A Sermon based upon Exodus 20:17; Mark 7:9-13; Luke 12:51-53; 14: 26-27
By Rev. Charles J. Tomlin, D.Min.
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
14th Sunday After Pentecost, August, 21th 2016
If you don't care for your parents, you probably won't care about anybody. But if you do care for your parents, you’ll have the potential to care about anybody. Let me explain.
When I went off to college, I went to a different college than where my Father wanted. But Being a good father, he supported me anyway. But as my Father had feared, I brought home some of those new ideas.
Dad had warned me about those new ideas, and that if I learned too much too fast, I might not be a good a preacher. But I honestly felt like some of the things I was learning were good and valuable lessons for life. I wanted my Dad to know the good stuff I was learning. He had enabled me to go off to school and now I wanted to share with him so he could learn them to. Needless to say, it didn’t work out so well. My Dad never understood how some of those ideas could be good.
My Dad was a very good, intelligent man who had little chances for higher education. He taught a Sunday School class as large as the attendance in my first church. Dad knew every phone number of every members and kept them all in his head. In his grocery business he figured small orders without a calculator and then he was able to add the tax in his head as well. Dad had practically memorized the important parts of the Bible as well. All I had to do was ask him where a parable or story was and he knew it chapter and verse. His Bible knowledge passed on to me gave me an edge when I studied the Bible at college level.
Yet, when my interpretations began to clash with his, I soon realized that I was not going to change his views. If we were going to remain father and son, with positive relationship, I had to give up trying to change him.
That was the day I became a true adult. I understood that I could be my own person, but I also could allow Dad to remain who he was as well. So, I choose to discuss the things that united us and did not dwell on the things that divided us. This was the moment I understood more fully what it means to honor your Father and Mother. I was become my own person, and no longer had to obey my parents, but I was also learning to how to honor, respect and care for them as an adult child, in spite of our differences.
HONORING IS NOT EASY
Some Jewish Rabbis say this sixth commandment is one of the most challenging commandments of all. We live in culture that has been dominated with the thought of Sigmund Freud, who through his psychological concepts has encouraged the mental killing of the oedipal Father which ultimately resulted in announcing the death of God into modern society. Freud taught us to hate the ones who produced us so that through therapy we can become gods unto ourselves To put this in plain language, the world’s voice says live to
toot your own horn over everyone else’s, including your parents. Since you know more than they do, go out there and knock’em dead and make a name for yourself.
To HONOR and respect YOUR PARENTS SUGGESTS THAT YOUR LIFE IS NOT YOUR OWN and that you have been ‘bought with a price’. I realize this is ‘slave language’ but it’s also a graphic reminder that we are finite, limited human beings who will never absolutely be ‘our own person’ because we are always in debt to those to whom we owe our life and being. If you can understand what I'm saying now, you owe them, even if they weren't perfect, and even if they had serious failures. If you are alive today, you at least owe your parents honor and respect.
But Honoring parents can be A BIG CHALLENGE FOR SOME. All Parents have flaws. They all will sometime fail. You, nor I, came with a set of instructions. There is no book that tells us how to be perfect at parenting. Someone has said that the only way that Jesus could have been our perfect Savior is not to become a parent. Since parenting is an inexact science, all parents make mistakes. We make mistakes in how we instruct and discipline our children. Parents make blunders. Others fail in their marriages. All of them have some kinds of flaws, like we all do. I’ll never forget the day they let our RA’s out early and I caught my mother smoking. That may not sound like a big deal to you, but it was a big deal to me. I got angry. I stormed out of the house. I told her how wrong it was. My honor and respect for her was lost in that moment. Of course, later I learned that things were different that I first perceived. My mother tried not to smoke around me and she was hiding her addictive habit for my own good. She was trying to help me, not hurt me. But in those days that was hard for me to understand.
