By: Christina Edmondson
Over the last couple of years, I have found myself daily using the sometimes humorous but simplistically profound “Black church-isms.” These in-group cultural expressions that contain within pieces of social logic and proverbial wisdom are passed down generationally. So, for example, after glancing at a cable news story on the state of politics or racism/greed (basically the same thing), I might feel a “God don’t like ugly” on my tongue. Local and international incidents of despair and uncertainty might result in a loud “Jesus be a fence!” or “Fix it!”
The list goes on and one with phrases like:
“It’s tight but it’s right.”
“He can make a way out of no way.”
“He is an on-time God.”
But, of all the drama in 2018, there has been one Black church-ism that seems to best capture the entire year for me:
“Tell the truth and shame the devil.”
It’s a phrase that acknowledges that the truth has consequences but is still necessary. The “shaming of the devil” no doubt results in attacks, but the command to tell the truth remains. The fact that is sometimes hard to feel is that the father of lies has been conquered by the King of Truth. When we seek to understand and exclusively speak the truth about our own sinful desires, the truth of the grace and sin that ripples through all the of creation, and the truth of redemption in Christ’s perfect sacrifice alone, we walk in the footsteps of Jesus. However, these are steps that lead right to Calvary. We must wait for the Truth, truthfully.
Telling a hard truth to a hard person is no easy task. Whether I was wearing the hat of counselor, educator or administrator, having to relay difficult news is an essential part of servant leadership.
“Ma’am, what your daughter is afraid to tell you is that your brother or boyfriend is molesting her.”
“I want to let you know that because of the belt marks on your child’s arms, I am required to report this incident to Child Protective Services. Would you like to call with me?”
“You are not happy working here and it is impacting the entire environment. What can we do to change this immediately?”
“You seem to have a high tolerance for injustice towards people of color and low empathy for their suffering compared to whites. What are you doing to repent of your racial bias?”
While the truth must be told in love and for the sake of love, that doesn’t mean it loses its sting. As a matter of fact, if you tell the truth plainly and clearly to those literally banking on lies, you are going to catch some judgment, frustration and attempts to silence. Yet to suffer with Christ now but to reign with Christ forever...is an exchange not worthy of the slightest complaint.
Note this exchange between the King of Truth and the truth-manipulating political agent of the day, Pilate:
28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”
30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”
31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”
“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. 32 This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.
33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising. (John 18:28-40)
As Jesus journeys to the cross, He encounters the politically savvy and opportunistic Pilate. After an exchange with some of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, Pilate interrogates Jesus, and we hear a gripping revelation and many insights. First, in these religious leaders we can see our own sinful inclinations to use politicians and those with civil power to execute a perverse injustice against those we despise. In other words, while desiring to look pious by maintaining sacramental laws for the Passover, they refused to enter the palace while at the same time handing over the greater Passover, Jesus Christ. Our inclination to use the state or government systems to perform our bigotry, hatred and apathy while looking ceremonially clean is sinful. God sees our intentions behind our political leanings, and He holds us responsible for caring more about looking loving while using others to promote hate.
Second, Pilate interrogates Jesus in what seems like an attempt to keep his hands clean. Both the Jews and Gentiles, representing all cultures, nations and tongues, need the King of Truth. But, in this scriptural moment we see all the world reject Christ as the saving King of Truth.
Ultimately, Christ gives us the answer to Advent as He stands before Pilate. “I was born and came into this world to testify to the truth.” Jesus, the greater Passover, came to us for the sake of cleansing life-giving truth. Jesus, the greater Adam, came to redeem all of humanity by obedience. Jesus, the greater Esther, comes to put His life on the line before political magistrates and earthly kings to save His people. For such a time as this, Jesus came into this world as a baby, to grow in wisdom and demonstrate obedience, love and justice.
Jesus even now functions as the great truth-teller, interceding for the Beloved Church. Can you hear these words? “Yes, she has sinned but she is covered in My righteousness. The blood speaks for her now. I am making all things new.”
Jesus shares that everyone on the side of truth listens to Him. To this Pilate replies with frustration and dismissal: “What is the truth?”
It is so amazing how either we can see or we cannot see. The truth was standing directly in Pilate’s face. The Truth would be chosen to die over the insurrectionist, Barabbas. The Truth would carry His bloody body and cross to the site of the crucifixion. The Truth would give Himself to die on a cross. The Truth would indeed experience a full resurrection, and this Truth will return soon.
When you tell the truth, people who resist it will ask, “Who do you think you are?” They might respond, “What is the truth, anyway?” Credibility is one of the first things that is attacked when you tell hard truths. Mockery comes along with attempts to silence or ignore truthful voices. The Pilates of this world, who find truth inconvenient and threatening to their leadership and power, seek to silence or co-opt truth-tellers. But the real Jesus, the King of Truth cannot be co-opted for our political or personal agendas. He tells us who we really are. We don’t tell him who He is.
As we wait for Jesus and reflect on this Advent season, let us wait truthfully.
Truthful about our need for a savior.
Truthful about our sins, avoiding repenting of particular sins particularly.
Truthful about the groans of this world.
Truthful about the privileges that we receive at the expense of our neighbors.
Lord, You said everyone on the side of truth listens to You. Help us to hear Your Truth in Your Word. Help us to see Your truth in corporate worship. Help us to seek Your truth in our prayers. Help us to extend Your truth in our relationships with friends, family and foes. We live in a land of lies and when we deny our own sin, we lie to You and ourselves. Make us repentant people while we wait for the fullness of Your purifying Truth. Amen
Questions for Discussion:
1.What lies do I tell myself about You, Jesus, in order to avoid repenting?
2. What stops me from sharing the truth in love?
3.In what ways do I attempt to co-opt Your name for the sake of my agenda—personal, professional and political?
Songs of Praise
“Order My Steps” by Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir
“Lies” by En Vogue