THE TRUTH-KINGDOM

Sermon delivered on the Sunday Next Before Advent, the 22nd November 2015 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.

Scriptures: Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14     Revelation 1: 4b-8     S. John 18: 33-37

S. John 18: 37. Jesus says to Pilate: “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.”

When the Christian ministers of the Cayman Islands met, several years ago now, one of the things we agreed upon was that the truth was absolute and non-negotiable. In other words we agreed to grow in the truth, but we rejected the idea that there could be a fundamental conflict between what is true for you, and what is true for me. All of us can be said to have blinkers on of various shapes and sizes, but if two or more are looking at the same object or action, the variety of interpretation that we put on what we see does not alter the fact that it is the same object or action we are looking at. An Agatha Christie detective story, for example, would be impossible to construct if this were not the case. Meaning itself becomes deconstructed if it is the reader rather than the author who has the absolute right to define what any book in his hands is about, as some educational theorists come close to saying. Ethical and doctrinal thought in the last fifty years, if not longer, has had to contend with this kind of thing too. “One man’s truth is another man’s falsehood” can at best be only a subjective impression - it can seem to those involved to be the case. But it can never be objectively true, or as some might say, it may be true noetically but not ontologically. Christ’s words today show us that we who are baptised into Christ are called to be those of the truth and called to be truth-tellers. Just as we are called to grow in the new nature of Christ and put off the old Adam, so we are called to grow in the truth and in His rule, which is one of truth, while at the same time never losing sight of the fact that it is also one of love.

For truths that are challenging may seem to be unloving ever to express. The physician, I am sure, has this dilemma too at times. So he has to develop the proverbial bedside manner; and the Christian has to develop pastoral style, so that people will accept better any unwelcome truth he is called to speak. In the sphere of Christian ethics there are many unwelcome truths that need to be spoken to those who are engaged in lifestyles that are often lauded in the media, not out of any lack of love but from the reverse, out of loving concern.

For instance when I give marriage counselling to a couple that is contemplating or practising living together before marriage, I should talk with them amongst other things about a statistic that even made it into a local newspaper: 70% of couples who have lived together for five years or more and then marry, break up after 10 years, compared with 31% for others.

Or similarly perhaps this research finding: "Cohabiting couples are less satisfied than married spouses with their partnerships, are not as close to their parents, are less committed to each other, and, if they eventually marry, have higher chances of divorce".

Having the research available, is it really “loving” to duck these issues, for the sake of being kind and untroublesome?

Here are some more examples of the perhaps unwelome but important results of studies that were all done in the United States or by U.S. workers.

1. Boys raised outside of an intact nuclear family are more than twice as likely as other boys to end up in prison, even controlling for a range of social and economic factors (Harper and McLanahan 1998).

2. Children who grew up in a single parent home are twice as likely to get divorced than children who grew up in a two-parent biological family (Bumpass and Sweet 1995).

3. Children raised in a single-parent family are twice as likely to drop out of high school, and girls raised in a single-parent family are more than twice as likely to have a child out-of-wedlock as a teenager compared to children who grow up with their biological parents (McLanahan and Sandefur 1994).

4. Single women under the age of 35 who never attend church are almost twice as likely to cohabit as those who attend church (Protestant or Catholic) on a weekly basis (Bumpass and Sweet 1995).

5. Men who attend church once a week or more are significantly less likely to physically abuse their wives. "The odds of committing partner violence are lower by more than half among men who attend services regularly -- at least once a week -- than among those who attend once a year or less" (Ellison, Bartkowski, and Anderson 1999: 98).

6. Finally, in a historic study of children raised by homosexual parents, sociologist Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin has overturned the conventional academic wisdom that such children suffer no disadvantages when compared to children raised by their married mother and father. Published in 2012 in the journal Social Science Research, the most careful, rigorous, and methodologically sound study ever conducted on this issue found numerous and significant differences between these groups--with the outcomes for children of homosexuals rated "suboptimal" (Regnerus' word) in almost every category.

THE CHURCH AND SOCIETY
Now, our own individual or family experience may or may not mirror these statistics. Nevertheless, the statistics as a whole strongly suggest that if anybody does not find himself in active church life he is far more likely to be a social problem than those who are in active church life. Also the statistics suggest that the two-parent married man and woman ideal that Christ taught and that has always been the Church's model for active sexuality is indeed the one system that is designed for making sure that children's needs are met.

DESERTING CHRIST'S RULE
The statistics further point to the absolute folly of churches who desert what the Church is mandated to teach. If the church maintains obedience to God and the teaching of His Son Jesus it can demonstrate statistics to prove its wholesome influence in all kinds of social areas of concern.

BEING SUBMITTED TO THE RULE
This is not because Christians or the baptised and committed are inherently better than others. We may rather liken the situation to the way two motor vehicles function. If you have a well-used little 2005 Hyundai it will do a lot better than someone's shiny new Jaguar if you provide the Hyundai with petrol, oil, air, water and mechanical attention at the points it needs them, while the Jaguar owner runs his vehicle down and completely neglects to service it. When we are submitted to the service point, so to speak, we can drive well, so long as we resist speeding and other temptations. But if we never get serviced we will inevitably become a menace to other users of the road.

The Sunday Next Before Advent is the last Sunday of the Christian Year, and in our calendar we celebrate the Kingship of Christ and call this day the Feast of Christ the King. For the Body of Christ to function well, like the car that is properly serviced, we need the active and experiential living out of the divine kingship. We need Christ the King in His role as our Head. We cannot be what we ought to be if we do not know Him in His kingly role and authority over us and providing for us. In our 1st Lesson from Daniel He is shown being given dominion by God, the Ancient of Days. In the 2nd Lesson from Revelation He is shown, having loved us and loosed us from our sins by His own Blood, as making us a kingdom. This means that we are called to be no less than priests to His God and Father. The positive statistics that may be outlined are an aspect of the effect of submitting to Him in repentance and being moved to live out that kingship and that priesthood. There is no way of living that can be better than this.

CHRIST'S KINGDOM IS THE RULE OF TRUTH
Our Gospel shows Jesus before Pontius Pilate, already betrayed and ill-treated by His own, explaining His Kingship as a Kingdom of truth. That is still the nature of the Kingdom of Christ, and in today's world of meaning-reconstruction, we must on no account slip away from that. For we are to be the truth-tellers in a world of spin. If we are not of the truth, we have deserted Christ's Kingdom. That is why at the end of the day all the tribes of the earth will be wailing on account of him, according to our lesson from Revelation today. They lost the truth that is the essential nature of His kingly primacy over us and among us. May we unceasingly hold on to His kingship through repentance and faith, and live the truth, so as to rejoice, rather than wail, in His presence in the age to come.

BIBLE STUDY QUESTIONS

1. If statistics indicate that an active identification with the Church and the life of the Christ she stands for is beneficial to society, how can television commentators get away with statements such as "The Church is not sufficiently involved in solving social problems"? Should one reduce church (or family) commitments in favour of greater involvement in movements such as those against "gender violence"?

2. In what ways do churches today desert their mandate? How can our Church avoid this?

3. "We are to be the truth tellers in a world of spin." Give examples of putting this into effect.