EXODUS 20:12; EPHESIANS 6:1-4 


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             We switch gears this morning in our sermon series on the Ten Commandments.  If you were here for the first message in the series you heard me say that the Ten Commandments are divided into two sections.  Section One - commandments one through four - have to do with our relationship with God.  We might call them the “vertical commandments.” 

            Today, we turn to the second section, the “horizontal commandments,” commandments five through ten.  These commandments have to do with our relationships with one another, and let me say again, as I said in the first sermon in this series, the order of these commandments is not accidental.  That is to say, if we are rightly related to God, then that “rightness” will flow over into our relationships with one another. 

            In addiction to this vertical priority the commandments are also ranked in order of importance.  By that I mean, commandment one is more important than commandment two, and two is more important than three, and on it goes.  Therefore, the fifth commandment is the most important of the horizontal commandments.  Of course, that makes sense.  We know that who we are and how we relate to others, how trusting or suspicious we are, how confident or shy we are is due in large part to our family of origin.  Our families launch us into the world.  That’s why any competent psychologist, if we ever go to see one, will take time to ask us about our family of origin, what mom and dad taught us about success, relationships, work, conflict, money.  They’ll ask us about birth order.  Were we a first born, an only child, a twin?

            And how we relate to our family of origin is not only important to psychologists, but it is also important to God.  So important that God views this family of origin issue, and specifically how we relate to our parents, the single most important horizontal or relational issue of our lives.  So, it is to the family that the first horizontal commandment is directed.

            And if we are at all reflective of the society as a whole, some of us may be uncomfortable unpacking this commandment today because not all of us were raised by Ward and June Cleaver.  Some of us, in fact, may be thinking “How can I honor parents who were not honorable?”  Some of us had parents who were alcoholics, or workaholics, or neglectful or downright mean.  Some of us, if again we are reflective of the society around us, had or have parents who caused us deep pain and disappointment, and we wonder, “What is God asking me to do here?  Is God demanding that I put on a happy face and pretend there is no pain?  Is God asking that I submerge my highly charged hurts and go about my duty of honoring parents who wronged and wounded me severely?”

            Well, before we deal with some of these difficult cases, let’s spend some time painting the big picture of what is behind God’s directive for us to honor our parents.  Then, after painting the big picture, we’ll return to these difficult cases.

            Now, as we look at the big picture, let us keep in mind that the fifth commandment comes to us a challenge and as a gift. 

            To parents this commandment comes as a gift.  If you are a parent you love this commandment.  I do, and I am sure you do.  Before my daughter left town this week to move to California I said to her, “Jenn, I’m going to tape this week’s sermon and send it to you.”  She said, “Ok, what is it about?”  I told her, “It’s about honoring your father and mother,” and she just shook her head.

            As a parent I love this command because it is unconditional.  It does not say, “First, see whether or not your parents are worthy of honor.”  No, it says, “Honor your parents.”  This is not a law of the harvest command where we reap what we sow, no, this is pure gift.  Children are to honor their parents, no exemptions, no loop-holes, no ifs, ands, or buts.

            Before we go any further let me define the word “honor.”  It comes from a Hebrew word which means “to weigh heavy.”  It is a very concrete word, “weigh heavy.”  And let me ask all the parents here today a question.  “How weighty are we?”

            I remember a time with my mother when we went to an old fashioned meat market, where the butcher weighed the meat, like the butchers at Fairway Market do today, and she bought a piece of meat and the butcher weighed it, and he put his thumb on the scale to add additional weight to the meat, and he didn’t think my mother saw it, but she did, and me mother said, “Ok, I’ll take that thumb along with my meat!”

            Well, do our children have to put their thumb on the scale to weigh us heavy?  Are we so light weight, are we so shallow, are we so lacking in substance ourselves, that in order for our children to fulfill this commandment they have to add weight to the scale, so that they can weigh us heavy?  You see, our children are told to honor us, and that is a gift to us as parents, and we are thankful for it, but we have to ask ourselves, “How weighty are we?”  Do our children need to fudge and put their own hand on the scale in order to get our weight us so they can honor us?

            So this commandment comes to parents as a gift, and hopefully we won’t abuse this gift.  The commandment, however, also comes to us as a challenge, and that challenge is to all of us as children of our parents.

            And that challenge changes with each stage of being a child of our parents, and I’m speaking of three phases of being a child of our parents: early childhood, adolescence and adult.  It’s safe to say that in childhood years, and again I’m not speaking of highly suspect, dysfunctional parents, we’ll get to that later, it’s safe to say that in the childhood years the way we honor our parents is to simply obey them.  Just do what they say.  Paul pointed that out in our passage from Ephesians.

