To Tell the Truth

Exodus 23:1-2,6-8Contemporary English Version (CEV)
The Lord said:
23 Don’t spread harmful rumors or help a criminal by giving false evidence.
2 Always tell the truth in court, even if everyone else is dishonest and stands in the way of justice. 3 And don’t favor the poor, simply because they are poor.
6 Make sure that the poor are given equal justice in court. 7 Don’t bring false charges against anyone or sentence an innocent person to death. I won’t forgive you if you do.
8 Don’t accept bribes. Judges are blinded and justice is twisted by bribes.
Ephesians 4Contemporary English Version (CEV)
4 As a prisoner of the Lord, I beg you to live in a way that is worthy of the people God has chosen to be his own. 2 Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other. 3 Try your best to let God’s Spirit keep your hearts united. Do this by living at peace. 4 All of you are part of the same body. There is only one Spirit of God, just as you were given one hope when you were chosen to be God’s people. 5 We have only one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. 6 There is one God who is the Father of all people. Not only is God above all others, but he works by using all of us, and he lives in all of us.
14 We must stop acting like children. We must not let deceitful people trick us by their false teachings, which are like winds that toss us around from place to place. 15 Love should always make us tell the truth. Then we will grow in every way and be more like Christ, the head 16 of the body. Christ holds it together and makes all of its parts work perfectly, as it grows and becomes strong because of love.
25 We are part of the same body. Stop lying and start telling each other the truth. 26 Don’t get so angry that you sin. Don’t go to bed angry 27 and don’t give the devil a chance.
29 Stop all your dirty talk. Say the right thing at the right time and help others by what you say.
30 Don’t make God’s Spirit sad. The Spirit makes you sure that someday you will be free from your sins.

31 Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others. Don’t yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude. 32 Instead, be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ.
The Eighth Commandment
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
What does this mean?
We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.
Maybe lying, bearing false witness isn’t such a big deal in the 21st Century. The media—all of them of every stripe—accuse each other of lying—of bearing false witness. I love listening to newscasters, especially panel discussions. No matter which network I listen to, I hear the newscasters saying that the media isn’t telling the truth. They don’t mean themselves though; they mean all the other networks, as if they are something separate from the media. Network XYZ complains about the media; newspaper ZYX complains about the media. Every radio talk show host complains about the media. How can they say anything about the media and excuse themselves?

But can we believe what we hear? what we read? Have we become calloused about truth telling? How important is telling the truth?

Of course, truth telling is important. Truth is the foundation upon which we base our thoughts, our actions, our beliefs, our decisions.
Our court system, our business contracts, our promises to each other mean nothing if we do not tell the truth.
The truth protects us. When you apply for a job, you tell the truth. When your child asks you a question, you tell the truth. When your doctor tells you the results of your test, you expect the truth.

The Bible is called “The Good Book,” but it has a lot of bad stuff in it. Some of that bad stuff includes lying. Family members lying to each other. Witnesses lying at a trial. People spreading rumors. Bearing false witness—-making false statements.

Issac, son of Abraham, had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau was the first born of the twins and should have received a special blessing from Issac. When the time had come for Issac to give the blessing, he had grown blind and feeble. Jacob took advantage of his blindness and pretended to be Esau so that he could receive the blessings.

Genesis 27: 18 Jacob went to his father and said, “Father, here I am.”
“Which one of my sons are you?” his father asked.
19 Jacob replied, “I am Esau, your first-born, and I have done what you told me. Please sit up and eat the meat I have brought. Then you can give me your blessing.”
20 Isaac asked, “My son, how did you find an animal so quickly?”
“The Lord your God was kind to me,” Jacob answered.
21 “My son,” Isaac said, “come closer, where I can touch you and find out if you really are Esau.” 22 Jacob went closer. His father touched him and said, “You sound like Jacob, but your hands feel hairy like Esau’s.” 23 And so Isaac blessed Jacob, thinking he was Esau.
24 Isaac asked, “Are you really my son Esau?”
“Yes, I am,” Jacob answered.

Psalm 27:12Contemporary English Version (CEV) David complains:
12 Don’t let them do to me what they want. People tell lies about me and make terrible threats,

When Jesus is on trial, the chief priests find somebody to tell lies about him so that he will be crucified.
Matthew 26:60 59 The chief priests and the whole council wanted to put Jesus to death. So they tried to find some people who would tell lies about him in court. 60 But they could not find any, even though many did come and tell lies. At last, two men came forward 61 and said, “This man claimed that he would tear down God’s temple and build it again in three days.”

