A People of Truth
"Where do I go to get my name back?" That's what he said. You may remember Richard Jewell. That's what he said. They even made a movie about him. Richard was the man who made the first call into the police about the suspicious package in Atlanta during the Olympics, a package that blew up. Not long after, FBI sources privately shared with the media that Richard Jewell was actually a suspect. The media didn't need any more than that. Within days, they had him all but convicted. Never mind that Richard Jewell was the hero of this case, the one who saved hundreds of lives. And yet his life was ruined, dragged through the mud, through rumors and innuendo and gossip. So when NBC settled with him on a defamation lawsuit for $500,000, Richard replied that it would be nice to be vindicated. But more importantly, he asked, "Now, where do I go to get my name back?" It's a good question. After your name is dragged through the mud, after your reputation is ruined, after hearing the whispers and feeling the stares, where do you go to get your name back? Whoever said sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me didn't know much about gossip, did they? That person never looked into the eyes of a teenage girl whose name has been tossed around text messages and social media by boys trying to impress their friends. They've never heard her ask, "Why do boys do these things?" They've never gazed into the sad faces of a family whose son has died in a tragic car wreck and heard the unfounded rumors, never heard them ask, "What causes people to feed on these half truths and spread them with such ferocity?" Truth matters because anything less than the truth eventually leads to pain for someone. The people of Israel love to murmur, and they love to complain, especially about Moses. They even complained about God. And all kinds of people love to gossip and murmur against Jesus just like in today's gospel. The truth is a powerful thing. In fact, our whole society depends on it. Every relationship you have, business, marriage, friendship depends on truthfulness, doesn't it? And when we don't tell the truth about other people, when we gossip, stick our noses into areas where they don't belong because of a desire to be in the know, when we slander, intentionally set out to hurt somebody with our words, bad things happen, marriages crumble, deals fall apart, relationships sour, friendships end, and sometimes lives are destroyed.The tongue is a dangerous weapon. It's a powerful tool, and there are no tongue control laws. Tongue is remarkable. It can destroy thousands of lives without shedding an ounce of blood. Most of us don't think of ourselves as murderers, do we? But we murder people's reputations when we gossip or when we stand by and let somebody else assassinate a person's character. Gossip can never be undone. Some people will never look the same way at that person again. It's evil. Gossip is the invisible sin. And tragically now, gossip is just another name for conversation. Social media has made murmuring normal. In fact, it's made it accepted, encouraged, and not even noticed. In fact, a lot of people have gotten rich off gossip. But you and I are called to be the people of truth. Honesty is not the best policy. Honesty is a way of life. People of God deal honestly with other people. We live the truth. We shouldn't look like the world. A University of Virginia study found that Americans typically lie to about 30% of the people we meet. We lie for our own gain. We lie to impress people. We lie to make ourselves look better. "Yes, I am a marine biologist." We like to make other people look better. "That dress makes you look so skinny." And a Cornell study found that we lie to people most often when we're on the phone and face to face, and least often via email and text, where there's a written record of what we actually say. But you and I are called to be different. Words have power. Words have the power to heal, to give hope, to encourage. So here's three simple questions to ask yourself before you speak. Number one, is this true? Take this seriously before you say something. Ask yourself is it true. If you don't know that what you say is true, stop. How much grief could have been saved in Richard Jewell's life if someone had merely asked themselves the question, "Do I know that this is true?" Second, is this necessary? Sometimes there's no denying the facts, but it's just not helpful to broadcast them or to have other people take pleasure in the shame of somebody else. There are times to remain silent, and the best way to prevent gossip is to ask yourself is it really necessary to say this? Does this person really need to know? And if the answer is no, stop. Third, is this charitable? Slander means to intentionally use words to hurt someone. And slander is easily prevented by this question. Will these words bring hope or healing? Teenage friend of mine recently began working as an intern in a large office. And there are lots of employees. And I asked him how things were coming. He said it's fun. But he noticed as he walks down the halls how often folks would be in little groups whispering. And when he walks by, they stop quickly when they see him. It's clear that what was being said wasn't charitable. You could tell by the looks on the faces and by the body language. If it's not charitable, if the words can't bring hope or healing, stop. You and I are called to stand for the truth. We're called to stand out for the truth, to speak the truth, to use words to help, not to hurt. We are called to be a people of truth.