Sermon: Epiphany 4 RCL B – “The Liar”

Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

The Crucible by Arthur Miller: a story of the Salem witch trials and the false accusations that flew. John Proctor, although not an innocent man, is silent until his wife, Elizabeth, is accused and arrested of being a witch. The preacher questions John about his wife and “if” she is innocent. John becomes angry, especially at the girls, Parris and Abigail, who are doing the accusing:

“If she is innocent! Why do you never wonder if Parris be innocent, or Abigail? Is the accuser always holy now? Were they born this morning as clean as God’s fingers? I’ll tell you what’s walking Salem—vengeance is walking Salem. We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!”

I came across a story about a middle school class of teens that were learning about the Salem Witch Trials, and their teacher told them they were going to play a game.

“I’m going to come around and whisper to each of you whether you’re a witch or a regular person. Your goal is to build the largest group possible that does not have a witch in it. At the end, any group found to include a witch gets a failing grade.”

The teens dove into grilling each other. One fairly large group formed, but most of the students broke into small, exclusive groups, turning away anyone they thought gave off even a hint of guilt.

“Okay,” the teacher said. “You’ve got your groups. Time to find out which ones fail. All witches, please raise your hands.”
No one raised a hand.

The kids were confused and told him he’d messed up the game.
“Did I? Was anyone in Salem an actual witch? Or did everyone just believe the lie?”

No proof… Vengeance. It was not what they knew of one another, but what they had come to believe, because if enough people believe it, then it must be true. Right?

A man with an unclean spirit entered the synagogue in Capernaum. Seeing Jesus, the unclean spirit cried out: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus wasn’t having any of that nonsense and rebuked the spirit, “Be silent, and come out of him!”

When I read that passage, I can hear the fearful squeaking of the unclean spirit’s voice when it speaks to Jesus and I hear the complete authority of Jesus’ voice when he rebukes that unclean spirit: “Be silent, and come out of him!” However, there are days when I hear the words of the unclean spirit spoken, but it is not that fearful squeaking voice. It is a voice that is full of confidence and sarcasm and vengeance. At times it speaks to me about others. Essentially it is just a variation of the message spoken in Salem. “I know that one, he’s a liar. And that one over there, look how different they are, definitely the wrong sort. Heck. Why care? They aren’t even Christian.” For my part, if I don’t rebuke that voice as Jesus did, then I’ll come to believe it and like those teens did with their classmates, I’ll turn them away.

At other times, that same voice speaks to me, but this time it is filled with condemnation: “I know who you are, ____.” Depending on the day, I can fill in that blank with any number of accusations: “I know who you are, a fraud… hypocrite… bigot… loser… racist, and on and on, and in the end, it all comes down to the cardinal accusation: “I know who you are, a sinner.” And in those words and with that tone, I start to believe it.

There is a political / propaganda tool known as the “big lie” and it has several primary components:
– The more outrageous the lie, the more weight it will carry.
– Strongly assert the lie.
– Repeat, repeat, repeat.
– Massage available data to “prove” the lie as being true.
– Reframe any vigorous denial as proof of guilt.

Does it work? “The rabid, impudent bias and persistence with which this lie was expressed took into account the emotional, always extreme, attitude of the great masses and for this reason was believed ” (Adolf Hitler) “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. (Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda) Does the big lie work? Absolutely. It worked during the Salem witch trials, the rise of the Third Reich, and so many other times in history; and the evil spirit is so very good at using it on humanity, both as a whole and individuals.

That evil spirit takes our faults and expands on them or it pulls one piece of our history and reminds us of some sinful behavior, then it elaborates on it to prove what horrible people we are and constantly places it before us; as the Psalmist says, “My sin is ever before me.” We try to convince ourselves that we are forgiven through the very blood of Christ, but our defense is twisted and restated as a sign of our continued guilt. “I know you… you are a sinner. You always have been and you always will be.” We hear those words time and time again and we begin to believe them.

Hitler and so many others knew this technique because they learned it from the greatest liar of all. Jesus said, “[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

I know that we aren’t supposed to talk about the devil. We are supposed to be too enlightened for such “boogey men”, but in my opinion, to say there is no devil is another of the big lies that we’ve all been conditioned to believe, and it is he that speaks those words in our ears: “I know who they are… I know you, you are….” To that, I say, “Don’t you believe it! For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Don’t you believe the big lies that seek to push others away who are different or rob you of your joy by convincing you that you are unworthy. Both these actions damage our souls and draw us away from God. Don’t you believe it. With Jesus beside you and within you, rebuke that evil spirit as Jesus did: “Be silent!” Be silent, for we were all created in the image of God. Be silent, for I am a child of God. Then… then say to God, “Speak, for your servant is listening” and allow God to speak the truth.

Let us pray:
Father in Heaven,
You made us Your children
and called us to walk in the Light of Christ.
Free us from darkness
and keep us in the Light of Your Truth.
The Light of Jesus has scattered
the darkness of hatred and sin.
Called to that Light,
we ask for Your guidance.
Form our lives in Your Truth,
our hearts in Your Love.
Through the Holy Eucharist,
give us the power of Your Grace
that we may walk in the Light of Jesus
and serve Him faithfully.
Amen.

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