I’d like to start the homily part of the service with everyone turning to page 350 of The Book of Common Prayer. The Prayer Book is in your pews. I will read “The Decalogue” or “The Ten Commandments” and ask that you respond with the words in italics. Page 350.
(Wait until folks find it.) And I begin…
The sermon this morning speaks of the 9Th Commandment: “You shall not be a false witness.”
Truth telling is newsworthy these days. I’ve thought a lot about telling the truth during the last couple of years. I’d like to share some of my own personal truth telling --and truth lapses—history with you.
I learned truth telling at home. My father would not tolerate a lie. I heard that message from my father; some of my sibs took the risk by ignoring our father and sometimes paid for it. I felt it was part of honoring my father – the 5th Commandment we read this morning. I believe that telling the truth, as my father insisted, has served me well when I have been wise to remember his good advice.
Sister Mary Fourth Grade Teacher assigned a book report for each of our ten summer books. I read the dust jacket summary of the story and decided I couldn’t possibly do better than the writer so why not use her words for my report? Sister Mary 4th showing her discomfort with my report on her face, but she said nothing. But I knew I had taken a shortcut and so it hadn’t done right and shouldn’t try that again. I learned truth telling that day.
I believe I was in my forties when one day I had an insight into my own behavior regarding telling the truth. It just came to me that I was providing near-real-reasons for choices I was making. For instance, if I didn’t want to do something, I provided a second or third level reason that sort of was true, but not the real reason for my choice. If I really didn’t want to go to an event, instead of saying “it just isn’t something I want to do”, I’d give some lame reason like I had something already planned for that weekend and would love to come but couldn’t fit it in while smiling a “thank you very much for the invitation.” Heck, didn’t I have lots of things planned for the weekend: the wash, the ironing, the bill paying on and on. I just didn’t want to admit I didn’t want to go. The person knew my excuse was lame but she was stuck with a sort-of excuse she was forced to sort-of believe because it sort of made sense. I’d also say things like: “I just don’t buy much jewelry – or Tupperware – or whatever product” when invited to a home party I just didn’t want to go to. Once I realized what I had gotten in the habit of doing, that is, I’d acquired a habit of lying or denying the person the truth, I decided to correct that habit. But how to do it without hurting someone? I didn’t want to say, “I just don’t want to come to your party.” I didn’t want to destroy the relationship after all. But I learned I could be frank and kind at the same time. I learned I could say parties like that are just not my thing and then I thanked them for including me. This was absolutely true and I hoped, not hurtful. I was respectful to me and respectful to the other.
What I realized when I caught myself in the growing habit of “stretching the truth” was that I was becoming a different person than what I thought I should be. I was becoming someone who thought she was fooling people, someone who thought she was better than others because she could pull the wool over their eyes so easily. What I now know was that I was the only one I was fooling and I was the only one who was changing morally because of my duplicity.
The day after the 2016 Presidential Election I called three male relatives to congratulate them because their pick had won. My brother Michael and I had a talk on the phone followed by a back and forth on email. The one thing I remembered was our discussion about telling the truth. Michael’s reply to me was: “Everyone lies.” I was amazed at this summary statement from someone who came from the same household I did where lying was not allowed. I have given that exchange a lot of thought these last two years. I still disagree with my brother but I also know that, from some people’s perspective, lying is just part of life, part of getting by or getting ahead. I do still want to believe, naively or not, that a lot of people don’t lie, in fact I believe that most people don’t lie or at least strive very hard not to. They are respectful of the 9th Commandment and its guidance.
Today’s Epistle begins: “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” I do think most of us want to tell the truth. I think most of us want to be told the truth. We don’t want to be lied to. It is destructive to a relationship if people cannot trust that the other is telling the truth. You really can’t proceed together without truth because some of the energy of the relationship is being put into trying to figure out if the issue of the moment is being dealt with honestly or not, or some mix of both. Time is wasted. Energy is wasted. You become exhausted and the relationship falters or fails. Paul in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus understood this.
So how do we be honest in our world where telling the truth is in a murky place right now? How do we stick to keeping our 9th Commandment – ‘no false witnessing’? I think Paul’s message to “put away…all bitterness, and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice and be kind to one another…” I think that is a good start. We need to practice telling the truth. We can practice truth-telling at home – being kind in the way we do tell the truth. First, we take the time to share the truth in our families. First we practice there. Then we can practice at church where we come together as community. Then we expand to our work communities, our school communities, our social communities. We learn how to run all aspects of our lives with kind honesty. After all, being honest is one of the directives – the commandments -- we’ve committed ourselves to by being members of the Judeo-Christian tradition. (Slowly---à) It is an adult understanding of those commandments that allows us to be kind and loving as we fulfill them. Our church communities are a wonderful place to practice kindly honesty towards one another. Sitting down and discussing issues. Expressing your opinions and your real reasons for having those opinions builds healthy adult relationships, healthy parishes, healthy societies. Practicing truth telling, practicing being honest with yourself to begin with and then kindly being able to share real reasons with others, builds a moral self and moral families and moral communities.
Learning to be honest, truly honest with oneself and with one’s communities, can be hard work—especially if you commit to expressing your honesty in kind and loving and caring straightforwardness. I can tell you that I know from my own experience of now telling the real reason I have for my choices, that people respect me more for my honesty, I like me more for my honesty, and frankly I’m a more likeable person! Being a liar – even a sort-of liar – begins to turn you away from goodness. And truly wrapped within the fold of goodness is where you always want to be. Amen.