"The Lies We Tell Ourselves"
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
October 28, 2018 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
John 8:31-36
Reformation Sunday

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: October 28, 2018 – Reformation Sunday

John 8:31-36


The Lies We Tell Ourselves


            I admit, I was surprised last Sunday when the Confirmation class told me that Wikipedia was “fake news”. For those of you who are free of the internet’s pernicious influence, Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. There are administrators, of course, who track changes and sometimes correct the correctors. And it shouldn’t be used for any kind of academic research, of course. It’s merely a starting point – a starting point that sometimes needs to be taken with a generous grain of salt. But when the Confirmation class told me that their teachers had told them that Wikipedia was totally “fake news” made me realize just what a “fake news” kind of world we live in.


            In an era where un-truths spread like wildfire online; where politicians disingenuously call for civility while stoking hatred and contempt in one group of Americans for another group of Americans; where someone mailed a half-dozen bombs to a former office holders, candidates, and other political actors; where such untruths lead to mass murder, as they did yesterday in a Pittsburgh synagogue; we can be tempted to retreat to our own little tribes where we don’t have to encounter any inconvenient people or facts. More than ever, it seems, we can live in our own little sheltered world. But this is nothing new; “fake news” is as old as humanity. And the worst kind of fake news is the lies we tell ourselves.


            After preaching and teaching in Galilee, Jesus returns to Jerusalem for the Festival of Booths, the fall agricultural festival centered around the harvest of nuts and grapes, and the commemoration of the Israelites’ sojourn in the desert. At first, Jesus goes secretly, but soon begins teaching in the Temple, astonishing and infuriating his opponents. After the incident involving the woman caught in adultery, in which Jesus tells the religious leaders, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone,” Jesus enters into a long dialogue in the Temple. He calls himself the light of the world; that whoever follows him will not walk in darkness but have the light of life. He once again asserts that he has come from his Father, and that the religious leaders know nothing of him or of his Father. This dialogue leads to the first line of our Gospel reading. “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teaching. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”


            And we’re tempted to chuckle, aren’t we, at the response of the people. In response to the amazing good news that “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free,” the people respond with the astonishingly dense and outright wrong statement, “We are Abraham’s children; we’ve never been anyone’s slaves. How can you say that we will be set free?”


            But before we laugh too much, perhaps the people here are not so different from us. What are some of the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves? Maybe we tell ourselves that as long as we do the right things most of the time, or at least have the right intentions, then God will open the pearly gates because that’s what we deserve. Or perhaps conversely, we fear so much God’s wrath and God’s demands in the Law that we find ourselves in the same position as Luther before his great awakening – in a constant state of fear and anxiety that we won’t have “done enough” to receive eternal life. Or maybe we tell ourselves that nothing in the wider society is our fault – if only people agreed with me, then things would be so much better! Or maybe we think everything is our fault. Or maybe we think we’re special just because we’re members of a certain family, like the people in today’s story. Or maybe we’re tempted to think we have no value at all – not to God, nor to anyone else. Whatever these lies are, they are destructive. They keep us chained in our sins, self-centered, turned in on ourselves, severely hampering our love for God and neighbor.


            Later in chapter 8, Jesus identifies the source of these lies. They come from the devil, the father of lies himself. Talk of Satan or the devil may not be fashionable anymore, but whether or not you believe in a literal devil, believe this – there is a radical force of evil at loose in the world, corrupting our hearts and ensnaring us in lies. We only need to read or watch the news to see this. This is the source of all our entrapment in destructive thoughts and behaviors.


            And this is what Jesus has come to set us free from.


            Jesus has come to set us free from evil’s corruption of our hearts and to restore our humanity. Jesus has come to set us free from the lies we tell ourselves, not only about ourselves but about others as well. Jesus has come as the Truth, the Truth which breaks the power of a “fake-news” world, continually opposed to God. Jesus has come out of love, not wrath; out of compassion, not judgment; to free us from all sins, all lies, and the origin of them.


            Jesus, the Son who has a place in his Father’s household forever, comes to give us a place in that household as well. As he says in John 14 to his disciples, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you.” Jesus comes to set us free from sin by his life, death, and resurrection, and therefore, give us a place with God forever.


            Moreover, Jesus sets us free for. For the good of our neighbor, whether or not she voted the “right way” in the last election or will vote “that way” in the upcoming one. Whether or not he “that” news channel on a regular basis. Whether or not she comes to worship regularly, or volunteers, or whatever the difference may be. Jesus has set us free to love and serve our neighbors in all of their flawed, beautiful, broken humanity. Just as Jesus loves us with a love too great for words, Jesus frees us to love others.


            Our love of our neighbors won’t be the greatest thing in the world at first. It takes a lifetime to learn to love and serve our neighbors like Jesus. Come to think of it, it takes a lifetime to believe that we are truly loved by a God beyond our understanding! Whether or not we believe, whether or not we have our theology right, God still loves us and comes in the person of Jesus to set us free from all that enslaves us. From self-delusion. From pride. From self-hatred. From hatred and fear of others. Jesus has come to bring us into his light and to make us what he promised to make us in our baptism – re-formed and transformed children of the living God.


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.