Last Sunday night, the NYT ran an advertisement during the broadcast of the Academy Awards. The ad featured single sentences, one after another, each starting with the phrase “The truth is….”
“The truth is climate change is a hoax. The truth is women’s rights are human rights. “And on and on, each sentence coming faster and faster.
The ad ended with the sentences, “The truth is hard to know, hard to find. The truth is more important now than ever.”
There has been a lot of discussion about truth this winter. What is true? What constitutes a fact? Can we disagree about facts? The Merriam Webster dictionary saw such an uptick in the number of people searching for a definition of “fact” in late January that it felt compelled to tweet the definition. This tweet was retweeted 49,000 times.
Last Sunday, Jim Donna suggested that a church sanctuary is not the best place to ponder mystery. We should remove to an Irish pub for a better conversation. What about truth? Where is the right place to talk about truth? Where do you find truth? Is it here? Is it in the NYT or another publication? Is it in a pub or over a meal with friends? What are the truths you base your life on, the commitments that serve as the tentpoles for your one short, beautiful life?
Today’s reading from Isaiah is written for us people wrestling with truth. It is written to a community that has just returned from exile. They were overtaken by a hostile empire, displaced, their lives shaken up for two generations. Finally, they are back home, and they are trying to understand what happened to them and why. They are re-evaluating what is true.
Why did they lose their homes? Did God do it to them? Was it punishment? Were they not faithful enough? They have been faithful in worship, in sacrifice, in purity, as they remind God in this passage. How did they miss the mark?
Isaiah, as all good prophets do, tells forth what is true. Prophesy is not so much prediction as a spotlight that shines on the heart of the matter here and now, and calls people to account. Here’s the truth, he says: Life is short and you are here to love. You are pretending that both of these things are not true.
We, too, are a people displaced. Regardless of your politics or your theology or your income or your profession, you live in a time and place where the tentpoles have been shaken — indeed, sometimes it feels like there are no tent poles. As a society, we are reeling from disorienting political events, violent rhetoric designed to make us fearful of one another and disempower us, an overwhelming and confusing array of voices in the media, and too many decisions to make every day to make them well. We are at sea, socially and spiritually. So what is true?
You will have to answer that question for yourself. But I will tell you my truth.In fact, I will tell you two of my truths:
First – I am mortal: I do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who walk with me on the path. With each passing day, I look more and more like my mother, when I look in the mirror, and her death this year made me even more cognizant of the astonishing gift of each day I have and the urgency of making the most of each one. I am mortal.
My second truth is this – Most of me wants to follow Christ, but part of me resists. Most of me wants to live into my baptismal calling to work for justice and peace and to see the face of Christ in all persons. But not the part of me that will have to change. Not the part of me that has to give something up in order to make time in my schedule and space in my heart and to risk the opprobrium of others.
Even though God promises to guide me continually, and satisfy my needs in parched places, and make my bones strong; and make me like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail, as Isaiah proclaims, I still resist my call to forgive, to love, to be merciful. That is my truth. And as the New York Times says, “The truth is more important now than ever.”
Ash Wednesday ushers us into a season for exploring our truth and exploring our resistance to it. We are invited to come to terms with the ways in which we deny our capacity to make a difference, turn aside from forgiveness, hide our light under bushels, and depend on things other than God.
We do this not as people without hope, but as people who have been promised that God’s love for us has not and will not fail. God is merciful and full of compassion, and God is so glad we are here tonight telling the truth. We have hope that God will be with us throughout this season of Lent, blessing whatever efforts we make and working in us for spiritual restoration.
I invite you this year, to enter into Lent not with fear but with curiosity, and to make space for creativity in your prayer and your reflection and whatever other spiritual practices you take on. It’s been a long, hard winter, and it is easy to feel closed in on ourselves. Try something new. Sing something new. Renew. Let God shine a new light on your truth. All of this will aim you toward the Easter vigil, where you will be ready to renew your commitment to Christ with greater courage, greater joy, and greater trust in God who loved you so much he became like you, journeyed through suffering and death, and rose again to show us what is really true.
And the truth matters now more than ever.