August 12, 2012— Ephesians 4:25-5:2
The only sports-related award I’ve ever won was a trophy for “most honest golfer.” That’s such a nice way to recognize the highest score in a game where the lowest score wins! Golfers refer to the clubhouse as the “Liar’s Club.” Drives get longer and strokes slip off the scorecard as stories are told among friends—not competitors, friends.
More than one minister has called the monthly ministerial meeting the “Liar’s Club.” Clergy get together to talk and congregations grow. Sermons become more effective. Love of parish for pastor blossoms. Lay leaders are always to blame for church problems. When stories are told among friends—not competitors, friends.
Lying in the church? Exaggeration is a kind of lying. Blaming is usually at least half lying. It was enough of a problem to merit more than one mention in the letter to the Ephesians. The letter was written in Paul’s name to be circulated among a whole presbytery. So the problem wasn’t just in the First Church of Ephesus.
We lie in church in what we don’t say. When we avoid hard truth. Deny the dark stuff that is obvious to others. Abuse, mismanagement, bad leadership, destructive behaviours. Things we hope will just disappear if we don’t name them out loud.
We lie in church in what we say. When we exaggerate (see above!). When we make promises we know we don’t want to keep. When we make claims to faith and certainty even God won’t support. When we throw faith clichés and magical theology at complex problems.
We lie in church when we say we will when we really won’t. We want to when we don’t. We’re well when we’re not. When we say we’re happy when we’re miserable. When asked about our families, we say everything’s wonderful at home, when even the one who asks knows it’s a lie. We lie in church when we say newcomers are welcome when they’re really not. When we have the money but say we don’t. When we say all is forgiven when most of it isn’t. What’s past is past when it’s just stored away for future strategic use.
A recovering alcoholic once said that the difference between his AA meeting and his church is that he can say what is in AA. At church, he can only say what people think should be.
Our reading today shouts at us, “Away with falsehood and deception!” Last Sunday we heard, “Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up.” Put away childish things, selfish things, things we do for self-protection and self-promotion.
Throw the little lies, exaggerations, denials and self-deceptions that can fill daily living into the rag bag. Do away with gossip, and slanging others. Criticize to build up, not to tear down.
People who lived by stealing from others must find honest work, so they will have a steady living, so they can share with others. Turn from getting by any means to giving at any cost. Thieves in church? How many ways do we take from others what isn’t our own? Even in church.
“In your anger, don’t sin.” Be angry, but for good reason. Don’t lie by hiding anger when you have a right to be angry. When you’re truly offended, when you see an injustice done, when God’s truth is denied, when someone close to us betrays you. Admit it, saying, “I am angry, because …” Then deal with it before the sun sets and you won’t be tempted to store it up for a future defensive attack.
The summing up of Paul’s teaching is always: Look to Jesus. Let the Spirit work in you, and through you, to make you more like Jesus each step of the way.
God’s nature, we know from scripture and experience, is love. “Live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
That’s the truth.