Summary: This sermon explores the high calling of Christian honesty and the consequences of failure to adhere this standard.
Introduction: Ed Harris story.
Last week I traveled to Austin for a seminar. As we were waiting for our bags to arrive you just won’t believe who we saw walking out of the bathroom, but I promise you it was none other than Ed Harris. I swear he wasn’t anymore than 20 feet from us, wearing a cowboy hat, glasses, and boots. I didn’t want to do it, but I had never seen anyone as famous as Ed, so I walked up to him and just introduced myself. He was actually very nice and asked me why we were here. I told him that we were all preachers (there were about eight of us at the time) and were here for a seminar. To my shock he said, “Why don’t you come to dinner with me tonight?” We had to eat, so the next thing I know the van is following Ed’s Mercedes out to a place called Salt Lick.
Now you wouldn’t believe how this place was out in the country. I promise you it was the best Barbeque I’ve had in years! I promise as sure, as I’m standing here, that I was going to pass on cobbler. But then Ed insisted, so we all ate dessert. Ed was pretty quite, but he asked us questions about our work and told us about being in the movies. We were there about two hours, and at the end he bought T-shirts for us all from the Saltlick that said, “I didn’t get to the top of the food chain to become a vegetarian.” I promise that’s what it said. Well, finally this unlikely experience came to an end and we went our separate ways at the end of the meal.
Now how many believe my story? Okay, how many believe some of my story? None of it? In reality much of my story was true. I did go to Austin for a seminar. We did see Ed Harris at the airport. We did eat at a restaurant, in the country, called “Saltlick.” It was the best Barbeque I’ve had in a long time. I was going to pass on dessert. And the t-shirts said exactly what I stated. In fact, everything that I prefaced with a “promise” or an “I swear” was absolutely true. The rest was absolutely fiction.
And what would you think of my trustworthiness in general, if I constantly told lies, and when I really wanted you to believe me I used a oath or promise, but if I really needed to I could just cross my fingers and nullify my promise? In your ears, I would become the boy who cried wolf too many times. Soon nothing I said could be trusted. But this is very much the world we live in.
Move 1: A world of dishonesty.
I remember well that when President Clinton was impeached for perjuring himself, and that he did whatever you think of his politics, that his approval ratings went up. What did that tell us about the state of our nation at the time? Could it be that many of us believe we would’ve done the same thing had we been in Clinton’s position? Had we just become too comfortable with a certain level of dishonesty?
It hasn’t gotten any better. Whether it’s the Enron scandal or the latest political scandal, dishonesty continues to spread. Sports have become forever tainted with sport’s figures either lying under oath about the use of steroids, or their refusal to answer under oath, but denying their involvement to the media. It seems that if lying might save you from public ridicule than it is not only okay to do so, but wise and expedient.
Of course, we see it among many religious leaders today. They cover years of marital unfaithfulness with lies to their spouses and to their flocks. Even the everyday Christian accepts ‘little white lies’ as a way of life. We don’t know if we can trust someone even if they say I promise or I swear. Kids learn to play the game early. They say little oaths to one another with a promise, “cross my heart, hope to die…” Of course, it doesn’t count if they cross their fingers behind their back. Hmm…I wonder where they learned that.
So, in this world of decaying integrity, we are forced to wrestle with a few questions. How can we know whom to trust? Or maybe more importantly, how can we truly be trustworthy in a society where lying is accepted as the norm, and clever lying is actually applauded? Jesus calls his disciples to integrity. What does that look like? Read text.
Move 2: Jesus’ world of dishonesty.
Before we can understand what Jesus is teaching here, we need to understand how things were in his world. The Mosaic Law permitted oaths, as long as you fulfilled them. Even God participated in solemn oaths. But the Pharisees and others began using them more frequently and developed a hierarchy of oaths. For example, if you swore something by the temple, then you didn’t really have to keep it. But if you swore something by the gold of the temple, then you had to. If you swore by the altar, you could break it, if by the gift on the altar then you better keep it. Jesus addresses this hypocrisy in Matt. 23:16-22. We can assume a similar context here.