Combined Service 3/21/2020
“Be Honest!”

          I can remember when I was a small child that so many of the stories I heard and even so many of the cartoons I watched were designed to instill in the kids who watched some moral lesson or the other.  Stories have the power to convey in vivid and powerful ways things that mere words don’t.  You can tell a child to clean their room or not to talk to strangers, but if you tell them a story, you captivate their imaginations—and their heart. Jesus’s lessons best remembered were – that’s right, stories!

          And when it comes to being honest, the story that immediately jumps out at me is the story of Pinocchio.   You probably know it.  Disney made it famous in the 1940’s.  There was a tinkerer named Geppetto who made a doll out of wood.  He wished upon a falling star that the little marionette that he made could become a real boy.  The Blue Fairy comes and grants that wish—at least in part.  The wooden doll becomes alive! A little cricket, Jiminy, is assigned to be Pinocchio’s conscience.  But even with his conscience shouting “NO!”  Pinocchio gets lured to Pleasure Island by a man named “Honest John” and it all goes downhill from there.  And of course, we can’t forget that whenever Pinocchio tells a lie, his nose grows and grows.

          How many of you are familiar with that story?  More importantly, how many of you learned a lesson from that story?  That lesson of course can be summed up by the title of the message today “Be Honest!”  We teach our children to avoid stretching the truth.  We tell them not to fib.

          But why is being honest so important?  What is it about truth that makes it such a cardinal virtue in society?  Think about it this way.  Think of your most important human relationship.  For married folks, it’s likely you’ll think about the relationship with your spouse.  For some of you it might be the relationship with a parent, a best-friend, or a caregiver. 

          Now what would happen if you learned that this person was not being totally honest with you? Many of you have experienced this kind of pain.  That he or she was not what they said they were.  Was doing something that broke down the relationship.  Perhaps straight-up lied..  In marriage, there could be infidelity, in friendships manipulation, in parent-child relationships abuse.

          In each of these cases the integrity of the relationship is broken and diminished.  In each case the wonderful and even miraculous dimension of harmonious relationships that can and do exist between people are broken down. Because honesty is part of truth, part of trust, part of communication, which is part of relationship. Where there isn’t honesty, truth becomes very difficult to discover, trust is broken, and even simple communication can come to a face-off, where no progress can be made because no one is sure what is going on.

          And if this type of emotional and relational damage can occur when dishonesty and mistrust seep into human relationships, how much more can dishonesty and deception interfere with our relationship with God?

          You see, at the very core of the Christian doctrine of humanity is the idea that human beings were created in the Image of God.  In some way we share the capacity for relationship that exists within God’s Godself—eternally existing as a community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We were made for relationships. Life is relationships. Love is relationships. First and foremost is our relationship between God and ourselves, secondly is our relationships with the community of other Image bearers, and last but not least, we have a relationship where we are asked to care for the rest of the created order.

          And one of the things that breaks the relationships? There are lots of things. We call it sin. And we know that because of that nefarious problem, our ability to bear the image God into the world is now sharply diminished.  New Testament scholar N.T. Wright describes the Image of God in this way:  Human beings were created, as it were, to be angled mirrors.  We were to shine the glory of God into all the world so that all could see the goodness and love of God.  But, now those mirrors have been shattered.  Now there are billions of cracked mirrors in the world distorting and confusing the glory of God.  His light doesn’t shine as bright or as clearly as it was intended, and we all suffer as a result.

Our Scripture

          Our two Scriptures for this morning highlight exactly the kind of thing that I’ve been talking about.  You probably noticed that. But, I’m a pastor, so I’m gonna talk us through it.  😊

2 Samuel

          Like Pinocchio, King David has been a popular children’s story for a long time.  His exploits are legendary.  He gets a lot of good press in the Bible, in both the New Testament and the Old.  But the story we read today is not exactly one of the top ten greatest hits about king David that we want to teach our children.

