Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem, NH on April 18,2021
It is said that today, in the twenty-first century, we are living in a “post-truth” era. An era “in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief” according to Oxford Languages. And although we can witness this reality in the world today in everything from the environment to the pandemic, it is not how we are called to live as disciples. It is not how we are called to live and engage the world for there is truth – The Truth of God – truth which relies on both fact and belief. However, when we choose to only follow our emotions or beliefs without witnessing objective facts, we are being deceived by our own eyes.
As we begin, would you pray with me
Blessed teacher, teach us the Way of Truth – guide us in discernment and reveal to us Your Way to be whole in Your Holy kin-dom. May the words from my lips and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to You God.
Now beloved, the issue is not necessarily the post-truth era of today – but really the problem of deception and manipulation. For, we have been deceived many times – in many ways. People manipulate our emotions to convince us to follow – support – or even believe in a perception which may or may not make sense according to our beliefs. We can see this reality in our biased opinion-based news sources – on social media – and in the discussions about many journeys of shadow. We see this reality in advocates for environmental justice, like Greta Thunberg, who openly shamed society by saying, “How dare you. You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.” Although her message of environmental care may have been good, it was lost in the emotional plea and shame filled speech trying to manipulate people into action.
This reality causes us to question everything. Even the statistical number of Covid-19 cases is in question – because we know there are false positive test cases – Yet we do not know how many? Were they removed from the overall statistical number? Are people even capable of tracking this information? These very real questions, which no one seems to answer, is leaving people doubting the statistical numbers, feeling deceived, and relying on fearful emotions or compassionate beliefs without any objective facts for there do not seem to be any objective facts left in the world today. This reality though is just another way to deceive ourselves. It is another way we will be deceived by our own eyes and fail to be Christ’s disciples discerning and revealing the Truth of God.
This same deception arose in our scripture reading today from the Gospel According to Luke when the disciples first saw Jesus after his execution. For in that moment, the disciples did not witness the Truth or even the objective fact that Jesus is standing amongst them again. Rather, our beloved disciples doubt – doubt what they see – doubt which caused them to rely on the emotion of fear. And this emotion of fear which filled their hearts would not allow our sisters and brothers to witness the Truth before their eyes. Not allow them to witness the objective fact that Jesus was not a ghost but is the resurrected Christ fulfilling scripture. In that moment, our brothers and sisters are deceived by their own eyes unable to witness the Truth before them.
Now imagine if Jesus had attempted to manipulate the disciples – to demand their acceptance of him through shame – or their compliance to his leadership through deception. What would have happened? Would our sisters and brothers ever be able to witness the Truth revealed – the Love of God revealed in that moment – and the fulfillment of the scripture revealed; or would they have simply felt deceived as the theologian Alan Culpepper suggests they felt when Jesus first appeared. Furthermore, if they continued to feel deceived, would the disciples have continued to follow Jesus or simply resisted the authority of Christ and the Truth revealed to them on this day? Thankfully, we will never know because that is not what Jesus did in this story. He knew the disciples needed to witness the objective facts – first – first to feel these facts through our beliefs which then became the revealed Truth.
Jesus seemed to know this reality; for, he uncovers his hands and feet to show the disciples the flesh. Yet, doubt still clung to their hearts. To which, Jesus asks, “have you anything here to eat?” He then eats the “broiled fish” which changes the paradigm of the story, for this is a clear objective fact that Jesus is not a ghost. Now although variations of this story occur in all four Gospels and a similar sending of the disciples in the Book of Acts, Jesus eating the “broiled fish” is only present in today’s scripture from the Gospel according to Luke which confirms the objective fact that Jesus is not a ghost and proves the disciples are not being deceived. Beloved, in this very act Jesus helps the disciples let go of the fears and doubts which were deceiving their own eyes; so, they can witness the Good news being revealed.
Good News which is emphasized more in this Gospel than by any other New Testament author according, again, to Culpepper. The Good News that Jesus and his resurrection is the fulfillment of scripture. Which sounds wonderful, but what does that mean? What does this theme throughout the Gospel of Luke mean for us today? Well, beloved, to understand the fullness of this Good News, we must understand that Jesus is speaking about the scripture we call the Old Testament – everything in these texts is fulfilled through Christ – Christ who is at-one with God. Add to this objective fact the part which comes next in the story: Jesus commissions the disciples – all disciples – all of us with the gifts and Love of God. Commissions us to continue to fulfill the Mission here on Earth.
The scripture from First John explains this best: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” Children of God – siblings of Jesus – disciples of Christ. Commissioned and called to fulfill the promises of scripture. To seek the Truth and to not be deceived. the author of First John presses this point and says, “let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.” So, what does this Good News mean for us today? It means be like Jesus. If you are a child of God and a disciple of Christ, be like the one who sent us: do what is right and you will be righteous, just as Jesus is righteous. It means, do not be deceived by others or by your own eyes. Do not let others manipulate your emotions to convince you of anything – seek the objective facts and witness if those facts feel like our beliefs; for, here is God’s Truth.
Finally, it means eat the fish – reveal the objective facts – be an example of discipleship so others may witness the Good News – the Truth which still exists. For, we are not in a world that is post-truth, no matter who may argue this position. We are in a world of manipulation and deception and the only way to counter these atrocities is by revealing objective facts and then showing how our beliefs follow or counter these facts. It means we cannot use fear, guilt, shame, or any other emotion to force another into the way we believe. It means we cannot alter words or definitions to win an argument. It means we cannot deceive – be deceived – or deceive ourselves. But today’s Good News does mean we can celebrate every person’s faithful discernment as we discuss objective facts with our beliefs. For, Truth is only revealed through both like the loving example set forth by Christ who fulfills and continues to fulfill the scripture through all disciples. So, beloved, may we all embrace Truth once more this week and the celebration of facts and belief – together – to find God’s Truth revealed through Christ and all disciples – past – present – and future. Amen.