"Conversatio et Veritas"
Message Delivered by Isaac Borocz - November 22, 2009
II Samuel 23:1-7; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37
Today has been known as Christ the King Sunday for awhile now. And since I’ve given you the history of the feast’s creation and all that sort of thing before, I won’t bore you with it again. But I do want to point out, since the lectionary has been something of a theme for me this year, that the lectionary Gospel passages chosen for this Sunday are hardly the ones most of us would chose for a feast called “Christ the King”.
This is the last Sunday of Year B, and we’ve been reading Mark’s gospel, with additions from John, since Mark isn’t quite long enough to fill up all the Sundays of the year. Last year, Year A, we’d read from Matthew 25, and next year, Year C (which starts next Sunday), we’ll hear a portion of Luke 23. Year A tells the story of the last judgment, when the Son of Man judges between the sheep and the goats and says: what you have done for the least of these, you have done to me. Year B gives us Jesus before Pilate. And Year C has the scene of Jesus on the cross and the good thief. Superficially, the reason for these selections is that the word king or kingdom appears in the passage. At a deeper level, however, these passages tell us that Jesus our Lord is more than just pomp and circumstance.
The Gospel passage we heard ends with the words “Those who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
There are things that we all know; we call these things true. For example: we are in St. Matthew’s Church in Bowie MD. And there are things we all know, but don’t quite know properly. We also call these things true, in a way. For example: The Bible says, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” Or, Roman Catholic priests and nuns take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
These examples are things that are only true in some ways. You will not find that proverb in the Bible, but you will find some things rather like it. And Catholic priests do NOT take vows at all. Also, while most members of religious orders do take vows/promises of poverty, chastity and obedience, it’s not true for all religious orders. Those three vows are relatively modern, dating only from the last 900 years or so. Older customs do prevail in some quarters. For example, the vows taken by members of the Benedictine family are: Obedience, Stability and Conversatio.
That’s where today’s message title comes from: Conversatio and Veritas.
The veritas part is easy to translate: Truth. But the story of Jesus before Pilate leaves out the best part of that scene: Pilate’s question: What is truth? In Latin: Quid est veritas?
Commentators have had a field day with the stage directions of that line. Some think Pilate was being philosophical, or curious, or sarcastic. One modern translation even has Pilate utter, “Truth? What is that supposed to mean?” Medieval thinkers, who loved playing with words, discovered that Pilate’s question can be rearranged to get what I think might be the best answer anyone has come up with yet. – But I’m not about to tell you what that is yet!
Conversatio is harder to get into English. Our word conversation is the direct descendant from the Latin word, but the Latin has a lot more baggage than our English one. The root of the word is versare, to turn. And the suffix –atio has a sense of continual movement, of the need to keep on trying to get it right. And the prefix con, as we all remember from elementary school vocabulary lessons, means ‘with’ or ‘together’. So conversation might be translated as an on-going movement, together with others, to accomplish something. In the case of conversation, we attempt to share with one another, by turning together and listening to each other and thus coming to common understanding. That in itself would be a goal worthy for most people, . . . not to mention politicians!
When I was young, there was a song that began “Love is a many splendored thing”. In the case of truth, we might say rather that truth is a many layered thing. We use words and symbols, titles and mottoes all the time, knowing that they are not the fullness of truth, but that they somehow embody something of the truth.
In just this way, we give Jesus all sorts of names and titles. We used many of them in today’s call to worship. And all of them are true, but they may need a bit of conversatio for us to realize what they might fully mean: Son of God, Son of David, Son of Mary, Messiah, Christ, Anointed One, Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the One Who is, who was and who will be, the Word of God, Image of the Father, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, King of Glory, Bread of Life, Good Shepherd, King of kings and Lord of lords, Living Water, Savior, Master, Redeemer, Lamb of God, Priest and Sacrifice, True Vine, Cornerstone, Rock, Head of the Church, God With Us, Brother, Teacher, Friend, Divine Physician, God’s love made visible... And the list could go on for pages.
In today’s anthem, the choir sang (and I hope you heard), “You are the Christ the Son of the living God...the first begotten Son, born of the love of heaven. We are the church, and we will serve and glorify; we are the church to be a living sacrifice offered to you through all we are. And so our love for Christ will be the cause and reason why we live our days: to walk in faith, faith in the solid rock.”
