Honesty Spoken Here
I don’t know to what degree that you follow the British Royal family but if you have any inkling of their lives you likely know they have had a rough start to 2020. Within recent days, Prince Harry, who is the younger son of Prince Charles, and his wife Meghan made a remarkable decision. They announced their desire to step away from full-time service as members of the Royal Family. Now, I don’t know that anyone really knows exactly how this is going to sort itself out or exactly what it means. What does seem clear is that Harry and Meghan are not happy with the way things are right now. In some shape, form or fashion, Harry and Meghan will no longer be fully engaged in Royal life. And, they also plan to figure out a way to live on two continents by splitting their time between England and Canada.
Apparently all of this caught other members of the family by surprise and with various levels of anxiety and mixed feelings about it all. It is said that the Queen called an emergency meeting with Charles, Harry’s older brother William and with Harry himself. Some are saying that William and Harry are no longer as close as they once were as brothers. Others wonder if this was Meghan’s idea or their collective wisdom. It all sounds like a good episode of Downton Abbey to me.
Why do I begin today with the British Royal family? Simply to say what you all know – relationships and particularly family relationships are difficult. And one of the most difficult aspects of family relationships can be our attempts to deal with the truth. In this case, Harry and Meghan want to be truthful about how they feel about life in the Royal bubble. And, other members of the family are struggling with what they will do with the truth of how they themselves feel about Harry and Meghan’s decision. It is not easy. It never is. This sort of honesty is hard work.
I have never seen the classic movie from the early 1990s called A Few Good Men. But, most all of us know the films iconic line as Jack Nicholson looks at Tom Cruise and utters the famous statement “you can’t handle the truth”.
Most of us struggle with how best to handle the truths of our lives too. The story of Joseph, his father Jacob and his siblings is so informative at this point for it offers us a glimpse into many of the different, imperfect ways we try to handle the truth and how each of these ways is ultimately counterproductive to the lives that God desires for us to live. Let me use this text to remind us of some of these ways.
First, the story reminds us that at times we try to handle the truth with flat out deceit. Of course, this is where the first chapter of the Jospeh story ends. Joseph’s brothers have had enough of him. At first they think about killing him but ultimately they decide not to go that far. Instead, they conclude that the best thing is to sell Joseph into slavery thereby preserving his life and making a few dollars for themselves as well.
Yet, when they go home. They tell their father that tragedy has struck. They concoct a story in which Joseph is mauled by a wild animal and show their father Jacob their brother’s famous coat now bloodied and torn as proof. But it isn’t the truth. They trade truth for a lie and I suspect they do so having rationalized that this is the best thing. After all, if they tell the truth, their father will never forgive them. If they tell the truth, their father will know what is really in their hearts. It is better all the way around for them to tell a lie.
We all lie easier than we think. We are all like Jospeh’s brothers. In our own way we rationalize that this is the best – for us and for others. But, we know, deep in our hearts it is not the truth.
According to a recent survey, Americans lie 1.65 times a day. According to Redbook Magazine, some of the most common are “I’ll do it later”; “let’s catch up soon”; “that sounds familiar” and “I am too busy to do that”. Now all of those sound relatively harmless. And, by and large, they are. Yet, they are also symptomatic of an idea that we all buy into at times and that can cost us dearly over a lifetime that suggests that sometimes the best thing to say is something other than the truth. (From How Often Do People Lie in Their Daily Lives, Psychology Today, Nov 30, 2011 and 15 Lies Everyone Has Told No Matter What, Redbook, April 17, 2019)
Second, the Joseph story reminds us that we also have a tendency to handle the truth by avoiding the truth. This is a huge part of the Joseph story and in actuality a bigger aspect than we might think on first reading. This is an issue for both Jacob and the older brothers. The family issues of favoritism, deceit and other unhealthy characteristics plague Jacob’s family for generations. Yet, but and large, as best we can tell, Jacob, the patriarch of the family, never chooses to deal with these issues head on. They are simply avoided and swept under the rug. The brothers replicate this behavior. Genesis 37 tells us that they are in a very bad place as it relates to their true feelings about their brother. Yet, rather than sit down with Jospeh and their father and be honest, the brothers collectively suppress how they feel. They internalize their hurt and frustration. Ultimately when it all comes out as they take the desperate action of selling their brother and staging his death a horrific mess is created that leads to a hurt that will plague all of them for much of their lives.
