June 24, 2018

“Commandments 3 & 5- Reverence for God and The Family Unit”

Exodus 20:1-17


Today, as we begin the fourth in our series of sermons on the Ten Commandments, we move from how we are to be in a relationship with God to how we are to be in a relationship with others.

First, we will look at the 3rd commandment, which Pastor Steve didn’t have time to cover in his sermon last week “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”


In Hebrew culture, the name for God was so revered that it was not to be spoken out loud. That is still true today. The consonants were written, looking something like the letters YHWH (Yod’he vav he in Hebrew). But vowels for pronunciation were added at a much later date. The name for God was to be written but never spoken out of respect and awe. This third commandment has to do with that understanding- that God’s name is to be respected. Now when most folks look at this commandment, they think it has to do with “no cussing whatsoever”.  I cannot count on one hand how many times I have gone golfing with people who at some point find out I am a pastor, who then apologize for their salty language, as if I have never heard nor said some of those words they say when they hit a ball into the rough or sand trap or into a grove of trees.


There are some other scripture passages to guide us in the matter of foul language. In Ephesians 4:29, Paul writes, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs...” Colossians 3:8 says, “You must rid yourselves of anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips.” Those two passages have more to do with watching our language than this third commandment. This commandment has less to do with general cussing, and more specifically in how we use the name of God. When we speak or use the name of God and fail to do justice and give honor to that name, we misuse the name of God.


From a legal standpoint, this commandment is a warning against perjury. When I was in court many years ago as a witness for the prosecution, I was surprised that I wasn’t sworn in on a Bible, placing my hand on it and swearing “to tell the truth, so help me God.” Although that is no longer part of our legal system, we still swear something on behalf of God to others from time to time. “It’s the God’s honest truth!” “I swear to God this is factual!” “I swear on a stack of Bibles I am not lying.” You get the idea. In Old Testament times, swearing an oath to God was seen as legally binding. In Gen 24:2-4, Abraham makes servant swear by God that he will not get a Canaanite wife for his son Isaac, but instead go to his home country and get Isaac a wife. In Leviticus 19:2, God tells the people, “You shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the Lord your God: I am God.”


So, we must honor God’s name when it comes out of our mouths, and not swear something upon God’s behalf when it is not true. Using God’s name in such ways breaks the third commandment and dishonors our Creator.



We now move onto the second grouping of the Commandments- five through ten which indicate the basic elements of how we express our faith out in the world and how we treat others.


First of all, we focus upon the nuclear family unit, taking care to ensure our future as a community. This is a commandment with a conditional promise- (if you do this, then this will occur) God calls us to Honor our father and mother, so that our days may be long in the land that the Lord our God is giving us. (Exodus 20:12)


In order to understand this commandment in its entirety, we must remember that early Hebrew culture was different than modern Western culture. Ancient Hebrew culture was agrarian-farming and living off the land was the sole source of income and support for the entire community. And due to this, Hebrew society linked family solidarity and economic well-being tightly together. Once they settled in Canaan, families owned small pieces of property with buildings upon the land. This property was handed down from generation to generation through the oldest male child. Able-bodied members of the family worked the land, contributing to the stability of the family and of Hebrew society. But, when senior members of the family grew old and were unable to work, they might have ended up becoming isolated from the rest of the family and neglected in some way. The fifth commandment is directed at exactly this issue, and primarily at the oldest male child, that he must honor his parents.


Now let us look at the Hebrew word for honor, “Kavod.” It comes from the word “kavad,” which means “heavy.” In this form, the word means “to make honorable, to glorify.” So for the ancient family of God, and for the oldest male child in particular, one had a kavad kavod - a heavy responsibility to honor ones’ parents by keeping them cared for. 


It is interesting to note that in this commandment, BOTH father and mother are included, since sadly in those days women were considered nothing more than property of the dominant male in the family. Preserving the integrity of the family unit included women, and preserved the integrity of the Hebrew people. That is why there is this conditional promise at the end- so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”


After they had settled, and Israel had become a nation, this commandment began to be neglected. Jesus addressed this very problem in Mark 7:9-13. At some point not long after the establishment of Israel, the Pharisees of the temple began a law called Corban, an Aramaic word meaning, “Offering to God”. It seems that if oldest male children had disputes with their aging parents, they abused this law- they took finances, possessions, livestock and produce away from their father and mother, and gave them to the temple, claiming that all of these items were Corban, an offering to God. This action resulted in the aging parents being left destitute and not cared for. Jesus said to the Pharisees who had come out to hear him preach and heal others at Gennesaret, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘honor your father and mother’...But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban  then you no longer permit doing anything for father or mother, thus making void the word of God...” Mark 7:9-13) The family unit was not being protected as God had requested, which in turn weakened the family of God. Jesus wanted the Pharisees to follow the Fifth Commandment.


