Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

November 2019

The 9th Commandment

The Ninth Commandment

I sat down and began to work on this commandment and quickly realized there were so many different aspects to this commandment we could just spend the next 15 minutes listing everything this commandment is trying to teach us. It was really hard to narrow down which of these nuances was most important.
Let’s start with the what is the most common violation in our society today of this commandment. And that is the idea of gossip - gossip appears in every one of what are known as ‘sin lists’ throughout the letters which make up a good portion of the last half of the New Testament. It is sometimes called gossip, but other times is listed as slander or ‘speaking ill of your neighbor’. Gossip is one of those easy traps to fall into - you are in a crowd of people and someone says “Did you know that so and so……” and your natural instinct of curiosity kicks in and you convince yourself that it is OK to listen cause you aren’t really doing the gossiping and you aren’t going to tell anyone else… At least that is your intention until you run into another mutual friend and “Did you know that so and so….” just slips out. And before long everyone knows that so and so did whatever even though you really don’t know if so and so ever did anything at all. And then it gets back to so and so that they have been the topic of today’s talk around the water cooler and you can imagine how so and so now feels.
We kind of walk a fine line in the church however when it comes to this idea of gossip. We gather for prayer and we lift up names for prayer and admittedly most of our prayers are because someone is having a problem. Is it gossip when we gather for prayer and say “We need to pray for so and so because they have lost their job”? And are we close enough as a congregation to be able to lift up so and so in a prayer request and not leave and go out to our everyday lives and say to a friend or a colleague or a family member - “Did you know so and so lost their job” - which means we have gone from a prayer request to gossip….. But it is easy to blur the idea of being concerned and in congregational prayer for someone who truly needs our prayers - and taking that prayer and turning it into improper conversations with others…. It is just a matter of thinking before we speak about someone and in what context we speak about someone and what we are saying about someone and maybe walking away from the water cooler when other people begin to talk about someone…
When you read this commandment in different versions of the Bible, there are a bunch of different words used. We are probably most familiar with “You shall not bear false witness….” But you also find translations that say simply, “You shall not lie”. or “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” “Don’t accuse anyone falsely”
In a Hebrew sense this commandment has two levels to it. The first level means exactly what the commandment sounds like - in a court of law, in a legal sense, don’t falsely bring charges against someone or if you are in court don’t lie on the stand against someone. Interestingly enough in Leviticus when there are comments about this commandment, the Hebrew law stated that if you bring someone up on charges falsely or if you testify falsely about someone and you get caught, you are charged with the crime you have falsely accused someone o, and you have to serve their sentence…… That sounds like a good deterrent.
Think about what characteristics you value most in someone you know or work with or have any kind of relationship with and I bet that honesty rates right up there near the top of the list. In order to really be able to have any kind of relationship with someone you have to be able to trust them - you have to be able to belief what they say. If you don’t trust them, if you can’t believe what they tell you, if you can’t rust their promises, if you can’t depend upon them then it is difficult to have any and of relationship…. Now we know that there isn’t a human we can depend upon 100%, but you quickly learn in life who you can trust and who you can’t. This commandment commands us to be the one that other people can trust; the person that other people can depend upon; the person that

other people know that if we are going to say we are going to do something - we are going to do it! Maybe we could restate the commandment to say, “Be trustworthy!”
But if we are to be trustworthy, is it ever Ok to tell a lie? We talk about ‘little white lies’ and we often think that there are instances where it is Ok to tell a lie. Biblically we have justification for this. The midwives Puah and Shiprah lie to Pharaoh to save the Baby Moses and other Hebrew babies the Pharaoh has ordered killed; the prostitute Rahab lies to the Jericho soldiers looking for Joshua and the other Hebrew spies in order to save their lives. So there are exceptions to the to what we would consider an untruth…. There is a Jewish law that states that ‘you are to tell every bride they are beautiful’. Which you could have to stretch the truth to do…. When I worked as a chaplain there were times when telling a patient or a family the whole truth at certain times was just not done - for the well being of the patient or the family. What the Old Testament nuances of the idea of lying is for us to think about whether we are withholding the truth because we are trying to create an advantage for ourselves or if we are trying to harm someone - or are we trying to do what is good for another person in that particular situation. To save a life, to avoid injury, to protect someone from being taken advantage of, to keep harmony. Again, the ethical dilemma is whether the ‘little white lie’ is for our personal benefit, or to help someone else.
According to Ephesians 4, even speaking the truth can be something that is contrary to living a Christian life. Verse 29 says, “
Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” All speech should be said in love. Truth used as a weapon at someone - friend or enemy - is never appropriate. The truth should never be used as an excuse to demean or demoralize or manipulate other people. The truth should never be used to create an unfair advantage over someone else.
When you look at this commandment in the Hebrew, the emphasis of the commandment is more on the word ‘witness’ than it is on the word ‘false’. We are being called to be a good witness so what does that mean when it comes to learning more about living this life God calls us to live which means in everything we do, God wants us to be a good witness.
If you are watching a legal show on TV and the witness is called to the stand we know that witness says they are going to ‘tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth’. Being a good witness then is first of all telling the truth. We’ve talked about that. As followers of Christ we are to tell the truth. This reminds of what Jesus saying “I am the way the truth and the life.” To be a witness is to live like Jesus has told us - because Jesus shows us the proper ‘way’, and by following ‘his’ way we live the life Jesus asks us to live and when we live as Jesus calls us to we are being a good witness to people about what it means to be a Christian - a follower of Christ - someone who believes with all our heart that Jesus really is the true way to live.
A good portion of the books in the last part of the Old Testament are prophets telling the Jews to remember what it means to be a good witness to God - and over and over and over again the prophets say things like - treat each other fairly, be a good neighbor, show mercy to one another….. think about all the good things God has done for your and show those same kinds of good things to the people around you.
Maybe it would help us if we looked at the commandment in a positive way instead of a negative one - would it help if the commandment said - ‘Be a good witness to the life God asks you to live…. Be a good witness to the love and grace of Jesus Christ’.
In other words - learn what Jesus tells us to do and then try to live that way. Don’t be a false witness - be a good witness to the truth of Jesus and what is possible when you listen and follow!
when you look at this commandment, “Don’t bear false witness: don’t tell lies; Be honest and truthful. Show people there is another way to live where you can be honest and trustworthy; where you don’t try to take unfair advantage of people or try to manipulate people; or try to do whatever is necessary to help yourself.
Treat your neighbor in the same trustworthy way you would like for your neighbor to treat you. Amen!

