STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH MARCH 7, 2021

Rev. Sabrina Ingram                                                                                                                                   Lent 3

 

WORSHIPPING TOGETHER

 

Call to Worship:

Onward and ever closer,

we move toward Jerusalem.

We are pilgrims on a journey.

We are travelers on the road.

 

In ancient times, pilgrims sang songs as they walked to Jerusalem. Being in God’s care,

covenant and presence is a blessing.

We are pilgrims on a journey.

We are travelers on the road.

 

Ancient psalms of an ancient people rise in a prayerful hymn to the Lord and redeemer of all life and creation.

 

Let us pray.

All:      God of all creation, hear the songs of praise, of lament and of hope that we sing on the journey.   Liberate us from fear and cynicism so that we may be caught up in the rhythm of creation and live, in tune with your love and hope.  In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

(extinguish the 3rd candle)

 

Hymn: This Little Light of Mine

 

Prayer of Adoration and Confession

God of Truth,

We praise you.

Before the foundation of the world was laid or the stars were set in the cosmos, there was the Word.  Equal to you in every way.  Completely united with you.  Of one substance with you.

This Word came into the world in Jesus of Nazareth.  He became human and lived with us.

We have seen his glory, full of grace and truth.

All he said was true.

All he did was true.

He revealed your fullness to us.

We are in awe and wonder that you would honour us this way.

You have poured out grace upon grace.

 

Lord, we are not like you and your truth is not in us.

We say we love you, but do not love our neighbour.

We honour you with our lips, but out of those same lips come curses and lies.

We hide from you and from ourselves.

We warp the truth to suit our own egos.

We withhold the truth and lie to ourselves, telling ourselves we are being honest.

We pretend to be what we are not.

We deceive ourselves and others.

We do not live in Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life.

Forgive us.

 

We worship today remembering those who share our journey of faith, whether gathered here in person or gathered together at home.

As we worship today, let us know your truth and walk in your light.  Take off our blinders so that we will see you and not deceive ourselves.  May our worship be pure, honest and true and so be a reflection of your glory.  Amen.

 

Assurance of Pardon: 1 John 5: 17 – 21

Everything we do wrong is sin, but not all sin is fatal.  

We know that none of the God-born makes a practice of fatal sin.

The God-born are also the God-protected.

The Evil One can’t lay a hand on them.

We are living in the Truth itself, in God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

This Jesus is both True God and Real Life.

 

Prayer for Illumination:

God of Truth, speak to us your word, so that we may know the truth and be set free.  Amen.

 

Scripture Readings

Acts 5: 1 – 11

James 3: 1 – 12

Matthew 15: 10  – 11 & 15 – 20

 

Message:  Unchallenged Sin – Lying

minister told his congregation, “In preparation for next week’s sermon, I want you all to read Mark 17.”   The following Sunday, the minister asked those who had done their homework to put up their hands. Every hand went up.  The minister smiled and said, “Mark has only sixteen chapters.  My sermon this week is on lying.”

 

My sermon series in Lent is “Unchallenged Sin”.  We’re looking at the sins the Church tolerates,  ignores or even winks at.  So far, we’ve looked at fear and apathy.  My sermon this week is on lying.  If I were to ask all honest people to raise you’re hands, would your hand go up?  The truth is, we’re  all liars.  Some of the most common lies are: I didn’t do it; it wasn’t my fault; I’m fine; I promise, I won’t laugh; I got caught in traffic; I have read the terms and conditions”.   My guess is that all of us have said at least one of those at some point in time.  Generally, people rationalize lying.    We say it’s okay to lie if: it’s to be kind; you need to; it’ll get you out of trouble; it wins the approval of others; you can avoid conflict; or you’re signing up on a dating site – cause that’s a good way to start a relationship.  But is that true of the Church?  Do we rationalize lying?  Is lying an unchallenged sin?

