09/24/17 – J. Vespers – Don’t Lie to Me

Don’t Lie to Me

September 24, 2017
Jazz Vespers Homily:
Gen.3:9-13; Ex. 20:16; Lev.19:11; Prov.12:22
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones


During the long and protracted election season of 2015 and 2016 in this country we heard accusations of lying and deceit from the lips of every politician running for office. I am convinced they were all telling the truth – they were all lying. The problem is politicians seem to think lying to beat an opponent who lies is somehow not lying. And then we as constituents could call them on their lies, but we don’t because then the liars we don’t agree with might win. Or, we lie to ourselves to justify our own failure to face inconvenient truths. I had hoped we might stop hearing complaints and obfuscations about lies told to us, but 2017 has not given us any relief.

The bible has lots of examples of what happens when we lie or try to hide our sins from God, as well as the terrible consequences of lying and deceiving our neighbors. The story of the first lie, according to Genesis, was uttered by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. It wasn’t an outright lie, but it was purposely misleading – we could say the serpent was the first politician. As much as she is maligned, Eve didn’t lie to Adam. When Adam and Eve realized they had done wrong, they designed the first cover-up – literally.  You know they say the cover-up is often worse than the crime – the consequences just keep snowballing.

In Exodus, we read that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai to guide those ornery Israelites in the wilderness in how to live peaceably and honorably with their God and their community. Number 9 is: “16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” This is a legal matter. When one person had a disagreement with another, a judge decided who was in the wrong. If the accuser lied to the judge, the accused would be punished unjustly. I’m sure it didn’t take long for people to start working around that commandment. If only from watching legal dramas on TV, we know how the “whole truth” can get pretty flexible.

The book of Leviticus is often scoffed at as being nothing more than a list of arcane laws. These laws, however, came about because people found so many creative ways to break the Ten Commandments without admitting guilt. Leviticus 19:11 states: “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely, and you shall not lie to one another.”

Leviticus 19 is part of a larger section, from chapter 17-26, which is called the “Holiness Code.” In this section, instructions are given to the Israelites about how to maintain holiness in their community. The Holiness Code reflects the Jewish belief that all of life matters, even the trivial details of our day to day life. In other words, we are talking about integrity. The many laws of the Holiness Code address the need of upholding the law in worship and ethical living, loving one’s neighbor, refusing to worship false gods and to respect and defend the marginalized, the most vulnerable in society.

Being honest in dealing with one’s neighbors is a necessary extension of being honest before God. In one of the books contained in what is known as Wisdom literature, the book of Proverbs gives practical advice for our relationships with God and one another, such as chapter 12, verse 22 which states: “22Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.” As the gospel of Matthew attests: ‘you can’t be right with God if you aren’t right with your neighbor.’ (Matt.5:23-24)

Now there is another type of lie that the bible warns against and that is lying to ourselves. I think the best example of this is the story of David and Bathsheba. David did wrong. He seduced a married woman and got her pregnant. Then, to cover up that misdeed, King David arranged for her unsuspecting husband to be killed by sending him on a suicide mission. When his advisor, Nathan, told him a parable in which the main character committed a similar sin, David recognized he had been lying to himself that what he had done was not really wrong.

God knows when we lie, in one form or another. We separate ourselves further from God and one another when we fail to admit our lies. The prophet Nathan did what Jesus did. He spoke truth to power. The only way to heal the scars of betrayal is being honest about our sins of both commission and omission. Part of the temptation to lie comes from our fear of exposing our human vulnerability. We find it hard to be completely candid lest we be judged negatively; and, the last thing we want is to appear weak or inferior.

When we are honest with God about our failures to do as good, we are promised forgiveness, acceptance, and love. When we are honest with ourselves we find that “peace that passes all understanding.” Freed from our fears, we are able to create a climate for honesty by being forgiving and non-judgmental with the rest of God’s children. May it be so. Amen.



© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2017, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois