The following is an excerpt of a sermon given recently at Grace Presbyterian Church by pastor David H. Bower:
Years ago, in response to a question I had asked her, a friend replied, “Do you want the truth or a convincing lie?” I opted for a truth that I already suspected but still did not want to hear. It confirmed my suspicions while popping my bubble. It hurt, but I survived and in the long run was much better off for it.
The truth can be painful. I keep thinking about the courtroom scene in the movie “A Few Good Men,” where under intense questioning, the character played by Jack Nicholson blurted out, “You can”t handle the truth.” There is some reality in that, but most of the time it”s a matter of us not wanting to handle the truth. And quite often those who tell it face an angry backlash.
There”s an old joke making the rounds that goes like this: “If you don”t believe that the truth will set you free, try telling your boss what you really think.” My cousin”s husband, Ed, encountered that reality several years ago. His boss asked him to tell her what he really thought of her management style. He did — and found himself unemployed. She asked for the truth, but she didn”t like what she heard. Rather than seriously addressing the message, she fired the messenger.
A brief history lesson: After Solomon died, the Kingdom of Israel was split into two smaller kingdoms, Judah and Israel, each with its own king, capital and central religious shrine. Somewhere around 750 B.C., a prophet named Amos left his home in Judah to proclaim God”s Word up north in Israel. He didn”t do it because he really wanted to; he did it because God called him to do it. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Amos told God”s truth to people who had been fed a steady diet of convincing lies.
They didn”t want to hear or handle this truth. The professional prophets of Israel — those on the king”s payroll — had been telling them what they wanted to hear for years. They had been lulled into believing the following convincing lies:
c They were eternally secure because God was on Israel”s side, no matter what.
c Their blatant disregard for their covenant with God, made clear by their unethical and illegal treatment of the poor and needy, didn”t matter as long as they maintained the outward symbols of their religion.
c Their false piety, which consisted of attending the right services, joining in the right liturgy and giving the right offerings, was enough to please or at least appease God even as they continued to indulge themselves in immoral, unethical, unrighteous and unjust behaviors.
c Their immoral sexual behavior, mostly carried out in conjunction with the worship of false gods, didn”t really matter to God.
Amos made it very clear that their covenant with God could not be disregarded with such impunity. God”s laws concerning ethical and moral behavior were to be obeyed, not ignored. The poor and the weak were to be cared for and protected. The legal system was to be used to uphold justice and righteousness for every citizen of Israel. False gods were never ever to be worshipped. The sexual practices that were an adjunct to such worship were absolutely forbidden.
Amos stepped on some mighty powerful toes, including those of King Jeroboam and his high priest Amaziah. Finally, Amaziah took it upon himself to tell Amos that he could no longer preach at Bethel, the national shrine and the king”s place of worship. As the chaplain to the royal family and the ancient equivalent of the office bishop, Amaziah was exercising his considerable political and ecclesiastical authority. As the official defender of Israel”s civic religion — the secretary of religion, as it were — he was trying to make sure that someone like Amos did not disrupt the peace and prosperity of the land by telling God”s truth. It was Amaziah”s job to make sure that the people continued to believe the convincing lies that he and his fellow clergy types were proclaiming.
The real question is, what do we say? What do we say in the face of our culture”s moral and ethical excesses? What do we say to those in the government, the business establishment and even the church who advise us to go along with injustice, unrighteousness and immorality in order to get along? What word do we speak in the name of Jesus to those who lead us when it is obvious that they are leading us astray? How do we respond to those who would try to prevent us from being about our Father”s business? What comes after the phrase, “Hear the Word of the Lord?” All that depends on how willing we are to speak God”s truth instead of echoing our culture”s convincing lies.