top of page
  • Pastor A.J. Houseman

"Cloaked in Honor" by Pastor A.J. Houseman

A few years ago, I spent a year living in Jersey City, New Jersey to for my internship, as an intern pastor at a congregation there. And one of the most striking culture shocks of moving to New Jersey was how people spoke to one another.

People are direct and honest. Almost exclusively. I remember sitting in one church council meeting, and I don’t quite remember what we were talking about but two of the council members got so heated they were standing and almost yelling at one another. They said their passionate truths. Then we voted and then moved on to the next order of business and everything was back to normal.

Nothing they said was mean, nothing they said was wrong or rude. It was just bold and direct. And I remember thinking, “I mean, I was thinking those things, but you just said them out loud.” I’m from the midwest and we are famous for “Iowa Nice” or “Minnesota Nice” or just “Midwest Nice”. And in this, you don’t say direct things like this. You aren’t this honest. It’s not that you are lying all the time, it’s just that you don’t say it.

This is how I was taught to speak to others. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” You’ve heard that right? Of course, it’s this idea that if we don’t have something positive to say, then just keep it to yourself. But what always actually happens in these situations?

We talk BEHIND their backs. Because it’s not “nice” to say it to them. So somehow it’s so much nicer to say it ABOUT them?

Our journey back into Ephesians this week, invites us to ask this question and analyze or relationships, how we speak to each other, respect each other, and how we can enter into authentic relationships of love and forgiveness, full of integrity and honesty.

I am remind in this, what Martin Luther says about the 8th commandment. First of all, the 8th commandment is his absolute favorite and one that he feels is the most vastly misunderstood and underrated. The 8th commandment is “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

His explanation of this commandment is pages longer than any other. Like pages and pages and pages because of how important and crucial it is to our relationships for us to get this. 1st commandment, one paragraph. He’s like, this one is easy, you’ve got this. 8th commandment? Oh boy, here we go I’ll explain it like this:

My favorite bumper stickers in the city are the ones that say, “Baltimore, actually I like it.” There is a looming assumption out there that Baltimore is bad, gross, and dangerous and you know, reduced to some bad media publicity the city has gotten.

A few years ago I was at a retreat on the Seminary Campus in Gettysburg and someone from out of town asked me where I lived and I said Baltimore. They then proceeded to tell me about how dangerous and all about the “hoodlums” they had come into contact with in their brief experience in Baltimore. It was like the state of Gotham City before Batman arrives on the scene.

And I thought, where is the 8th commandment in this? They are just immediately making false accusations and presumptions about this city.

Then I started to have all the horrible thoughts about them. “Oh these are just ignorant white people making their ignorant white people assumptions.” And that is when I realized, crap, I’m doing the same thing!

The 8th commandment does more than just remind us to not talk bad about one another, but it’s deeper than that. Luther says that we need to reinterpret these commandments in light of the gospel.

That is, the good news of salvation and new life given to us by Jesus. This turns our faith from not just doing bad stuff, but doing positive things for our neighbors as a response to this gift from God.

So our job is not just to be not crappy, but to be our best in our relationships. And so he says, we are to view our neighbor in the best possible light. Meaning, we are not to assume the worst, but rather we are to assume the best.

By assuming the worst in them, we are breaking the 8th commandment. This is the hardest one because, I mean, some people just do bad things right? And why would we assume the best intentions of them?

I remember during this year I was in New Jersey there was the shooting in Pittsburg at the Tree of Life Synagogue. A man walked into a Jewish Synagogue and killed 11 people because of their religion.

It was tragic and it was horrifying and I thought all sorts of horrible things about this gunman. And at my church and many churches, we prayed for the synagogue that Sunday. Held the families and victims in prayer in that spot in the Prayers of the People where we say, “insert your prayers here aloud or silently.”

That Saturday night, my friend Elizabeth, who was also an intern in Seattle Washington, was writing the prayers of the people for that Sunday morning. Because this is a thing that she does, it's a very spiritual practice for her, she writes these prayers each week instead of using the prescribed ones from the BCP or Sundays and Seasons.

