Being honest with yourself
Matthew 5: 21-37.
We have been working our way through this Sermon on the Mount, a sermon where Jesus spoke to multitudes and gave a summary of all his believes.
We have looked how we are blessed, and why we are blessed.
We have looked at how we should live.
We have looked at how we treat our enemies.
And this week we look at one of the hardest aspects of our life as people of the way, people of faith; being honest with ourselves.
Because, like many of our sermons recently, this sermon is not about how others see us, it is not about what we do…it is about what is in our heart.
Like murder…if someone murders someone then there is rightly an investigation and hopefully whoever has committed the murder is caught and goes to prison. But Jesus goes beyond that…if we have murderous thoughts that is now wrong.
But how do you police thoughts?
Imagine that just after the service the police came round and everyone had to go through a lie-detector test…to see if they felt murderous thoughts about anyone. And if they did then they would be arrested and go to prison.
Now you might think that would be fine.
But imagine in my sermon I talked about getting rid of all the pews and replacing them with large puffy cushions, that I was getting rid of the choir and organ and replacing it with a punk band.
And that it was going to be compulsory that every one dance through the first three hymns of the service.
I reckon that 90% of the congregation would be arrested that day.
You can’t police thoughts like that.
And that is why Jesus says these thoughts are so dangerous.
There is only one person that knows our thoughts, and that is ourselves.
So there is only one person that can police our thoughts, and that is ourselves.
And what Jesus is getting at here is that what is really, really, dangerous…is that we don’t police our thoughts.
The biggest person we lie to…is ourselves.
The one person we delude the most…is ourselves.
Which is why we so often find ourselves in the mess that we find ourselves in.
I’ll give you an example.
They took a survey of ministers.
Now remember that ministers are used to reading the Bible a lot.
They read about being honest and looking critically at situations.
And they asked all these ministers if they would put themselves below or above average in sermon delivery.
Now by definition, mathematically, there will be roughly half the ministers below average, and half above average. that’s what average means.
According to the survey nearly 90% of these ministers said they were above average. So about 40% of them were lying to themselves.
And that is ministers.
Two things have bothered me about that survey…
The first is that I wonder what the results would have been like if it had been the congregations that had taken that survey instead of the ministers.
The second is that if they had asked me, I think I would say that I am above average…but would that be because I am above average, or because I am deluding myself?
What is the point of this?
I think the point Jesus is trying to make…is that it is hard to live with integrity.
There is a certain president of a certain country just now that goes on and on about fake news.
How if anything bad is said about him then it is fake news.
He will then in the same speech talk about things that didn’t happen as if they did happen.
And that is dangerous. It is dangerous because we know that this is someone who makes important decisions, literally decisions that can be the difference between life and death to others…and we want a person with that amount of responsibility to be making those decisions with as much understanding and knowledge as they can have.
But if that is the case with someone as important as a president, what about someone that had total and sole responsibility for our lives…ourselves. Decisions we make will affect us forever, so don’t we want that person to be have as many true facts as they can.
That last thing we want is ourselves making decisions on our lives that are based on misconceptions.
That is why being honest with ourselves, having integrity is really important.
And Jesus gives us specific examples.
Very rarely do we just accidentally hate someone enough to want to murder them.
There are various steps that we take until we get to that stage.
Various steps where we can stop ourselves going down that road.
But often we don’t stop ourselves.
And the reason that we don’t stop ourselves, is because we lie to ourselves.
We don’t want to see ourselves as the kind of person who would hold a petty grudge…so we tell ourselves that we aren’t that person, we just ignore those feelings that we have, we pretend that we didn’t really have them.
And because we pretend that we didn’t have them, then we don’t need to do anything about them.
And then the next argument comes along, and it reinforces what we thought about that idiot.
But that isn’t because we are being unreasonable, it is because they are stupid.
But we don’t want to see ourselves as angry people, people that actually HATE other people. That is what bad people do, not us, so we just put it to the side.
It must be ‘them’ that are unreasonable.
