August 9, 2020

Proverbs 11:3; Proverbs 12:22; Ephesians 4:25; James 3:5-10

Countering Lies With Truth

 

Today’s sermon topic has to do with being able to counter lies with truth. This is difficult, especially in today’s political climate. Politicians, celebrities, and everyday people have struggled with the notion of honesty and truth-telling for centuries. What does it mean to lie? The Definition of lying from - www.dictionary.com -noun. a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood. Something intended or serving to convey a false impression; imposture.”

 

If you grew up around the same time I did, you may remember the story parents used regarding our first president, George Washington. This myth, created apparently by Washington’s first biographer says that when young George was 6 years old, his father gave him his first hatchet. George then went and used it on a cherry tree. When confronted with the misdeed by his father, George said, “I cannot tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.” My mother used that one on me a few times after being caught in a lie. President Washington was the gold standard-bearer of truth-telling for me as a child. I do not think the same could be said of most of the presidents who followed him, especially now. So much lying is going on these days, it makes me wonder how children growing up in this nation will regard truth-telling and lying. Catholic Theologian and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote this back in the 1600s, but it sure applies today. “Truth is so obscured nowadays, and lies so well established that unless we love the truth we shall never find it.  I wonder what he would write if he lived in America today?

 

All of us have told lies, myself included. I confessed to the online Bible study last Thursday that I lied to my Noom counselor (Noom is a weight loss app on your cell phone) that I had lost a pound when truthfully I had not. Why would I do such a thing? Shirley Patton gave it a name, and it fits - Self Editing. Sometimes we lie to make ourselves look good to the rest of humanity. We improve our stature, look better to others when we tell certain lies. From where then did that lie about my weight come? Was it I, or some other force?

 

Scripture is clear on where lies originate. Jesus, in confronting some scribes and Pharisees at the temple for their behavior said, You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and has nothing to do with the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.(John 8:44) Then there is 1 John 2:21, where John reminds us, “I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and you know that no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar but the one who denies Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist…” Scripture tells us that Lies come from the evil one. Regardless of their source, lies damage us and others in so many ways.

 

Let’s look at today’s Passages to see what they can tell us about lying. First, we have Proverbs 11:3.“ 3 The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.The word for integrity in Hebrew is תֻּמַּ֣ת Toomaw, meaning uprightness or honor.

 

Lying can cause a person to lose their integrity. Consider the story of former NBC Nightly news anchor Brian Williams. Brian Williams used to be the anchor for the most-watched national news broadcast on NBC. Due to telling a number of lies about himself and being caught in them, however, he has faded from the limelight. It began when he made his own news headlines after sharing a story of his own that ended up being too good to be true. In 2003, Williams claimed he was on-site in Iraq and allegedly was riding in a helicopter that suffered R.P.G. fire, forcing an emergency landing. Other soldiers that had actually been involved in the incident later revealed that Williams had never been on board when it happened. He came clean about his wrongdoing and said he “conflated the two” after watching the video of the impact area while suffering from a foggy memory. Williams also told a number of other whoppers on the David Letterman show. The result of all his lies? He lost integrity with the nation, stepped down from his job as a news anchor for 6 months, and then confessed his lies on national television. In time, he became the “Breaking News” person on MSNBC, and now hosts a very NOT prime time news show called “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams.” Once you have lost your integrity, it is difficult to find it again. Theodore Walter Fedorchack said, “When lying and omission become part of your character, you lose integrity and the trust you once had from others.

 

Next, we have Proverbs 12:22, which says, “Lying lips are an abomination to God, but those who act faithfully are God’s delight.” The word for abomination, “tow’abat” means “abhorrence, disgusting, loathsome.”(American Heritage Dictionary) Why does scripture tell us God feels so strongly about lying? In addition to making ourselves look better to others through self-editing and losing one’s integrity, lies can harm others and ourselves. Consider the next passage from Ephesians, (Ephesians 4:25) “So then, putting away all falsehoods, let us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” Lies can erode communities and do irreparable damage. Consider the following story.