As she was writing a section for the recent shooting in Pittsburg and she asked me, how do I pray for him too? How do I pray for the man who killed 11 people because of their religion? How do I pray for him?

This is the challenging part of the 8th commandment. To view everyone in their best possible light rather than their worst, even those you have a very hard time seeing the light in them.

So I told her, “you could probably get away with just praying for the victims and their families, no one would even notice if you didn’t pray for him.” (You see, I’m still working on the 8th commandment too. because it is the absolute hardest).

Because that is the Christian conundrum, we can avoid sticky topics and no one would notice, but should we? To be faithful servants of the gospel. But then I said, “what do you want to pray for him?” Because deep down, I do believe that he, too, is worthy of our prayer.

Pray for him to find remorse. Pray for his soul. Pray for him to find love, peace, and guidance from God. We pray for you, O God, to lead him to the way of love rather than hate.


Luther writes in his 8th commandment explication, “Therefore God forbids you to speak evil about another, even though, to your certain knowledge, that person is guilty. Even less may you do so if you are not really sure and have it only from hearsay.” [Book of Concord, P422, #269]

Our society, especially media outlets and political parties, spend more time talking ABOUT each other rather than TO each other. This 8th commandment calls us away from these practices too. It’s not, however, about pretending that everyone is innocent or ignoring bad behaviors. It is about engaging in dialogue TO a person rather than ABOUT them.

This commandment invites us into relationship with others. I wonder what the world would look like if we spent more time in conversation with people rather than about them.

Much of our media about situations like this, and also really anything, is talking about people rather than to them? Is this the Iowa nice thing in full blown action? It’s just gossiping in small whispered groups after church anymore, it’s everywhere we look.

What if we all spoke to each other a little bit more like New Jersey? Honest, direct.

The 8th commandment is much easier to follow when we talk TO someone rather than about them.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his book Dignity in Difference, defines conversations as: “Conversation - not mere debate but the disciplined act of communicating (making my views intelligible to someone who does not share them) and listening (entering into the inner world of someone whose views are opposed to my own.)... in a debate one side wins, the other loses, but both are the same as they were before. In a conversation neither side loses and both are changed, because they now know what reality looks like from a different perspective.” [Sacks, P. 83]

The distinct lack of genuine conversation with those that share different views is, I believe, why we have landed in our current social and political state. We have been unwilling to engage in conversations with those that are different. Why? Because we all struggle to apply the 8th commandment and we often assume the worst of others rather than see them in the best possible light.

And listen, I haven’t figured this out either, I’m still on this journey. But I do believe that God is calling us into mutuality, into relationships with integrity and honesty. Because Ephesians today reminds us that we are part of one another. “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (Eph 4:31-32)

Integrity is one of the most indispensable things that we have, and also one of the most valuable. And I think summed up in how we live out the 8th commandment and following the example of Christ. Integrity at this core is that we are to maintain and protect another’s integrity as our own. We are not to diminish this integrity or to assume a lack of it.

We are to engage with one another that upholds our own integrity. Luther explains this quality as, “we are to cloak our neighbor in our own honor.” Super powerful. “We are to cloak our neighbor in our own honor.”

We are to put upon them and think of them and talk about them with our own integrity on the line. We are to uphold our neighbors and see them in the best possible light. To give them the benefit of the doubt. We are to assume the best of people, not the worst.

Luther says, “There is nothing around or in us that can do greater good or greater harm in temporal or spiritual matters than the tongue, although it is the smallest and weakest member.” {Book of Concord, P. 425, #291] Our words carry power, both to build up and to tear down. This power can be used to engage one another in a way that upholds our own integrity in conversations with others where we can all be changed, also, while maintaining the other person’s integrity. This, I believe, would be the 8th commandment at it’s finest.

This principle, I believe, is what it means to be followers of Christ at it's finest. To uphold one another, to love one another, and be honest with one another no matter who our neighbor is or how we may perceive them.

Our journey into the vast love of Christ and where we fit into this big puzzle calls us to examine our relationships to one another and to share God’s gift of love with others. To celebrate and thank God for our gift of being cloaked in Jesus Christ’s honor. And to go and do likewise. Amen.


Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page