Sermon Epiphany 3 January 22, 2017
Isaiah 9:1-4 Psalm 27:1, 5-13 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 Matthew 4:12-23
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
We hear a lot about fake news lately. It really shouldn’t surprise us though, after all which of us hasn’t stood at the Checkout and read the headlines in the tabloids “Oprah dying of Cancer”, “Queen Elizabeth has Sex Change”, “Debbie did not Die, she’s living in Dubai”, “Aliens Invade the White House !”. The tabloids have given us the fakest of news for decades, although that last one might actually be true “Aliens Invade the White House !”. But fake news is getting more of a problem because along with fake news comes ‘truthiness’ that is news that has the smell of reality, it is possibly possible, although not likely at all. We are really going to have to be on our guard when something has only a little ‘truthiness’ in it.
There is something about us humans that likes scandal. Who among us didn’t think that the recent spy/security scandal involving President Trump had at least a little truth about it and who among us did not want to see the story unfold a little bit more, and a little bit more ! We licked our gossipy lips hoping for a full-blown reputation-blasting conspiracy exposure. At the same time we thought of the shame such a thing would bring to the Office of the leader of the Free World. Whatever our thoughts, we wanted to hear more.
Today more than ever we need to get our news from the legitimate Press. Although it has been labelled the ‘crooked media’ it is far from it – it is the bastion of our democracy. The lesson is if you want reliable information you have to go to credible sources. Credible sources surely include eyewitnesses, unbiased observers, and people who know what’s going on – experts. They range from ‘Deep Throat’ to Woodward and Bernstein of Watergate fame who dug for the truth; to Laura Secord and Billy Green, both of whom on different occasions trekked for miles to warn of American attacks during the War of 1812, why were they believed ? They were authentic, they had the truth; then to Moses, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and of course Paul. They told the stories as they saw them and knew them. We all come from different perspectives and see the same things differently, that doesn’t make for fake news but simple differences. If we all see a race we may have differing opinions as to who won, especially if it is really close. We may want a particular runner to win, and our eyes may be influenced by our desire and we are sure our runner won, when in fact he was a close second. Just because we were mistaken about the winner though it doesn’t mean the race never took place, nor that those particular runners weren’t in it, and that the race wasn’t run at its location, on such-and-such a day. And with good reporting the true winner will be declared, and of course there is the possibility that it was a tie, so we were right all along. The situation needs an impartial Judge and Reporter so that the truth is known.
We have varying retellings of some of the Bible stories, even occasions when some things are told by only one writer and others not, that doesn’t discredit what is told. It’s obvious when the writer is an eyewitness, he or she writes in the first person, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Luke and Paul. But you don’t have to be an eyewitness to know what’s going on. First you can speak to eyewitnesses and if you are a good detective you can synthesise all the accounts into one credible report, a la Woodward and Bernstein, that’s what happened with a lot of both the Old and the New Testaments too. After those ancient writers followed hundreds and hundreds of judges who examined their reports very carefully and discerned that they were true. Those judges were the Church Fathers and Mothers, theologians by the bucketful, historians and archaeologists (who being scientists usually have no axe to grind), then there are critics of all stripes who help determine Truth and even your humble preacher, all using their very best skills to find out the Truth.
I started by talking about a current scandal but there is another scandal we should look at in the Gospels. First of all, scandal is defined as a disgrace, shame, dishonour, humiliation, outrage and indignity, but it is also described by Paul as “foolishness” or a ‘stumbling block’ (1 Corinthians 18:31). A stumbling block, because who would give credence to anything touching upon a scandal or ‘fake news’ ? The scandal I refer to, of all things, is what is known as the Scandal of the Cross.
What is scandalous ? First that God incarnate should be treated so ! God should surely be held in awe and worshipped not executed. What is scandalous ? That the only way we can gain redemption is that our God should be cursed ! In a land where bodies were to be buried immediately, the most despised (the cursed) were left hanging out in the sun on a tree. Hanging a body on a tree meant that the dead was accursed, forever. How could God ever be cursed ? That’s a Scandal ! What else is scandalous is that nothing we can do, no action, no charitable act, no act of homage has any merit, because when we examine our lives we have actually become the figure on the Cross, we are cursed. Life takes its toll, our sins have had control of us and twisted us and no matter how good we feel about ourselves, we were really just hanging on – until the One on the Real Cross took those sins over from us and freed us from the distortions of a troubled life, He removed the Curse. It’s a scandal that God should have to do that ! Surely we should be responsible for our own fate. Well, yes, we should be, but we aren’t and cannot be, without believing that Jesus’ death on the Cross did what we cannot do – Redeem us from our Sins. Our belief in Jesus puts all corruption behind us. We can live free again, innocent again. That is not fake news. It has been attested by millions. It is believed by billions. And you know in your hearts that it is true, which is the best testament to the Truth that you can have. The Truth that a loving God protects us from eternal damnation by His own sacrifice is scandalous but it has a lot more than ‘truthiness’ about it, it is the absolute Truth. Thanks be to God. Amen.