“There is an old story going around the church about a Sunday school teacher, teaching on the Ten Commandments, who asked the class what the ninth commandment was. One little boy said ‘A lie is an abomination unto the Lord and a very present help in times of trouble,’ ” said the Rev. M. Craig Barnes at the 9:15 a.m. morning worship service Thursday.
Barnes continued his series on the Ten Commandments as signposts from God to freedom. His sermon title was “Pursuing Truth” and the Scripture text was Exodus 20:16-17. The commandments for the day were “Thou shalt not bear false witness” and “Thou shalt not covet.”
Barnes said that God is not a fan of lying. He reminded the congregation that the first tablet of the Ten Commandments has to do with the relationship human beings have with God, and “the second tablet is our relationships with each other.”
There are three ways, out of many, that people can bear false witness against a neighbor, said Barnes.
“The first is to listen to gossip. There is nothing more poisonous,” he said. “As a pastor, people would come into my office and say ‘I am concerned…’ or ‘I have heard…’ You are all smart people; there are only smart people at Chautauqua. You think you can take this in and evaluate it and decide it is right or wrong. That is like taking a virus into your computer and deciding whether you want to keep it or not. You can’t get rid of it. You might decide that it is 90 percent false, but by thinking it is 10 percent true, you have diminished the reputation of that person. You are playing God and you are not that person’s God.
“False witness bothered God so much that it made it into the Top 10,” he added.
The second way people bear false witness, Barnes said, is to participate in the cultural mythology that children should not be allowed to fail.
“It is the job of the parent to ensure that the child does not fail,” he said. “We bear false witness against our children, for it is human to fail. Of course we make mistakes. When we make them at Princeton, we say a sanctified ‘oops’ and go on to Plan B.”
As an example, Barnes talked about his son’s year in Little League baseball. His son’s team got to the championship game. They were down one run at the bottom of the ninth inning, runners on second and third and his son was at bat. The count against his son was 3 and 2.
“This is the stuff that movies are made of. He swung and missed and they lost the championship. The coach went to his car and got out a box of trophies to give to the team that said ‘You are a winner.’ On the way home in the car, my son looked at the trophy and said, ‘This is a lie.’ I was never more proud of him; he needed to deal with the loss.”
Barnes continued: “Much faith is learned on the hard work of transformation when you deal with a loss.”
The third way humans bear false witness is to “go against God. God is God of all or God is not God,” he said. Churches bear false witness against God when they try to set boundaries that exclude other people, when they say you can’t have access to our god.
“As I said [on Wednesday], if the center holds it holds for all, and God is God of all.”
To covet, in the 10th commandment, means “to go shopping for a life in your neighbor’s house.” Barnes told the congregation that “we are always measuring ourselves against other people. We don’t like it when everyone gets As or everything is graded pass-fail. But grace means that all pass.”
People look at their neighbors and see something they don’t have and want or think they should have.
“I don’t often quote Ann Landers, but she said that, when she was 20, she worried about what people thought of her; when she was 40, she decided that she did not care; and when she was 60, she realized that people were never thinking about her. Why waste your life measuring it against a neighbor?” Barnes said.
Another way to covet is to try to hold on to things you cannot keep and were never yours in the first place.
“Life is a drama between you and your life’s creator.” the pastor said. “When we try to hold on to our children, spouse or parents, we are trying to hold on what belongs to God. All of our relationships are on loan from God and we have to be good stewards of them.”
Barnes shared a story of doing pre-marital counseling with a couple. He thought it had gone well and was looking forward to the last session where they would plan the wedding ceremony. The groom came in and said he was really nervous about getting married because he was terrified of losing his wife. His mother had died when he was a teenager and he did not want to go through the pain of losing someone he loved again.
“I know he wanted reassurance — you are young, you have a long time together — but I had buried too many young brides to say that,” Barnes said. “I said, ‘In my experience, 100 percent of marriages come to an end — some tragically in divorce or death, but they all end.’
“Obviously he was not following me,” he continued. “I said, ‘What if you had 60 years of the most spectacular marriage ever? Even after this, one of you will have to place the other in the arms of God at a funeral. It will tear your heart out. You don’t realize how wrenching it will be. So why go through it. Give her up now, get the loss over with now.’ ”
Barnes continued, “She was never yours and never will be. Why wake up anxious? Place her back in her Creator’s hands and wake up every morning and say ‘Wow! You are still here’ and be grateful. The journey of faith is lived with open hands. Things can only be placed in our hands or taken out if they are open.”
Barnes clenched his fists and said, “Does this look like the position of faith? The Creator only places things in our hands if they are open.”
The Rev. William N. Jackson presided. Rosalinda Guadarrama, a United Methodist deaconess, read the scripture. Willie La Favor, piano, and Debbie Grohman, clarinet, played “The Water is Wide” and “Down by the Riverside” for the morning prelude. The Motet Choir sang “Blessing” with music by David Conte and text by John Stirling Walker. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, directed the choir. The Mr. and Mrs. William Uhler Follansbee Memorial Chaplaincy supports this week’s services.