“Post-truth politics.” This term was coined quite recently. But soon, it became a buzzword and went viral on many social media.
Oxford Dictionaries even named the word, “post-truth,” 2016 word of the year, and define, “Post-truth denotes the circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion.” As I followed the process of the US presidential election last December and the South Korean presidential election last month, I found this term captures something very close to what we commonly experience. Indeed, it looks like many political events and news these days are just framed to emotionally provoke us and lead us to care less about truth, facts, and the details of policies.
This post-truth political culture stirs up people and encourages them to express their raw feelings of enmity and anger toward others who hold different political views. And it gives birth to the flood of fake news. People who fabricate fake news don’t care about truth. They just intentionally mislead people with deliberate misinformation or hoaxes to get attention or gain some benefits. Now, go online, go social media like Facebook and Twitter and with just one click, you can find fake news with an eye-catching title. So easy and widespread. What’s wrong with this world we live in?
In this era of post-truth, when truth is subject to fact-check news, we are here to celebrate Pentecost, the day when the living Spirit of the truth came down upon the disciples and moved their hearts. In this era of post-truth, when truth takes secondary position in our lives, we are here to remind ourselves of the only everlasting truth, the truth that is revealed through Jesus Christ and reassured in our hearts by the Holy Spirit day by day. In this era of post-truth, when we are exposed to the flood of fake news, we are here to claim our lives in the Spirit of truth and share the good news that saves us and sanctifies us. Here, in our worship service, let the truth, let the good news be the only source of our joy and peace. Amen? Amen!
The truth we uphold today is very different from other truths produced and circulated these days. The truth that we hear from the news media today is actually factual truth. It’s only a matter of true-or-false judgment based on human reason. It is just examined on a factual ground. This truth is believed to be something outside us so that we can see it from apart and investigate it objectively. However, the truth we uphold today is not measured by its factuality or provability, because its truthfulness is something we can know only by grace through faith, because it is the truth that we get to understand only through our relationship with God. This truth I’d like to call, the relational truth.
On the Day of Pentecost, people who gathered in the upper room experienced the most incomprehensible event in their lives. There was an unidentifiable sound, sounding like “the rush of a violent wind,” like a tornado. It came down suddenly from heaven and filled the entire house. There was an unknowable vision. Flames of fire like tongues touched the head of each person there. That was the sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit and the continuous relationship with God. By this work of the Holy Spirit, the disciples and early Christians now get to understand the truth. The simple truth: God is love. And because of this love, God comes to save us in Jesus Christ, and comes to live with us in the Holy Spirit. How do we know this truth? Indeed, this truth of love and grace is what we can only know through the relationship with God.
Perhaps, this relational truth seems foolish to some people living in the post-truth culture, who are interested only in factual truths. This truth of God does not give birth to fake news that divides people, nor instigates their emotion of hatred and anger to go against each other, nor causes conflicts among people. The truth of God’s love and grace comes with the good news that reconciles people in the confidence of new life in Christ, springs forth joy of salvation in our hearts, and grows peace that embraces all with mercy and forgiveness.
On the Day of Pentecost, there was an unfathomable wonder of unity. Men and women alike were gifted with the ability to speak fluently in a new language. What happened in the event truly surpassed any human understanding or knowledge. So others who heard this group of people speak the new language “were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’” And they sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’” But what’s really happening there was that the Holy Spirit brought people together in one accord, in one Spirit, in one truth—not with fake news but with the good news!
Sisters and brothers in the Spirit, on this day of Pentecost, let us first be grateful for the relational truth that teaches us the steadfast love and grace of God. And let us rejoice and be glad in the Spirit who continually renews the good news of salvation in our hearts. And let us share this truth with others.
You may ask, “How can we share the truth?” To share the relational truth of God we don’t need social media. We don’t need any fact check. We can just share it through our relationships. We can transmit this truth heart to heart, hand to hand, and eye to eye, through loving, accepting, and forgiving relationship. As the Spirit nudges us, we can witness this truth of God’s love and grace by our kind words, loving care, works of mercy and piety, self-sacrifice, and anything that builds up and nourishes our precious relationships with others.
In today’s Gospel story, Jesus says, “‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive” (John 7:37-39). The living water flows from Jesus to us, and from us to others through relationship. Let this flow of the living water reach out to many people around us, redeem their souls, and refresh their spirits through our lives. Then, in the relationship with God and in the relationship with others, we will understand the truth better by and by.
No fake news here in our church today. But for us who believe in Jesus Christ, may the Holy Spirit always encourage us to uphold the good news of Jesus Christ. On this day of Pentecost, may the Spirit of truth come down upon us and move our hearts to see that even in this post-truth world, we can live in the truth and abide in the Spirit. And may the Spirit, which raised Jesus Christ from the dead, be with us, give us the living water, and grant us new life day by day. Amen.