We can lie to ourselves and each other, but not to God. As hard as we try, and no matter how much we may convince ourselves of success, we cannot lie to God. I just read something from nbsnews.com – Ministers interrupt Sessions, are removed from religious freedom conference. I wish I could say I was shocked by it. Unfortunately, this kind of thing is happening all too often. And judging by the reaction of the first comment to it, people actually go for this stuff. I’d include the comment, but I’d have to bleep it.
Maybe part of the problem is that, unlike the Bible in the image to the right, we actually need to open the Bible and read it. Then, we need to actually try to understand what it says.
And whatever we do – don’t go to some politician to find out what it means! For more on the thought of who we shouldn’t look to for Biblical guidance, I invite you to read “Can I trust what I think I know?“.
But for now, let’s look at what happened.
The nbc.com article starts off with this:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ speech at a religious freedom conference on Monday was interrupted by two pastors who were summarily removed from the premises as Sessions described the remarks as an “attack.”
Now, at first glance, some may see the word “attack” and be upset by that. But remember, this is Jeff Sessions allegedly being “attacked” by two pastors. Certainly, that should at least be worth further investigation to see what this supposed “attack” was all about. Surely, it was a horrible “attack” if they were removed from a freedom of religion conference. They must have said something blasphemous for that to happen, no?
Well, read on.
Sessions was defending the Trump administration’s campaign against what it calls discriminatory religious laws during a conference on the future of religious liberty organized by the Boston Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society, a nonprofit conservative legal group.
Uh Oh. A group trying to define the future of religious liberty. Organized by a bunch of lawyers. Apologies to any truly Christian lawyers who may be reading this, but that description doesn’t sound good.
The statements below are directed at the Pharisees and the teachers of the law – by Jesus. Those were people who actually had the duty to teach the law. The law given by God. Now, we have politicians (and others) who have no duty to teach God’s law – but they are actually trying to redefine God’s law. How much more harsh would Jesus’ words be to them? To the ones who twist God’s law to make it do exactly the opposite of what it’s supposed to do.
Furthermore, in Sessions case, he’s somewhere in between:
Sessions’ aggressive pursuit of some parts of Trump’s agenda has created discord within the United Methodist Church, of which Sessions is a member and for which he has long taught Sunday school classes.
So, while Jeff Sessions isn’t a “teacher of the law”, since that’s a reference to the Jewish law – he is a teacher of Christianity.
As you read this passage, think about the three key thoughts from the title.
We can lie to ourselves.
And we can lie to each other.
But we cannot lie to God.
Mt 23:13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
The liar who does not repent will not enter the kingdom of Heaven. And those who believe the lie will not enter either. We’ll have to see what Sessions alleged lie is.
Mt 23:15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.
If what Sessions said really is against the teachings of Jesus, and he’s in the position of lying about it, hypocrite may very well be the right word.
Mt 23:16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.
In the case of the Jewish people, the temple was a literal building. For Christians, the temple is Jesus. And even our own selves.
Mt 23:23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
Read on to see if what Sessions goes against what Jesus said about justice, mercy or faithfulness. Is he really a blind guide? And if so, what blinded him?
Mt 23:25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
Cleaning the outside of the cup was a reference to looking good to others. Cleaning the inside of the cup then would be actually being good, especially to the ones Jesus told us to take care of – like the widows, orphans and poor people.
Mt 23:27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
To make sure the previous point wasn’t lost, Jesus has another image of the same problem. Clearly, saying and doing the right things are important. We need to both talk the talk and walk the walk.
Mt 23:29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!
OK – so the prophets may not apply so much, since we’re talking Christianity and not the Jewish laws. And yet, the same issues arise as to whether or not we claim to be Christian – versus the reality of how we act.
Mt 23:33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if these two pastors were sent by God to say what they did? And how bad is it that, whether God-sent or not, Sessions heard their words and called them an attack. And then had them removed from a meeting about religious liberty?
Mt 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’’”
your house is left to you desolate. And yet, it’s not just Sessions’ house. For those of us that live in this country, it’s our house too. For those who live in another country – the same statement applies. The player won’t be Jeff Sessions. The country won’t be the USA. But is it really any different where you live?
