FIRST LESSON John 14:15-21
SECOND LESSON I Peter 3:13-22
SERMON: “What You See Is What You Get”
A rancher asked a veterinarian for some free advice. “I have a horse,” he said, “that walks normally sometimes and limps sometimes. What shall I do?”
The veterinarian replied, “The next time he walks normally, sell him.”1
I got up early yesterday morning to make sure I had plenty of time to
get ready for Arlene Vander Hoff’s service. I usually watch a bit of television while I have my morning coffee, and the TV was still tuned to the Hallmark channel from whatever I had been watching the night before. “I Love Lucy” was on. In the episode that was airing, Ricky, Fred and Ethel all make a bet that Lucy cannot go 24 hours without telling a fib or a lie. She takes the bet, but is quickly in difficulty as Ethel reminds her that they are playing bridge that afternoon “with the girls.” Lucy knows what a challenge it will be to be 100% honest in that setting and starts to call Caroline to tell her she is sick and can’t come, but of course . . . that would be a lie and she would lose the bet. I didn’t watch the whole episode yesterday morning – I’ve seen it before. It gets quite funny when Lucy begins telling the absolute truth to her friends.
The Daily Bread devotional reported quite a few years ago that a USA Today poll found that only 56% of Americans teach honesty to their children. And a Louis Harris poll turned up the distressing fact that 65% of high school students would cheat on an important exam. A noted physician appeared on a network news-and-talk show and proclaimed, “Lying is an important part of social life, and children who are unable to do it are children who may have developmental problems.”
I hear news commentators talking often about how we need transparency in government – from individuals to agencies. Sometimes it seems that it’s not so much that people form conspiracies to lie to the people as that apparently it just comes naturally – a sort of default response to all kinds of situations. Remember the endless Watergate hearings? Iran-Contra? Whitewater? Weapons of mass destruction? It’s been going on since the beginning of time . . .
Eve, the serpent and a piece of fruit
Cain and Abel
Abraham and Sarah told King Abimelech when they were living in
the region of the Negev that they were brother and sister so that the king wouldn’t kill Abraham to make Sarah “available.”
Jacob tricking Esau out of his birthright and Jacob and his mother tricking Isaac for the blessing.
David and Bathsheba
In today’s passage from I Peter, he is writing to Christians in Asia Minor who are undergoing a great period of distress and persecution for their faith. They’re suffering in a world where the hidden agendas and filthy tactics of their opponents are life-threatening. Peter encourages and instructs them: 13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.
Much of the world we live in would consider that advice somewhere between naïve and downright foolish. Still Peter coaches them:
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”
In a “damned if you do / damned if you don’t” world – it is better to go down for doing good.
If your actions are always about doing the good and right thing, the thing that leaves you with , a clear conscience, you can afford to be transparent in you dealings and relationships. Ultimately it is easier to be a “what you see is what you get” kind of person. You don’t have to keep track of what you have said or done that you don’t want revealed. You may pay some consequences on occasion for mistakes made, but Peter tells us, it is better to go down for doing good than for doing evil.
The ketchup bottle teaches us something about transparency and suffering.
For more than 200 years, ketchup was a disgusting, toxic mix until Henry J. Heinz made a pure variety that he sold in clear glass bottles, showing the public exactly what was inside. That transparency made Heinz an iconic brand.
Before H.J. Heinz started making ketchup and putting it in the iconic glass bottles that adorned our tables, putting ketchup on anything was the equivalent of pouring toxic waste on it. Eating ketchup could be dangerous. Ketchup in 1866 was, according to cookbook author Pierre Blot, “Filthy, decomposed and putrid.” A short tomato growing season, coupled with carelessness, lack of clean storage, generally unsanitary conditions and the addition of highly flammable coal tar to the mix to enhance the red color, all combined to make ketchup a potentially lethal concoction. In an 1896 study, 90 percent of commercial ketchups were found to contain “injurious ingredients that could lead to death.”
Heinz, however, was a morally strong man who believed that “heart power is better than horsepower,” and worked hard at developing a safe environment and process for ketchup to be produced in a way that was pure, enjoyable and transparent. His factory was spotless. His workers were encouraged to be meticulous about cleanliness, and Heinz rewarded them with fresh uniforms, free laundry, free life insurance and health care, athletic facilities, a swimming pool and even an in-house manicurist to make sure that every worker’s nails were immaculate.
The result was a perfect environment for making a ketchup that would not only not kill you, it was so good that it became a staple on American dinner tables for the next two centuries!
That same kind of transparency can make Christians more palatable, too.
There are some rather toxic forms of “Christianity” out there including the prosperity gospel that tells you that God wants you to be rich and that if you just believe hard enough your life will become wonderful and problems will all go away. There are the people like the ones who told me 30 years ago that because I had left the Baptists of my childhood church and become a Presbyterian I was doomed to hell. (I have no core belief arguments with the Baptists.)
Peter advises these Christians Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16
The constitution of our church tells us that one of our primary tasks is “the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God.” That’s why we have Bible studies and Sunday school and expository preaching in worship – so that we will be able to give an answer, so that we will be able to articulate our faith -- not to shove it down other people’s throats, not to say that we have all the answers or to spit them out by rote memory, but by study and meditation and thoughtful reflection to be able to say clearly what we as Christians believe.
Peter calls us to transparency, to be “what you see is what you get,” honest followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Dr. Madison Sarratt taught mathematics at Vanderbilt University for many years. It is said that before giving a test, the professor would admonish his class something like this: “Today I am giving two examinations: one in trigonometry and the other in honesty. I hope you will pass them both. If you must fail one, fail trigonometry. There are many good people in the world who can’t pass trig, but there are no good people in the world who cannot pass the examination of honesty.”2
1Al Schock, Jokes for All Occasions