While we can understand the mistakes parents make, because we are all human, some parents more difficult to understand or honor because they stop trying to parent. Either because they want their children to like them or because they are too busy, it has been asserted that parenting is on the decline in our culture. According to a recent survey in the Wall Street Journal, the average American parent spends less than 15 minutes in serious discussion with their children. For Father’s, the average is 17 seconds per day. Years ago parents needed no family time because the culture was agricultural, everyone lived at home, all worked together and the children learned most everything at home. Today, we live in an urban culture, even in rural areas. In it’s extreme form, children can go through a day without having any face-to-face time with parents.
Worse, some parents have abdicated moral teaching and value learning to television, schools, or to churches. Even in the best of situations a school and a church can only help to reinforce what the parent is already teaching at home. Nothing replaces the parents influence. If parents have no time to fulfill their role as parents, how will they be honored?
JESUS HAD PARENTS TOO
Because PARENTS CAN sometimes BE LESS THAN HONORABLE, this command may GET COMPLICATED. It’s certainly hard to honor a parent when, the child has so much left-over emotional pain, they have to leave out the first two words of the Lord’s prayer. They can’t say ‘Father’ or because it hurts too much. It’s also hard for an adult child who told me that the worse job she has in her life, is looking for a mother’s day card that will be respectful without telling a lie. Attendants in nursing homes can take you to room after room of aged, forgotten, parents who are rarely, if ever visited by their adult children, even though they only live minutes away. Honoring and caring for our parents can get very hard, because of their sin or our own.
I think it’s interesting that JESUS understood the human STRUGGLE to honor parents. In Luke, 12:51-53 Jesus asks: Do you think that I've come to bring peace to the earth? No, I come to bring a strife and division! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against, or the other way around. There will be division between father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. In another text a little further on, Jesus says in stronger language, If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26). Perhaps the most revealing moment of Jesus’ struggle to honor his parent came as his mother and siblings came to take him home because people were claiming Jesus to be insane., Jesus responded quite sharply: Who is my mother and brothers? My mothers and brothers are those who do the will of the Father.” (Matthew 12:48-50).
When it came to a decision between choosing what is clearly the will of God and what are the wishes of our parents, God’s will took precedence. While Jesus was talking about discipleship, and in no way was giving anyone an excuse not to honor their parents, the CLASH JESUS faced, children still face, when they are trying following and do the work and will of God.
WE ALL HAVE BELLY BUTTONS
But to completely or to disrespectfully disregard our parents or to cut oneself off at the root is something that Jesus did not do, even as he became his own person. Do you know why we must not dishonor or disrespect parents, even if we disagree with them? Here’s the issue: We all have belly buttons. There is nothing so revealing about how vulnerable, dependent and needy we humans are, than our own belly buttons. When the Ten Commandments tell us to honor Father and Mother it recognizes one great truth. We all come from somewhere. Someone gave birth to us. Someone changed our diapers, fed us, nursed us back to health, and earned a living to put food into our mouths. No human can raise themselves. We all have to be cared for by someone to get to where we are, and we all have to be cared for by someone to humanely get to where we’re going.
This sixth commandment reaffirms that LIFE IS INDEED A GIFT and that we need family to survive. We need to be cared for by our families and we need to care for them as well. Our family gave us the first images of God’s grace. Science tells us that at least half of everything you’ll ever know you learn before age 5. The first 4 months determine most of your personality. You depended on your parents for most everything that made you who you are and you will loose part of your soul when you forget that you are someone's child.
What you can't do, Jesus taught, is have a good EXCUSE to stop HONORING, RESPECTING and caring for YOUR PARENTS? In Mark 7: 9-13, we read how during Jesus’s day there were religious leaders who taught that everyone else should care for their needy parents except them. They excused themselves for religious reasons, as they had taken a special vow to God. The time and energy they were supposed to give to their parents they were now giving to God. But Jesus says that by neglecting the care and honor of their parents, even for the best reasons, they are ignoring God’s moral law. NOTHING EXCUSES US from honoring and respecting our parents. Because they are our parents, they deserve our care and respect.