 

I was going through the 21-day Justice Challenge which is mentioned in our current newsletter and available on our church website and came across something I knew little about - Environmental Racism. According to Wikipedia, “ Environmental racism is a concept in the environmental justice movement, which developed in the United States throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The term is used to describe environmental injustice that occurs within a racialized context both in practice and policy. I then Googled “Examples of Environmental Racism and found article after article on Flint, Michigan. You all remember Flint, right, and their story of led contaminated water? I found this story on Theguardian.com.

 

It all began on a hot day in the summer of 2014, in the Civic Park neighborhood of Flint, population 99,000, 54% of which are African American, where Pastor R. Sherman McCathern served as pastor of a local church. He noticed water rushing out of a couple of fire hydrants. Puddles formed on the dry grass and splashed the skin of the delighted kids who ran through it. But the spray looked strange.“The water was coming out dark as coffee for hours, McCathern remembered. The shock of it caught in his throat. “Something is wrong here.” Then the people of Flint, Michigan began to complain that their tap water smelled bad, was the wrong color, and made children sick. But their continuous complaints fell on deaf ears with the City Council. It took officials 18 months to accept there was even a problem.

 

Even after finally recognizing that something was wrong with the water, the authorities “said everything was all right and you could drink it, so people did,” McCathern said later. The city had decided to stop using the clean water from Detroit, instead, tapping into the highly polluted Flint River and using old rusty pipes. In time there was to be a switch over to a new pumping station with charcoal filtering. This is what the water looked like. In the meantime, residents were advised to leave the taps on for a few minutes before using the water, to get a clean flow. As the months went by, the city plant tinkered with treatment and issued a few boil-water advisories. State environmental officials lied again and again saying that there was nothing to worry about. The water was fine. Meanwhile, public figures spent the summer counseling residents to have patience as they worked out the kinks. “It’s a quality, safe product,” said Mayor Walling. “I think people are wasting their precious money buying bottled water. The water was so toxic that General Motors began noticing rust forming on brand newly produced engine parts. They stopped using Flint’s water and instead hooked up to a neighboring suburb’s water which still used water from Detroit. At the GM union, members and retirees were beginning to ask, “If it’s too corrosive for an engine, what’s it doing to the inside of a person?

 

In the 6 years since the city decided to switch Flint’s water source to the Flint River, an estimated 6-8,000 children have gotten lead poisoning. Many of Flint’s residents have broken out in rashes. At least 90 people have contracted Legionnaires Disease and 12 have died. Home values have plummeted. To date, the water has finally gotten somewhat better, as 85% of old led pipes have been replaced, but Flint residents are skeptical that the water is safe, due to repeated lies and inaction. As for the project to totally fix the water system, which was supposed to be completed in July of 2020? It has been put on hold due to the Coronavirus. To date, no city officials have been charged, despite their repeated lying, and the water remains tainted.

 

The City Council forgot they were members of one another, neighbors. Their repeated lies caused irreparable damage to the people of Flint. No wonder God views lying as so disgusting and loathsome.

 

Finally, we have the passage from James, James 3:5-10.“ 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature,[a] and is itself set on fire by hell.[b] 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it, we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters,[c] this ought not to be so. The things we say with our tongue, especially the lies can begin like a small lightning strike, but can quickly turn into a fire complex!

 

In our gathering on Zoom last Thursday, Marjorie Bulkley talked about the Whisper game, or Telephone, the game we all used to play as kids, - when one person whispers in someone’s ear and the sentence is then passed on to the next, and so on. By the time it gets to the last person, the original sentence is all mixed up. She said lies can be just like that. Something that one person says about another, which may seem small and insignificant can be altered as it is shared with others, and turn into a false blaze.

 

Theologian Anne Lamott wrote, “Lies cannot nourish or protect you. Only freedom from fear, freedom from lies can make us beautiful and keep us safe.” May we live our lives free from lies and fear-free from self-editing, with integrity, aware that lies can harm the neighboring community around us, and that a small lie can grow into a great one doing much damage. Let us live our lives beautifully in truth and in faith, which is pleasing to God. Alleluia! Amen.

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