Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

August 2019

The 5th Commandment

The 5th Commandment

I use to work with a volunteer organization who went into nursing homes and visited people who had no one to visit them. We would get a list from the management of people who had no visitors and just go and visit. It was a surprisingly large number of people. The work was difficult because it just broke your heart to see so many people who had been abandoned and warehoused in these facilities. As we visited different facilities, we also quickly learned which facilities offered better care than others. We were often amazed at what these facilities could get by with as far as cleanliness and care…
It was doing this work that I met a couple who were housed in one of the more poorly maintained and cared for nursing home. When I first met them I was confused as to why they were even in a nursing home. They shared the same room and they were completely mobile; there were no cognitive issues; they were healthy….. We talked for a while and they were delightful. The husband had been a veteran of WW2 and told me great stories of his times there. The wife had worked in the school system and likewise told me about the children she worked with….. I inquired in the office if someone could enlighten me as to why these people were here and being a nursing home who didn’t care much for regulations the director was quite open with why this couple was there.
I learned the couple had been counseled to give their property and much of their savings to their children because of the Medicaid/Medicare regulations. As soon as they did that, their children sold their house and evicted their parents and through a series of events and some shady dealings ended up in these poor conditions in this facility……. And unfortunately this is not an isolated incident.
Solomon said ‘There is nothing new under the sun” meaning that we think many of the practices we see today are something new but we find that isn’t true. In the passage Robin read this morning we hear Jesus talking about a practice called “Corban”. The practice of Corban was prevalent in the days of Jesus. Anyone who made a Corban vow was required to dedicate money to God’s temple that otherwise would have gone to support his parents. Corban had become a religiously acceptable way to neglect parents, circumventing the child’s responsibility to them. Although the action - giving money to God - seemed worthy and no doubt conferred prestige on the giver, many people who took the Corban vow were disregarding God’s command to care for needy parents. These religious leaders were ignoring God’s clear command to honor their parents. Jesus pointed this out to the religious leaders and to the people and reminded them of God’s commandment to honor parents.
This practice of neglecting parents has been around since there have been parents and children. But God wanted his people to be different than the society around them. The society around God’s people had no conscious about neglecting older people…. they were considered an extra mouth to feed; they couldn’t contribute to the work of the family so they were just excess weight and this abandonment of the elderly was not unusual in the cultures around the God’s people. But God reminds us over and over of the value of life - all life - and we as God’s people have a responsibility to care for everyone - especially those people who aren’t able to care for themselves.
As we continue our study of the 10 commandments, the 5th Commandment is a shift from the commandments that are directly related to our honoring God to commandments that help us to understand the importance of honoring one another. It is the perfect bridge commandment because we see God as a loving parent - our Father - so the command to honor parents includes both our heavenly Father and the honoring of our earthly parents. This command includes both God and people….
We have just spent 4 commandments understanding God’s direction to honor him and now God says, ‘Honor me as well as the people I have created - especially your parents.”
As we read this commandment, our first thought is usually that this is a commandment meant for our young children; a commandment meant for the young people in our society. “Mind your parents’ we