Earlier, Peter had lied about knowing Jesus.
Mark 14: 66 While Peter was still in the courtyard, a servant girl of the high priest came up 67 and saw Peter warming himself by the fire. She stared at him and said, “You were with Jesus from Nazareth!”
68 Peter replied, “That isn’t true! I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have any idea what you mean.”
Those Bible stories are about people who lived thousands of years ago, and yet the same scenarios are familiar to us among our own friends, families, and business dealings.
What kind of lies do we tell, in our relationships, in our business dealings, in our social circles?
A deliberate lie is intentional, but if we pay attention to the phrasing of the commandment, it is clear that we can sometimes be oblivious to bearing false witness.
The easiest way to break this commandment is to listen to gossip or to repeat gossip.
What is gossip? Gossip is information, usually about a person or persons.
Often the information is personal information about the person’s actions, words, friends or family. It is usually negative in content.
Repeating gossip makes us look more knowledgeable when we can share bits and pieces that are new to our audience.
What’s the best piece of gossip you ever heard? Was it about a romantic entanglement? Was it about someone breaking the law? Was it about someone leaving an egg out of a cake recipe and serving it anyway? Was it about someone getting more than the person deserved? Was it about an illness? Think about the last time you shared a phone call or a cup of coffee with a friend. What did you talk about?
Sometimes, we can’t think of anything to talk about, so gossip is the easy way out. We are careful about our conversational topics. Nowadays, we nearly always avoid politics because we don’t want to get in an argument. We avoid religion because we don’t want to embarrass someone (or ourselves). We avoid finances, because that’s personal. But we can always talk about people. Did you ever notice how we talk about people who aren’t in the room with us? We talk about people in their absence. What’s wrong with that? For starters, they can’t correct any mistakes in the conversation. They can’t defend themselves.
Gossip takes different forms.
We can make assumptions without knowing all the circumstances. I speak from experience, of course. I once assumed that someone had died, based on the fact that I saw all his daughters walk into the florists together. You only go to the florist as a family to order funeral flowers, right? Wrong! The man lived another two years after I declared him dead!
We can be speaking the truth and still be bering false witness when we discuss another person’s shortcomings for no good reason except to share information..
Even worse, we can say things about people that we know aren’t true.
Now, why would anyone repeat gossip that isn’t true? Gossip doesn’t come with a built-in lie detector. Furthermore, gossip is a living, growing thing. The original facts are exaggerated or crucial details are left out; the next listener makes assumptions, jumps to conclusions, and by the time the message is repeated four or five times, the events are usually much worse than the original facts.
Some of you might have watched a television show back in the 70’s called Hee Haw.
One skit was always prefaced with “I don’t repeat gossip, so you better listen close the first time.”
That’s how gossip works. Even if you don’t repeat it, someone else will.
Now, not everything we share is gossip. Gossipers speak of the faults and failings of others, or reveal potentially embarrassing or shameful details regarding the lives of others without their knowledge or approval. Even if they mean no harm, it is still gossip. We share information about each other because we care about each other. We share good news, we praise each and encourage each other through our conversation. I wrote a short story one time about prayer and gossip. That name of the story was “Prayer as a Means to Gossip.” It was about a woman who lifted up the name of her friend during prayer time in the worship service. Many pastors ask, just before the service or before the prayers of the people, if there are those who need our prayers.
In my story, the woman asks for prayers for her friend who is having surgery; the friend is also a member of the congregation, so everyone in the congregation knows her. It turns out that the friend did not want anyone to know that she was having surgery, because it was female surgery and the pastor was a young man and the woman didn’t want him to visit her because she would be embarrassed. I wrote that story because I observed over the years that praying for people, especially in a larger congregation, distributed new information in a unique way. Most of the time, the information is about illness or death, but sometimes that tidbit of information given with all good intentions can lead to speculation, or assumptions, and before you know it, besides starting a prayer chain, the congregation starts a gossip chain. My conclusion: be careful what you pray for when everybody is listening.

There is an antidote to gossip. The catechism says it so well: Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.
I love that even though the commandments tell us what not to do, the meanings in the catechism tell us what we can do, what we should do.
I get bull-headed when you tell me what I can’t do, but when you tell me what I can do, I’m glad for the suggestion, for the advice.
I know I’m not supposed to lie. Lying gets me in trouble. Lying always comes back to haunt you. But the opposite, saying good things about my neighbor, my friend, my family, about people I hardly know, has its rewards. I can feel good about what I say, not ashamed. I can make other people feel good. I can help other people to follow this commandment by my own example. When I am truthful, people around me feel safe and can trust me.
Imagine the next time someone shares a juicy tidbit with you; what will you do?
First of all, you won’t repeat it. Second, if it is in your power, say something nice about the person who is the subject of the gossip. Third, if someone says something that may be an exaggeration or a misstatement, call them on it. One time, an acquaintance of mine said he heard that so-and-so treated his wife awful. I happened to know the couple and I told him how kind and caring the man was to his wife. That is what I had observed and I was able to speak well of the man, instead of agreeing with my acquaintance.
The Eighth Commandment
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
What does this mean?
We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.
Speak well of everyone in every conversation. Do not repeat anything negative about anyone. That will be my mission this week. Will you make it yours, too? Amen.