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Piako Archdeaconry Quiet day Address

Gospel Truth

Bishop Helen-Ann led a quiet day for Piako Archdeaconry clergy today at the Riches' Retreat near Morrinsville. The theme was Preparing for Advent, and her first address is below.

The image of Jesus is by a Southwell School student, produced in 2014 for The Southwell Gospel of Mark.

John 18.33-19.7

‘What is truth?’ asks Pilate, failing to recognise that the question should in fact have been ‘who is Truth?’.  The answer of course, was standing right in front of him.

I am sure we have all been in that place, of posing a question not realising that the answer is staring us in the face?

Today in our quiet day I want to explore some themes that I hope will help us to engage us with the season of Advent which is almost upon us.  I want to begin almost where this Sunday begins, with the image of Christ the King and the powerful question that Pilate asks: ‘what is Truth’?  In my second address, which will come as part of midday prayer, we will ponder the theme of waiting.  Advent is all about waiting.  Then finally, with our Eucharist this afternoon, we will think about beginnings and endings, and the image of home-coming which Jesus gives us in John chapter 14 (a passage that I certainly have encountered most of all in funeral ministry).  

The images that accompany each reflection were made by pupils at Southwell School, originally for the Southwell Gospel that I commissioned for Advent 2014: the Year B Gospel of Mark that I carried around with me on my travels.  The first is an image of Jesus; the second, a star, that points the way to birth but for which we must wait until the right time in hope; and finally, a home.  As you listen to the Scripture read and to the words of reflection which follow, you may have your own images that you bring, or that resonate with you strongly.  Let those images rest with you and inspire your thoughts and your ongoing reflections over the coming weeks towards Christmas.

This is a quiet day, and so I invite you into a space of silence for the next few hours.  When it comes to lunchtime, we will be observing the monastic discipline of being read to.  Above all this is a day for you to ‘be’ and to encounter God’s presence in Word and in Sacrament.

So let us pray:

On the edge

Christmas sets the centre on the edge;
The edge of town, out-buildings of an inn,
The fringe of empire, far from privilege
And power, on the edge and outer spin
Of turning worlds, a margin of small stars
That edge a galaxy itself light years
From some unguessed-at cosmic origin.
Christmas sets the centre at the edge.
And from this day our world is re-aligned;
A tiny seed unfolding in the womb
Becomes the source from which we all unfold
And flower into being.  We are healed,
The End begins, the tomb becomes a womb,
For now in him all things are re-aligned.

(Malcolm Guite, Sounding the Seasons, 2012, p.15)

Earlier in the week, various news sources reported that the wordsmiths at Oxford Dictionaries had declared ‘post-truth’ as their 2016 international word of the year, reflecting what it called a ‘highly-charged’ political 12 months.  ‘Post-truth’ is ‘defined as an adjective relating to circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals.  It selection follows June’s Brexit vote, and the recent US presidential election’ (BBC News website report).  In other words, we ignore the plain facts and take our lead purely from emotional appeals.

It’s easy to see how this happens, and maybe we even can relate to it.  Sometimes you might know something to be true, or likely to be so, but your head is overruled by your heart.  In fact we need both.

Pilate’s question to Jesus is deeply ironic, he fails to recognise that Jesus is the Truth.  There is a fundamental Johnannine theme at work here: Jesus is Wisdom Incarnate: sent by God into the world with the message of life and truth.  This in turn is picked up by us today: as Jesus’ disciples we are charged with bringing that message of life and truth into our communities and our world.

If post-truth politics is the new normal, then the church has an obligation to speak out.  Emotional appeals that fuel hatred and mistrust run counter to the Gospel message of love, hope, justice and mercy.  The self-appointed Bishop Brian Tamaki take note!  One commentator writes: ‘Post-truthfulness builds a fragile social edifice based on wariness. It erodes the foundation of trust that underlies any healthy civilization. When enough of us peddle fantasy as fact, society loses its grounding in reality.  Society would crumble altogether if we assumed others were as likely to dissemble as tell the truth. We are perilously close to that point’ (Ralph Keyes).

Advent offers us an opportunity to correct this post-truth with a declaration that the one born on Christmas Day is the way, the truth and the life.  If we fashion ourselves after Jesus then we become bearers of truth.  If we follow the way of Jesus then we become bringers of compassion and justice.  

The process of being conformed to Christ requires us to participate fully in the life of the Triune God.  One of the greatest dangers is actually forgetting that God is Three in One; the Holy, Undivided and Blessed Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  So while we participate in the particular story of Jesus, we do so knowing the revelation of the Holy Spirit will constantly bring us into new encounters with the divine.  In that sense, truth is never final, never absolute, because each one of us is being constantly brought into a deeper communion with God.  So let today be for you an opportunity to journey deeper into the mystery of God.  For truth also lies in the beyondness of things, we constantly reach for it.  Glimpses, when they come reveal that truth to us, often in surprising and unexpected ways.  So may today be a day of surprises as well as affirmations.  May God speak to you afresh this day and all days.

Let us pray:

Ready or not, you tell me, here I come!
And so I know I’m hiding, and I know
My hiding place is useless.  You will come
And find me.  You are searching high and low.
Today I’m hiding low, down here, below,
Below the sunlit surface others see.
Oh find me quickly, quickly come to me.
And here you come and here I come to you.
I come to you because you come to me.
You know my hiding places, I know you,
I reach you through your hiding places too;
Feeling for the thread, but now I see –
Even in darkness I can see you shine,
Risen in bread, and revelling in wine.

(Malcolm Guite, Sounding the Seasons, 2012, p.50).

Story Published: 18th of November - 2016

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