Monday, May 24, 2010

Have you ever noticed that people who habitually tell lies, are likely to assume they're being lied to?
I've been surprised sometimes, when someone responds to me as though I'm not credible - it's not that I have such high esteem for myself, it's just that my default position is to believe people! And because I am in the habit of honesty, it never occurs to me to worry that someone thinks I'm lying to them.
So on the few occasions when I've run up against someone who views me with suspicion, I've been bewildered - until I remember what I've learned: we expect from others pretty much what we extend to them. So if you'd lie in similar circumstances, you think everyone else is.

In John 8, Jesus was pretty harsh with a group of folks - he told them that they were like "their father the devil," who is the father of lies - indeed, lying is his native language, he told them. It's not immediately clear in the passage WHY he speaks to them like this, except that they apparently are not willing to go the whole way as his disciples - he seems to be telling that that believing him while not "holding to his teaching" isn't enough.
It seems to me that lying is a way of holding myself back from others - it's a way of seeking control, and I wonder if these people Jesus is talking to want to control what relationship they have with Jesus - what they want is to determine how far they will go with Jesus, and no further. Only so much weirdness, Jesus. Not sure if I am willing to believe everything you have said about yourself; not sure I'm willing to do all of what you've taught us is your way. But I'd still like to hang around the edges....
Jesus accuses them of wanting to kill him! Of course, Jesus knows what they are really thinking - and I wonder if standing at a distance, giving oneself permission to tell Jesus just how far he can go, is to stand with the killers rather than the believers in the end - and we know that there were indeed those who were out to kill him.
Are they are accusing Jesus because of their own habits, rather than his? Are they are the ones who stand aloof from God and are used by evil, rather than the other way around?

That makes me think about yesterday - Pentecost - and the scriptures in Acts 2 that narrate that strange event of wind, fire and tongues-speaking. I almost preached on these verses, the reactions in the crowd which gathered at the spectacle: "They stood there amazed and perplexed. 'What can this mean?' they asked each other. But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, 'They’re just drunk, that’s all!'" (Acts 2:12-13)
Some were amazed: they take in what they are seeing and know that this out-of-the-ordinary thing is significant. Maybe they are the ones who will be ready to believe what Peter is about to tell them about what is going on. Perhaps they know the scriptures from Joel that he quotes, and they will get it, that this is what God had promised them long ago - his presence, "in their midst."
Some were perplexed - they didn't know what to make of it. They wanted more information. They knew they didn't have categories in their heads for what was happening and they were puzzling over it. It's not that they didn't believe or refused to accept - they just didn't know what to do with this experience.
But some jeered. Their default position is to refuse. Whatever this is, since I have never seen it before and don't know what it is, it is important that I put it down, and push it away. "They're just drunk." I don't know how to receive this criticism except to think, "it takes one to know one" - why on earth would this be their first reaction, except that like liars who think everyone lies, drunkards think everyone else is drunk?

Whether or not that is the case, it seems to me one way in which the Lord wants us to grow, is not to so easily dismiss. The polarities in our culture make us feel like we belong to "our group" by quickly dismissing the claims of the "other" group, by vilifying them and making sure to assign nefarious motives. It is a position that has no compassion, and I am afraid it reveals what is going on in our own hearts (or our own group's culture): if we assume they are out to hoodwink us, is that because we've been pretty busy trying to spin things ourselves? If we assume they say what they say because of who is paying for it, is that because our group speaks loudest for the interests of those who pay our bills?

Jesus challenges this group he's talking to in John 8 to hold to his teaching, to go "whole hog" for him - to be, as the politics of our times say, "in the tank" for him. Jesus said if we do that, we'll be set free! We need to be careful to check our thoughts, assumptions and reactions against his every day, because it is so easy to transfer our allegiance and begin holding ourselves back from him, because the father of lies is always at his work. The suspicion that then grows in our hearts is the very thing that keeps us from hearing his voice, and rather than making us free, it enslaves us again to sin.

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