“Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” ~Exodus 20:12
At the church I serve, we are studying our way through the Ten Commandments in weekly worship. This past week, I had the opportunity to preach on the fifth commandment: honoring our mothers and fathers. This is the second of two positively worded commandments (the other being remembering the sabbath). It is also a commandment that can bring a lot of personal baggage. Everyone has parents, though as my oldest daughter will point out, some kids don’t see, talk, or even know their parents. And everyone feels differently or has different experiences about or with their parents.
This commandment is also known as a “transitional commandment.” The first couple of commandments address how human beings relate to God. While the last group addresses how human beings relate to each other. Just as the first commandment is foundational for the other nine, so this commandment serves as a basis for the last commands. Its placement in the list suggests that the home is the primary source of values, ethics and morality. Just as failure to honor God keeps us from obeying the other commands, failure to honor our parents results in an inability to honor any other human being.
So what does this commandment say to me? To my family? To our church family? Honor means many things. It can mean respect, love, forgiveness, care, hospitality. It’s complicated, especially when our eyes see others as not worthy. Our friends, neighbors, and families arrive to us with faults and frailties. How we honor them measures us before God. How we teach our children about honor measures us before God. God’s unconditional love is available to humanity through each one of us.
This particular Sunday morning, before I verbally preached the sermon, I had the opportunity to see it lived out. My oldest daughter and I have a Sunday ritual of visiting the local Dunkin’ Donuts. I get my usual large skim milk latte (hot or cold depending on the season) and she gets a one of the frosted with sprinkles variety. We were greeted outside of the store by a man asking for a few coins or dollars that we might have to spare. I never have cash. So, I offered to buy the man, who introduced himself as Jerry, a beverage and a sandwich. He politely declined, then I realized he already had a coffee in hand (perhaps someone else didn’t carry cash). My daughter and I headed into the store got our treats and were headed out. As we passed by Jerry, my daughter looked him in the eyes and said a quick goodbye.
Could we have done more for Jerry this morning? Probably. Nonetheless, my daughter extended to him a common measure of respect. A simple greeting may have given him a reaffirmation of his humanity. If we take this fifth commandment seriously, it may mean we leave a legacy of justice, mercy and humility through our children to a sometimes dark and desperate world.
Each of us has a perspective that’s unique when it comes to this commandment. And while this commandment names parents, it isn’t merely about parents. I believe it is a greater, and sometimes hard-to-swallow, statement about honoring others. It is a commandment that implies that we give honor and glory to God whenever we honor another.
When we honor each other today, that we can honor God forever.
Second Presbyterian Church