How then does the Fifth Commandment apply to us today? Our society is, for the most part, very far removed from farming and agriculture.  These days, eventually children leave the home to make their own way in the world, while their aging parents depend upon their retirement savings and income. How then do we honor our father and mother now, and what happens as a result?


Despite our societal differences, this commandment still speaks to us today. To honor one’s parents in Old Testament days meant that they were fed and cared for as they aged. That is also true today- we care for our parents as they age or become ill. When my mother began to have a number of medical issues while we were still living in Fort Bragg, I found myself traveling often to both local doctor visits, and trips to specialists in Ukiah, and Santa Rosa. When mom ended up in emergency or ICU, we were there with her. When we got mom out of the hospital after battling pneumonia and brought her back to her home, we went morning and evening to be with her, fed her and helped her with her medications. When it became clear mom couldn’t live on her own anymore, we found a place for assisted living in Eureka near my sister. We set things up for her to honor my mom and let her live independently until her last earthly day on Mother’s Day.


Secondly, by honoring our parents, we help keep the family unit strong, and we keep society strong. If there is honor and respect in the family unit, it is strong, and we learn morals, faith, and wisdom. The family is still the base for both individual as well as societal strength and what we learn from our parents in our family units is so important. If there is a threat to that family stability, then our society becomes unstable. I think that in part is why so many across both political and spiritual lines have fought against the obscene new zero-tolerance policy on immigrant families, having children separated from mothers and fathers and placed in cages. It is not only inhumane and cruel. It tears the very fabric of our society apart. Theologian David Wilkerson wrote, “Every word or deed of a parent is a fiber woven into the character of a child, which ultimately determines how that child fits into the fabric of society.”


 It is my sincere prayer that the president follows through on his promise to stop this horrific policy and reunite children with their parents, and quickly. It is unclear as of yet just how he will reunite these children with their parents, and whether he will do so anytime soon. If he does not, there will be shouting for God’s justice in the streets, and I hope to be one of them making my voice heard. We must work for the stability of family, in whatever form “Family” may be. The very stability of our society depends upon it.


Thirdly, In the family, we learn basic life skills which will hopefully guide us the rest of our lives- skills like dealing with conflict resolution, learning to live together despite differences, learning how to love one another. Reformer Martin Luther believed it is the family that teaches us the concept of unconditional love.  What did I learn in my family? I learned to make due with what we had, as I watched my parents while we went through some very difficult financial times. Soy burger and stew were often staples at dinner time. During tough times like that, I learned how to use my sense of humor, and be thankful for what I had. I learned from my father to work hard, and not to be afraid of trying something new, even if I had never done it before. I learned from Dad not to be limited by anything, as Dad had lost part of his hand and arm in a hunting accident when he was young and had very limited use of his left hand. Yet he still was a baseball pitcher, worked on cars and did all kinds of things. I also learned from my father the love of sports, baseball in particular. Sports was a way to have fun, learn about my abilities and how to be a good sport.  I learned from my mother that music was a wonderful gift from God, and learned to play the piano at an early age from my mom. I also learned from my mom that two wrongs do not make a right, which she told me every time I had gotten into an argument or fight with neighborhood kids. I learned to not judge someone because of the color of their skin, but to judge them by the content of their character. Mom loved Dr. King. I learned how to cook from my mom. I learned about faith from my mother, as my mom took us to church every Sunday, which meant I learned that regular worship was important. These are some of the things I learned in being part of a family.


Most of us here today were molded and shaped positively by our families, and specifically by our parents in one way or another. Honoring parents who have been loving and caring and responsible is pretty easy. I can say that I was blessed with good parents. Yet how can we honor parents who haven’t been loving, but who instead have been abusive or hurtful in some way? For example, many horrific stories are coming to light in the court case against David and Louise Turpin, parents accused of torturing their 13 children. Paul writes about the two way street of family relationships in Ephesians 6:1-4. Paul says, “Children, obey your parents, for that is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ is the first commandment to carry a promise with it:’ that it may go well with you, and that you may have long life on earth.’” Many only emphasize verses 1-3 of this passage when it comes to dealing with parents and children. However, verse four is of paramount importance. “Mothers and Fathers, don’t anger your children. Bring them up with the training and instruction befitting Christ.”(Inclusive Bible translation). How then do we who have been angered or abused by our parents honor them?


In some cases, honoring one’s parents can only be done nominally. We can honor them for giving birth to us. Perhaps that is as much as we can say. In some cases, honoring our parents may mean holding them accountable for their actions and trying to come to a reconciliation. If our parents were abusive, honoring them may mean distancing ourselves from them so that they cannot continue to sin against us, and praying that they will recognize their sinful behavior. Honoring our parents may mean that we will forgive them when they ask for forgiveness and repent of their actions. This 5th commandment is more difficult, more complicated to follow than the 3rd, especially if we were raised in difficult circumstances.


So, may God be with us as we apply these two commandments to our own lives, honoring how we use God’s name, and honoring and strengthening the place of family. Alleluia! Amen.

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