A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Monday, July 28, 2014

Sermon (July 27) by Rev. Cheryl Foulk - "Deception"

Today I'd like to mention one of my favorite's from childhood:  Lie Detector by Mattel !    I loved to play this game where you had to figure out who was guilty.   There are 24 suspects on picture cards, and  each card has a clue  about the criminal's physical appearance ( such as “he had a mustache”)  Was this information true?
 You found out by using the plastic Lie detector box. The card was placed inside the box,  and  the pointer would then go to True or False.  If it was False, the bell would ring.  You knew right away whether  the witness was really telling the truth.  If only it was that easy in real life...
Our Old Testament drama  concerning the figure Jacob continues  with more lies and deception.  So far we have seen how Jacob entrapped his hungry brother  Esau out of his birthright. And then we saw how Jacob disguised himself as his brother  in order to deceive his elderly father and get the family blessing.  His brother's hatred for him is so intense that Jacob has to leave town and becomes a fugitive.
 He finds shelter with his Uncle Laban.  Jacob becomes interested in Laban's daughter Rachel. For seven years he has worked on Laban's farm  with the understanding  that he will be given Rachel as his wife.  To Jacob, she is worth all the time and labor.  The wedding occurs and the next day Jacob discovers that things are not as they seem. He had not married his “longed for”  Rachel but married her older sister Leah. ( I'm not sure how this happened, probably had to do with heavy veils!) However done, Laban had tricked Jacob  and switched brides.                             
He justifies his actions by telling Jacob that the local custom is that the older daughter must be married prior to the younger.  And yes, Jacob  can also marry Rachel  but that means 7 more years of working on the  farm.  Jacob now has more debt to pay,  2 wives ( one he chose, one he didn't) and a very untrustworthy father in law.
This story has more twists and turns than any tv drama. When we read ahead, we find that  Jacob's family is caught in layers of  fibs.  Dishonesty seems to color every relationship.                                                                                               
Jacob is not innocent;  we have seen that he  has not always been truthful. His mother ( who aided him in his deception of his father ) has not been honest. Neither have  his wives, or his brother -in- laws, or his father in law. Everyone seems to bend the truth if necessary.
 Down the road, when Jacob himself  is older, he is lied to by some of his children who bring him bloody  clothing and tell him that his favorite child Joseph is dead. In reality, they have sold Joseph to slave traders and he is on his way to Egypt.   What a family...
We wish that we could say that Jacob and his family are an extreme example of deception  but the truth is:  we are all not truthful with others and ourselves.
Have these words ever come out of your mouth: “ I'll be ready in 5 minutes. “
“ Really, I'm fine.” “I'll call you.”  “I mailed the check last week.”  “You look great."                                           
One of the first stories in the Bible  concern Adam and Eve who try to cover up their actions by lying to God.  This seems to be part of our nature: we don't want to admit who we are and what we have done/ or not done  and so we   rewrite our history.
Marilee Jones worked in admissions at MIT for 25 years, eventually becoming the director.  She helped author a book  called Less Stress, More Success  for students and job seekers  encouraging them to be themselves in order to go far.  Sadly, she had not followed her own advice. In 2007 it  was discovered that years ago she had claimed to have several academic degrees which she did not have. She lost her position  and reputation  when the deception was discovered.
Why do we do this? 
 Laban deceived Jacob because he was greedy and wanted to make money at his daughters' expense.  We do it for personal gain.
We don't tell the truth because we don't want to face the consequences, the punishment. This begins when we are small; we deny because we don't want to stand in the corner!
We take a truth detour because we don't want to be embarrassed or shamed. We don't want people to know our true selves. We want to embellish our story which seems inadequate.
We are deceitful because we want to hurt others.
We are less than honest because we want to protect others, or protect ourselves.
Sometimes we are desperate and don't know what else to do to resolve a situation.
And perhaps the most ironic reason for deception is: we want to appear “good”  or “perfect” , as someone without fault, and therefore we lie.  
We use different ways to sugar coat our actions:  “It was only a little white lie”  “I may have fudged a bit”  “I guess I exaggerated”     “I misspoke”   
We may categorize the severity of dishonesty but  it all is harmful to our relationships with others and chips away at our level of trust.
If someone is not honest about the small things, then we wonder about the bigger issues.
Each of us has found how deeply we can be wounded when we discover that a  person close to us has been untruthful.
Jesus helped people to see themselves and their motives truthfully. Let's look at his interactions with Peter.  He told Peter that he was a strong rock in  his character and that became his name.   On the night of the last supper when Peter was boasting that the rest of them could deny Jesus but he never would,  Jesus  pointed to the truth that Peter was just as scared as anyone else in the room  and that he would certainly betray him that very night.  After the resurrection when Jesus appeared at the Sea of Galilee, he asked Peter repeatedly if he loved him. In doing so, he brought Peter to another wonderful  truth: that Peter indeed loved Jesus and he would be sent out to care for Christ's sheep.
Jesus taught that: "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free... So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
We live in a time where deception is not unusual. We have seen it with in business, politics, government, schools, individual lives.  We have become wary of promises  in advertising,  and in all the “facts “ on the Internet.  
We yearn to hear someone simply say  “ I was wrong.”
 As people of God, we stand on the foundation that “ we should not bear false witness.”     Our intention  is to be as truthful with those around us as  we can  and with as much love as we can.
Invite you to engage in some soul searching:  If you realize that you are stretching the truth, why are you doing this?  Why is it needed?  Who does it benefit?  Who do you misrepresent the truth to most often?  Family,  friends, strangers, co workers?
One study reported that people confessed to not telling the truth most often to their friends.  (Why should that be...aren't our friends the ones who  know us the best and care for us most?)
As you evaluate your actions, is there  a  better way that Christ is leading you to?
There is a tremendous weight upon our souls when ever we lie to others and to ourselves.
There is tremendous freedom when we admit to ourselves our sins and weaknesses. There is a great relief when we allow God's grace to shine light upon the shadows in our hearts.
There is hope when we ask for God's strength to help us be more transparent, and to change our habit of saying what we know to be false.
We may not have our own personal plastic lie detector box to help us navigate life, but
each of us through the power of Christ can be a person who is trustworthy,
who speaks with integrity,
and who honors God with their words.   Will you be that person?

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