Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Bethany Bullet - March 19, 2013

In December of 1956 the first episode of “To Tell the Truth” aired on the CBS network in prime time, beginning the run of one of the most successful shows in television history. There were 25 full seasons of the show. Many of you remember the panel of “celebrities,” asking questions of the three individuals to ascertain who was telling the truth.   

In reality there has been a much longer version of “To Tell the Truth” playing out across the face of the earth, beginning back in the Garden of Eden.     
A twisted tale, spun by the serpent, and telling the truth has been difficult ever since.  
We’ve all done it, whether it was the size of the fish on the line or the history of our bloodline; attendance figures, or athletic endeavors, we have all fudged a bit, not told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.        
Often times our bold words give way to embarrassment and disgrace.       
Take the example of Peter, one of 12 chosen disciples. He was in the inner circle and confidant of Christ, one who should tell the truth, right? But you heard the familiar story in our Gospel reading from Sunday (John 18:15-18, 25-27), when push came to shove, Peter denied, not once, not twice but three times. This was not just a little white lie; this was an outright denial of the Messiah.    
Perhaps this may seem as being a bit out of character for Peter, but it is not for humanity. Our lives are filled with denials and lies. Often times they are words spoken in order to get our own way or to get ahead. Sometimes they are words spoken in anger or revenge or just simply to get out of trouble.         

When I was younger we had a covered patio in the back of our house.  The steps leading out of the house were covered in carpet remnants and had a few loose strands of fabric sticking out along the edges.  One afternoon I started pulling the strands and really enjoyed seeing how long I could get the pieces before they broke off.  After hours of doing this I had basically ruined the carpet. When my dad got home he was furious.  He asked, “Who did this?” My response?  “It was Josh,” my younger brother.  That day I blamed my brother for my transgression. I gave a false witness and boy did he get in trouble. I was pretty happy with myself at the time. But many years later, that sin festered inside me and tore me up. Eventually I confessed, and my brother didn’t even remember the incident.  
That day I did not stand up for my brother, I am ashamed of my actions, I asked for his forgiveness and it was granted. 
Oh, believe me, there are more stories I could tell, but really don’t want to, because looking back, there are many times I have given false testimony against my neighbor. Thanks be to God for the forgiveness found in Jesus.  
But, back to Peter, it was late on Thursday or very early on Good Friday when Peter disavows knowledge of Jesus but let me take you back a few hours.            
It was in the upper room; Jesus is celebrating the Passover meal with His disciples. As Jesus discusses what will take place in the coming hours he makes a bold pledge,

“I will lay down my life for you.”(John 13:37b)

“Then Jesus answered, ‘Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”            (John 13:38)                 
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16)        
The words from the Torah must have rung in Peter’s ears. The One, who would say that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, just informed Peter that he would deny him.           
It is interesting to note that all four Gospel writers report the denial of Peter. This is not a story that is buried within the text, and I think there is a reason. Peter’s story is our story.    
Bold claims and a tongue that cannot be tamed, result in denial and pain. 

Perhaps words from the Psalmist will help.
From Psalm 1:        
Blessed is the one who does not
           walk in the counsel of the wicked      
Or stand in the way of sinners           
           Or sit in the seat of mockers.
(Psalm 1:1)

Peter walked into the courtyard of the High priest listening to the council of the wicked, the sinfulness welling up within him. He stood by the fire as a sinner and then sat down to mock Jesus by denying that he even knew the man.
In the moment Peter did not follow what comes next is Psalm 1:      

But his delight is in the teachings (or words) of
           the Lord       
And on this Word he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:2)    
It was the Word made flesh who made his way before a council of the wicked that night, who stood before sinners and mockers to take the punishment for Peter’s false witness and all of ours as well.             
We too should delight in the Word and in him we are to meditate day and night.              
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried
           our sorrows,           
Yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten
           by him and afflicted.      
But he was pierced for our transgressions
He was crushed for our iniquities;   
The punishment that brought us peace was
           upon him    
And by his wounds we are healed.  
(Isaiah 53:4‐5)      
The culminating moment of the game show “To Tell the Truth” comes when the host announces, “Will the real (fill in the blank name of person) please stand up!”  And with some posturing, the truth teller is revealed.

Perhaps it is time for us to quit the charade and stand up! The 8th commandment commends us to stand up! Stand up for our neighbors, defend them in words and actions and stop taking pot shots with our words, to speak well of them and quit dragging them through the mud, and to put the best construction on everything we say and do.              

Martin Luther has some great advice in his Large Catechism, writing about the 8th commandment, “No one shall use the tongue to harm a neighbor, whether friend of foe. No one shall say anything evil of a neighbor, whether true or false, unless it is done with proper authority or for that person’s improvement. Rather, we should use our tongue to speak only the best about people, to cover the sins and infirmities of our neighbors, to justify their actions, and to cloak and veil them with our own honor.” (LC I, 285)         
He goes on to write, “When you become aware of a sin, however, do nothing but turn your ears into a tomb and bury it.”  (LC I, 266)    
The other Gospel writers tell us that Peter went away that night and wept bitterly.         He was confronted with his sin, it was before his eyes and he realized the implication of his actions. Have you shed some tears over the actions of your past? You are in good company.         
But the story of Peter is not quite finished. John records an encounter that Peter has with the resurrected Jesus. It was after a long night of fishing and Jesus has prepared a meal for his disciples on the shore.               After sharing a meal, Jesus has a conversation with Peter and restores their relationship.
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”      
“Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”         
“Feed my lambs.”           
“Simon, son of John, to you truly love me?”        
“Yes, Lord you know that I love you.”         
“Take care of my sheep.”         
“Simon son of John, do you love me?”       
“Lord, you know all things; you know I that I
           love you.”   
“Feed my sheep.”
(John 21:15-17 selected portions)

That same Jesus comes here, to share a meal with you and restore you into a relationship with him.      
He calls you to feed his lambs and take care of his sheep as we use our words to speak well of our neighbors, and he promises that he will be here again and again so that you can be empowered to tell the truth.  
-Pastor Seth Moorman


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