Well, there are big doins this morning. Lots of stuff on the calendar. It’s the Feast of Christ the King. It’s Bread of Life Stewardship Sunday. And, in The Episcopal Church, it’s Recovery (from Addiction) Sunday. I want to begin this sermon on this very full, highly auspicious Sunday with one of my favorite stories from a friend in Texas:
After an aircraft is repaired, it must be test flown and certified OK by a pilot. An old Cessna Citation (Number 123WB) had some repair work done at Alliance airport and was taken for a spin by a test pilot.
As he approached for a
landing, he saw the three green lights that say the landing gear is down and
locked, but when he touched down the gear collapsed and he went screeching down
the runway at 125 mph trailing a plume of sparks and smoke.
The tower operator saw him go by and shouted into the radio, “Citation Whiskey Bravo! Do you need assistance!?”
The pilot radioed back calmly while keeping the wreck lined up on the centerline, “I don’t know yet, I ain’t done crashin’.”
Hold that thought.
In this morning’s Gospel, we hear Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Now, for some unknown reason, the wisdom of those who put together the lectionary readings for today, left out the next line of this exchange between Pilate and Jesus.
In verse 37 Jesus says, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.
In verse 38, Pilate asks a most profound question, “What is truth?”
What is truth? That’s the question that has plagued humanity since The Garden. When confronted by God about who took a bite of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Adam fudged the truth and said, “Well, Eve gave it to me.” And Eve, not to be outdone by her husband said, “But, the snake gave it to me.”
And, the dog ate my homework.
All truths – even the laws of science – are subject to revision but we operate by them in the meantime because they are necessary and they work. Until they don’t.
All truths – even biblical truths are also subject to revision. We know now what the original writers of the bible didn’t know then. The world is not flat. A person with a seizure disorder has a neurological disease and is not possessed by a demon. People who write with their left hand are not evil (sinister). People are not born with diseases like blindness or deformities because of “the sins of the father”. Indeed, disease is not a punishment for sin.
The truth is that the bible is a guidebook, not a rulebook. The truth is that the bible is meant to lead us to the truth, not bind us to laws that have not been revised after revelations of the truth have come to light.
The truth is that we don’t often discover the deeper layers of truth until we’ve hit bottom – until we’re done crashin’.
Today is the Feast of Christ the King who said to the man who had his life in his hands, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” That’s an interesting turn of phrase, isn’t it? To ‘belong to the truth’? What does that even mean? ‘Belong to the truth’? I have come to believe that to belong to the truth is to allow the truth of God’s revelation in the Scriptures to shape our lives. See also: The Bible is a guidebook, not a rule book.
Today is also Bread of Life Sunday here at St. Paul’s. In a few moments some loaves of homemade bread will be brought forward for blessing. The bread will then be brought out to the parish hall where all those beautiful loaves of bread will be readied to be picked up along with an envelope containing financial information about St. Paul’s.
You will be asked to take home and enjoy your bread as you consider the financial support you will give to St. Paul’s this year as you discern the truth of your answer to the question, “What do I do with all that I have after I say I believe?”
Today is also Recovery Sunday in The Episcopal Church. This is the day when we recognize the problem of addiction in our culture and in our church. Addiction to substances like alcohol and drugs are the cause of untold numbers of heartbreak as well as death and destruction of life and families and property. Addiction to food, gambling, and tobacco also bring misery and death. Our cultural addiction to greed, avarice, envy, lust – and some would add pride – are destroying the very fabric of our society.
As anyone who is in a 12-Step Recovery Program can tell you, the path to recovery is a deeply spiritual process which involves not only facing the truth but belonging to the truth.
I want to end this sermon by
telling you about the 12 Step Program I sponsored in my office as Chaplain at U
Lowell. It was an open meeting, so I was graciously allowed to attend, even
though I was technically not in recovery from substance addiction.
Within 4 weeks, my office was filled with faculty, staff and students who had no other weekday meeting to attend, except the one they affectionately called “The Noonie Loonies” at City Hall.
One day, a young student, new
to recovery, got up to share his story – witnessing is an important part of
Recovery. At the end of his story, he finished with words that are familiar to
many in AA:
“Well, I guess it’s true that you don’t always get what you want but you always get what you need.”
There was polite applause, a few slaps on the back from his friends, and then he sat down.
As the applause diminished, a voice came from deep in the crowded room.“Bull!” he said. (Well, that’s not exactly what he said, but he was in a chair and not in a pulpit.)
We all turned to see an older man, his face lined with a map of the last 100 miles of rough road he had traveled to get to this place in his Recovery. The room hushed to listen to what we knew would be truth and wisdom gained from the crucifying pain of Recovery.
“You don’t always get want you want,” he said, “You don’t always get what you need. You get what you get and you make the best of what you’ve been given. And,” he said, “be grateful.”
I’ve remembered what that man said all these 35 years later because I think those words belong to the truth. Sometimes, a profound truth like that comes to you when the landing gear of your life is down and locked, but when you touch down the gear collapses and you find yourself screeching down the runway at 125 mph trailing a plume of sparks and smoke.
Indeed, sometimes a moment like that leads to a serious crash when you are afraid that you’ve died and equally afraid that you haven’t died because you’ve come crashing face to face with a truth that you can no longer deny because you realize you belong to it. Because that truth belongs to you. Because you’ve been carrying it around for a long, long time and the only way out of it is all the way in.
When Jesus stood before Pilate, he had known the truth about himself for a long time. The truth belonged to him and he belonged to the truth. Pilate, who asked the question about truth, was about to find out the truth.
He just wasn’t done crashin’. In fact, he had only just begun and he didn’t even know it.
Professor Frank Thomas writes that the Realm (or Kingdom) of God is “God’s government set up in the human heart. God comes into the human heart at the point of regeneration and makes that heart a holy habitation. . . When God occupies a human heart, then the kingdom has come to earth.”
I would add that the Realm of God comes very near when we, like Jesus, embrace and belong to the Truth, no matter how high the cost, regardless of the sacrifice it demands.
I think that man who spoke so many years ago at that Open AA meeting speaks a profound truth about the Realm of God, and about stewardship of our resources as well as recovery from addiction. It’s a truth to which we all belong:
You don’t always get want you want. You don’t always get what you need. You get what you get and you make the best of what you’ve been given. And, most importantly, be grateful.
Because, we ain’t none of us done crashin’ yet. And, I don’t know about you, but that’s why I come to church in the first place. And, that’s why I’m going to be as generous as I can be. Because I’m grateful.