Carla J. Bailey, Senior Pastor
A meditation given at
The Church of Christ at Dartmouth College
A congregation of the United Church of Christ
Years ago, I heard a story about a man who was in a very public position – not in elected office, but in a high profile job nonetheless. He was interviewed constantly, watched through lenses near and far, asked to comment about many public issues. He was apparently perplexed by how often reporters would add some words about his integrity, his honesty and candor every time his name appeared in print. “Why do they do that?”, he would muse, “as if it’s something unusual or unexpected.” “It is unexpected” – would often be the reply. “How can that be?” the man would answer. “How can it be that honesty has become an unexpected, rare occurrence? When did that happen?” I always wondered about that man’s questions. Where had he been, for heaven’s sake? While it’s true that our American culture has an insatiable appetite for self-disclosure, rarely do we believe we’re getting the kind of honesty that man practiced – a kind of truth-telling that is not sensationalistic or self-serving, but rather, intended to further a greater goal. That man was interested in solving problems. He was comfortable telling the truth about what had happened, what his role in it had been, how he thought it might be fixed. He just couldn’t understand why such honesty had become rare.
Truth-telling is not a simple thing. There are some kinds of truth-telling that are no more than gross posturing, and some kinds of truth-telling that are intended to hurt others, rather than help situations. There is a truth-telling that is all about the ego of the person speaking the supposed truth, and we know there’s lots of ego gratification in public confession, public laundering of private sins. , Public shame is a heady experience. There is also a kind of truth-telling that is impulsive, a Tourette-like utterance of everything that pops into one’s mind with no filter, no exercise of restraint or even self-awareness. Neither of these, the manipulative self-disclosure or the impulsive staccato of articulated thoughts, are genuine expressions of honesty.
The kind of honesty whose goal is greater than the glorification of the self or the exploitation of others is rare. The kind of honesty that contains within it the accepting of responsibility, humility and a genuine desire for reconciliation is a rare thing. The kind of honesty that is offered so that a problem can be solved without blame or recrimination is rare. The kind of honesty that seeks the best outcome for others is rare. The kind of honesty that could be substituted by the word integrity is rare. The kind of honesty that can be trusted because it is free of agenda, retribution, or self-glorification is rare.
The Revelation to John, one of the most imaginative books in the Bible, is literature that is both complicated and obvious and, I would imagine, not the book one might first turn to for a Biblical exploration of honesty. It is apocalyptic literature about the meaning of the end times, whenever they may be, and it is a letter of comfort to those who suffer. Written sometime around the year 90 in the period of the reign of the emperor Domitian, and not long, really, after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, when the Christian community suffered many things, Revelation was written to frighten those who afflict suffering and reassure those who suffer, who fear there will be no end to what they must endure, no redemptive meaning to their experience and no hope for the future. If we think the words of the Revelation are true as to facts – you know – the seven seals, birds with six feet, thrones and magnificent descending cities - we will miss entirely their truth as to hope, and that would be a significant loss at a time when we need assurance God more than ever.
One of those truths that Revelation tells is that God offers, physically and personally, comfort to those who suffer, those who mourn. The passage I read a moment ago describes such an experience. Recorded as a vision, the “seer” sees a new city coming down out of heaven, a new Jerusalem. And from the throne, a magnificent voice declaring that God’s home is not far away or separate but rather, among and within humanity. God will live right smack dab in the middle of mortals, and it will be God who will comfort them. God will wipe the tears from their eyes. God will take away the pain and suffering and sadness. God will make all things new. And lest the witness think this was just too incredible, came the most important words, in the passage “Write this down for these words are trustworthy and true.”
The Revelation to John is filled with the richest metaphors, poetry that speaks to the weary heart about horrible things, how they are transcended and the comfort that comes directly from God, wiping away tears, soothing the brow, a kind of comfort that one might experience as sacred. Most of us, myself included, find the words of Revelation comforting in the face of death, either our own or the deaths of those we love. But death is not the only way the human heart suffers, and we are not the only ones with whom God lives while suffering continues. These are the words I believe are trustworthy and true. God dwells wherever there is human suffering. That is a kind of honest truth that has no agendas attached to it, no exploitation, no impulsivity. It is a truth intended to help, not harm. It is a truth that can be trusted.
Honest truth is an elusive thing, so vulnerable to manipulation, ego, exploitation. But it doesn’t need to be rare. In fact, it would be good of us to do all we can to make it a common factor in human life. We might begin by recognizing that God’s words are trustworthy and true, and go from there. Amen.