“DESTROY THE KILLER WITHIN”

EXODUS 20:13; MATTHEW 5:21-22; 25:42-43

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           I thought about skipping over the sixth commandment and going straight to the seventh because nothing is simpler to understand than, “Thou shall not kill.”  Nothing could me more straightforward than that.  Since the day Cain killed Abel, we have known nothing that is more clearly wrong than taking another human life.  What’s complicated about that?  Furthermore, most of us, unless when we were in the military, have never killed anyone and we have no intentions of killing anyone.  Furthermore-more, when a popular magazine asked people to rank the easiest commandment to keep, the sixth was the easiest to obey.  So why waste our time addressing this issue?  It’s clear.  It’s easy to put into practice.  Why not move on to the seventh commandment?

            Well I decided not to move on the next commandment for a number of reasons.  First, I decided preaching on the sixth commandment could be a real shot in the arm, no pun intended, for this sermon series.  We are in the dog days of summer, and the dog days of his sermon series, and preaching on the sixth commandment might stir up a little interest, after all, as one Hollywood producer said, “Violence sells.  Programmers, producers, advertisers have discovered that violence is a sure-fire ratings booster.”  So by preaching on this commandment, maybe we could boost our sermon series ratings. 

            Second, I decided not to skip over this commandment because of the world in which we live.  Listen to these statistics I recently came across.  For example, I read the other day that during the same period of time more Americans were murdered in Dallas, Texas than killed in action in Afghanistan.  Apparently, it’s more dangerous to go to Dallas than Kabul.  Or what about this?  On one random day, researchers watched television and found 1,846 acts of television violence.  Children’s cartoons were the most violent, followed by movies, toy commercials and music videos, and twenty percent of of those violent acts involved guns.  And granted, not all people in jail are there because of violent crimes, nonetheless our country has the highest incarceration rate of any industrialized nation, and if the entire correctional population comprised a separate state, it would rank 27th in our nation by population.  We are a violent nation.  We live in violent times, and we need to come to grips with the anti-violent message of the sixth commandment.

            There is another reason, however, I decided not to skip over this commandment, and it is the most important reason.  Even though the message appears simple, straightforward, applying this commandment has become incredibly complicated because of all the exceptions.  Like “you shall not kill, unless it is in self-defense.  When it’s you or him or her, it’s OK to kill.”  Then some have argued, and I agree with this and you may not, “you must not kill except in times of war.  When it’s us or the Germans or the Japanese or the terrorists, it’s OK to kill.”  And some people in our day have said “you shall not kill except for capital punishment.  In that case we need to kill in order to protect law abiding citizens.”  And to make it even more complicated, God says here, “you shall not kill,” but then two chapters later in the book of Exodus, God orders the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites so that they can live in peace in the Promised Land.  And let’s not even get into highly charged issues like abortion or euthanasia.

            And I’m going to disappoint some of you today because I am not going to get into abortion or suicide or euthanasia or capital punishment and not because I’m dodging these issues, well maybe I am, or because I haven’t drawn any conclusions about them because I have.  After studying issues like abortion and euthanasia and suicide and military service and war and capital punishment, I have definite thoughts on those matters, but I’m not going to talk about my take on these matters for two reasons.  First, I believe these issues are better handled in a classroom or seminar setting where more dialogue, clarification, questions and answers are allowed.  Preaching from the pulpit is pretty one-sided.  Second, I chose not to tackle these issues because there is a more basic issue at work here in the sixth commandment, and issue that most of us have ignored, and if we truly understood this commandment we would not rate it as the easiest commandment to obey.

            I want to draw our attention to what Jesus had to say about this commandment.  Open your bible to Matthew 5:21.  Listen to his words,

 

            You have heard it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not kill;” and “whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.” 

 

            And just a quick biblical aside.  The meaning of the verb “to kill” as it appears in Exodus, the commandment which Jesus quotes here, has been much debated.  And in light of numerous Old Testament usages of this word, it has been suggested by some translators that a better translation of the verb is “murder” rather than “kill.”  In fact, that’s how the New English Bible and the New Revised Standard Bible read.  Well, whatever English word we use to translate this Hebrew verb, whether it means “to kill” or “to murder,” the one thing upon which linguists and biblical scholars agree is that the Hebrew word carries with it the intent of taking life in the context of vengeance and an act that springs from malice and hatred, not an act that springs from self-defense.  Let’s continue,

 

            But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or a sister, you shall be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool, you will be liable to the hell of fire.

