A Sunday school teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with
her five and six year olds.
After explaining the commandment to “honor thy father and thy mother,
she asked “Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our
brothers and sisters?”
Without missing a beat one little boy answered, “Thou shall not kill.”
The fifth commandment seems pretty straight forward. Honor your father and mother. Nothing difficult in understanding that.
Our parents used that commandment when we were young to keep us in line, to let us know that their authority was based on something in the Bible. And as adults, we internalize this commandment and feel guilty when we don’t do enough for our parents, whether it’s calling home each weekend, or making that agonizing trip to the nursing home to see a mother who isn’t all there.
But we have missed the meat of this commandment when we understand it to mean that we should respect and take care of our aging parents. To be sure, it does mean that, but it does mean a lot more.
Originally, this commandment was intended to encourage the children and youth of Israel to honor their parent’s covenant with God and to hallow the nation’s traditions. God had called the Israelites through Abraham to be God’s covenant people. Through Moses God led them out of the trammels of Egypt, and under Joshua, God would lead them on to the promised land. Thus, God is saying here, “Keep the religion of your fathers and mothers. Remember all I have done for you. I have kept my promises. Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth.”
The second part of this commandment–“that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you” carries this thought to its conclusion. The nation is told that its future is secure as long as its traditions are preserved; that the nation will enjoy long life and prosperity only as long as it gratefully remembers from which it sprang.”
This fifth commandment is the perfect text for us as we have celebrated our nation’s 243rd .birthday this past Thursday. The parades, the fireworks, the civic celebrations all point back to that day in Philadelphia when 56 men signed the Declation of Independence.
I want to read the most famous words from that Declation, not that it’s anything new to us–we got that in high school civics– but it’s good to hear it, especfially from the Christian pulpi. More on that later.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
What did Thomas Jefferson mean by “inalienable rights.” It means that each of us who are citizens of this republic are given rights by our Creator. They are not granted by political authorities or by the edict of any politifal leader. They are inalienable, meaning they cannot be taken away or denied.
This is what it means to be an American. This is what we remembered and celebrated this past Thursday. .
Well, it’s good for all us to recognize that we carried a lot with us when we came into this world. The bountiful country in which we were born, the religious and educational institutions, the shelter and protection of our families–all were here on the scene to our advantage.
And this is what the fifth commandment is suggesting, that we are the recipients of an incredible heritage, which should stir up a profound sense of appreciation and gratitude in our hearts.”
There ought to be something in this commandment for us as citizens of this republic. I am thinking here about that faceless host of men and women who gave incalculable amounts of time and energy to produce the kinds of institutions that we rely on instinctively in this country.
While I was in seminary I drove a school bus to supplement our income. One January morning as I scraped front from the bus’s windshield I surveyed the parking lot–75 buses all lined up, row by row. I began to wonder what it took to produce a parking lot crowded with yellow school buses.
Years ago some of the people who lived in that town said, “You know, it’s important that our children receive a public education.” Meeting after meeting followed, as they tried to hammer out an acceptable philosophy of public education. The every thorny question of taxation had to be debated for months. Finally, they got their schools.
Then someone said, ‘Some of the children live too far away from school to walk.” Someone responded, “BUSES! The vehicles had to be procured. Drivers hired. Insurance coverage provided for. Gas and oil purchased. Fringe benefits for drivers offered. Can you imagine how many committee meetings it took just for that !
That January morning as I drove my school bus and picked up my first rider, a healthy fifteen year old whose stomach was filled with corn flakes and orange juice, I wondered if it ever crossed his mind as he boarded that bus, how heavily in debt he is to others.
And if that is true of something as unpretentious as a school bus, what shall we say of universities and colleges. What shall we say of institutions such as the YMCA or the SPCA. What shall we say of the hospitals and the homes for the aged and all those other structures from which we drift so carelessly.
We are measured in part by the way we receive the sacrifice of the past. At the height of the Vietnam war, some self-appointed patriots placed bumper stickers on their car which exhorted, “American, love it or leave it.” I often wondered how much those people really loved America. For you can never measure love of country by slogans or bumper stickers. Instead, I wanted to know how much time they spent in trying to make our country work…how much time they spent in civic activities..in informing themselves on political issues…I wanted to know it they participated in the political activities of their precinct…I further wanted to know if they had left their employees in government from time to time how they felt about vital issues. This is a very tough criteria, you know. For if you look at the voting record alone in the last presidential election, the love which most citizens have for this country is precious little.
Honor your father and mother. Another way of putting that is “Honor your political inheritance.” How do we measure up in fulfilling this part of the commandment.
And second, there ought to be a word in this commandment for those of us who enjoy the benefits of the church. As you survey the history of Christendom you see mistakes aplenty–inquisitions, heresy hunts, indefensible alliances with political power, and missed opportunities for doing good.
But that’s only part of the picture, and we know it. We are heirs of something vital and irreplaceable as well. Those who have preceded us, for all the errors of their ways, did, after all, translate and conserve the Scriptures. They sallied forth to carry the Gospel to the far reaches of the earth. They strove to rightly order the church’s life and make provision for its ministry. And in tens of thousands of cases they bore witness to Jesus Christ to the point of death
In April we celebrated our 125th anniversary and in preparation I read the history of our church. There were the original property owners, Deloss Brown and Joseph Greenhut who deed five lots to the congregation for the princely sum of one dollar. A visionary woman, Jennie Mann, who started a SS for three children . And that SS grew into a church that was built in 1898 and 1899. And what shall we say of the thousands of others who came after them. We are unquestionably standing on the shoulders of others.
A few years ago a noted woman’s college in New England was mounting a major financial campaign. They asked a prominent alumnae (a lum nuh) of the college to write a letter to her fellow graduates. They asked if she would write something sparkling and witting, something with a light touch, to appeal for funds. “I will write your letter,” she replied, “but I will not make it light-hearted. For I want to tell them that some people broke their hearts to give this college to them.”
Honor your father and mother. Keep faith the past. You were bought with a price. This is the meaning of the fifth commandment.
The president of a state university was addressing a graduating class. He recalled the expense involved in setting up and operating such an institution and concluded his remarks with a question, “when you leave this university to take this place in the world, will you be worth what you cost. ”
This is my question on this day of national thanksgiving. Given the nation in which we live, the church to which we belong, the Christ in whose grace we stand, are we worth what we cost?
Lord we bless thee
for fathers and mothers
patriots and pilgrims
teachers and elders
whose life’s blood made us what we are today.
So lead our generation, that we might give more than we have
received, through Jesus Christ our Master and Redeemer. Amen.