          You probably remember that  David was an unlikely choice for king.  He diligently served the first king of Israel, Saul as a trusted counselor, companion, friend, and even to a degree, a psychologist.  But Saul didn’t do what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and soon the Lord promised the Kingdom to another—to this unlikeliest of fellows, this David.  And David was a stark contrast to Saul.  Where Saul was loud and proud, David was humble.  Where Saul was all action, David was thoughtful.  Where Saul worshipped God in his own way, David worshipped God according to the commandments.

          But as with many people in power, that power went to the head of even the noblest of souls.  One day, being king for a while, David was looking out from his palace roof. And by the way, here he had already succumbed to the leisure lifestyle of a man of wealth, corrupted by power and position, since he was NOT out with his soldiers in field, like everyone else! He discovered a beautiful young woman bathing on the roof.  It was—love—I mean lust at first sight.  The woman is brought to the king’s chamber. What a wretched situation for that woman. Some time later and the woman is found to be with child.  Now David, panicking to cover his infidelity hatches a plan. But the first plan didn’t work. So he hatched another one. He’ll send the woman’s husband, to the front lines to get killed.  Then when he’s out of the way?  Everything is great.  What could go wrong?

          Well, here is the problem for David.  He forgot one thing.  He forgot that God sees everything, knows everything, and perceives everything without a hint of bias or spin.  God knew David’s heart.  And God knew that David had strayed far from the right ways.

          And God spoke to David through the prophet Nathan.  Can you imagine what it must have been like to be in Nathan’s shoes?  You’ve been summoned by God to speak truth to power.  You’ve just seen what David did to someone who got in the way.  And now?  God is telling you to go call this same man out on his sin.

          But Nathan was a wise man.  Like a good parent or a good advisor, Nathan doesn’t just come out and declare judgement, nag, or blackmail David into repenting.  Oh no, Nathan knows how to get to the heart of David.  He knows that before the recent events, David had a heart that yearned for justice, a heart that wanted Truth and Righteousness. That’s the quality we appreciate about David. That’s why we like him, name our children after him, and tell them the stories of this Bible hero – because he was a man who loved God, but more – he wanted to love God.

          And so, Nathan tells David a story.  Ostensibly, he is asking the king to make a judgment call.  Kings in the Ancient Near East were often called to arbitrate disputes and execute judgments.  And so, David thinks that is what Nathan is offering: a situation which needs his kingly judgement. So Nathan tells a tale, a parable if you will.

          In this parable a man who is poor buys a little ewe lamb.  This is not a farm animal, but a beloved pet.  Those of you with dogs and cats can probably relate.  And into the story comes a rich man.  A rich man who must feed a guest.  In this time hospitality was a cardinal virtue so putting on a spread for an honored guest is an absolute must!

          But instead of taking a lamb from the many, many animals he had, he took the only ewe lamb from the poor man next door.  At this point in the story, David has had enough.  The story has worked its magic.  It has cut through the sin-twisted heart and touched on the inner righteousness, the inner justice, the inner Image of God in him.  David is outraged at the behavior and orders the man’s death and that restitution of four times the value be made to the poor man.

          But there’s just one problem.  David was the man.  David was the one who had taken the ewe lamb.  David had Saul’s harem of wives for his own, and he had wives of his own as well.  And yet.  And yet he lusted after Bathsheba, the wife of the honorable and brave Uriah the Hittite.  And he slaughtered Uriah to get what he wanted.  And in the end, what did this reap?  Death and destruction and disorder; heartache and anguish and grief. Did you count how many lives were messed up by David? I’m not even sure we can. How many friends, relatives, comrades mourned and missed Uriah? How deep was the pain of Bathsheba? How many servants knew what David did and lost respect for him, were influenced by him, or inspired to do the same if given the chance? We know that David’s sons certainly followed in these footsteps…

          If you read the verses that follow this passage, you’ll learn two key things.  First, God punished David for his dishonesty, and David felt it deeply.  And secondly, you’ll learn that David repented of his sin and error and restored his relationship with God.  David would receive the natural consequences of his actions.  His family was in disarray, and several of his sons followed his example.  And conflict and strife would characterize David’s family for generations to come.  But even in the midst of this natural outworking of his sin, David learns that restoration with God is possible.  That even the worst of offenders is welcome back to the fold when God, in his mercy, offers grace and forgiveness. Ah, how much different would it have been if he had been honest!