 

In fairness, lying is something of which the Church disapproves.   A blatant lie to deceive or to damage someone’s character is judged harshly and condemned.   On the other hand, we do acknowledge the need for lying in some circumstances.  A brazen, intentional lie that save lives – like a spy lying about information during a war – is acceptable because of the context; the lie serves a greater good.  The trouble is, who decides which lies are for the greater good?  Someone may argue that lying on a resume is for a greater good – my family needs income.   Another may argue that lying about a crime is for the greater good – it keeps me out of jail.     Christians often make allowances for “little white lies”.  Every husband knows the truth may not be the best answer to “does my butt look big in these pants?” There may be some value in sparing the feelings of others, when honesty is a cruel alternative.   But lies aren’t harmless when they destroy trust; tell a lie once and all your truths become questionable.  And they aren’t harmless when they are destructive to others; hinder our spiritual growth and offend God.

 

Jesus listeners were Jews who followed strict dietary laws.  They believed that eating forbidden food, or eating certain foods together, defiled you or made you “unclean”.  Jesus told them what really makes a person unclean is not what they put into their mouths but the expressions of the heart that comes out of them.  Lying is among the things he names.  The capacity to lie runs deep in the human soul and has many expressions.  Let’s look at some of these together.

Lying is often a sin of commission, but it can also be a sin of omission.  The poet Adrienne Rich writes, “Lying is done with words and also with silence.”   Lying may come in the form of omitting details, such as when a person calls in sick to work but doesn’t say they’re just sick of work.   Conveniently “forgetting” an incriminating detail is also a lie.  It’s amazing how many people in government inquiries can’t remember things.  In the early Church, Christians shared their possessions.  At the end of Acts 4 we read, “Those who owned fields or houses [willingly] sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it.  The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.” In this way, the rich cared for the poor and since Jesus was expected to return at any moment, there was no point in hoarding wealth.   But scripture loves to tell us about the exceptions.  Ananias and his wife Sapphira were wealthy landowners.  They sold a field, held back some of the money and brought the rest to the apostle Peter.  They implied by their actions, and later said with words, that they were donating the full amount of the sale.  They lied both passively and actively.  We aren’t told if Peter had heard rumours or if the Holy Spirit gave him insight, but he knew they were lying and challenged them.  Peter wasn’t concerned that they withheld money, he was concerned that they withheld information.  They lied.   He reminded them they were lying not only to the community but to God.  And with this, first Ananias and later Sapphira were struck dead.   Needless to say, people didn’t pull that one again for a very long time.  The problem with this lie  is that  Ananias and Sapphira lacked faith.  They found their security in money rather than God.  They didn’t trust that God, through the Church, would provide for their needs.  On one level, all lying is lying to God.  Lying doesn’t need to be Church related for it to be an affront to God.  When we lie, thinking no one will find out, we’re calling God stupid and saying God’s opinion doesn’t matter.  God knows what is real and true, and we can’t hide from him.  Lying is not holy living and what is not holy not only offends God, it hurts God.

 

People lie by taking credit for the work of others, either by saying the work is theirs or by not correcting misconceptions.  They are too lazy to do their own work, but they want the credit.  It’s easier to lie than to work.  The lie makes them look good; perhaps it even helps them get ahead.  They puff themselves up at the expense of someone whom they diminish.  They’re stealing the credit that belongs to another.  This type of lie can backfire on us.  If we get caught, people will think less of us and promotions may come to an end.  But more than that, lying protects us from ourselves, but not in a helpful way.  Lying allows us to hide from our deepest self.  We live an illusion.  If I lie, I don’t have to confront how lazy, and selfish I am. I don’t have to do the uncomfortable work of self-examination, the humiliating work of confession or the difficult work of repentance.  I don’t need to take ownership of my own work ethic or limitations.   Lying keeps us from finding grace and becoming more integrated people.   Further, lying like this is a terrible witness to what we claim to believe and doesn’t serve Christ.

 

Whenever we pretend to be what we’re not, or put on airs, we lie.  A young man admitted, “People are surprised when I tell them I have a 4.O grade point average while working, having an active social life, volunteering, and participating in sports, but anything is possible when you lie.”   A fictitious persona hides our true self from the people around us and it allows us to hide from our self.   Do we pretend to be more than we are because we deem ourselves insufficient?  What shortcoming or flaws are we not admitting or taking responsibility for?  What don’t we want to face?  If I pretend I have an education when I don’t, or that I have work experience when I don’t, I avoid doing the disciplined work that produces an education and professional experience.  If I pretend I’m wealthier than I am, I continue to live falling short of my financial goals.  But what’s worse is I don’t confront the spiritual chasm within myself that needs to impress people. Pretending may be a sign that I feel unworthy.   I keep myself from turning to God to discover my value in his sight, which is the only opinion that matters.  I avoid the path that will lead me to the knowledge that I’m a beloved child of God, for whom Christ died.