We can lie to ourselves and each other, but not to God
So, what was this horrible verbal attack that was made on Jeff Sessions?
The first “attack”
Shortly into his remarks, the Rev. Will Green, pastor of Ballard Vale United Church, a joint United Methodist/Church of Christ congregation in Andover, stood up and began addressing the attorney general.
“Brother Jeff, as a fellow United Methodist, I call upon you to repent, to care for those in need,” Green said.
Green then recited Matthew 25:42-43, which begins: “For I was hungry, and you did not feed me. I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me.”
Oh yes. That was just terrible! Unconscionable! How dare a pastor call out someone of the same faith for not following that faith!
Not!! I know we live in a world where there’s no such thing as accountability for one’s own self. Rules only apply to other people. Especially when we’re talking someone who makes the rules. But seriously. Sessions, who teaches Sunday school, throws out a pastor who quotes from the same Bible that Sessions teaches?
But there’s more. Here’s what Sessions said to this pastor:
Sessions replied, “Well, thank you for those remarks and attack, but I would just tell you we do our best every day.”
This is a lie. Well, maybe. He doesn’t actually say what they are doing their best at. But the inference is clear – that he does his best every day at not being the person to whom Jesus says, “For I was hungry, and you did not feed me. I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me.”
We can lie to ourselves – Jeff Sessions, his own words and actions
And yet, here is an excerpt from a speech he made in may, 2018.
I have put in place a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal entry on our Southwest border. If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple.
If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you.
If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.
If you make false statements to an immigration officer or file a fraudulent asylum claim, that’s a felony.
If you help others to do so, that’s a felony, too. You’re going to jail.
So if you’re going to come to this country, come here legally. Don’t come here illegally.
In order to carry out these important new enforcement policies, I have sent 35 prosecutors to the Southwest and moved 18 immigration judges to the border. These are supervisory judges that don’t have existing caseloads and will be able to function full time on moving these cases. That will be about a 50 percent increase in the number of immigration judges who will be handling the asylum claims.
These actions are necessary. And they are made even more necessary by the massive increases in illegal crossings in recent months. This February saw 55 percent more border apprehensions than last February. This March saw triple the number from last March. April saw triple the number last April.
The trends are clear: this must end.
Eleven million people are already here illegally. That’s more than the population of Portugal or the state of Georgia.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that those 11 million have 4.5 million children who are American citizens. Combined, that group would be our fifth-most populous state.
This situation has been many years in the making.
For decades, the American people have been pleading with our elected representatives for a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest—a system we can be proud of.
Notice, it starts with “zero tolerance”. It ends with “a system we can be proud of”. In the middle, families with little children are separated. People who come here for safety are returned to a home where they will be at severe risk, including death. And to put an end to it, “we” – the US government – are going to cut aid to those countries, undoubtedly making their situation even worse.
How does that line up with “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
If you don’t recognize it, the quote is from the statue of liberty. The statue that many of our own ancestors passed on their way into this country. I know mine did. I’m surprised France doesn’t want the statue back.
How does that compare with “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” If you don’t recognize it, that last quote is from Jesus. It’s in a section of Matthew’s Gospel the NIV titles Rest for the Weary.
On the zero tolerance topic, how about this quote? “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” That one is also from Jesus. It’s part of The Lord’s Prayer.
The second “attack”
Here’s what happened as that pastor was removed from the room.
“That is a person that represents the Christian tradition, the faith that everyone here professes to believe in, actually sharing the words of Jesus himself, the words of Jesus that are represented in the book of Isaiah,” Hamilton said.
Security then began escorting Hamilton out as some in the audience booed and heckled him.
“I thought we were here to protect religious liberty, sir. I thought we were here to protect religious liberty,” he said.
“I am a pastor of a Baptist church, and you are escorting me out for exercising my religious freedom,” Hamilton said, adding: “That is very hypocritical for this group of people to be wanting to be protecting religious freedom while you are escorting me out for doing that work.”
So, as this second pastor stands up to defend the first, he is also removed. Incredible. Two pastors, removed from a conference on religious liberty, because one of them quoted the Bible and the other had enough courage to support the first.
Given that this conference was about the future of religious liberty, I have to ask a question. Why was it only two of them who had the courage to stand up and say something?
