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Family Values 10.14.18

Exodus 20: 1, 12 20Then God spoke all these words: 12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. Everyone who is a parent, finish the final sentence: You: Billy, it’s time to go to bed. Billy: But why? You: Because … what? It is a phrase I trotted out without any reservation whenever my kids asked why they had to do what I told them to do. I would simply say, “What’s the best reason you can think of?” They would turn away and say, “Because you said so.” And I would say, “Right! Because I said so.” I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of parents who ever existed thought they had the absolute right to tell their kids what to do and then expect them to just do it without question. And the 5th Commandment confirms it right? Honor your father and mother. Do what they say. Paul even confirms it in Colossians and Ephesians.   Ephesians 6:1 6 Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.

Colossians 3:20
20 Children obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
 
So pardon me while I go back to children’s church and tell them: kids, obey your parents! And all God’s parents said: AMEN! Oh, wait … What if the command from the parent is for the child to submit to abuse? Must the child obey in order to satisfy this commandment? To satisfy Paul? An abuser would say yes. An abuser would use the 5th Commandment, and Paul’s letters, as a weapon claiming some kind of right saying, “the Bible says so!” That is absolutely and completely a fundamental abuse of scripture. Why? First because the 5th Commandment is not about obedience. We will get to what it is about, but it is not about obedience. Second, the Bible does not condone any kind of abuse, particularly abuse of children. Remember the words of Jesus when he said this: Mark 9: 42 42 ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. Abusers – it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea! Third, the passages from Colossians and Ephesians refer to an obedience to Godly parents.
 
Ephesians 6: 4 And, [parents], do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
And Colossians 3: 21: [Parents], do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart.
 
Simply put, we are not to honor parents, or follow the teaching of parents, or obey parents who do not try to follow the commands of God. So, if it is not about obedience, what does this command to honor father and mother mean? Certainly, it means “to show respect,” “to treat kindly” and “with courtesy.” But it means much more than that. The Hebrew word we translate as “honor” is kavod. Kavod means “to give weight.” We are “to give weight” to our parents. That means we give our parents significance. Why? Several reasons. First, they were the ones who were the conduit between God and our human existence. Second, our parents also care for us and raise us and teach us and provide for us. Third, and I think most important, the 5th Commandment describes a social order. An order necessary for a community to survive. It describes a succession of responsibility. There are “parents” who are in charge and “children” who follow. The “parent” leads the next generation. That next generation follows that “parent” in order to prosper. In time the next generation assumes leadership and the next follows it. This succession allows our family, and our community, to be organized in a way that ensures its continuation into the future. In all these ways, our parents are our link to our heritage – our history.
Why was this so important for Israel? Why is it important for us? Why is it in God’s top 10? Because the loyalty of the following generation of Israel was paramount in a community whose identity and faith were based on historical events that were unrepeatable. In Exodus, the elders of Israel are the link to the history of the exodus. Of God choosing Israel to be God’s people and using Israel to bless the world through Jesus. In similar ways, our parents are the link to our history of unrepeatable things and our relationship with God. And so it goes. It is the way of things. We need to give that weight. It has always been this way. We need to give weight to all those things. Looking at the 5th Commandment this way means it is not specific to individual families, though it has application there. It primarily concerns the continuation of a community. And this has always been a challenge. Because the commandment is two sided.
 