 

We can lie by telling the truth but throwing in a red herring.    A married man was having an affair with his secretary.  One afternoon, time got away on them and before they knew it, it was 8 p.m.   Panicked he went outside and rubbed his shoes with grass and dirt.  When he arrived home his wife demanded, “Where have you been?”.  The man responded, “I can’t lie to you.  I’m  having an affair with my secretary and we’ve been together all evening.”  The wife glanced down at his shoes and said, “Liar!  You’ve been playing golf!”.  Technically, the man told the truth but his intent was deception.  This man’s first motive is a common one.  He’s trying to stay out of trouble, but instead of behaving morally, he compounds his immoral behaviour with lies.  Is lying the worse thing this man does?  Maybe not, but both sins are interconnected.  Adultery is always accompanied by lies. The adulterer is lying to their spouse by being unfaithful and they’re likely lying the other person by promising things they have no intention of doing.   To continue on, the adulterer lies to him or herself by finding ways to defend and justify their actions.  They might blame their spouse or really believe they intend to leave one partner for the other and make things right.  Moreover, adultery itself is a form of lying.  Adulterers do not live the life they vowed, before God, to live.  They’re being untrue, not only to their spouse, but to their self.

 

We also lie to the world about who we are when we fail to speak our truth.  When something is deeply troubling or important to me and I fail to address it, I’m injure my own spirit.  When I don’t take possession of my needs, actions, or decisions,  I damage my self.  When I keep my faith a secret or hide what I believe by not declaring the most important thing about my identity and my  life, I give power to other people allowing them to make me ashamed of Christ.  My whole being becomes a lie.

 

All lying is a form of deceit.  Three intoxicated men get into a taxi.   Seeing they were drunk the driver started the engine and immediately turned it off, announcing they had reached their destination.  The 1st man pays him and gets out.  The 2nd man tips him and gets out.  The third man slaps him in the head and says, “Don’t go so fast next time, you nearly killed us.”  When we lie, we don’t walk in the light and when enough people fail to do that, no one knows what is true or real.

 

Lies come back to bite us.  Jack and Dave decided to go skiing.  They headed north but after driving for a few hours, they got caught in a blizzard.  They pulled into a nearby farm and asked the attractive, young woman who answered the door if they could stay the night.   The woman said, “I know the weather is bad, but it wouldn’t be proper.” “Don’t worry,” Jack said, “We’ll sleep in the barn and we’ll be gone at first light.” The lady agreed, and the two men went to the barn.   Come morning, they went on their way.  Nine months later, Jack got a letter from an attorney representing the woman.  He called Dave and asked, “When we stayed in the barn during that snowstorm, did you happen to get up in the middle of the night, and pay that woman a visit?”  Dave admitted he had.  “And did you give her my name instead yours?” Dave turned beet red and said, “I’m afraid I did. Why do you ask?” “She just died and left me everything.”  Lies always catch up with us, but that’s not the worst of it.  People have a great capacity to deceive not only others, but ourselves.  Lying is often subtle and can even be unintentional.  We each remember things differently and we mold our memories to suit us.  If we repeat a lie often enough, we convince ourselves it’s true.  People believe their own lies.  And the worst of these lies is that we are not lying.

 

James describes the tongue as “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (3: 8); “a spark that sets the whole forest ablaze” (vs. 5).  We are encouraged to guard our tongues because what we say not only reveals who we are, it shapes who we are.  As people redeemed by Jesus Christ, we are to walk in the light and to live by the truth, and as hard it may be to believe, “the truth will set [us] free”.   

 

Silent Prayer and Reflection

 

Offertory Prayer: God of truth, we freely offer you our gifts.  They are a sign of your blessings in our lives.  We pray that you would use them to bring life to those in physical need and new life to those who are dead in spirit.  Amen.