This is a huge issue for most all people, both non-believer and believers, alike. We choose to keep the peace, to ignore hard conversations and to avoid putting ourselves in situations that we know are only going to cause hurt feelings. We avoid the truth and we suppress the truth. I do it just like you and we do it often. Of course, there is some level of wisdom here. We always want to speak only after we have thought it through and none of us really want to create hard situations for ourselves when we don’t have to do so. Having said this, if the answer to all of the hard truths of our lives is always to either avoid them or to suppress them we will ultimately find ourselves in even worse places. This really is the lesson of the Joseph story. Yes, an honest conversation about Jacob’s uneven treatment of his boys or with Joseph about how annoying he had become would not have been easy or fun. But by avoiding it and suppressing it a hard conversation became a horrific moment.
We have been dealing with some cell phone issues in our house. With the coming of the new year, we wanted to make some changes to our billing and to trade out one of our phones for a new one. Not all, but some of these needed changes have been a long time coming which is to say they should have been dealt with long ago. But, talking to representatives for our provider over the phone or in person has always tested my Christianity and in truth has often been an incredibly frustrating process most times. In my mind, that was the likely outcome we would face this time too. Truth be told, when I finally did go to our store up in the Greenville area, those who helped me could not have been nicer. Yet, what I had done for months was avoid it while having ongoing issues with my phone for fear of what would likely happen. This is what we do. We avoid the temporary pain and settle for ongoing issues. We do this with going to the doctor, with taking care of financial needs, we do it with needed spiritual changes and we do it with the truth. Yet, however we slice it, is usually is not the best thing. To avoid or suppress usually take a hard moment and turns it into an even harder ongoing challenge.
Finally, a perhaps most surprisingly, the Joseph story in chapter 37 teaches us that we often mishandle the truth by how we tell the truth. This is where Joseph comes into the story. As we said last week, Jacob was to blame and the older brothers were to blame for what happened but certainly Joseph was equally to blame. Everything Joseph says in this chapter about the place of power he will one day possess was true. He speaks the truth. But, it is how he tells the truth that is so inappropriate.
Here is a critical point for us as people of faith. How we tell the truth is equally as important as telling the truth. I want to say that again. How we tell the truth is equally as important as our telling the truth.
Remember the words of Ephesians 4:15. Speak the truth in love. Yes, we are to tell the truth. But, we must do it in the most loving way. Yes, we are to be truth tellers. But we are to do so with gentleness, kindness and humility. This is not always our strongest suit as either people or as believers.
I heard a person share recently about growing up as a troubled young adult with lots of issues. He said that by and large the family he married into knew of his problems and wanted him to know that they knew. He admitted that he hated to go to family gatherings because of how they wanted to confront him with the truth of his life. Yet, he said there was one family member who made all of the difference. This family member chose to be honest in a loving way. Ultimately the man said that he changed, made an about face and became a better person. He contributed a lot of his maturity to this family member who had the rare ability to treat him honestly and lovingly at the same time.
Here is the point I don’t want us to miss. This is how God treats us. God tells us the truth. God doesn’t avoid the truth. God doesn’t suppress the truth. God tells us the truth. Yet, God’s truth telling, as challenging as it can be, is always offered in and with love. And, of course, in Jesus, we see the ultimate example of this. This is the whole point of John 3:16 the most famous verse in all of the gospels. Why does God send His son as the truth of the world? He does so out of love and because of his love. Jesus does not come to beat us up, not to get in our face, not to tell us how bad we are but to offer us truth told in love.
Can we handle this truth of God? And, can we handle truth as we offer it to others in the same way? I believe we can. Amen.