A transcript of a sermon preached at Two:23, a multi-denominational LGBT+ service based at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, London.
‘What is truth? Pontius Pilate asked Jesus this during his trial.
Jesus came, according to the writers of John’s gospel, full of grace and truth. John, being my favourite of all the accounts of Jesus’ life. I’m not going to try and define truth, because I have no idea. What I do know is that I am obsessed with it. I think that’s because I spent so much of my life running away from it.
Scared of it.
I’m also convinced that I am obsessed with truth because of my past. All of us are a product of and, let’s be honest, often a reaction to, our past.
I had a fairly normal upbringing. I was brought up by a single Scottish disabled mother, on a council estate, living on benefits.
My dad would text, well not text, we didn’t have mobiles when I was a kid, but he would phone and tell my mum that he would be round on Sunday at 1pm to pick me and my sister up and take us for dinner.
So 12 o’clock would come around, I’d be there getting my shoes on and my coat ready to wait for 1 o’clock. I would sit, on the wall outside, and wait. And wait. And wait. 1 ‘clock. 2 o’clock. 3 o’clock. At which point my mum would come and tell me to come inside and I could have whatever I wanted in the cupboards for tea.
The next weekend would come. Phone call. 1 o’clock shoes on. 2 o’clock would come and pass. 3 o’clock. 4 o’clock. My mum would come outside again.
The next week would come, phone call, shoes on... you get the picture.
Now I was a cute kid: Who wouldn’t want to hang around with
The truth was not being told to me. It would have been nicer to say, ‘I’m not coming over’ but to do that would be to admit failure.
Truth is a scary thing because truth demands honesty and it means you can’t hide anywhere. If you live in truth you live in light and all is open for everyone to see. The writers of John’s gospel again in chapter 3:21 ‘But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly…’ and that is petrifying. Because there is no where to hide.
In the darkness you can create your own life, you can create the person you want to be which may, or may not, be the person you actually are. But truth, well that’s a scarier thing all together because then there is nothing but yourself, your true self, which people can accept or reject.
Truth is risky.
But truth is also power.
Jesus and Pilate find themselves in an exchange about truth and power. After asking ‘what is truth?’ it is not recorded that Jesus and Pilate speak again until they have a conversation about Power. Truth and power are intrinsically linked, aren’t they?
I remember admitting to myself I was gay and then running to become an MP a few months later. I was petrified that the truth would come out, or more accurately, petrified that someone would out me and use it against me, or worse, have power over me using my own truth against me. I was petrified. I had a life I desperately wanted to live and continue in.
So many people have their truth used against them to harm them, to abuse them, to wield power over them. Sometimes it's partners that use it against them, sometimes it's friends, family, sometimes it's structures and churches. Often, it’s by those we should be able to trust to protect us.
Christ found himself having his own truth about who he was and his own power used against him in order to make him suffer and then eventually kill him.
But does that mean Christ was powerless?
Christ was most powerful when he was seemingly powerless. How life works, how God interacts with the world, how we can relate to God - all of that intrinsically changed through the death and resurrection of Christ. When Christ was seemingly powerless, that’s when he changed everything.
When we own our truth, when we live in our truth, when we live in the light plainly for all to see, then people cannot wield our truth against us because we own it and live it and then we are powerful.
Then we can change the world.
Then we are living lives like Christ.
It’s a world where you will still be denied, where you will still be mocked, where you will still face hostility – like the Christ we worship does – but it’s a life which is worth living. For as the generation before mine battled to enable us to live a life where same-sex marriage is possible, where civil partnerships are possible, where massive Pride events are possible, where meetings like this are possible, so we battle on.
Living in truth, powerful because if it.
And there will be times when we find ourselves in the position of power, in the place to change things. In the place where we can be our authentic selves and do things differently. And what do we do when we find ourselves in the position of power, to do things in an opposite way to the way things were done to us?
We do it differently.
We don’t leave them with shoes and coat on waiting. We model something different. We live our truth and authentic lives and we change the world.
We live out the justice that we ourselves were denied.
We live in truth, full of grace and we are powerful because of it.