Honor your father and your mother so that your life will be long on the fertile land that the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12, Common English Bible)
Every Sunday my mom goes to a local nursing home to visit with her mother. Some days she knows who Mom is, some days, she’s not so sure. Some days she is warm and comforting. Other days, she is cold and violent. My grandmother suffers, as so many older adults do, from dementia. More than 5 million Americans live with the disease, in its various expressions. It is the sixth leading cause of death, and affects one in three senior citizens. (For more about dementia, visit alz.org.)
Honor as a verb means to “regard with great respect.” It is a wide range of a definition, leaving it quite open for children to find ways to honor their parents. Scholar Terence E. Fretheim suggests, as others have, that the commandment is intended for adult children. In a time and age when care for the elderly has become a major focus for some many families. Nursing homes. Social security income. Health care.
We are called to honor our aging parents.
In the Jewish tradition, age was something to respect. We too often choose to neglect those who are older than us. Like a child who thinks his parents don’t know anything, we treat older adults more like a burden than the treasures they are. This past Sunday we took a group of third through fifth graders to a local retirement home for women. We did not have the children sing and do all the traditional things children do when they visit such homes. Instead, they went around the room asked the women questions like, “What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done?” The kids got some really awesome answers. One woman shared how she jumped out of a plane when she turned 70. Another shared about growing up in England. The women then asked the children the same question. Everyone enjoyed themselves – both children and older adults – because someone took the time to ask them about their lives and listen.
This is why Mom goes every Sunday to see her mother. Even though their relationship has not been the best, Mom has forgiven and forgives. Even though she doesn’t always know who Mom is, Mom still goes and listens. She tells her about life and bears through her mother questioning where Dad is, even though Dad has been gone now for 14 years.
To honor our parents is to care for our parents through all the stages of life.
Maya Angelou penned some amazing words around this in her poem “On Aging.”
On Aging by Maya Angelou
When you see me sitting quietly,
Like a sack left on the shelf,
Don’t think I need your chattering.
I’m listening to myself.
Hold! Stop! Don’t pity me!
Hold! Stop your sympathy!
Understanding if you got it,
Otherwise I’ll do without it!
When my bones are still and aching,
And my feet won’t climb the stair,
I will only ask one favor:
Don’t bring me no rocking chair.
When you see me walking, stumbling,
Don’t study and get it wrong.
‘Cause tirer don’t mean lazy
And every goodbye ain’t gone.
I’m the same person I was back then,
A little less hair, a little less chin,
A lot less lungs and much less wind.
But ain’t I lucky I can still breathe in.
Do not kill. (Exodus 20:13, Common English Bible)
There is a story in Genesis of two brothers, the world’s first two brothers: Cain and Abel. They both brought sacrifices to God. Able brought the first and best of his sheep, while Cain brought scraps from his harvest. Their tithing was their worship. God looked favorably on Abel’s offering, and not so favorably on Cain’s offering.
In a fit of jealousy and anger, Cain kills his brother Abel.
The world’s first murder.
Perhaps this story from the Hebrew tradition is what came to mind for the Hebrews when Moses announced this commandment. Life is a precious gift given by God. The responsibility for giving and taking life belonged to God. But the commandment to not kill may have a broader stroke.
Terence Fretheim writes about this commandment:
….any act of violence against an individual out of hatred, anger, malice, deceit, or for personal gain, in whatever circumstances and by whatever method, that might result in death.
“Any act of violence” with the intention of death.
Recently our community had bomb threats at a number of area schools, elementary through high school. A fire drill blared, and the students, in orderly lines, went outside. Some of the students were funneled into school buses. The next day there were children who did not want to go to school. They were filled with anxiety and fear. And I can’t blame them. If I was in the first grade and had that experience, I most likely would fight my parents to not go to school.
The person or persons who called in these bomb threats are attempting to act in God’s stead. This act of violence goes against God’s loving creation. The effects of this act will last longer than that moment, which can be wildly dangerous. God beckons us to place value on the lives of others.
Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, goes a bit farther. Jesus, always one to turn the world upside down, tells the crowd that the commandment goes beyond physical violence. Verbal abuse and other expressions of anger, hatred, malice, and so on. Jesus extends the commandment to include anything that we might do to hurt others. Name-calling, gossiping, back-stabbing, (all the stuff you see happening on House of Cards), is damaging to the person you do that to. It kills a part of them. And frankly, it kills a part of us as well.
