Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
The title of today’s sermon is: Let the Lie Die. It is a sermon about lies, how they separate us from God, and how Jesus seeks to extricate them from our souls. Satan puts these lies upon us. You didn’t think I’d start with Satan, did you? Satan, whether you believe in him or not, is, as Jesus calls him, “the Father of Lies.” So this name, Satan, when it shows up in the Bible, indicates that this passage is about lies.
What a lie does is worm its way into our souls. It is a small, infectious, insidious, redundant idea that nags us like a whining voice. So we attend to it to try to keep it quiet. But just the opposite thing happens. The more we pay attention to it the louder it gets, and pretty soon it becomes the dominant noise in our lives. That is how lies work, and Jesus came to turn down the volume on the lies in our lives.
Jesus is in the synagogue teaching. And behold (at least that is what the King James version says), “behold, a woman appears.” It is as if she isn’t there, and then all of a sudden she is there. Behold. In Greek the word is idou, which means a clarity of sight that is consistent with how God sees. “Behold, I bring to you good tidings of great joy,” the Angel Gabriel says. “Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord,” Mary responds. “Behold a woman appears in the synagogue…” and yet she had been there 18 years.
This is the Bible, so we know the number 18 isn’t there by accident. In Jesus’ day, when people heard this story, their minds went to the Old Testament for reference. And there, in the book of Judges, wherever 18 years was mentioned, bondage was found. It was the length of years the Israelites were under the rule of the Edomites, and then again under the rule of the Philistines. Our woman’s bondage was 18 years as well, but it was different. It was spiritual bondage. “Behold there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity.”
That is what Jesus calls it. You see, he is trying to move his listeners, and us as well, I suppose, from the idea that Edomites or Philistines or any ruling body or physical state of being can separate us from God. He is trying to move us from the idea that outside forces are what gets between us and God, to the more chilling reality that the only that can separate us from God is a spirit of infirmity, a binding lie, an insidious idea, that worms its way into our souls, and that we come to believe.
The metaphor in the Gospel is a bent body, but that isn’t what Jesus is beholding. He sees the lie put upon this woman, that she endures and maybe even nurtures as her own without knowing it.
At first, reading this Gospel surprised me. In all the other healing stories I recall about Jesus, people came to him, and he asks, “What can I do for you?” But this woman didn’t seem to know she was bound. In other words, there was something about her infirmity that she did not see, that she did not behold. For whatever reason, she did not consider that what ailed her was something that one could ask healing from. That is super telling! Had her body been bent in any conventional way, no doubt she would have asked Jesus for help. But she didn’t. Clearly she didn’t behold her own malady.
That is the nature of lies put upon us. We come to own them and let them grow in our souls. They become like the air we breathe. They are like a frog in the pot of boiling water. They become our truths, and they bind us, and we don’t even know it. They start with Satan, the Father of Lies, but then they grow as we own them and nurture them and in some cases we come to believe they are the best thing about us. By invoking the name Satan, Jesus is letting us know that he knows this woman is a victim. That along the way someone, or some community, told her some lie, over and over again, often enough, that she came to believe it and own it. It is sad, and yet it is so common.
Here is what this can look like. Let me tell you a story. It’s not mine. It comes from a dear friend of mine. He grew up near Fort Apache in the Bronx in the 1960s. His family had come apart, and life was tough and dangerous. By the time he was 13, he had seen four people shot dead in his neighborhood. He was also tall for his age and very bright and black, and the lie that came to sit upon him was that he was dangerous. So he learned to disappear behind glasses and good grades and a soft voice. Particularly a soft voice. He didn’t want to startle people. It was unconscious; the unconscious response to a lie put upon him by Satan. He didn’t know he was doing it. Like the woman in the Gospel, he wouldn’t have known to ask Jesus to lift this spiritual infirmity, until his revelation, until he met Jesus as an adult and came to see the fullness of his soul. Not that he hadn’t spoken before. He was a most favored professor at the Kennedy School of Government. But that isn’t the speaking we are talking about. We’re talking about the speaking that rejects the lie that a tall, bright, black man is dangerous, just for being tall and bright and black.
Can you imagine a lie like that? Can you imagine owning that kind of thing? I don’t know. Maybe it is a question to contemplate if you ever find yourself crossing the street to avoid someone coming toward you. That is the insidious nature of the lies Satan plants.
But that is just one example. And like most things, it is easier to see the lies that infect other people, than our own. Which is why Jesus says that thing about the “log”: before trying to pick the splinter out of your neighbor’s eye, why don’t you first pull the log out of your own eye? Ever hear that one?
Lies are mostly about power: who can have it and who can’t. That is what the leader of the synagogue was trying to reinforce—his power. To which Jesus responded, “You hypocrite! You break the Sabbath all the time.” And when the people heard this they knew it was true, and they cheered! Jesus came to free us from these lies, to turn down the volume of the noisy lies in our lives.
So what lies oppress you? What lies bind your spirit? Here are some I think about. I think about the lie that standardized tests can tell who is smart and who is not. I think about the lie that allows men to be paid more than women for doing the same job. I think about the lie of grey hair, which marks men as “distinguished” and women as “old.” I think about the lie that priests are closer to God than other people. I think about lie that technology makes life easier.
What lies do you think about? What lies bind you? If you’re not sure, then consider this: the lies we often come to own are things we believe benefit us. The lies we often come to own are things we attribute our success to. The lie of our life, the dominant lie that we nurture, may be the thing we believe is the greatest thing about us. Sounds crazy!
I’ll give you an example from my life: the lie that hard work ensures success. Let me quickly define success here so as not to distract you. For me it had always been to have the resources to do what I wanted, when I wanted, the way I wanted to. That was success. And I was told if I worked hard I’d achieve it. The lie became my habit. I worked hard in high school to get into a “good” college. And I did; no matter the fact that my sister worked in the admissions office. I worked hard in my jobs, and moved up, no matter the fact that every job I’ve ever had (except this one here at Epiphany) came through a contact.
Now don’t mishear me. Contacts are good. Relationship is primary. And hard work is rewarding because, in right measure, it is good for the soul. But it is not a truth that hard work will result in “success.” That is a lie. We know better than that. I recently read that the primary determinant of “success” was the family we were born into, which, as far as I can tell, is pretty random.
I had no say in whether I was born in Rochester or the Bronx. Knowing that, and also knowing God loves each one of us, helps me know that success in the Kingdom of God means something entirely different than doing what I want, when I want, the way I want to. In the Kingdom of God, success is not measured by what we have, or who rules over us, or whom we rule over, or whom we come from, or the shape of our body, or what we know.
In the Kingdom of God, success comes from beholding the world as it is. It comes when we let the lie die; and then behold ourselves as God made us: full, complete, whole, holy, beloved. So behold! Behold, see what binds you, and let go.