You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.–Exodus 20:16
Growing up, I had a very narrow view of this ninth commandment: don’t lie. It seemed simplified, but not easy; straightforward, and yet superiorly complicated.
Consider the things that we lie about (or are things we accept lying about).
Answering the question, “how do you like this?” when it involves a food dish or article of clothing we can’t stand (many of you spent Father’s Day engaged in artful deception.)
That a person or thing is “All Natural.” Other fun food ones are that it has zero transfat or that it’s cage-free. Isn’t marketing something?
But if we take this a step further, what are some of the things we say that we don’t mean, or that we hope won’t really lead to a real conversation?
“No, I wasn’t [ fill in the blank].”
“I’ll help with that at [kid’s school, church, work].”
“I’ll pray for you.”
The truth is that truth seems so straightforward an idea and yet we’ve dragged it through the mud and around the block. We’ve gone well past lying into simply thinking that saying the right thing makes it okay, even if we don’t really mean it.
In our Word today, as we close in on the end of the Ten Commandments series, we know that Moses was dealing with people who’d been scraping, scrambling, clawing to get by, who knew that pointing the finger at someone else might make the whip come down on someone else’s back instead of theirs. And so God told them to not “bear false witness,” to not testify, to not slander someone else for their own benefit.
God told them to work for the good of their neighbor. God told them to take responsibility for their own actions, something I try to teach my kids. God told them that the next person’s wellbeing, that their neighbor’s happiness and health, mattered.
So, to not lie is appropriate, but it’s deeper than that. It realizes that there is someone who will in fact be hurt because the truth isn’t being told. Which is strange to us, because we often convince ourselves that not telling
Consider Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
We have a crafty serpent, who arrives and puts a lie into the head of the first woman. He tells her that God doesn’t want her to be as wise as God, so he’s holding her back, that eating from the Tree won’t really kill her. And the downfall of humanity starts with a lie.
So the woman sees the fruit, and it does look good, so she eats of it, and gives it to Adam, and he eats it, too. And they experience shame, all because of a lie followed by disobedience.
When the man and the woman hear God walking in the garden, they hide, because a lie followed by disobedience leads to shame.
God wants to know why Adam hid and he tells God that he was afraid because he was naked… because a lie followed by disobedience leads to shame which leads to the fear of discovery.
When God asks how Adam knew he was naked, Adam does what every self-respecting charlatan would do and tries a misdirection: he blames Eve, who God gave him. He doesn’t just blame Eve, but he blames God for having put her there in the first place! [For the record, the woman’s response is much more straightforward: “the serpent lied to me and I ate it.”]
In the creation story, a lie that someone willingly believes leads to shame, fear, and ultimately, a broken relationship. Actually two broken relationships, because not only are the first man and woman kicked out of the garden, but when you blame someone else for your problems, it doesn’t usually end well.
Do not bear false testimony. Do not lie. Do not gossip. Do not blame others for your mistakes.
All of that seems straightforward, right?
Here is reality- don’t mess with it. But what if our reality needs tweaking?
We’ve spent the last week talking to our Jedi Academy VBS cadets and as adults, sharing the Jedi Code. For those of you who are not Master Jedis in the Star Wars vernacular, we wrote it in today’s bulletin:
Jedi are the guardians of peace in the galaxy. Jedi use their powers to defend and to protect. Jedi respect all life, in any form. Jedi serve others rather than ruling over them, for the good of the galaxy. Jedi seek to improve themselves through knowledge and training.
Pretty cool, right? Jedis use their powers for the benefit of others, Jedis respect other people (of all backgrounds), Jedis serve rather than ruling… Now go back and consider that again, this time with Jesus in the mix:
Jesus is the guardian of peace in the galaxy. Jesus used his powers to defend and to protect. Jesus respects all life, in any form. Jesus serves others rather than ruling over them, for the good of the galaxy.
Jesus is just constantly making things difficult for people when it comes to dealing with the Ten Commandments, when it comes to the reality that is (here on earth) and what people expect. Because Jesus keeps projecting and pointing toward a bigger reality.
In our Scripture today from Mark 6, Jesus is “tested” by the Pharisees, who want to see if they can get him to mess up. It says that Jesus and a man with a withered hand both happen to be in the synagogue on the day of worship, the Sabbath. Nothing ever seems to just happen to Jesus, so I have to wonder if the Pharisees didn’t “plant” this poor man there.
It says that Jesus told the man to stand up, putting both Jesus and the man on the spot, which only encourages my belief that this was staged by the teachers of the law, to catch Jesus “breaking the law.” They were so hung up on not working on the Sabbath, that they had made that a greater reality than whether or not a person would be healed of a lifelong inability to use one of their hands!