When we hurt others – in physical, emotional, or verbal ways – we are hurting God’s plans for a safe and loving world. When we call in bomb threats that leave first graders huddled on a cold school bus, we are disrupting God’s plan for a safe and loving world. When we choose vile and selfish ways to keep people out (even in the name of God), we rattle God’s plan for a safe and loving world.
In the beginning, God created and it was good. When we hurt others, we disturb the goodness of God’s creation. And that is not good.
Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you.Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11, Common English Bible)
We are taught that after God created, God rested. As such, we should do the same. But this command goes beyond what we have been taught in Sunday School. The Christian tradition of Sabbath included closed businesses and attending worship. Many of the people in our pews remember the days when Sabbath was more than just a “church” thing. It was the cultural norm.
However, today, it is not. In our age, it seems that it is more difficult to carve out Sabbath. While it is difficult, it is necessary. To “remember,” as the commandment says, is more than a Lumosity exercise. To remember the Sabbath requires action. The observation of the Sabbath is an active one. It is something we do for our health as well as to honor our God.
Built into creation is sabbath. Just like the air we breathe, sabbath is apart of God’s creation. The level of which we keep sabbath will not determine the level of salvation we receive. No, sabbath is apart of creation. Scholar Terence Fretheim writes that “the divine rest ‘finished’ the creation,” and as such, “Only when that rhythm is honored by all is the creation what God intended it to be.”
On the seventh day, God rested. On the seventh day (which ever day that is for you), we rest to admire God’s creation. We rest in honor of God’s creation. We rest in respect of God’s creation.
Sabbath – holy rest – is as one scholar has written, “a sanctuary of time.” The Gospel of Mark gives something to ponder when it comes to Sabbath:
The sabbath was made for human beings, not human beings for the sabbath. (Mark 2:27)
The context of this statement by Jesus is when Jesus picks grain on the sabbath and he is called to task for it. This isn’t the first, nor will it be the last time Jesus is called out for doing something on the sabbath. Jesus places the emphasis on human need. If there was a person dying from hunger on the sabbath, you wouldn’t ignore them, would you? John Wesley, in his Notes on the New Testament, wrote that sabbath law “must give way to man’s necessity” because the sabbath was created for humanity in the first place.
A strict following of the sabbath is not rest either. The Pharisees who call Jesus out for working on the sabbath, are themselves working on the sabbath. They are the keepers of the law – it is their vocation and occupation – it is their job to uphold the law. And like so many of us today, they added more work to their plate by interpreting the law with “If . . .then . . .” situations. We could dare say that they missed the point.
But it is something we have to be intentional about. Sabbath may have been made for humanity, but it is a gift that has to be opened.
How do you remember the Sabbath?
Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance; the Lord won’t forgive anyone who uses his name that way. (Exodus 20:7, Common English Bible)
The other day I was at Taco Bell ordering lunch. After I ordered and paid, the woman behind the counter told me to have a blessed day and “Jesus loves you.” I was kind of surprised. I have been told by many to have a blessed day. But I think this was the first time I was told by a clerk, “Jesus loves you.” Not even in a Christian bookstore have I been told that “Jesus loves me.” But here, in the tiny Taco Bell, Jesus loves me.
When we think of the commandment of “do not take God’s name in vain,” we often think of swearing or profanity. To use the Lord’s name in vain is to use God’s name as a curse. While there is truth to this understanding, there is so much more to this commandment. God’s name is a powerful thing, and it should not be taken for granted, but held with the most respect.
God tells the Israelites that he spares them from the plagues, “to show you my power, and to make my name resound through all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). When Jesus gives the Great Commission, he tells the disciples to baptize in the “name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The name of God points to the Kingdom. It is disrespectful to use God’s name in a way that does not point to God’s kingdom.
Seminaries in the south became experts as theologically reasoning why enslaving African-Americans was not only okay, but ordained by God. In the name of God, they enslaved other human people. During the Civil Rights era, church going people bombed churches and houses, burned crosses, and killed other human beings in the name of God.