 

Hymn: Brother, Sister, Let me Serve You

 

Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession

God of Light,

We thank you that you are truth.  All things good, pure and beautiful are found in you.

You call us to be people who walk in the light and live by the truth of Jesus Christ.

You call us to be real and to be honest.

Help us to honour you with our words and our actions.  Keep us from telling lies.  Keep us from living lies.

 

We thank you for the world you created and the opportunities we have to enjoy its beauty and its life sustaining promise.   When we find occasions to breathe in fresh air and exercise outdoors this winter, remind us of our partnership with you to care for creation.  As spring comes closer and the sun shines longer each day, remind us of the resurrection life we have in Jesus Christ.  Awaken our hope in your promise of new life to sustain us through these months of the pandemic and through the losses and troubles we face.

 

Ever present God,

we thank you for walking with us through days of uncertainty as well as times of pleasure and satisfaction.  In times of risk and stress, you provide a still point of calm.  In times of challenge, you are the source of courage and confidence for us.  Help us to live from that centre, and to know your love for us so that we can live without pretense.

 

Thank you for hearing us when we pray, and for the wisdom and encouragement we receive from you.

 

Today we pray for those who are struggling with the isolation the pandemic requires or are feeling disconnected.   We are frustrated by the ways it limits our ability to get one with life.  We remember those whose livelihoods are threatened.   By the power of Christ who calmed the storm, calm this turbulent virus and our anxious spirits.  Give us hope and patience.

 

We pray for churches whose common life has been changed so much by times of closure and months of distancing.  Keep us strong in faith and fellowship, so that we may serve as agents of healing and hope in our communities.  Remind us to pray for one another.  Remind us that not all fellowship is face to face and we can be a blessing to each other and ourselves through phone calls, cards, and email.  Help us to move beyond the awkwardness of reaching out to those we don’t know well.   We anticipate the day when we can worship together and sing your praises.

 

We pray for our nation and the nations of this world.  May leaders confront the challenges of this time with courage, wisdom and compassion.

 

We pray for people to use our tongues, and all means of communication, to bless and build a better world, rather than to shame and silence.  Give our nations hope.  Use our anger to create equality and change rather than to destroy.   Help people to discern the difference between conspiracy theories and truth telling and between drama and reality.  Open our eyes to our prejudices.   Wherever people are filled with hate, send your Spirit to change hearts.

 

We pray for innocent victims of violence around the world.  Raise up advocates to work for true peace, not the temporary peace or the passivity we call peace, but the peace that only Christ can bring.  Give daily bread to those whose lives and livelihoods have been disrupted and to those who are poor.

 

We pray for those who work on the front lines in our community, in health care, education, retail, emergency and public service. So many are exhausted by these months of pandemic. Be their comfort and encouragement day by day.

 

We pray for all those we love who are enduring pain and illness, those who are facing grief and loss.   We particularly remember Susan’s grandson, Jordan and Leatrice’s sister, Lily and Terry’s friend, John.

 

Hear us now, as we pray together using the words Jesus taught us:

 

The Lord’s Prayer

 

Hymn: Freely, Freely

 

Invitation to Mission

We go from here to walk in the Light of Christ,

and to speak the truth with love,

Although this act of worship has ended,

We continue throughout each day to worship God in Spirit and in Truth.

 

Benediction:  May the Triune God bless and keep you.  Amen.

 

 

PWS&D

For many years, Presbyterians across Canada, young and old, have shown how creative they are as they support PWS&D’s programs. Through the many bake sales, auctions, breakfasts and soup lunches, Presbyterians have responded to God’s call spiritedly. The youth of Erindale Presbyterian Church showed their creative side when they wrapped up a year of fundraising in support of girl’s education in Afghanistan.   Together, they hosted a breakfast and walk-a-thon fundraiser to help empower marginalized girls to achieve their academic goals. Amazingly, they raised $2,000 for the project!  “We can change many people’s lives for the better,” shared 11-year-old Azlan McAuliffe,  “This year has been a great experience for all of us, and we hope to take on another mission soon.”