So Jesus asks, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” When the Pharisees won’t answer, he heals the man’s hand.
Gasp, “Jesus has broken the law!” You can hear them hissing and clapping and throwing their hands up, and it says that they started plotting to kill Jesus. In Mark 3. Well before the crucifixion.
The Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus because of the day of the week he healed someone on. Their law about worship was their reality.
But it wasn’t Jesus’. God’s love for people, for us, was a greater reality, a bigger Truth.
It’s like when we root for the bad guy in a movie who is actually fighting against evil. It’s why we think Robin Hood is amazing when he steals from the rich to give to the poor, or when we think it’s okay that a masked vigilante like Batman can drive over the speed limit, destroy property, punch other citizens, etc. because there’s a bigger reality.
Unfortunately, we can’t always handle the deeper reality, the “magic older than time” from The Chronicles of Narnia.
We’ve settled for lies, for masks, for faking it until we make it. And Jesus shows up in the middle of our lives and says, “you have a choice.”
(No, it’s not the red pill or the blue pill.)
Jesus shows up and says, the way you’ve lived doesn’t have to be the way life is. The lies you’ve believed about yourself and about your future don’t have to be that way anymore. The way the world looks at relationships don’t have to be the views you carry into friendships, and marriage, and parenting.
You can handle the truth! You are loved, blessed, forgiven, redeemed, accepted, bought back, held onto, adopted, respected, created, nurtured, empowered, by the God of the universe.
And you look good. (Tell yourself that, “I look good.” Turn to someone else, and say, “you look good.”)
But it’s deeper than looks. It goes back to the lies in the Garden, the faking it with fig leaves, and hiding behind rhododendron.
It’s the way that trust has been broken down in our big, whale-size lies and our little white lies. It’s the way we’ve broken down relationships with political games in friendship, and failing to be who we’re supposed to be.
Have you seen Jim Carey’s Liar, Liar? Consider how terrifying it is for him that he must tell the truth all the time! What would your life look like if you spoke the truth no matter what for a week?
Jesus told the truth. It got him killed!
Now, I’m not talking about forgetting the love part, about “speaking the truth” and forgetting to love people. That’s as antiquated as “love the sinner, hate the sin.” We need to be about the truth, about God’s truth, about not misquoting or twisting things to serve our own purposes.
Seriously, what if Adam had told the truth? I ate this, I shouldn’t have. I should’ve been a better life partner to Eve, too. Would that have changed anything?
Telling the truth undoes fear, and shame, and keeps us free from the snowballing of the lies we tell to cover for the other lies. Joan Chittister says, “ruth requires no memory. No fear of exposure.” It’s why people in Alcoholics Anonymous who are really willing to tell the truth about their situation cannot fail. It’s why our words and our truth matters in every situation.
We’ve been struggling with identity since that day in the garden. Sho Baraka says he’s a “vegan just trying to avoid the beef that started in the garden.”
I think that requires truth, and it requires love. It requires making choices about who we’ll follow and what we’ll belief. It requires letting God speak into our lives about what matters, and why we matter. It requires us to recognize that when Jesus told the crowd the parable of the Good Samaritan, that they should love their neighbor, he wasn’t talking about only the Waltons or the Simpsons or the people next door.
Which leads me to this challenge: Last weekend, we heard more from our Annual Conference about the extension of the “Nothing But Nets” project, now called “Imagine No Malaria.” We shared with the Jedi Academy kids and adults this week that Malaria is a completely preventable disease that kills more than half a million people a year. That the United Methodist Church was a leading partner, with the Gates Foundation and the UN Foundation, to deliver malaria prevention by way of bed nets, hospital care, and clinics. That the child who is lost every sixty seconds from malaria doesn’t have to be lost anymore.
Here’s the truth: $10 buys a bed net. $10 saves a life. $10 is two venti iced decaf caramel macchiatos at Starbucks or eight rentals at Redbox.
The truth is that we can make a difference. We can do more. Whether it’s a handful of change or an intentional check, you can be a superhero today.
No matter what you’ve been told in the past. No matter what lies you’ve bought into. You are a hero in waiting, a Jedi with big dreams and great power.
Sometimes, we just need a push. A reminder. The encouragement.
So try these on for size:
You were created good because God created you in his image and God loves you.
You are meant for good because God meant for you to exist.
You have the capability of good because God saved you by the death of Jesus on the cross.
You have the power for good, for your neighbor’s wellbeing, both next to you and across the world.
So stop faking it. And act like it.