It seems clear to me that Christians and Churches should ever be re-committing themselves to the path of truth and truthfulness, especially urgent in times when phrases like “fake news” and “alternate facts” are becoming common currency. Perfection is not the goal but a passionate intent is required. And when “economy with the truth” has been practiced, let it be followed by repentance and recovery.
The sermon audio is definitely more than the text below.
Sermon Preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI
Sunday February 12 2017, The Reverend Alan Neale
I think it is part of the human lot to find oneself often caught up in webs of deceit (some petty, some not so petty), in a morass of half-truths and downright lies. When I was weighed on Friday at a doctor’s appointment I would have been more than happy to hear some half-truths, some alternate facts; and I confess I was a little complicit in suggesting that my clothes were particularly heavy given the cold weather.
Our relationship with the truth should be strongly tenacious, but at times it is merely tenuous. Why does this happen? Maybe… because we are afraid, because we are ashamed; maybe because we persuade ourselves “the end justifies the means”; this happens because truth speaking is no longer our default setting, and so we become (to use Scott Peck’s phrase) “People of the Lie.” Did it all start in Eden? In the never-ending episodes of Midsomer Murders, DCI Tom Barnaby sharply remarks “Try and overcome your natural instinct and tell the truth for once.”
To this very human condition Jesus speaks today in another passage from the Sermon on the Mount, verses 33-37 of chapter five.
v.33 “Do not say anything you do not mean.”
v.37 “Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.”
It was said of William Gladstone, by Benjamin Disraeli, that “he was inebriated by the exuberance of his own verbosity.”
Jesus says, “Speak plainly.”
It was said of the “pagans” that they thought that they would be heard because of the lengthy and wordy prayers (Mt. 6:7).
Jesus says, “Speak plainly.”
When we speak plainly we accept responsibility and resist evasion.
When we speak plainly we adopt clarity and resist obfuscation.
Accept Responsibility and Resist Evasion
In today’s Gospel Jesus argues that when we speak, we must speak responsibly and not erect a series of walls to defend us from adverse criticism. Jesus condemns the practice of manipulating God and the things of God to secure a desired goal, to win a desired contest. Listen to these words from the Message Translation (Mt. 5:34-35) “You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk; you do not make words true by embellishing them with religious lace.” In their love affair with ambiguity, the Pharisees tried to shift the blame and avoid responsibility.
Adopt Clarity and Resist Obfuscation
You can tell that I am enamored by that word… obfuscation. So you can imagine my delight when I discovered this online… “In software development, manual obfuscation is the deliberate act of creating obfuscated code, i.e. source or machine code that is difficult for humans to understand. Like obfuscation in natural language, it may use needlessly roundabout expressions to compose statements. Programmers may deliberately obfuscate code to conceal its purpose (security through obscurity).”
Jesus argues for plain speaking of yes and no and by so doing he condemns the manipulation of truth by the production of many words.
Moses in Deuteronomy, St. Paul in The First Letter of Corinthians, exemplify the path and practice of plain speaking.
Moses plainly, starkly states, (Deut. 30: 19) “I set before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life… that you and your children will live.” No evasion, no obfuscation.
And, likewise, Paul plainly, starkly states, (I Cor. 3:1&9) “I am completely frustrated by your unspiritual dealings; you’re acting like infants. We are God’s servants, you are God’s field.” No evasion, no obfuscation.
Jesus declares “I am Truth” (John 14:6), “The truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Yes, I realize that such truth pertains to great and weighty matters of salvation, liberation and redemption and yet surely it cannot behoove a Christian, it cannot behoove a Church, to sit comfortably with half-truths and care little for lies. It is part of our spiritual DNA to commit to be truthful and to repent of untruthfulness. To lose a commitment to cherish the truth, to seek the truth, to propound the truth is to choose curse rather than blessing, to choose death rather than life.
In our personal lives, in our relationships at home and school and work and church, in our national life we should pray for, search for and cherish the truth and welcome plain speaking.
As a pastor, I fear that the one who spends increasing time in the kingdom of untruth will ultimately find it difficult to be moved and convinced by the great truth of the Gospel – that we are loved to the very end, that we are rescued at great cost and that we are called to live lives marked by freedom and grace… and truth.
As a pastor, I believe that an intent to speak plainly sets me free to receive fully God’s plain speaking.
The commitment to plain speaking (empowered by the Spirit of truth) is no excuse for rude abruptness or discourteous curtness. But it is a commitment that will cause trust to grow, trust in us and trust in the Lord; without that commitment to plain speaking may the Lord have mercy. AMEN