The Moment of Truth

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It happens for all of us along the way, whether we seek it out or not. A moment of truth comes, when all that we are, and all that we want to be, comes to a focus in a decision or event that reveals who we are. These moments may come more than once in a lifetime, but when we find ourselves in one we know that everything about our lives is at stake in this act, this decision, in the words we speak.

We stand now in the midst of Jesus' great moment of truth. In the events we recall today his whole life is summed up. A noisy parade into Jerusalem, followed by a mock public trial, and then the agony of an excruciating execution. In these acts the whole meaning of Christ's life is revealed. And the meaning of yours and mine, too. Let us walk with him through his moment of truth, and watch and listen. Because if the way of the cross is the way of life and peace, we need to learn his way.

But Why? Why did he go? His ministry had focused not on political confrontation, but on healing the deep-seated fear all of us carry. Fear of God, fear of life, fear of believing in who we are. His message was simple. You are called into being out of love.

Look at your religion, how it becomes one more system of rules to shield you from the power of God's forgiving love.

And so he healed. He cast out demons. He forgave. He welcomed the homeless to his dinner table. And he called the crowds to trust God's abundance by opening their hearts and their possessions in generosity.

But the crowds began to be threatened by him. You'll never know God loves you until you trust God, Jesus said. People began to drift away. He came to see that he had to take his message of God's love to the heart of his people, to Jerusalem itself He had to confront the powers. He had to reveal the cancer in his society and within the people he met, and to offer the healing power of God. His hour had come.

And of course, our hour comes too. My guess is that all of us have faced the decision to go up to Jerusalem. We have had to face hard truth, say hard things, undergo loss, or terrible illness, make a difficult decision at work, decide to go into the struggle of marriage counseling. There was a long account in the "New Yorker" about a structural engineer for the construction of one of New York's tallest skyscrapers. After the building had been completed, he discovered that he had designed bolts and joints that were inadequate for the building he had made. He knew that there could be dangerous stress and damage in the worst of windstorms, that the building could conceivably collapse, but that might not happen for decades. He knew if he said nothing, chances were the problem wouldn't surface in his lifetime. And he knew too that coming forward might spell the end of his career. He was terrified. He thought of suicide. But he came. A moment of truth.

Or there is the truth of a recently downsized AT&T employee who said, "More than half of my life has been spent here. But now I have no name and no face." He has to start over. Could he do it?

In England, not long ago, when the Bishop of London was appointed Archbishop of York, rumors began circulating about his sexual orientation, in part simply because he had been a single man all his life. After what was evidently a great deal of inner turmoil he publicly acknowledged his own homosexual orientation, knowing the outcry for his resignation that would precipitate in spite of his commitment to a life of celibacy. He had come to his moment of truth.

We've followed in recent years the series of revelations by whistle blowers who have come forward in the tobacco industry, telling the truth about the industry's long history of hiding the addictive character of smoking and its connection to cancer.

But we needn't be so dramatic. The moment of truth comes when you decide to name what is going on in a relationship that is destructive. Or what is going on at work that is unfair or untrue. Or when you face the fact that those two drinks at night are no longer a choice and have become a necessity.

We all have to go to Jerusalem eventually.

Ride on! Ride on! in majesty is a hymn we sing on Palm Sunday. Sometimes we all have the courage to speak the truth and to act courageously.

Jesus Stands before Pilate for the trial. Now the moment of truth focuses on a Roman governor who has behind him all the power of the world's greatest empire. A wandering preacher, the son of a carpenter, stands alone before him. And oddly enough, it is clear that the one in charge is not Pilate, but Jesus.

Who has the real fear in this scene? Pilate knows there maybe trouble with the crowds. He looks anxiously for a way out. "Are you the king of the Jews/" he asks. "Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?" It is Pilate who is afraid, not Jesus. Pilate is probing for a way out, for someone to blame for this. Finally, he washes his hands before the crowd, trying to have it both ways, doing what the crowd wants, but protecting his innocence.

And Jesus simply stands there, firm, clear, resolved. Was he afraid? How could he not be? But in that long night of wrestling at Gethsemane he had given himself to the truth. "Father, let this cup pass from me. Yet not my will, but thine be done."

Pilate is the one afraid. He realizes that he is not in control. He is maneuvering, trying to work a deal, finally succumbing to the crowd against his better judgment.

No, Jesus is the one with the power here. He could have escaped. He has chosen this, he has brought about the crisis. And he has accepted, the risks involved in living the truth. Jesus is no more powerless than Mahatma Gandhi in bringing down the British Empire in India, or Rosa Parks sparking the Civil Rights Movement by refusing to take her seat at the back of the bus. Or a woman deciding that a lifetime of messages about her own weakness are a lie, and she is going to shape a new way.

The powers of intimidation are helpless against someone grounded in truth. In Johns' Gospel as Jesus prepares to enter Jerusalem he says, "Now is the judgment of the world. Now are the princes of this world being cast out."

Every word of truth, every moment of confronting the powers that diminish us, is an act of liberation, an act of overthrowing the powers that would diminish us. It is a declaration of hope, of the conviction that forgiveness and healing will finally win the day, but only as the truth is told.

In the worst moments of World War II one small, frail man embodied that hope. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan priest, clung to a courageous hope through his miserable days at Auschwitz, where he was imprisoned for opposing the Nazis. His moment of truth came on the day the German commander of the prison camp ordered ten prisoners to die of starvation as a reprisal for the escape of one inmate. The ten were picked, but one of the victims, a Polish army sergeant, began to sob. "My wife and my wife and my children."

Suddenly Kolbe pushed his way from the back of the formation to the front, past the security guards, right to the commander, and looked him straight in the eye.

"I wish to make a request, please," he said in impeccable German.

"What do you want?"

"I want to die in the place of this prisoner," answered Father Kolbe. I have no wife and children. Besides, I'm old and cannot do much good anymore."

The stunned prisoners waited for the Germans to say both men would die. But after a moment the commander snapped, "Request granted."

So Maximilian Kolbe in his moment of truth gave his life for another. Hope and compassion had released in him the power to face death and believe that goodness and justice would ultimately triumph.

"To accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour," a wise teacher said to me, "means that you will never have to be a victim again." When you are rooted in the truth, in hope, in God, you are free.

But these are heroes --- Kolbe, Rosa Parks, Gandhi, the whistle blowers and truth tellers. What about us? What about the truths, small and large, we are called to speak? What about those small daily Jerusalems we are called to enter? And what about when we fail?

Our final Act, is then the great moment of truth. Now he hangs before us like a dangling scarecrow -- unprotected, utterly exposed, offering himself to God and God's truth. He reveals to us the games we play, the ways we are in bondage to fear, and shame, and dishonesty. He shows us how little we are capable of loving with God's love.

"Crucify him," we cried in our fear at the kind of life he showed us. And now we stand around as he hangs there, watching.

But as we look at the cross something strange begins to happen. We begin to sense that we aren't alone in our moments of truth. We begin to see that he has gone before us and shown us the way. He spoke the truth, and lived it, and went even into death for it, lost even his sense of God's closeness. But by staying there he opened the way for our forgiveness and healing.

Hanging there in his naked truthfulness he tells us we never have to go through any of our struggles alone He takes all the hatred and bitterness and fear of our lives into himself. And more than that, he takes it into God.

From that cross flows immense love and immense hope.

Not long ago I spent part of an afternoon in an art gallery in front of a newly reconstructed painting of the Trinity from 13 century Italy. There in front was the agony of this lonely figure on the Cross, hanging before us. But behind him, seated on a throne, was the figure of the Creator God, and his arms, resting on the throne, seemed almost to surround the man on the Cross.

That is what this day reveals. The loving arms of the creator God are holding us, embracing us, as we make our way to our Jerusalems.

Of course we will fail and our moments my pass unseized. But Christ hangs before us now, forgiving us, taking into himself our failure, pouring his Spirit on us, feeding us with his Body and Blood.

We have a week ahead, to walk the way of the Cross together. Let's follow this saviour into his moment of truth. Because his moment of truth is ours too.

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