One thing unique about this commandment is that it is the only commandment with a promise. This promise could be understood both positively and negatively; in other words, it promises good consequences if we obey, but implies negatives when we don’t. The Brothers Grimm included an old moral tale about a little old man, with trembling hands and feeble eyes, whose uncertain table habits became increasingly offensive to the daughter-in-law with whom he lived. One day she unsympathetically objected to her husband, the old man’s son. So, they took the fumbling old man to a corner of the kitchen, set him on a stool, and gave him his food in a n earthenware bowl. Now he was no longer troubling them by his dribbled food; now the tablecloth was no longer soiled by his trembling behavior.
One day, in his trembling, he dropped the bowl and broke it. Now the daughter-in-law lost all patience and compassion and blurted out, “If you are a pig,” she said, “you must eat from a trough like one.” And they made a little wooden trough, and he ate from it. At that time, the pride of their lives was their four-year-old son. One evening they noticed the little boy playing with blocks of wood with deep concentration. When the father asked what he was doing, the boy said with an engaging smile, “I’m making a trough to feed you and Mamma when you get old.”
The tale continues that after hearing this from their own child, the man and woman just looked at each other, not saying anything. Then they cried and then went to the corner and led the little old man back to his place at the table. They gave him a comfortable chair, and put his food on a plate. Never again were they angered by the food he spilt or by the dishes he occasionally broke. They realized that by honoring a parent, they possessed their own future.
“Honor your Father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” When you treat your parents with respect and honor you give give them back the care that has made your life possible. A great reminder of this is a powerful, unforgettable sculptor in Oslo, sculpted by Norway's premier sculptor, Gustav Vigeland. It is a walk-through, Sculptor entitled, “The Cycle of Life”, made of 121 larger-than-life pieces, which depict the full range of human life and family, from infancy to old age. The scluptors stretch across the river bridge from one side to the other on both sides of a four-lane highway that connects one part of the park to the other. The artistic work traces the coming together of a young couple, the coming of their children, then the changing relationship of parent and child. Finally, the artist shows the connection between the generations: a grandfather and a grandson, a grandmother and a little girl.
You can't help stare in awe at some of the huge pieces, find tears in your eyes at the sight of others. A walk across the bridge is a walk through your own life. If you watch the people watching the statues, as well as the statues themselves, you get glimpses of the pain and the beauty that underlie each of their separate lives at separate stages. But one of the statues on the garden bridge stops every sightseer in their tracks. To this one, the response is almost always universal delight. This one is the Sinnetagen, the figure of a foot-stomping, raging two-year-old who is claiming his right to be human, to be listened to, to be respected for who he is and what he wants.
This particular statue, I think opens us to the full potential of this fourth commandment. This fourth commandment is not about being powerless children, controlled by the will and wishes of authoritarian parents. No, it is about having the kind of freeing, caring, guiding parents, who allow us to be ourselves and to test ourselves over against the world, while under the watchful eye and wisdom of those who love us and have gone this way before. Without the constant care, love, and shaping by our parents, this two year old doesn’t stand a chance. But with them, this youthful ‘foot stomper’ gains the power to live, and its youthful wanderings can be guided, molded, until this child reaches its fullest potential as a human being. It is all because parents care, that we have roots that give us the wings we will need to soar to the highest heights of human life.
This is really what this fifth commandment is about. It’s all about having the kind of honor and respect that is filled with care. This commandment has been called the ‘bridge’ commandment because bridges our responsibility to care for our community with our responsibility to care about and respect God. If we don’t develop a caring heart—that keep that heart of respect and honor for the very parents who cared for us and made life possible for us, then a truly honorable life becomes impossible for us. Most interestingly, this word ‘honor’ is from the Hebrew word which means, ‘to make heavy’. The weight of love that has carried us must now be carried by us as we bear the weight of having respect, honor and care for our parents. Amen.