Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
As we continue along our series on the Ten Commandments, I’m reminded of the wisdom I once heard about parenting. It says that whenever your kids are out of control, you can take comfort from the thought that even God’s omnipotence did not extend to God’s kids. After creating heaven and earth, God created Adam and Eve. And the first thing He said to them was: “Don’t.” “Don’t what?” Adam asked. “Don’t eat the Forbidden Fruit.” God replied. “Forbidden fruit? We got Forbidden Fruit? Hey, Eve..we got Forbidden Fruit!” “No way!” responded Eve. “Where?!” “Don’t eat that fruit!” scolded God. “Why?” asked Eve. “Because I am your Creator and I said so!” said God, wondering why he hadn’t stopped after making the elephants. A few minutes later God saw the kids having an apple break and was quite angry. “Didn’t I tell you not to eat that fruit?” asked God. “Uh huh,” Adam replied. “Then why did you?” “I dunno,” Eve answered. “She started it!” Adam said. “Did not!” “DID so!” “DID NOT!” Having had it with the two of them, God’s punishment was that Adam and Eve should have children of their own…thus the pattern was set, and it has never changed.
Whoever says parenting is easy is a fool! These types of exchanges are all too common. The parent says not to do something and the child invariably has to question it. And if the child isn’t given a legitimate reason as to why they shouldn’t do it, (no, “because I said so” is not a legitimate reason!) the child invariably does it anyway. Clearly it’s been happening since the beginning of all parent/child relationships and it’ll invariably continue until the end of all parent/child relationships. So why do we, as parents, get upset when our children behave accordingly? Because we know that not all children survive stupid, wreckless behavior. Not all situations turn into learning situations. Some situations have fatal consequences and children often can’t discern which situations these are. Thus we must rely on the wisdom and experience of parents. Parents most definitely have their purposes aside from always being the “party drag!” Yes, it’s hard being a parent, setting boundaries and sticking to them. But if God can do it, then so can we. Remember, created in HIS image and all. Indeed, it takes a whole lotta patience to be an effective parent. It’s one thing to have to set the boundaries, it’s a whole nother thing to sit back and watch the child keep pushing the boundaries and suffer the consequences when they go beyond the boundaries. But some children only learn by going beyond the boundaries so then we simply pray that the consequences aren’t fatal.
Last week we began our reflection on God’s Ten Commandments. Recall that the commandments can be divided into two subsets: those having to do with our relationships with God and those having to do with our relationships with each other. The first three commandments help guide our relationships with God: we should have no other gods, we should keep God’s name holy, and we should keep the sabbath day holy. Obeying these commandments keep us in right relationship with God and enable us to “love God above all else” as Jesus would have us do according to that Matthew passage. This week we’re shifting to the commandments belonging in the second subset, those having to do with our relationships with each other. These commandments enable us to “love our neighbor as ourselves” as we heard Jesus command us to do. Our lectionary is having us reflect on the first five commandments of the remaining seven, leaving the last two commandments dealing with coveting for next week, the final week of the series. And I chose to focus on the fourth commandment because it is the only commandment that gives a benefit for heeding it: “so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” Of course, it’s a benefit that’s received in heeding any of the seven commandments in the second subset of commandments. Like or not, we exist in this world in relationship with each other and the world around us. We can’t exist outside of relationship. We are created to be in relationship. Even the most antisocial among us must find ways to connect with others and/or the world to exist in this world. If we want to exist at all in this world, we have to be in relationship, plain and simple. Now then, because we must be in relationship then we have to know how to be in right relationship with each other. So what is right relationship? It’s mutually beneficial relationship. It’s relationship that allows for growth and love and life to prosper. We honor our parents, we don’t murder, we don’t commit adultery, we don’t steal, and we don’t lie because to do otherwise would inhibit growth and love and life in our relationships. And our days wouldn’t be long in this land that the Lord our God has given us! Indeed, they’d most likely be cut significantly shorter in not heeding God’s commandments.
Contrary to popular belief, God gives us these commandments to help us rather than to hinder us. Sure, they’re structured in ways our child-like natures don’t like to hear. Like Adam and Eve, we don’t like to be told what we can’t do. We’d much rather be told what we can do. Thank goodness we have the wisdom of Luther who tells us what we can do in his small catechism responses to the commandments. Luther tells us how the commandments ultimately free us to love and serve our neighbors and thus fulfill Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves. We hear the “can’t” but it is our responsibility to convert it into “can.” What do these commandments enable us to do rather than not do?
Well, just as I said, they enable us to love each other and be in right relationship with each other. God most certainly wants us to love each other. That’s all He’d have us do for each other! Why? Peter writes in his first letter, “above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.” (4:8) Love covers a multitude of sins. We are all sinners, naturally inclined to sin whenever we’re given a chance. But that doesn’t mean we have to be defined by our sin. No, we can be defined by our love and forgiveness. Love covers a multitude of sins. It doesn’t ignore the sin, it simply removes the power of sin. Sin can no longer destroy and corrupt when love is shared. Paul writes in his first letter to the Thessalonians, “therefore encourage and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” (5:11) When we love each other, we build each other up and make each other stronger and more fearless. Growth and love and life prevail…right relationship prevails! And in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul also advises us, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bear with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (4:2-3) In bearing with each other in love, we are maintaining the unity of the Spirit, something God also most certainly wants.
These five commandments help us to be in right relationship with each other. They enable us to love and serve each other. Heeding them benefits us all. So let us give thanks for receiving them. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen