have the audacity to break down the lies everyone was supposed to support. Telling lies is nothing in comparison to speaking truths that don’t want to be heard!
This may be why Jesus talked of a personified “Spirit of Truth” in our reading from John. “And I will ask God and you will be given another Advocate to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
Jesus says that the world cannot know the truth and this could be because they are forbidden to admit the truth. It was plain that God could not live in a back room in the temple which the priests claimed. It was obvious that the Temple authorities were getting rich of the misery of the Hebrew people. They knew too well the stories of God’s concern for the poor, the widow, and the outcast to believe that the wealthy and powerful had no responsibility for their care. They knew that the kind of peace that Rome held was no real peace because it depended on the point of a sword.
Jesus spoke aloud the disbelief in these lies and so was seen as a threat to the social order of the day – he didn’t have to be violent, he didn’t have to have an army to go to war, he just needed to speak the forbidden truth. Then he commissioned his followers to continue speaking truth, break down the consentual illusion, exposing lies for what they are.
As we gather here, today, we are the followers of Christ and we are the ones who carry his commission. He tells us that the advocate of truth lives within us and so maybe it’s up to us to make sure that truth is shared. In today’s world, like that of Jesus, we are expected to pretend we believe our own consensual illusions.
The church has historically followed a tradition that resembles the bullying campaign, “it gets better.” Telling people that they should accept their lot in life, no matter how unjust it is because in the sweet by and by, they’ll get their reward.
We’ve told people that excessive wealth is a sign of God’s favour, while glossing over the implied complication that therefore the poor must have some kind of curse.
In the secular world, we’re expected to pretend we believe that
- war, bombs and guns somehow brings peace;
- that the richer a very few become, the better it will be for everyone;
- that there really is nothing to worry about with the environment and if there is a concern, free market capitalism, the force that brought us this crisis, will ultimately save us;
- that putting more and more people in prisons makes our communities safer;
- that caring for the poor, providing affordable healthcare and education will make us all lazy.
These are just a few of the consensual illusions of our day but if we are to respond to that advocate of truth that we’re promised, we too may need to have the audacity to point out the nakedness of the emperor. This is of course not without risks – Jesus was murdered for speaking truth and countless others have been persecuted since.
But this is also a gift. When Jesus said these words, he already knew that he had little time to live and so wanted to make sure the disciples, and us, know that we are not alone. Much like the communion meal we’ll be sharing reminds us in a tangible way that Jesus is still within us, this advocate, this internal truth is also with us. We have been infected with honesty, sometimes radicle, dangerous honesty, that has Christ given. We’re the ones who have been called to stand up to a world that tells us that a favourable lie is more prudent than a harsh truth.
This is also a gift because when we look at the world, it seems that more and more are ready. When we look around the world, more and more people are daring to speak truth.
Here in North America, we’ve seen the Occupy and Idol No More movements that have dared to speak the truth that in our society, people are not products to be bought and sold. Our purpose in life is not to serve the economy but instead it’s the economy’s purpose to serve humanity. People are standing up for the truth that a person’s value is not based on their contribution to the G.D.P.
Even the Pope, a voice emerging from the Vatican, one of the most conservative and stayed institutions on earth, is stating the truth that few dare to speak, that we are sacrificing our families and our future on the alters of false gods – gods of capitalism, gods of greed, gods of selfishness.
Maybe the time is right to give voice to the advocate of truth. Maybe there are many in our world who are waiting desperately for someone to speak the truth that we know in our hearts but are have been too timid to speak.
- Someone to admit that perpetual growth on a finite planet is impossible
- Someone to admit that our systems and institutions are only valuable when they serve humanity
- Someone to admit that the lines we draw to divide us and them are illusions
- Someone to admit that the real people to be feared are those who seek profit by spreading fear
- Someone to admit that we are all in this together, that we will ultimately succeed when we all succeed.
- And maybe, someone to admit what may just be the ultimate truth, that we are all connected to one another, to all creation by the unbreakable tether of God’s grace.
Do you dare to speak truth? Do you dare to give voice to the unspoken dreams of the people of our communities and the world? Do you dare to allow the voice of Christ, which the world so desperately needs to hear, be heard in your words, be seen in your actions?