Born of the love of heaven. Not only born of heaven, but also given to us, to the whole of creation. A gift of love from Love itself. If you have nothing else to be thankful for this Thursday, that is at least one thing we can all celebrate!
We are the church, a living sacrifice offered to you through all we are. That is how we show our gratitude for heaven's outpouring of love: to be a living sacrifice offered willingly and completely, to walk in faith, knowing that our feet are firmly planted on the rock, the solid rock of divine love.
Our presence (here at worship, at other events in the life of the church and the community), our gifts to support the work of the church and to help those in need, and our service to those around us are all ways in which we offer that sacrifice. In what we do and in who we are, the love of God shows forth in us and through us.
Most of us have been church-goers for decades. Most of us have heard all these things before. And yet, despite all the repetitions of these truths, most of us are still longing to be filled completely with the love of God, to hear the sweet sound of the amazing grace which is Jesus himself.
And of course, we cannot hear that sweet sound unless we are quiet enough to let it into our ears, into our hearts, into our minds. That’s the hard part of conversatio. It doesn’t mean talking all the time; it doesn’t mean scoring points off the others in the discussion; it doesn’t mean thinking about what you’re going to say next while your fellow conversatio-sharers are speaking. It DOES mean honoring the other and allowing their words and thoughts, their music and anthems, the preludes and postludes, their prayers and sermons speak in your quietness. It DOES mean taking time from our busy schedules to sit calmly alone to ponder what we hear and experience. It DOES mean laying aside some of our favorite conceits and ideas to see whether what we thought was the truth is in fact a whole truth, or an image seen darkly as in a mirror, to borrow a phrase from St. Paul.
So what is the truth? Is there something that is utterly and completely true that does not need to be massaged by conversatio? Yes, I think there is. And here we come to the anagram I mentioned before. You do remember Pilate’s question, right? Quid est veritas? Rearrange those letters and you get: Est vir qui adest. That, my friends, is the truth we need to remember. That is the truth beyond question. That is the truth at the root of all that is good and holy and beautiful and true. That is the truth we must hold onto, with all our might, with all our souls, with all our mind, with all our strength. Est vir qui adest. Utter and Complete Truth is this man who is standing in front of you. Jesus himself is truth. Hold fast to HIM: and nothing can move you, nothing can shake you, nothing can unhinge you. As our closing hymn reminds us: “On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.”
Part of our on-going sacrifice is to pray for one another, for the church and for the world.
The litany response is in the hymnal #488.
We pray, O Father of every good gift, for your continued blessings on this world of ours, created in beauty and full of bounty and mystery.
We pray for our stewardship of God’s gifts to us, that we may be faithful in our sharing of the good things we have received.
We pray for the church, for its ministers and all its members, that we may share the good news of your amazing grace in Jesus Christ.
We pray for this congregation, that we may strive ever more faithfully to seek your truth, to make our hearts a home for that truth, to do your will and to bring your love to those around us.
We pray for those who teach and those who preach, for those who pray and those who sing, for those who play and plan and clean and decorate in this house of worship, that God may give them the reward of their labors in serving you and your people.
We pray for world leaders, and governments: for our President, our Congress, our Governor and legislators, for the Supreme Court, for our mayor and for all elected officials, that their service may be wise and loving and for the good of all the world.
We pray for those who serve others in their daily work: for our military, for doctors and nurses, for counselors and teachers, for police and fire-fighters, and for all who give of themselves for our freedom and safety: that they may be your hands and feet and eyes in our everyday life, and that we may be mindful of their selfless efforts on our behalf.
We pray for those who work for peace and justice in the world, that your spirit will fill them with your own strength and goodness.
We pray for those who suffer in any way, in mind body or spirit, that they may come to experience your loving care through us.
We pray for those of us who are sick, for those of us who mourn, for those of us who experience any need, that we may help them in their distress.
We pray for those who do not know you, for those who seek you, and for those whose needs are known to you alone, that they may find their heart’s desire in you.
We remember those whom we love and have gone before us in this world, and we give thanks for the example of all your saints.
Keep us ever in your loving care and bring us all at last to the kingdom of your Son Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
THE PASTORAL PRAYER