Sunday, January 31, 2016

Honor Your Parents #5 in a series on the Ten Commandments

Exodus 20:1-17

And God spoke all these words:

"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

"You shall have no other gods before me.

"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

"You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

"Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

"You shall not murder.

"You shall not commit adultery.

"You shall not steal.

"You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

"You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."

How many vows have you made in your life?

We don’t usually make that many vows in life – in fact, I bet you can count them on one hand.

How many of you are now, or have ever been married, raise your hand. THAT is a true pledge. Not a goal or an estimate. But it is a vow.  “I take you … for richer, or poorer, for better for worse, in sickness and in health throughout all of our days.”

How many people here have served in the military? Let's see your hands. At one point you stood before witnesses and make a vow – and oath – “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic … “

How many ordained elders or deacons are here -- either in the session or off session? You made certain vows to God and this church when you became an elder. You promised to "fulfill your office in obedience to Jesus Christ," and "to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church."

Oh – one more… how many Boy Scouts here today? 

On my honor I will do my best 
To do my duty to God and my country 
and to obey the Scout Law; 
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, 
mentally awake, and morally straight.

Girl Scouts have a similar oath.
On my honor, I will try:
To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.

There really are not that many vows we make in life. Not that many true pledges. One of the vows that we carry around with us is one that we probably never make publicly in any sort of ceremony like a wedding, induction or ordination service. It is the vow that is expected of us in relation to our parents. It is the vow that is expressed for us in the Ten Commandments, "Honor your mother and father."

What does that mean?

How does one honor one's mother and father?

To be honest – I’m not sure. 

How do I preach about this text to a room full of people, all of whom having such different experiences with our parents. 

I mean – personally, I was very blessed.  I loved my Dad.  I grew up thinking he was the smartest man in the world.  I figured he could do anything.  He taught me how to fish.  How to start a fire with rocks.  If I developed an interest, he would take that interest so we could do things together. 

My Mom – always full of grace and love.  No matter how anxious I would become about school or the drama in my life, she was always so calm. 

They were always with me, they always had my back, they always loved me.

But my experiences are just one sort of experience.  We all have different stories about our parents.

My Dad very seldom spoke of his father.  I did not know until my father died that my grandfather was an alcoholic.  Which may explain why my father did not drink at all.

You may have been abandoned or abused. Maybe you were verbally assaulted, humiliated and frequently forced to run and hide in fear. When you think of your parents, you may recall a history of bitterness and grudges. In any case, when you hear the phrase "honor your parents," your stomach turns just thinking about honoring someone who has treated you with such contempt.
And most folks find themselves in the middle.  Mom and Dad were not perfect.  They loved us, and they failed us.  They sometimes did great things for us, and sometimes did awful things to us.

But here’s the thing.  As Christians, we are called to love everyone – it doesn’t matter if they deserve it or not.  We are even expected to love our enemy.

This commandment is given to us to honor our parents, and has no qualifications of what ifs – nothing about whether to honor the loving parent, and not the creepy parent.  It just tells us to honor our mother and father.

Years ago I saw an interview of a woman who had been abused by her father.  For years her father did unspeakable things to his child.  The child grew up and in an interview shared how one day she heard her mother coming down the hallway to her room.  Both the child and the father were in the child’s bedroom and as the mother’s footsteps were heard, the father immediately stopped his abuse. 

The child thought, “Finally.  Finally this is going to stop.  Mom is going to rescue me.”  The footsteps continued to the child’s bedroom door and then stopped.  And then slowly, the footsteps were heard moving away from the door.  And the abuse continued.

Years later the child, as a teenager, found herself walking down the hallway and hearing the sounds coming from her little sister’s bedroom, knew that the abuse was continuing, but now with the younger sister.

The teenaged sister, unlike her mother, opened the door and stopped what was happening, and called the police.
As an adult, this woman struggled with what it meant for her to honor her parents.  She said it meant that first, she was not going to allow her parents to continue the abuse, for the behavior of her father was a dishonor to God and should not be allowed to continue. 

This man eventually went to prison.  For her, to honor her father meant praying for him every day.  She kept that commitment day after day for decades.  What she found was that initially these prayers were filled with hate and anger.  Over the years, those feelings softened.  After twenty years she was still working on learning to forgive, and in her words she was not quite there, but she was getting there, and to honor her father with forgiveness was as much a part of her healing, than any benefit her father might feel.

To answer what it means to honor your mother and father is something I can not tell you how to do, because we come from such different experiences with our parents.  Some of us had loving and caring parents and some were scum of the earth and many of us had a little of both. 

But however you discover how to fulfill this commandment, there are some things that are universal in how we might honor our parents:

1.  Love them.
As Christians we are to love others.  No exceptions.  Even our enemies.  I know, it’s not easy - this is one of the great challenges for us as Christians.  We’ve got some terrible people in this world. 
If you had great parents, you are blessed, and you can honor your parents by loving them.  If your parents were not so great, you can be a blessing, but honoring them with your love.
In the New Testament book, I John, chapter 4 (verse 20), we are told, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates … is a liar. For whoever does not love someone, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
So – no matter what kind of family you have, and no matter what age you are – you can honor your parents by loving them.
2.  Forgive them.
Every Sunday we pray the Lord’s Prayer as part of our worship service.  In that prayer we ask that God would forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  Forgive us, as we forgive others.  It is another basic principle by which we relate to ALL people, especially our parents.
In the most extreme cases, forgiveness might take a long, long time, and perhaps will always be somewhat incomplete and imperfect.  For those in healthy families, forgiveness might be easy. 

But we find our freedom and our own health by learning to forgive and let go.

The writer of the New Testament book of Ephesians wrote, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  He was not specifically talking about parents, but rather about all of our relationships.  However, learning to forgive is a way of honoring parents.
3.  Pray for them.  The earliest prayer that we learned as children was probably something like, “God bless mommy and daddy…” and then a list of other brothers, sisters, pets and friends.

You can pray for your parents no matter how young you are, and no matter how old you are.
What a great way to honor your parents - to pray for them? 
4.  To see that the needs of the parents are provided for.
There comes a time when the parent no longer provides for the child, but rather the child becomes responsible for the adult. 

There is a sense in which that was the original meaning of this commandment in the time of Moses.  There were no pensions, no retirement communities, no Social Security – the children had to care for elderly parents in real and dynamic ways. 

We are blessed in this country that we have so many programs and resources for the elderly.  Yes, we could do better, but what we do have is a blessing.

Still, the needs of the elderly parent sometimes require an adult child to be an advocate with the doctor, or at the hospital.  It might mean providing Mom or Dad with some financial guidance to avoid a scam.   

Paul said in the New Testament book of Philippians, (Philippians 2:4) “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  Certainly this would be true in terms of looking out for the interest of our parents. 


So – this business of honoring your parents.  You have to figure a lot of that out yourself, because everyone’s family is so different.


But no matter what the state of your family background,  you must find a way to honor your mother and father, and at the very least, all of us can love them, forgive them, pray for them, and provide for them.

Copyright 2016. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.