            I love the story of the mother who was so frustrated with her young son, who did not want to obey and who fought her tooth and nail every step of the way.  His favorite word seemed to be, “No.”  By the way, I think that’s one of the reasons why we call it the “terrible twos” because that’s when kids learn the power of the word “no,” and they seem to take pleasure in using it, and that brings us back to the story.  This son carried the “terrible twos” through the next three or four years of his life, and finally out of sheer exasperation she said to him, “OK, Billy, do whatever you want.  Let me see you disobey that!”

            So, in phase one, as a young child, the operative word is “obey.”  Then comes the next phase of life, adolescence, and honoring one’s parents in this phase takes on a little different form.  In this phase the key synonyms for honoring parents is “respect” because in this phase of life one thinks, one believes, one’s parents have suffered brain damage.  An adolescent thinks their parents are out of it.  Their parents embarrass them.  They do not want to be seen with them, so the challenge in this phase is to remain respectful to parents whom you think have brain damage and who are a social embarrassment to you.  

            I’ve heard it said that adolescence is the only time in a human being’s life when he or she is totally convinced of his or her omniscience.  In this time period no living soul knows as much as an adolescence, especially parents.  Just ask them.  But God says to adolescents, even during this troublesome, turbulent time, “Honor your parents.  Treat them with respect.”

            I remember a time when our son, Josh, was in high school and he thought his curfew should be later than we thought it should be, and we did not see eye to eye on the subject, but we were blessed and thankful because he remained respectful and cooperative through the discussion, and by the way, he was so respectful and cooperative that he melted our hearts and won us over!  We extended his curfew.  And to all teens here today, let me say that this respect and cooperation thing really works.  Give it a shot!

            Then comes phase three, the adult phase wherein we have established our own households and careers, and maybe even our own family, and to all of us in this boat, let me say that the fifth commandment does not end when we leave our parents’ house.  The fifth commandment is binding on all of us until both our parents have passed on, and even after our parents have passed on in the way we talk about them to others.  And the key synonym once we are adult children is the word “treasure.”  Treasure your father and mother in their later years.

            You see, once we survive adolescence and come out on the other side - out of the blackness of that period - most of us realize that our parent’s brain death was only temporary, and maybe it didn’t happen at all.  Then, if we have children ourselves we start to come to terms with just how much service and sacrifice went into our own development.  We realize how much love, time and energy and effort was put into us as children, and our heart begins to soften.  We start to have a more humble and grateful attitude toward our parents, and then, if we want to obey the fifth commandment we have all these years left to treasure our parents.

            You know, Trudy and I love our friends.  We enjoy our jobs, but do you know what the brightest spot in our lives happens to be, other than our marriage?  The flame that burns the brightest is our children and our grandchildren.  And our kids, as of this week, no longer live in town.  We are separated by hundreds of miles, and they are busy with their own careers, and their own marriages, and their own kids.  This is the busy time of their lives, and I recall those times myself, when you wondered if you would ever get it all done, and the pressures of family and work and home, just kept coming wave after wave after wave, but that’s gone now and you know what I hope?  I hope they will treasure us.  In spite of the demands, I hope they will treasure us by calling and “skypeing,” and every time they take the time to do that it will be their way of honoring us.

            So, that’s the big picture.  The fifth commandment comes to parents as a gift and to children as a challenge.  Now, let’s briefly say something to those of us whose parents have damaged us, not just hurt us but damaged us, physically or emotionally.  What does God expect of us through this commandment?

            Well, let me say four things.  First, God is not asking us to ignore the pain we feel.   Rather God invites us to name it, feel it, and grieve it.  Facing the pain is the first thing we do with trying to honor disappointing parents.

            Second, God invites us to share the pain we experienced with someone else, so he or she can help us work it through.  These are very sensitive issues and we need someone to help us with the pain and with the fact that not all childhood memories are always accurate.  Many parents have been falsely accused of things which they did not do.

            Then, thirdly, God invites us to move toward forgiveness.  Now, I know some of us are thinking, “But you don’t know my mom or my dad.  You don’t know what they did to me.”  That’s true.  We don’t.  But I do know what will set us free from this bondage.  Until we forgive our parents they will continue to hurt us.  That anger and hatred will eat away at our souls, our emotions, our bodies.  Instead, we need to face the pain, grieve over it, and move beyond it.

            Fourth, look for one quality, one trait in them that we can honor.  It may be only one, but look for it.

            And remember this.  No matter what kind of parents we had, whether they were great parents or abusive parents, we have a Heavenly Father who parents every one of us perfectly.  Perfectly.  And God says to us today, “Come to me and I will make my presence known to you.  I will comfort and console you.  I will encourage you and affirm you.  I will guide you and guard you.  I will instruct you and inspire you.  I will listen to you and I will love you because you are my child.”