 

            Jesus greatly expands the implications of the sixth commandment.  He tells all of us who live in nice neighborhoods, who work for nice companies, who attend nice churches that there are murderers in our midst.  Oh, we might not do what Cain did to Abel or what Hitler did to the Jews, or what a drive-by shooter does to his or her victim, but according to Jesus we don’t have to do any of those things to break this commandment.  You see, according to Jesus there is a fine line between physical and verbal violence.  Why?  Because they all spring from the same source: a hateful, malicious heart.  And they all kill.  When we kill physically we usurp God’s right to number a person’s days.  When we kill with words we usurp God’s right to measure a person’s worth.

            Listen to these words.  I don’t know who wrote them, I only know they ring true.

 

            Quick, careless words slaughter more spirits and lay open more wounds that are slow to heal than guns, knives or automobile accidents.

            There is more suffering from unloving words than any other kind of suffering in the world.

            But because these wounds don’t bleed, we often use words that cripple and maim others without much thought of the wound we may be leaving.

            We are too civilized, though, to leave a wound that bleeds.  A wound that bleeds usually heals with time and some amount of care.  A wounded heart takes many lovings to allow healing to begin.

 

            When we lived in Orlando, Florida, Universal Studios ran an ad highlighting the Jaws Pavilion.  The commercial showed a shark jumping out of the water and taking a bite out of the Universal sign.  Well, I found the movie “Jaws” and the TV commercial both did a disservice to sharks.  You see, sharks may have jaws and teeth, but to their credit they do not have tongues.

            Listen to the poem titled “One Tongue.”

 

            It can be sweet,

            or it can be sour;

            It can ruin the day,

            or it can save the hour.

            A tool of love,

            A weapon of hate;

            Nerves it calms,

            Or nerves it can grate.

            We’ve all got just one -

            Thanks be that is true;

            One is hard to tame,

            What would we do with two?

 

            Do we ever slip into the role of a killer?  Do we let words fly ripping people to shreds?  In our anger have we ever called anyone “dumb,” or “stupid,” or “incompetent,” or even worse?  Oh, if more of us could be like the woman who was known for never, I mean never, saying anything bad or ill about anyone.  She was known for her kindness and all of her life she had an uncanny ability to find at least one good quality even in people who were unkind to her.  One day two men saw their kind-hearted neighbor walking down the street.  One man said to other, “I’ll bet you can’t name a single soul about whom Mrs. Sosebee can’t say a good word.”

            “Your on,” said the other man, and as Mrs. Sosebee neared them he greeted her and said, “May I ask you a question?  What do you think of the devil?”

            “Well,” said Mrs. Sosebee with a smile, “you’ll have to admit he’s always on the job!”

            If we are serious about honoring God, we must be serious about this sixth commandment, especially Jesus’ take on it  We can’t use our mouths to worship God one minute and then use them to abuse people the next.

            But there is one more way we kill people.  It’s not with guns.  It’s not with words.  It is through the absence of words, at least the right words.  Listen to the words of Jesus once again  This time turn with me to the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew to verse forty-two.

 

            For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give my clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.

 

            In other words, you didn’t plunge a sword in my side, and you didn’t make fun of me, but you did not reach out to me either.  You neglected me and I suffered needlessly because of your neglect.  There was no sword, no slander and no help.

            Someone out there is dying for us to say the right words to them.  Someone is dying to hear us say, “Good job.  “I’m proud of you,” or “I love you and I really want to make this work,” but they haven’t heard those words and they are dying inside.

            Dan Montgomery, now a pastor, shared a heart-warming story in a Guideposts article.  He told of the time he visited his dying grandmother.  Lying in the hospital bed, she looked so small.   Her eyes were closed.  He sat down quietly.

             He was on his way to seminary and full of self-doubt.  He had just given up a full scholarship to medical school, and everyone thought he was making a mistake.  After half an hour Grandma hadn’t stirred, so he just started talking.  Suddenly she woke up asking, “Danny, is that you?”

            He kissed Grandma and then he heard her whisper some words.  He leaned over to listen.  “I believe in you,” she said.

            His grandmother died that night, and those simple words made a lifetime of difference to him.

            Without those words a dream might have died.  Without those words a young seminary student might not have had the confidence to carry on.  Four simple words, “I believe in you.”  Three simple words, “I love you.”  Two simple words, “Well done.”  Five simple words, “I thank God for you.”  Who needs to hears words like that from us?  A friend?  A child?  A parent?  A sibling?  A boss?  An employee? 

            Let’s be the ones who say it.  Let’s not kill anyone’s spirit because of our neglect. 

            Amen.