And then the next time we see them, before they even say a word, these emotions are bubbling up near the surface…and as soon as they say something that annoys us, we just feel all that bile and angst.
But it isn’t us that is creating that, it is ‘them’…and we need to do something about ‘them’.
See how it builds up.
The same effect in the opposite way is what Jesus is describing with adultery.
No one just meets someone on a bus and then thinks, ‘All the vows I have ever taken I’ll just break now. I’ll cheat and lie and be unfaithful because I have seen this person for the first time and that’s it.’
It starts with having a good conversation. And then maybe a thought goes into the head…but we aren’t the type of person who would act on that. We are decent people.
But then the next time we meet that person we have another great conversation. And maybe that was right after we had had a row with our spouse. And why can’t our spouse be as nice as this other person. I wish I hadn’t made the mistake of marrying my spouse, I wish I had waited and married this person, she wouldn’t be arguing about something as stupid as the fridge needing replaced.
And then we think that the marriage was a terrible mistake, and why should we suffer because of that one mistake, and don’t I deserve happiness. Because I am a good person and good people deserve to be happy.
And no one is going to be hurt.
See how it builds up.
Everyone who falls off a moral cliff is surprised.
Yet how many steps did they take, each step walking closer to the cliff edge.
I was listening to a minister recently who had just reached, I think, his 40th year as a minister. And he was reflecting on how many of those, that he had studied with, had left the ministry. They had burnt out, they had been caught having affairs, they had been caught stealing church funds, they had been caught using other ministers sermons and pretending that it was their sermon.
And this minister was reflecting on how they could get themselves in that mess.
They didn’t just wake up one day and think to themselves…’I am going to deny everything I stand for, I am going to betray every word I have preached.’
Their downfall started with one step, and them ignoring where that step was taking them,
then taking another step, and pretending that step didn’t matter,
then one day they find themselves looking over a precipice and wondering how they got there…and feeling it is too late to turn back.
Here’s the thing.
Jesus says it doesn’t have to be that way.
Jesus says that we can live with integrity.
In those moments when something is up, then admit it, and do something about it.
A stupid example that I have used before.
I was once working on this really complicated cross stitch.
Then at one point I realised that I must have done something wrong because the stitch that I wanted to make I couldn’t because there was already a stitch there of another colour.
What to do?
I could take out all the stitches I had done recently until I was back to everything being right, or try to ignore it and work round the mistake.
Guess which one I did?
For three days I ignored it and worked round the mistake…then after the third day it was such a mess and I couldn’t remember which stitches were accurate and which ones I had to ignore.
I then had another choice…do I now unstitch all that stuff…or just give up on the cross stitch all together?
I was sorely tempted just to fling the whole lot in the bin.
But being stubborn I unstitched the mistakes back to where I knew everything was fine…but that took two weeks. Where as if I had done it when I first noticed the mistake it would have taken me maybe four minutes to fix the problem.
Trust me, I never made that mistake again. If I come across a wrong stitch I stop immediately and work my way back.
The sad thing is, I know too many people that when they have done the same thing, in real life, they have just given up on their life.
Here’s some quick advice.
Don’t give up. Jesus gives this advice because he knows it isn’t too late.
Jesus doesn’t say, ‘You’re all a bunch of self delusionists and your all going to hell. And you deserve it too.’
Jesus lets us see the truth. There is stuff we can do.
‘If you know there is something wrong with one of your relationships face it, deal with it, confront it, and do what you can to sort it out.’
That’s what Jesus is saying here.
If we are honest with ourselves about where we are, we know the first step to sort it out. If we see ourselves walking towards the cliff then we can stop, and with God’s love and strength, we can turn around and walk away from the cliff.
We then stop being the kind of person that is scared from life, scared because we never know what is going to happen next, scared because we can’t even trust ourselves.
And start becoming people who have integrity, the kind of people that our simple yes or no means yes or no.
The kind of people going on a journey to becoming the people they really want to be, because they start by recognising the people they really are already.
Simple people that make mistakes, but who are led by a God who loves them, who cares for them and who helps them.