In 1 Corinthians, in a series of requests from Paul to the church in Corinth, Paul writes this:
1Co 16:13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. 14 Do everything in love.
That wasn’t just some nice words for someone in the early church. Those are words of encouragement for any Christian who is in a position of being attacked for the faith. Why then, did only two pastors have the courage to stand firm in the faith? It’s so sad.
We can lie to others
As we saw in that last section, we can successfully lie to others.
Security then began escorting Hamilton out as some in the audience booed and heckled him.
Two pastors had the courage of their faith to stand up and speak against what was being said. Others stood up, but to heckle and boo the pastor who was being taken out of the room. Clearly, they believed the lie.
After the second pastor was removed, Sessions continued:
Sessions resumed his prepared remarks, after saying, “Thank you all for your comments, and we’re glad to hear them, but that’s pretty close to what we refer to as the heckler’s veto — the ability of one individual to prevent others in a proper forum to be able to express a hopefully coherent thought about a serious subject.”
He essentially said his words were important, but the quote from the Bible that put the lie to his words was not important. Not serious. At a conference on the future of religious liberty. And only two pastors stood up.
It reminds me of this, after Jesus healed ten men.
Ten Healed of Leprosy
Lk 17:11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
Lk 17:14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
Lk 17:15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
Lk 17:17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Yes, ten were healed of their physical ailment. And yet, only one had their soul saved. I can’t help but wonder something. I’m sure pretty much everyone at a conference on the future of religious liberty considers themselves saved. Especially the speakers. Including Jeff Sessions. But really, is it possible, likely even, that only two were saved?
Only two pastors spoke up. There’s no indication that anyone else said or did anything, including walking out, to indicate their displeasure at what was being said. Or what was done to the two pastors.
The reality of what took place is sad. But even more so, the possibility that only two of a large conference of people interested in the future of religious liberty might be saved is very, very sad.
but we cannot lie to God
In Psalm 139, David made a request to God. It’s a request that wasn’t really necessary. It’s something God does anyway. To all of us. But it’s very telling that David actually asked God to do this. I wonder – does Jeff Sessions have the nerve to make the same request?
Ps 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Ps 139:24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
You see, it doesn’t matter what we tell ourselves. And it doesn’t matter the lies we tell to others. God knows what’s in our hearts. We cannot lie to God.
When we say one thing to one group of people and something entirely different to someone else, God knows which one is “real”. Which one reflects our hearts. We cannot lie to God.
We can lie to ourselves. We can lie to others. We can get others to believe our lies. And we can take them down with us.
Conclusion – We can lie to ourselves and each other, but not to God
This all sounds bad. It’s all so sad. But there is hope. We read it earlier.
“Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.”
Part of Jeff Sessions’ sin is the lying. Bringing other people with him in his lies. Bringing other to believe that what they’re doing really is in line with the quote from Jesus. The one from the first pastor.
Here’s the full context, in case you don’t remember it. I include it to show just how important that one little quote is:
The Sheep and the Goats
Mt 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Mt 25:34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Mt 25:37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
Mt 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Mt 25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
Mt 25:44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
Mt 25:45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Mt 25:46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Yes, that pastor was trying to get Jeff Sessions to be a sheep instead of a goat. And by goat, I don’t mean Greatest Of All Time. It was a question of salvation – or not.
There’s still hope for Sessions. He could renounce his words and his actions at any time. We can only pray that it will happen. For the benefit of all those he’s affecting. But also for himself. Even if we don’t want to do that – Jesus tells us we should. That we must.
The harder one will be salvation for all those who go down the path on which Sessions is leading them. The ones who really have convinced themselves that Jesus would, for example, be proud of the immigration policy that Sessions is putting forth and enforcing. Even if Sessions repents and changes his ways – how will those who are booing the pastors as they are removed from that conference be reached? Who exactly is going to do that?
We maybe don’t want to. And yet, again, Jesus tells us that we should. That we must.
So in the end, to bring this to a close, we Christians should, and must, pray for the people being affected by this policy, for the ones enforcing it, for the ones who are proud of it. Up to and including Jeff Sessions. Oh yeah – one other person too. Donald Trump. The president with a foreign-born wife who is instigating hatred of foreigners in this country. Pray for him as well.