Faithful Gratitude

Faithful Gratitude

We heard two stories today about leprosy. For the people of Bible Times - Old and New Testament times - leprosy was a devastating disease. Leprosy literally stole your life. You had to leave your home, your family, your job. You were banned from any human contact except for other lepers. You were forced out of the temple which meant you had to give up any contact with God - it was literally a hopeless life. All you could do was spend the rest of your life in isolation with other lepers waiting to die.
In our first story we have a man called Namaan who is a very important man - a national hero. Everyone loved him and looked up to him and he had a healthy ego. this leprosy was devastating because it meant the loss of all of this. He would have to ‘disappear’ into isolation. He has a young Hebrew slave girl who tells him if he goes to the prophet Elisha, the prophet will heal him. But for a man who has always been in charge and self-sufficient and capable, going to someone for help was a tough thing! But he is desperate and he goes.
Elisha, through his servant, tells Namaan to go and dip into the Jordan 7 times and he will be healed. Namaan’s ego is hurt because he is an important man and the prophet should have come and told him himself and Namaan thinks he deserves some type of big deal and some big ceremony to get healed….. but he is a desperate man and he does what Elisha tells him and lo and behold, Namaan dips in the Jordan seven times and he is healed. And he goes back to Elisha and his response is Thanksgiving! Praise God! Namaan says and I will worship God forever!
This story reminds us to think about what God has done for us - not so much super things but ordinary things, day to day things, all those small things that we know are from God. And that we need to remember and to offer God what we have - praise and thanksgiving and adoration. Our response to all the moments of our life where God provides for us is to say, “I will worship God forever with love and thanksgiving!”
That is the first step to understanding Stewardship - simple worship and thanksgiving.
Our second story talks about Jesus who is walking down the road when he encounters 10 lepers.
Remember these are men who have been outcast, who have no future, who have been away from their previous lives for we don’t know how long. We don’t know how long it has been since they have seen their families or how long it has been since they were allowed to worship. But what we do know is that they know their only chance of returning to a normal life is in Jesus.
So they come to Jesus and ask him for help. Jesus’ response is “Go show yourself to the priest and you will be healed.” And they do exactly what Jesus tells them to do. They go and in the going they are healed. If they had just stood there looking at Jesus wondering what Jesus was telling them to do and not understanding what Jesus meant or why they were to do it this way, I doubt the healing would have happened. It was in the obedience to what Jesus has told them to do the healing takes place. But we know that once they go to the priest and the priest sees their leprosy is gone, they can return to a normal life.
But these were 9 men. There was a 10th man. This man came back and comes back praising God. With a loud voice, shouting thanksgivings to God. He gets down at Jesus’ feet. Puts his face on the ground to show and shout his thanks to Jesus and to God for his healing.
This man’s thanksgiving isn’t just something he feels in his heart. His thanksgiving is coming out in his words and with the steps that his takes. He is grateful. With all of his body. With all of his heart. With all of his soul. With all of his mind. Grateful.
Jesus tells him, “Get up.” “Go on your way.” “Your faith has made you whole.”
Think about that word - whole. You faith has made you whole. Not just well - the healing of the leprosy came earlier but it was in the thanksgiving that this 10th man was changed. His thanksgiving didn’t affect the other 9 man; it didn’t change or affect Jesus; the person it made a difference to was the man himself. His thanksgiving changed him. His gratitude for what Jesus did for him changed him.
So we are back to what we learned from Namaan - about thinking about the things God has done for us - and about our response. We don’t say Thank You! to God because God’s blessings are dependent on our gratitude, we say thank you to God for all the things God has done for us because it changes us. It changes how we look at life, how we understand God - it makes us whole.
Something that easy and simple - just to sincerely say Thank You for all the blessings in our life can change our whole outlook on life.
Faithful gratitude, recognizing that we can credit God for our lives and for the food that we eat and the love that we share and so very much, much, more. It changes us. Makes us whole.
On this Stewardship Sunday, we are thankful for all you have done in the work of this church. Your giving empowers and encourages and allows children to know they are an important part of the life of this church and for us to provide food for the hungry and for the homeless, for us to have a place in which to worship and a building where we can gather to fellowship and share meals and to learn more about the Bible. On this Stewardship Sunday we can be thankful for music and a musician to provide that music and a choir to share their gifts and talents; we can be thankful for learning opportunities in our Bible Studies and special programs during the seasons of the year; we can be thankful for the time commitment of our committee members as they do the work of the church; we can be thankful for those who faithfully attend worship each Sunday and we could go on. We truly have an abundance we can be thankful for as a congregation.
And what we know is that it has all come as a gift from God and our response today is to say thankful and to hear Jesus’ words when he says - your thanksgiving has made you whole.
And it blesses this church with abundance as you return to God a portion of all God has provided you.

Amen!