The purpose of the commandment is to protect the holy and divine name of God from being used to distract others from said holiness. When we use God’s name to promote hatred towards others, we are using God’s name in vain. When we use God’s name to put down others and make them “less holy,” we become less than holy as we misuse God’s name. When we judge others and condemn them to an eternity without God, we disrespect the name of God and God’s kingdom.
God is so much bigger than anything we can say or do, decide or plan. And God’s name is meant for praise and adoration. God’s name is meant to witness to God’s kingdom. Instead, perhaps, we can be more like the Taco Bell clerk who tells us, “Jesus loves you.”
Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or worship them, because I, the Lord your God, am a passionate God. I punish children for their parents’ sins even to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me. But I am loyal and gracious to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6, Common English Bible)
There is a story in Exodus 32 where the people of God have grown impatient. Moses had been up on the mountain with God for too long. There had been no messages, no texts, no pigeons, nothing. In their anxiety, the people circle around Moses’ brother, Aaron. “Come,” they cry out, “make gods for us, who shall go before us.”
The people had already been anxious because they have been wandering in the wilderness. And without the pillar of fire by night and the cloud by day, they do not know of God’s presence in their midst. It is still something they are getting adjusted to. The irony is that as the people circle around Aaron, Moses is on his way down the mountain with the tablets.
But, Aaron gave in to the people. He told them to collect all the gold among the people. They melted it and molded it into a golden calf. The Wesley Study Bible says, “The golden calf represented either an image of the Lord or another deity all together.” The golden calf had become the focal point of their worship, not the Lord. The Hebrew people had done that with their liberation. They were still giving Moses credit for their liberation, not the Lord God.
The Israelites must have been tempted as they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land to worship other gods. The polytheists had a catalog of gods. You have a problem or an issue, there’s a god for that. If you were having fertility issues, there was the god Baal. If there were issues in your marriage or with a pregnancy, there was the goddess Kathirat. And these ancient gods had images associated with them.
It is possible that because the people of God had been surrounded by images of other gods who had specific attributes, they were looking for something similar in the Lord God. It was still a “new thing” to have a God with multiple attributes. The Lord God can be loving, a parent, a giver of life, a redeemer, and a judge.
The 20th century theologian Paul Tillich defined religion as ultimate concern. Ultimate concern is that which concerns us the most. The ultimate concern, Tillich says, becomes our religion. It may not be a golden calf, but if drugs become our ultimate concern to the point everything we do is to fulfill that concern, it has become our religion.
With God has our ultimate concern, we affirm the relationship that God called us to. We also affirm that God has gone before us, beside us, and behind us. The very god the Israelites went to Aaron looking for to worship, is the very Lord God whom they had neglected.
God spoke all these words:
I am God, your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of a life of slavery.
No other gods, only me.
(Exodus 20:1-3, the Message)
In these beginning words of what we call the Ten Commandments, God is reminding the Israelites of a few important things. First that God delivered them from the bondage of slavery. At this point of the Exodus story, the Israelites have been wandering in the desert. God has provided for them all along the way, but that does not stop the people from complaining.
More importantly, God wants to be in relationship with God’s people. Which may be why there is an element of obedience implied here. To obey God is to affirm God’s desire to be in relationship with us.
God also reminds the Israelites that they should not worship other gods. Have you ever noticed some of the caution warnings on products? Some are pretty bizarre. For example, on a washing machine, the label reads, “DO NOT put any person in this washer.” Or on Apple’s website, “Do not eat iPod shuffle.” Or on a chainsaw, “Do not hold the wrong end of the chainsaw.” We are pretty certain that someone did that bizarre thing that warranted the warning label.
The same is true here. The first commandment to only worship God is because the Israelites at the time were prone to worship other gods. While the Abrahamic faiths are monotheist, the Israelites lived in a time and culture of polytheism. The worshiping of multiple gods was the norm. And, you might imagine a number of them being tempted to worship multiple gods as they wandered through the wilderness.
The polytheist gods were like a catalogue of gods. You could browse the list and find what you were in need of. For example, if you needed help in areas of fertility, you would worship to god Baal. Or if there were issues of pregnancy in your marriage, you may worship the goddess Kathirat.
God is asking for loyalty in the midst of the relationship which God has entered in with God’s people. Martin Luther in his Catechism says that to have no other gods before Yahweh is to fear, love, and trust God in all things and in all ways. What might that look like? The other nine commandments offer a glimpse.