say to our children and yes, they should. But this commandment is specifically aimed to the adults win the community. The Bible is full of incidents where children dishonor their parents: Jacob tricked his blind, elderly father into giving him Esau’s birthright, Simeon and Levi trick their father into murdering the whole clan of Shechem, Rachel dishonors her father Laban by stealing his household gods and then lying about it, Lots daughters get their father drunk…. Honoring parents has been a problem since the beginning, even for God’s people.
The commandment reads:
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Some translations will swap the word “honor” with the word ‘obey’ which gives the commandment a different meaning and that is not really what the commandment is trying to say.
The word ‘honor’ comes from a Hebrew word, Kabbed, which means regard with great respect; hold in high esteem, give someone their due weight or importance. The Talmud, which is the Jewish commentary on the scriptures says: Honor your parents means they must be given food and drink, clothes and cover and you are to lead them in and out..” In other words, you are give care for your elderly parents and give them what they need to help them live out their life…..”
Another important aspect of this commandment is that the commandment states that you are to honor your father and your mother. This is a society that honors fathers - in a proper household in this culture, the father was the head of the family; the father made all the decisions; nothing was done without the blessing of the patriarch, the oldest male in the clan. Old women were just excess baggage who were a strain on the resources of the group and it was not unusual when the patriarch died for the widow to be cast out of the home which was a death penalty because there were no resources for her to care or herself.
But God explicitly states that his people were to be different than the society around them and care for both the mother and the father. This was such a difference in the practices of God’s people as opposed to the community around them.
What this commandment reminds us is the importance of life - life is a gift from God and is to be honored at every stage of life. For God’s people, valuing life extended even beyond the death of a parent. Death was a celebration of life. By Jewish custom a dead body may not be able to fulfill its created purpose, but it was still to be revered for the holy purpose for which God created it. For that reason, a body was never left unattended from the time of death until burial. Special prayers that affirmed life and accepted God’s will was said daily. There was a 12-month mourning period for parents after their death - which was even long that the mourning period of a spouse.
Life is sacred and the ones whom God has chosen to bring life into the word are worthy of honor.
But in light of this the question arises about the human relationships of parents and children. Parents aren’t perfect - children aren’t perfect. There are abuses in both directions. The commandment doesn’t say ‘agree with everything your parents or your children say or do’, the commandment doesn’t say you have to live in situations of abuse, the commandment doesn’t say you are stuck in unhealthy relationships, it says to respect your parents for giving you life and that can mean lots of things in many different situations. Jesus always interjects common sense into our understanding of the commandments - but just like the practice of Corban in Jesus; day, we can’t make excuses for neglecting parents or use obscure laws to mistreat parents. They gave us life and God says that means something and that in itself deserves our respect.
One other note about this commandment - it is the only commandment that has a promise attached to it.
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”
The Commandment reminds us of the vast wisdom held in our parents - parents who have lived through many different experiences; situations; trials and tribulations; and through all of that learned a great deal they can share with us - and will help us as we live our lives and perhaps help us not to have to learn things the hard way….
Honor your parents - but not just your parents - honor all of life. God our ultimate father, our parent, created life and told us to care for all of life.

Amen!

The Fourth Commandment


that if we rest for a day, things will still get done. Probably because we now have more energy and more focus and more clarity.
But not only are we letting God know we trust him to help us the other 6 days, we can use our Sabbath observance as a way to witness to our commitment to God to others. “Why can’t you do this or that on Sunday” someone asks us - “Because it is the Sabbath - a day of rest. A day for God.” And people will look at you like you have lost your mind and how archaic it is to actually take a day off and rest and what a spoil sport you are.”
We read in Romans 12:2:
2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
God has given us a ‘holy’ day, a day set apart. A day where we as God’s people have permission to do something the rest of the world thinks is just strange - a day of rest.

Amen!

The Third Commandment


THE THIRD COMMANDMENT

Moses was taking care of his sheep. As with any other day he had taken his sheep out to pasture and was keeping watch over them, when he saw a fire burning and he went over to investigate what it might be. As Moses neared the bush he realized the bush was burning, but it wasn’t burning up. The fire was burning on the bush, but the bush remained intact. As Moses moved closer to see if he could figure out the problem, he heard a voice. The voice cried out, “Moses!”. Moses kind of looked around to see who might be calling him because it didn’t occur to him right off that it was the bush calling to him. Moses responded, “Here I am!” The voice came again - “Don’t come any closer to the bush, Moses. Take off your shoes for the ground around this bush is holy ground.” Moses realized this voice really was coming from the bush and it must be the voice of God so he took off his sandals and hid his face…. because he had been taught that to see God was to die. But God reassured him and said, “Moses, I am the God of your ancestors - the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I have seen my people who are in captivity in Egypt. I have heard them crying to me because of the misery brought to them by the slave drivers and I am concerned about their suffering.”
Just a brief review - Abraham was chosen by God to be the father of his people. His grandson Jacob had 12 sons and by a series of events ended up in Egypt where they were given the best of the land - the land of Goshen - to live in. for many years they had been protected and allowed to live their lives, but after several hundred years their protection was forgotten and they were turned into slaves. Their lives were extremely difficult and so they cried out to God for help.
Now back to Moses….. God in his voice from the burning bush tells Moses he wants to free his people from slavery but needs a human to do it for him and God has chosen Moses for this job. Now Moses is not thrilled by this idea and spends a great deal of time arguing with God about why he is not the person to do this. God counters each of Moses arguments. Finally Moses says, “But God, I don’t know your name. How can I go tell the people who sent me if I don’t know who you are?”
For the ancient Hebrews, your very essence was held in your name. Your name reflected your personality, your characteristics, your identity within your family and the society around you. If you remember we have several instances where God changes people’s names because their roles changed - Abram became Abraham when he agreed to God’s call to his life and the promises God made to him and the same thing happened with his wife Sarai who became Sarah. After Jacob wrestled with God, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel reflecting the change in Jacob’s view of himself and his understanding of his relationship with God. In the New Testament we read about how God tells people what to name their children - Elizabeth and Zechariah were instructed to name their miracle baby John who as he grew became known as John the Baptist and we are familiar with God’s directive to Mary and Joseph to name their child Jesus. Knowing someone’s name meant you knew about that person - their personality, their character - it meant you had a relationship with that person.
In our society today names are just that - names. We are named who we are because our parents wanted to honor a relative or a friend or because they just liked a name. There was no thought to the concept that the name would determine who that person became or of changing someone’s name because of a significant event that changed their character or their outlook.
Unless of course you are the subject of Johnny Cash’s song - A Boy Named Sue!
What Moses is really asking God at the burning bush is not so much what God’s name is, but who God is - what do I know about you God? Can I trust you? Will the people you are sending me to really know who you are or what you are about? I need your name God so they will know about you.


