Sunday, November 6, 2016

Bearing False Witness

Grace, Mercy, and Peace unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

“Valandra and those around him at the bar begin to rattle off the offenses, many of which they heard about through social media. They talk about tear gas, rubber bullets, sound cannons and concussion grenades. They speak about the elder who was beaten with a club, the horse that had to be put down, the boy whose wrist was broken.” This comes from an article written on Fox 4 news, reciting what the author overheard from protesters at the Standing Rock Reservation. (

An article from one blog says ““Early estimates suggest that the damaged equipment will cost $10 million,”…. “Despite continuing to claim that their protest is a peaceful and lawful one, damaging the equipment puts workers at risk as well as protesters untrained in dealing with industrial equipment,” the MAIN Coalition writes. “Moreover, and wildly hypocritically, protestors cut fluid lines and tampered with gas tanks which undoubtedly spilled industrial fluids on the very ground they are fighting to protect.”” (

Stories like the above are all over our newspapers, televisions, and social media sites. We can’t escape the stories regarding the situation at Standing Rock reservation. Many of us have family or friends on the scene, on one side or the other.  

The problem, however, is that these stories – these news articles and youtube clips and televised news stories – all lean heavily on one side or the other. The “facts” presented are generally based only on one side or the other and are quite often skewed by the opinion of the author. And therefore, they’re made to paint the other side as the enemy – the lawless – the problem in the whole situation.

Many articles tell of the pipeline and law enforcement unjustly injuring tribal members and protesters, using tear gas and guard dogs. Many articles point their finger at the protesters, stating they have caused millions of dollars of damage to equipment, and have blocked main highways. Everyone has an opinion of which side is in the wrong, and aren’t afraid to voice their opinion, bringing up all the bad things the other side has done – often times, this is only things they have heard through social media.

This is something we all tend to do. We focus on who is to blame. We focus on what we believe is right, and anyone who doesn’t agree is obviously wrong. And we do everything we can to disprove these people.

This is what we find happening in our Gospel lesson this morning. The Sadducees were trying to prove Jesus wrong about resurrection. They didn’t believe in such a thing and therefore knew Jesus had to be wrong. And they wanted to prove exactly that. Just telling people that wasn’t enough – they needed to prove it. And they figured they had the perfect way to do just such a thing. They could prove it by asking Jesus one simple pointed question – one question that he would not be able to answer, and therefore would prove they were right all along.

While the Sadducees didn’t believe in a resurrection, they did believe in, and taught, the first five books of the Old Testament. So they used these teachings – these books which they believed to be accurate, and of which anyone who spoke against these books to be in the wrong – as the basis of their question.

In Deuteronomy chapter 25 there is a law. Should a husband die and leave his wife childless, an unmarried brother of his was to take the widow as his wife.
This would ensure the family name continued. So the Sadducees used this law as the basis of their question. They posed the following situation: a husband dies… he and his wife had no children to carry on the family name. The brother then marries her, but meets the same fate. He dies, also leaving the woman without a child.  This continues until all 7 men have married the woman, and have died. Eventually the woman also dies, still without a child. The Sadducees gave Jesus this scenario and then asked the question – “Once resurrected, which of the brothers is this woman’s husband?”

I can only imagine the smirk they must of have on their faces when they asked this question. They knew they were right. They knew they trapped Jesus in a question he could not answer without denying resurrection.

But Jesus answered with something they did not expect. He didn’t lash out at them. He didn’t fumble for a response. He didn’t turn things into a battle of who is right and who is wrong.

Instead, Jesus told them they were focusing on the wrong thing. He did say that there is no marriage after death. He did explain that marriage is an earthly institution. But then he explained that their own teaching does indeed support resurrection.
He showed the flaw in their belief by showing that the scripture they believed in even supports it. He turns to the story in Exodus chapter 3 where Moses quotes God as saying ““I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”. “I AM”… Not “I was their God.” He uses the present tense, showing that although these men are obviously dead on earth, God IS still their father, their God. Therefore these men must still be alive.

Jesus also explained to the Sadducees that we cannot comprehend what is to come. And, more importantly, we shouldn’t try. We should not be focusing on what is to come, but rather what is here right now, and what we can do.

So what is here right now and what can we do?

I was preparing my Sunday School lesson for this week, which focuses on our second reading of today. In my teaching guide, there is a section that asks “So what does this mean for our lives?” and then provides an answer. The answer this week comes from “Pastoral Perspective” by Neta Pringle and states:

“Rather than speculate about the who and the when of Christ’s return, we need to tend our own souls. Rather than try to identify the lawless one, we need to recognize our own tendency to play that role. But there is also another way: to live as if the Day of the Lord has already come. My seminary theology professor used to say “If heaven is like that, what are we doing in a mess like this? We need to roll up our sleeves and get to work.” Knowing that God will triumph and the work of God’s people will be vindicated is a powerful motive to work for justice and peace even in times of discouragement.”

It is so easy for each of us to succumb to that desire to show we’re right and others are wrong. And we do it in a slanderous way. “Law enforcement are intentionally hurting those at Standing Rock. They’re evil.”  “The protesters are intentionally causing destruction because they’re bad people.”  

We say these things and turn to the Bible to support our ideas. We use God’s Word as our argument, just as the Sadducees did. In regards to Standing Rock, there are Bible verses which tell us we are to care for the earth, the plants, and all living creatures. We are told we are to respect and obey those in authority. We are told that should those in authority be wrong, we can and should stand up and say this, in a respectful and peaceful way. We are told not to use violence.
Even when it comes to just our everyday lives and the things we say about others, we will often use the Bible as our defense.

But we often overlook one verse. We overlook one commandment. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” It is tempting (at least for me) to think of this commandment as simply “I won’t LIE about my neighbor.” When we think of it in that way, we know we’re not at fault for anything we’ve said about others. I mean, the pipeline really did have guard dogs and used tear gas against protesters. Protesters really did set up road blocks and damaged equipment. Or, at least, these are things we’ve heard so they must be true. We’re not lying. We’re not bearing false witness.

But when we look at the small catechism, we learn what this commandment really means. In Luther’s Small Catechism for this commandment, the “what is this or what does the mean” answer reads: “We are to fear and love God that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”

So what are we to do? 

When you look at the scripture texts this morning, and when you consider the meaning of the eighth commandment, we find our answer. We find that what I quoted from Neva Pringle is our answer. ““Rather than speculate about the who and the when of Christ’s return, we need to tend our own souls. Rather than try to identify the lawless one, we need to recognize our own tendency to play that role. But there is also another way: to live as if the Day of the Lord has already come.”

We need to reach out in love to everyone.

We are not to worry about who is saved when Christ returns, or focus on when that return will happen and what it will look like. We are to worry about our own hearts and souls and whether we’re doing everything we can to help, encourage and build up others.

We are to steer away from that tendency to listen to and spread rumors about others, whether we believe these rumors to be truth or not. Whether we know these rumors to be truth or not. We are to speak well of everyone and see them in the best possible light.

We are not to destroy others’ reputations – whether it’s the people of Standing Rock, the other protestors, the law enforcement there, the pipeline company, or the person sitting in the pew next to us this morning.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

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