One writer I read this week put it this way: …[T]his Commandment is double-edged. It cuts in two directions at once. To us as children it says, “Give primary authority to the parent. They should carry the most weight with you.” To us as parents it says, “You are God’s appointee for the nurture of those lives entrusted to you. Care for them well. Be worthy of the ‘weight’ they will give you.” There has always been friction and disappointment and disapproval between the generations. Listen to this quote: “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect for their elders. They love to chatter in place of exercise. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, babble before company, gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.” That was Socrates 2300 years ago. We have all heard that scold from our parents. I did. And I resented it. I certainly did not honor it. The weight I gave it was to make sure I was not like my parents, at least in that regard. One day, I was talking about this with a pastor friend of mine. We were talking about relationships with our parents. We did not want to irritate our kids the same way our parents irritated us. Then he said something I found both funny and insightful. He said, “Well, just because we don’t do what our parents did, does not mean our kids won’t just think of something else we did to complain about.” Funny because it’s true. Insightful because it recognizes that every generation holds something against the previous one and the next one, because every generation is different. But perhaps we give each other a bad rap. Children, when we disagree with our parents, we need to try and understand what their life was like and why they did things the way they did. Put it into context and try to put your feet in their shoes. The world was different then. And they did the best they could. And parents, the 5th Commandment was never interpreted as requiring community stasis. Change was expected. Inevitable. And the 5th Commandment kind of set up a process.
 
Here is what this looks like in 2018. We have divided our generations into several categories. We have “The Greatest Generation”. The one’s who defeated fascism and made the United States a world power. Then come the Baby Boomers. We are the children of the great ones. We came of age in the 60’s. A time where we rebelled against our parents. Fought against the “old ways”. And we were accused of not honoring our parents. But maybe we weren’t. I think this quote talks or what we did: [The Commandment requires us to give our parents] “weighty” consideration in deciding such things as how, or on what, we should base our systems of values; on who, or to whom, we should look for guidance in determining our lifestyles; what persons ought to stand highest on our list of human beings who matter to us most and who ought to have a high priority within, and claim on, our lives. What we in the 60s were doing and what our parents did before us, and what our children are doing today was examining and evaluating what our parents did, giving it weight and significance, learning from it, and deciding how we would proceed until the time came to pass the responsibility on to our children, who would then follow the same process. That is what will happen as we move from the Boomers to the Xers to the millennials to whoever comes next. Parents are honored, not in being obeyed, but in being resources the next generation will rely on to choose how it will continue the community into the future. That is the process the 5th Commandment puts in place. Give weight. Learn. Improve. Carry on. And when we do, we will live long in the land that God has given us.
 
But there was a much more practical point to this commandment. The Israelites understood that the 5th Commandment required children to care for their parents in their old age. Patrick Miller puts it this way: The feeling of respect and honor cultivated in the growth of the child continues on into maturity and is the impetus for the necessary protection and care of the now-aged and weaker parents. Honoring father and mother is expressed in concrete actions that enhance and thus give weight to the parents in the most literal way possible: with respect to clothing, food, shelter and maintenance of general welfare. In other words, we are not to be animals that leave the weak and sick behind to die alone. We are to care for them. We are to protect them. We are to provide for them. The family and community are to be organized that way. What does that look like in 2018? For most of us it means finding them a place to live where their daily needs can be met. Home care, assisted living, skilled nursing, dementia and behavior health care. I learned what that looked like when my parents got sick and realized they could no longer live alone. It was an overwhelming responsibility. Many of you have had that same experience. Some of you are in the middle of it now. How do we honor our parents when they become our children? I spent Friday afternoon at a retreat for the Board of Directors of Baptist Senior Services which I chair. We spent several hours listening to people describe the challenges of elder care and how we as a community and society can improve it. It is complex and costly, but over the years we have done a better and better job of it. If you want to know more about it, read Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal. We want our parents to live with dignity that includes both care and attention to their wisdom. To give them weight. Significance. What we will learn by doing that, we can incorporate into how we live, and how our children will live. What is interesting is that this commandment might have the most to teach us as a community of faith. We honor the heritage given to us by those who have gotten us to where we are, learn from it, and then decide how we will continue the mission into the future while caring for those that got us here. It will certainly require investment of our time, talent and treasure. That is what that sign in the Narthex is about. We have been given much in this community. Now it is time to make sure it carries on … for now, financially. And when we do that, we: Honor [our] father and [our] mother, so that [our] days may be long in the [church] that the Lord your God is giving [us]. AMEN



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