And God answers Moses - my name is I AM. “I AM who I am” is what God says. What he meant was he is the God who was, who is and who always will be. He is the God of creation and the God of eternity. He is THE God and there is no other except him.
God’s name reveals the ultimate power found in who he is.
When the name of God is written in Hebrew it is
יהוה. It is pronounced in Hebrew Yahweh and later when translated into Latin and then English became Jehovah - both of which you have probably heard before.
The name of God leads us to the 3rd Commandment. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
Our first thought usually when we hear this commandment is a rule to tell us not to swear. And certainly what we call cussing - using the Lord’s name in vain - is an element of this commandment and something we all know we shouldn’t do. But the commandment is so much more than simply just telling us not to cuss. The commandment is about using God’s name at any time that disrespects God the things of God. It is any time we use God’s name in a superficial or shallow way - it is thoughtlessly throwing God’s name around.
After they received this commandment, the ancient Hebrews were so worried they would use God’s name incorrectly, they quit using God’s name at all. Whenever they would read scripture and they came to the word Yahweh instead of saying Yahweh they would say the word Adonai which was a Hebrew word for ‘My Lord’. By saying Adonai they were acknowledging the verse they were reading was about The God, but they didn’t say his name just in case they said it incorrectly or unworthily.
I have a personal story about that - somewhere when I was very young in Sunday School, evidently my Sunday School teacher had taught a lesson on this commandment and I took it very literally. I was scared to teach to say “God” and when someone around me would say it I would flinch worried something was going to happen. Even during worship I was a little concerned about how God’s name was just thrown about…. I was in high school when I talked to a minister who was over our youth group and he helped me have a more healthy understanding of what the 3rd commandment was all about! But even to today, in the pervasive use of OMG, causes me to cringe a bit.
But it is exactly the use of OMG and other slang phrases where ‘God’ is used that this commandment addresses. God is not a name to be tossed about without any thought or any meaning. God’s name is always to be used in the context of respect and honor. We really need to think before ‘God’ comes out of our mouth.
There is another aspect to this use of the word ‘God’. Think about a court of law and during a trial what does the person say before they testify? They put their hand on the Bible and say they will tell the truth, “So help me God”. Literally this is an interpretation of the 3rd Commandment - if we are going to use God in the context of telling the truth then we had better tell the truth - we dishonor God if we say we will tell the truth in God’s name and then don’t.
The commandment also addresses the idea of doing things in God’s name for the wrong reasons - you go on a mission trip in God’s name but do it only so you will look good; you do the work of the church not because it is doing something for God but so that you can say, “Look what I did for the church”; you become a leader in the church for your own glory or your own power; you try to use God as the foundation to get money for yourself instead of for the work of God.
Anytime we talk about God and it is not in the context of honoring or respecting who God is - The Creator, The Almighty, our Redeemer and Sustainer - it is an inappropriate use of God’s name and we are breaking this commandment.
But as God’s people we would like to know why, why is this so important to God. It is because God knows us and knows that we need to always be reminded; we always need to remind ourselves of who God is in respect to who we are. It is awfully easy for us to become self important, to want to
elevate ourselves to the position of God, and if we start using God’s name in a frivolous way then that is how we start to think of God - God goes from being the one who makes us fall on our knees in honor and respect to something that is just ordinary - just something that is HoHum. And we understand the danger in that.
This commandment tells us to think before we speak and to consider our motives before we do something in the name of God.
Amen!