A Heritage To Keep
October 11, 2015
Two little boys were talking and one said to the other, “I am worried sick about my mom and dad.” “Really,” the other little boy responded, “why?” “Well,” said the first boy, “my dad works twelve hours a day in order to give us all of the things we have ever wanted – iPads, cell phones, the nicest clothes and a beautiful house. And, my mom spends all day and all night cooking us great meals, washing all of our clothes, taking us everywhere we need to go and making sure that our rooms are neat and tidy. I tell you, I am worried sick about them!” “Worried?” said his friend. “Why in the world are you worried, sounds to me like you have got it made!” “Exactly,” the boy remarked. “That’s my point, what if they try to escape?”
In essence, that cute little story encapsulates the place we often arrive in life as parents and as children. Sometimes, as children – both adolescent and adult children, we assume that all of the things that our parents do for us are simply the things that they have been put here to do and should be expected to do for us. From the child’s perspective, parents are simply here to ensure our good life. Often, this attitude only reinforces the feelings of those of us who are parents who are prone to feel as though our care, love and support for our children go both unnoticed and unappreciated.
As a result, our sense is that the fifth commandment about honoring parents is the perfect corrective. But, I want to suggest that while this is certainly true, the fifth command is also much more profound.
From the beginning, we must acknowledge that the fifth commandment is unique and this is true for at least two reasons. First, it is unique in that it serves as the pivot point among the ten. The first four commandments have to do with our relationship with God and the last five have to do with our relationship with our fellow human beings. As a result of this breakdown, many commentators point out that this fifth command actually straddles both categories to a certain degree. After all, being parents is the one way that human beings join God in the creative process. Of course, God is the creator and ultimate father of all living things but human being join God in this creative work as earthly parents and thus serve as the earthly starting point of all who have been given life. This means that it is true to a certain degree God and parents share a common characteristic as those who give and sustain our lives and thus to honor earthly parents is a natural extension of honoring and reverencing God.
This fifth command is also unique in that it is the only command in which our obedience is directly tied in a clear, concrete way to our future well-being. Did you notice that in this fifth command, and in no other command among the ten, we are told that the blessings of a long life rest on our ability to honor our parents?
Without question, there are lots of directions that we could take with this fifth command, as there are lots of truths for living that are connected to this verse. We could certainly allow this command to call us to affirm that all parents deserve our respect, gratitude and affirmation. We could allow this command to challenge us to wrestle with what it means to be a parent that is worthy of honor and respect. We could use this as a statement from God that reminds us that parent/child relationship last far beyond our early years – in other words, we never stop being parents no matter how old our children become and we never stop being children no matter our age. Both roles are lifelong responsibilities. Or, we could also reflect on the reality that even if we have no biological children, there are children who need our love, attention, support and help. All of these are good, helpful truths to draw from the fifth commandment and all are ways that people choose to interpret and apply this verse.
But, this morning, I want to focus our attention for just a few moments on the connection that this verse makes between a reverence for our parents with our own well-being and enjoyment of life. In a nutshell, what is being said here is that the way that we respect and honor others will directly impact the way that we ourselves are also honored and respected.
There is a profound fable from the Brothers Grimm that gets clearly at this point like nothing else of which I am aware. The story focuses on a couple and their child who one day were joined by the father of the man of the house as the elderly gentleman came to live in their home. The man’s father, who of course, was the child of the home’s grandfather, was at a fragile state in life. Because of his poor health, he struggled with almost every element of daily living. He struggled to eat, bath himself, administer his own medication, walk on his own and carry out all other daily acts by himself. These difficulties were often on full display at the evening meal where he regularly spilled food on himself, struggled to eat without making noises and was prone to turn over his glass and soil the tablecloth. Both the man and the woman in the home were frustrated by his presence and often became angry rather than showing compassion in the midst of his struggles. One night, they had had enough. After yet another night where he struggled to care for himself at the dinner table, they banished him to his own table and from then on required that he eat by himself, away from the rest of the family.
Sometime later, the man and women walked into to their son’s room and found him playing. He was building something with blocks. While simply trying to make conversation, the man asked his son what he was building. “Oh,” said the little boy, “I am building the table that you and mom will eat at by yourself when you get old and have to come and live with me one day.”
The point is simple – respect and care from those who follow us is directly linked to the respect we show and model as we care for those who come before us.
So often, we bemoan the loss of respect, reverence for others or recognition of authority figures in our world today. And yet, in this midst of our lamenting, we fail to recognize that so much of what we see today is learned behavior. In other words, it is modeled after the examples that our children and grandchildren have been offered in us. Now, we can reject this or question it but that doesn’t make it any less true.
Here is the base lesson that we must all learn. Ultimately, we cannot control how others behave. We cannot control how those who precede us behave and we really cannot control how those who follow us choose to behave. But, we can control how we behave. We can control how we choose to offer respect, care for, love and support those who come before us. And, if we do this, we can rest assured that at the very same time we will provide the very best blueprint and opportunity for those who come after us to follow. Without question, this is not foolproof but it is far more likely to make a difference than any other method.
The gospel is clear, we will treat others in keeping with the same measure that we understand and embrace God’s love for us. If we truly live into God’s grace and mercy active in our lives, this will be lived out in our treatment of those who come before us like our parents and this will set the groundwork for those who follow us in both how they feel about God and in how they care for us. Like this command among the ten, we are the pivot point between those who come before us and those who come after us in terms of both God and one another.
Way back when we planned for the Fall, we did not plan for today’s service to be the day we would affirm Will and Blakely as they dedicate Sadie to God and themselves to be good parents. Yet, there is no coincidence. For in them we find the perfect reminder of just what we are discussing. Whose phrases, mannerisms, dispositions and ways of approaching life will she pick up and model, why first and foremost her families of course. What will shape more than anything the way that she thinks and talks about God and others? Her family of course and then likely what she sees in us too? This is the example she will follow. She will do what she sees in us.
This is a scary and daunting reminder. But, it is also a glorious possibility. For if we all do our job well and take this role seriously, we just might have the chance to play a role in the great way that she will love and honor others and the great way that she will love and honor God. We might just leave a legacy and heritage in her that blesses others and that blesses us. Amen.