One of the outcomes of the selfie phenomena with cell phones is that people now know how to make a pretty good photo of themselves. I have watched people taking series of selfies of themselves that are immediately posted on their social media and I am amazed at the wonderful techniques that are used to make an individual look their best. Men flex their muscles and tense their necks and often take a strong warrior like pose… women make puffy lips and put their bodies in positions which hide rolls and bumps. There are actually lots and lots of videos on the internet which teach you how to take a good photo of yourself. (Seriously…This is obviously very important people!!!!) We have learned how to enhance our looks to put our ‘best face’ forward on social media. AND, we all, whether we take selfies or not, always want to put our best face forward. You do. I do. We do.
Which is why people do not like the photos others take of them. Their ‘bad’ side might be taken. The photo might not capture their winning smile with their pearly whites, but a show scowl or frown. Double chins we have been careful not to put on social media show up in candid shots taken by others and let’s hope the candid shot does not show our muffin top! Little wonder people fear other’s cameras!!!! I think the candid shots are when we realize that we really are our mothers or fathers. But most importantly is that we get to see how we look in the eyes of others. A bit of reality therapy for some of us!
I thought of the selfie/candid photo difference when I read the lectionary text for this morning where Jesus has been sent to stand before Pilate right before he is sentenced to death. Pilate is trying to get a sense of who this person is standing before him. He sees the candid and the selfie and can’t make sense of him. He wants to know what and who Jesus is…. Is he the person standing before him or is he a powerful God-like King of the Jews?
Listen now for the Good News as told in the Gospel of John 18: 33-38.
33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters[a] again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. (The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.)
Poor Pilate was in a bad situation. The Jewish leaders were crying out for this wandering prophet to be executed… to be crucified…. and there seemed to be no evidence to prove their accusations. But, he is worried as the crowds are out of control. Just like people demanding a lynching before a person was tried in a court of law in the Deep South in the not so distant history of our country, the people have past their judgement on Jesus and want him killed. Pilate is worried. What will happen to his control if he doesn’t give them what they want? A possible revolt could occur.
So Pilate asks Jesus if he is King of the Jews. Pilate wants to know if this man before him is a threat to the Roman Empire in some way. Would he influence his little band of followers to rebel against the powers that be? Why in the world is this seemingly harmless man before him in order that he pass a death sentence? And Jesus answers his question honestly. His kingdom is not of this world. Jesus’ reality was never a political one. Jesus’s reality was theological. Jesus was concerned with love and ethics and caring for the poor, the widow, the homeless, and the powerless….. Jesus was not preaching an over throw of a government but an ethic of love.
We who follow Jesus and try to live in an ethic of love, know the polar dichotomy of living in society, within the politics of our day, and trying to live out an ethic of love. And, perhaps there is no season of the year in which this is clearer than the one we are about to enter in our church, the Season of Advent which falls within society’s ‘holiday season’. As a society, we have begun to celebrate Christmas while in the church we haven’t even begun to await its arrival. But we are in society. We have to participate in our culture. So, we attempt to straddle the religious Advent and Christmas season while we participate in the joyous HoHoHo of secular Christmas. We balance in these two existences, the secular and the profane as Jesus did and hope that the ethic we live by will make a difference in the world and society in which we live. We don’t hide from it, we don’t cloister ourselves and try to run from the world. We go to Santa’s Enchanted Forest while we sing Advent Songs in minor keys and pray for peace and light to come to this dark world. And this week, while the commercials bombarded us with Black Friday and Cyber Monday commercials, we prayed and thanked God for all that we have been given and for which we are so grateful.
Jesus tried to describe this balance by saying that he and his followers belong to the truth. Truth… we belong to the truth. What in the world does that mean?
I was not here last Sunday (and, by the way, I heard Chuck Hannemann did a terrific job leading worship in my absence) because I officiated at a nephew’s wedding. The ceremony that I use is pretty much a take on the old traditional one, only I have cleaned up the language to make it inclusive and have updated words that no longer have meaning in our modern vocabularies. One word that I updated is the when couples were asked to pledge their troth to one another. Troth is a word no longer in our vocabulary. The closest modern word to it is truth. So, I ask couples if they will pledge their truth to one another. And before the ceremony, in their premarital counseling, I ask them to consider what that could mean to them. What does it mean to pledge your truth to another? And it is a wild and awesome thing to ponder. Truth is honest and it means loving without conditions and working on communicating and understanding the other.
But it is our job to ponder just that. Jesus says he came to testify to the truth and that as his followers, we belong to the truth. We are to seek it and are called to be a part of it.
Seeking the truth can be transforming. Unlike the selfie photo in which you hide your true self and only show the beautiful and happy side, seeking truth brings us to reality and discernment about who we are, where we might fall short, and who we should be. I think about this sometimes when I am with another person. I mean, have you ever looked so deeply into someone else’s eyes that you see your own reflection? When you do so, you can’t help but wonder what they are seeing about you. Is it good and loving? What they are seeing the truth.
And Jesus calls us to the same truth seeing. We need to look deeply at who we are and where we are in relation to the ethical standards that Jesus taught us and to which he called us in discipleship. And then we need to try and live into who we should be. We need to look at what is right and wrong in our actions and attitudes towards others and towards our own selves. We must encounter truth as both a challenge and a gift. One commentator wrote that truth is the essential element in helping us sort through the stench of the unpleasant atmosphere of life and move on to what is good.
This helps me as I look forward to the next four weeks. It gives me guidance as to how to live as a person of faith in both a religious holiday season and a societal cultural festival. I believe we can do both. We just need to be able to separate the two and be faithful to God as we live in society and model our values and ethics as followers of the person who taught us to love God and each other.
We need to think about living out the holiday as people of the truth. Sure the mistletoe and champagne pours are great, but we can teach the Good News, the Gospel of Love and Compassion by also living truthfully to who we are as people of faith. Whether you enjoy living your truth through the Gift It Forward holiday activity, the Christmas Jars, or by being a secret Santa to a child in our 3rd grade class at Frances Tucker Elementary School, we can experience and share the truth of the love and light of our holiday to others.
We are entering into a holiday season that is fun and also sacred and meaningful. It is a time to enjoy life and to also hope for and experience God being with us in our world. I believe we do this be being true to who we are and being the light to others in our society and world. Amen.