Paul

          And that’s where Paul’s letter to the Ephesians comes in this morning.  Paul writes to the church in Ephesus that they, like David, were once dead in their trespasses and sins.  They had received the wages for all of their dishonesty.  Their cruelty.  Their acts of not-love to those made in God’s Image.  They were in league with the power of sin and the spirit of the world to do that which is evil. It was like being dead, even though being physically alive. It was missing the point of life.

          But then in verse 4, there is the biggest statement of contrast in the Bible.  ‘But God, who is rich in mercy, out of great love with which he loves us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.’

          That’s a big but.  That’s the decisive turn that God’s grace makes in our lives.   God’s grace, that unmerited favor and choice of God, comes into our lives and offers us another chance.  A chance to live into that which we were created to be. Love. Truth. Right-ness. Whole-ness.

          God’s grace is sufficient to restore us to proper relationship with God.  And in so doing, we are restored to proper relationship with other people, and the rest of creation as well.  And lest we think we’ve somehow merited something or earned something, Paul tells us exactly the opposite.  It’s by grace that we’ve been saved, and not by works that none may boast.  And he ends by telling us to go and live into the good deeds that God has created us to do. That’s life. Real life.

Conclusion

          Life is very messy sometimes.  Sometimes we wake up in a mess that someone else created.  Perhaps our parents or caretakers suffered from addiction or raised us in an abusive relationship.  That’s a mess.  Perhaps we’ve made the mess ourselves.  We’ve gotten ourselves in over our heads in debt, or got ourselves down the dark road of addiction.  Or perhaps we try to smooth things over in life by glossing over the truth.  Perhaps, like David, we think that if no one sees it, we can get away with it.  We might even use our position or power to get away with things we’d rather not get caught doing. 

          Did you know that in the 1980’s millions of children vanished in America?  Right off of the face of the earth!  And do you know why?  The IRS created a rule that you had to list the social security numbers of your children you were claiming as dependents on your taxes.  And almost overnight, the population of the United States children went down by millions!  Wow. That was a lot of people who hadn’t been honest.

          Brothers and sisters, honesty isn’t just something nice for children’s tales, or just a virtue for Bible stories.  Our society is broken without it. Honesty is the bedrock principle of human integrity.  It is the glue that keeps relationships together.  It is the hinge on which our ability to be Image bearers of God depends.

          The first step in being honest is being honest with ourselves.  We need to take a careful, slow, and meticulous moral inventory of ourselves.  Where are we missing the mark?  Where have we committed error -- either by omission (leaving things undone) or commission—those things that we’ve done? Maybe part of this is to be honest about, why we are not honest – what are we afraid of? What do we want so badly that we’re willing to be false, to be untrue to ourselves?

          The second step is to bring these things before God and confess our sins.  John tells us that God is faithful and forgives our sin.  Just like David, who turned his life around, God invites us to do the same.  To repent is to change the course our life is now on.  It’s a course correction.  We start going in a new direction. Maybe part of this is to confess to another person, too – let someone else hear your story, hear your reasons, and then hear you say that you were wrong to be so dishonest.

          The third step is to make amends, as far as it is possible and practical.  Giving back that which we have taken, telling the truth in place of lies, bringing wholeness to relationships instead of division. It’s no walk in the park. But, wow is it incredibly freeing! No more lies! No more hiding! No more scheming and planning and worrying. Just – simple refreshing truth.

          Sisters and Brothers, this time that we’ve been given by our world’s unfortunate circumstances of health crises, could be the time you need to make things right in your life.  You’ll be spending more time alone. Lots of opportunity to pray, to think, to meditate. You will be with your loved ones at home. Lots of opportunity to talk about things that matter.

Use this time to heal your relationships.  Be transparent.  Be reconciling.  Be humble.  Be honest.  Amen.