Truth has taken a beating in our time. This has been said so much that it is cliche and probably a bad way to start a sermon. Fake news, misinformation campaigns, trolling. Let me assure you up top that this is not a sermon about fake news. It’s actually a sermon about the power to speak truth. There is a cynical side to the power to speak truth, of course, and it’s one you’re familiar with. In a landscape where everyone is a publisher, everyone can publish under the guise of the truthteller, the one who sees through the noise and fog to tell you What Is Really Happening. But the problem is not the technology that allows there to be so many voices. Not hardly. The problem is the construction of truth alongside the consolidation of power. The ability to control the story is the ability to determine what is true, that is, which voices, which experiences, are true.
Truth with a capital “T” becomes an instrument of power, a tool of erasure itself, historically controlled and arbited by white men who, wouldn’t you know it, have been very reluctant to see truth in the speech and experience of people who are not white men. People tend to construct the truth, even the most seemingly rational, objective truth, in their own image. The truth of their particular perspective. The idea of capital-T-Truth as a singular reality becomes untenable, and we realize we need to speak of a multiplicity of truths. My truth, your truth, the uncounted truths muffled by oppression but bravely bursting into speech…
Now, the dominant truths of the world run in a certain direction. They are constructed in a certain image. Work harder than others, and you will be rewarded with wealth, which is a sign that God loves you. Leverage your investments. Grow your accounts. Put on a brave face and smile, honey, because that’s what the world wants to see from you. Show no weakness.
In the company of these truths of late capitalism, the Beatitudes of Luke are meek, grounded in a far-off hope for the future. But they are spoken in the present tense. Nothing delays them. “Blessed are you who are the poor…” The blessings unfold as counter-truths even now, gracing the sufferers, the losers of the economic game with the assurance that things are not as they should be, that a force of love works deeply, slowly, insistently on their behalf. And they challenge us to hear broader, more capacious and compassionate truths. These are the counter-truths of an emerging world.
I hold these counter-truths to be self-evident, but it helps to hear them again and again, a refrain to the hymn that gives us the strength to hope the good hope. These counter-truths, these blessings, tell us of another reality, where hope is sustained, and where the truths flow like a river, flooding our narrow streambeds with torrents of righteousness.
Blessed are you who are poor, who are ignored, treated as assets, as expendable. Blessed are you who know the real grace of daily bread and the pangs of anxiety when tomorrow’s bread is uncertain. Blessed are you for making your life piece by piece. The kingdom in which you are poor is not the kingdom God builds. God’s kingdom emerges even in the midst of it. You will have rest. You will have security.
Blessed are you who are hungry now. Blessed are the schoolkids who had no breakfast and struggle to pay attention as the day goes on. Blessed are the parents who skip a meager meal to offer a little more to their children. We who have the luxury of feeling heartbroken at these stories simply do not know. The hoarding of food and unjust distribution of it is not God’s way. It is not God’s truth. You will be filled. You will be content.
Blessed are you who weep now. You who have burned out, or failed, or simply worn out. You who have lost love or lost hope. You who know the cruelty other humans can inflict. You who aren’t sure you’d do any of this over again. For you will laugh. Imagine it, laughing. You will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, exclude you, revile you, defame you on account of Jesus. When they call you a snowflake or a dreamer. When your refusal to judge others is labelled soft and your generosity of love and fortune is foolish. You stand in the company of the prophets, of the saints of ages past who bear witness to the counter-truth of the Gospel.
There are two sets of beatitudes in the Bible. Matthew sticks to blessings. Luke also includes woes. Today we are with Luke.
Woe to you who are rich. You who tell stories of deserving wealth in a place where others are poor and hungry. You have received your consolation. Your riches have done what they will do.
Woe to you who are full now, who store up food and do not look to see if your neighbor has food on her table. Who watch families-parents who may work for you or serve your food or ring up your groceries—rack up debts for school meals because they can’t afford to feed their children. Food can only feed you so much. In a kingdom of abundance, this hoarding will leave you empty.
Woe to you who are laughing now, taking joy in the suffering of others, finding ways to capitalize on disaster. Woe to you who believe you are insulated from the pain of the world. For it comes. Eventually it comes.
And woe to you when all speak well of you, for if you are pleasing them, you must not be speaking the counter-truths of God’s kingdom.
The counter-truths are grace. Loving enemies, serving those who hate you, turning the other cheek. Give to those who beg. Give more than you need to. Blessed are you when they call you soft, unrealistic, and unserious. These are the counter-truths of love amidst a ruthless world. A vision of something better. Something kinder. Something that takes Jesus seriously. Jesus, who would be ridiculed today as he was 2000 years ago.
This is the company of the saints. Of the great cloud that witnesses us today, whose stories give us strength. The wild tapestry of truths that call us to proclaim the counter-truths of God’s kingdom here.
I grumble about churches trying to be “cool.” I don’t trust “cool” churches. The community you have here, the values we aspire to and keep one another accountable to, the man who lived and taught and died and rose, whose followers kept telling his story…this is not “cool.” It is counter-truth. A crack in the narratives of success, ambition, and accumulation where the kingdom of God emerges.
The saints found the cracks in the truth narratives too. They made more room for grace, for love. They cared for the sick. They cared for the earth. They preserved the teachings of the earliest Christians, fragile texts by relatively unimportant people that formed the textual foundation of a religion. They stood in the face of power. They were poor. They were hungry. They wept. People hated them. And theirs is the kingdom of God, where they are full and laughing and looking on us with sympathy, with identification, with hope.
Perhaps we might hear them whisper, these champions of the counter-truths. We might hear them say to us, “it was hard, and sometimes isolating, but a bit of the world got a bit better, and it was worth it.” Or perhaps they’ll choose simpler words a bit more familiar to us. “I got you.”