“Back to the basics: Honor your father and your mother”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
Some seventy years ago, after making a study on juvenile delinquency, the police department of Houston, Texas issued a pamphlet called, The Twelve Rules for Raising Delinquent Children.
This is what it said: “Number one--begin at infancy to give the child everything he wants. In this way, he will grow up to believe the world owes him a living.
“Number two--when he picks up bad language, laugh at him. This will make him think he’s cute.
“Number three--never give him any spiritual training. Wait until he’s 21, and then let him ‘decide for himself.’
“Number four--avoid the use of the word, ‘WRONG.’ It may develop a guilt complex. This will condition him to believe later, when he’s arrested for stealing a car, that society is against him and that he is being persecuted.
“Number five--pick up everything he leaves lying around: books, shoes, clothes. Do everything for him so that he will be experienced in throwing all responsibility onto others.
“Number six--let him read any printed material he can get his hands on. Be careful that the silverware and drinking glasses are sterilized, but let his mind feast on garbage.
“Number seven--quarrel frequently in the presence of your children. In this way, they will not be too shocked when the home is broken up later.
“Number eight--give a child all the spending money he wants. Never let him earn his own. Why should he have things as tough as you had them?
“Number nine--satisfy his every craving for food, drink and comfort. See that every sensual desire is gratified. Denial may lead to harmful frustration.
“Number ten--take his side against neighbors, teachers and other authority figures. After all, they are prejudiced against your child.
“Number eleven--when he gets into real trouble, apologize for yourself by saying, ‘I never could do anything with him.’
And “Number twelve--prepare yourself for a life of grief, for you will probably have it.”
Or think of another man who said, “Youth today have luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, no respect for older people, and talk nonsense when they should work. Young people do not stand up any longer when adults enter the room. They contradict their parents, talk too much in company and tyrannize their elders.”
Can you guess you said that? Socrates did, four hundred years before Christ!
And all this is why God gave us the Ten Commandments. I’ll read the words of Exodus chapter 20: “And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth…You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain…Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy…Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:1-4, 7-8, 12).
It’s been said that the Ten Commandments are elegant and shapely in their leanness. They’re the “Usain Bolt” of religious advice--0% body fat. Every word packs a punch. They’re an ancient, enduring, comprehensive ethical code for flourishing human life in exactly 179 words.
Or as American rapper Earl Simmons, also known as DMX, once said, “The truth doesn’t change. It was the same as when Moses got the Ten Commandments as it is today. That’s the thing about the truth. That’s the thing about real. It doesn’t change and it doesn’t have to change. Now you can put it in a different book, but it’s still real. It’s still the truth.”
So it is with commandment number four.
If you’ve been with us for the past few weeks, you’ll know that the first three commandments deal with our relationship with the Lord, what’s called the First Table of the Law--”You shall have no other gods…You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain…and Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”
Now we turn to the Second Table of the Law, our relationship with others. And the very first one speaks of parents.
Luther wrote in the words of his Small Catechism: “Honor your father and your mother. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”
And he wrote in the words of his Large Catechism: “To this estate of fatherhood and motherhood God has given the special distinction above all estates that are beneath it that He not simply commands us to love our parents, but to honor them…that both in heart and with the body we so act as to show that we esteem them very highly, and that, next to God, we regard them as the very highest.” And he wrote, “Learn, therefore, first, what is the honor towards parents required by this commandment, that they be held in distinction and esteem above all things, as the most precious treasure on earth.”
Now it’s easy to say that no matter where in the world you live, whatever culture or place or time, it’s a universally recognized principle that children should honor and respect their parents. It’s built into the fabric of life--ancient Greece, the Orient, Africa, South America--wherever you go, children are expected to honor their parents.
Japan holds a national holiday every year on the third Monday of September to honor and show appreciation for their elderly. “Respect for the Aged Day” is a paid holiday, where grandparents receive gifts and share a meal with their families. Native American families value the wisdom of their elders. Multiple generations of Mediterranean and Latin families live under one roof.
In the words of the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus, “Reverence for parents stands written among the three laws of most revered righteousness.”
And that’s just the way it should be! After all, parents gave life to the child, so the child owes everything he has to his or her parents.
But here in America, it often isn’t that way. Here, there’s an increasing loss of authority for the parent, as well as an increasing amount of disrespect.
And the media hasn’t helped. Just look at the change in television from the 1950s! As someone once put it, “Somewhere along the way we went from Leave it to Beaver to Beavis and Butthead.”
So what happened? Once upon a time, we had a patriarchal society, where the father was the head of the home and the mother was the key player in the home.
But today, no one’s home! The father’s gone and so is the mother, so there’s no adult in the home. And instead, there’s a child-centered society and a child-centered home. And instead of being raised in regular, routine, constant, parental care and authority, children are being raised by their peers or by their iphone or by the TV.
One school teacher put it this way--”Teachers are afraid of the principals, the principals are afraid of the superintendents, the superintendents are afraid of the board, the board is afraid of the parents, the parents are afraid of the children, and the children aren’t afraid of anyone.”
Is it any surprise? It shouldn’t be. After all, the apostle Paul once wrote to a pastor named Timothy: “But mark this: there will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents…” (II Timothy 3:1-2).
As another put it, “Civilizations rise and fall with the family. And faith in God rises and falls with the family. Therefore, the family is under constant spiritual attack.” And that’s why God gave us the fourth commandment.
But sometimes this commandment isn’t so easy to obey. What if, for example, you come from a broken home or your parents abused you or you’re adopted or your parents don’t get along or you don’t even know who your parents are?
But notice, the commandment doesn’t say, “Honor your parents if they’re honorable,” nor does it say, “Honor your parents if they deserve it,” nor does it say, “Honor your parents only if they treated you right.” Instead it says, “Honor your father and your mother.” Period.
And if that’s not enough for you, Solomon wrote in the book of Proverbs, “Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old” (Proverbs 23:22). Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). And he wrote to Timothy: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (I Timothy 5:8).
Why should we honor our father and our mother? Because the home is the foundation of society. It’s our first hospital, our first school, our first government and our first church. It’s where principles are hammered and honed on the anvil of everyday living. It’s where our character is sculpted under the watchful eye of a mom and a dad. It’s a “laboratory for living.”
Whether we knew it or not, and whether we appreciated it or not, your parents bought and cleaned your clothes, they made sure you got all the necessary inoculations and check-ups, they gave you a roof over your head and three nutritious meals a day, they provided you with transportation and counseled you when you had a problem, they gave you a good education, and they took you to church and told you about God’s great love in sending Jesus.
Jack Moore tells the story of a boy who was talking to a friend at school. He said, “I’m really worried!”
His friend asked, “What are you worried about?”
He said, “My dad just works so hard. He works overtime to provide for the needs of our home. Mom washes the clothes, prepares the meals, and keeps the house clean.”
His friend said, “Well, what in the world are you worried about?”
The boy replied, “I’m afraid they might try to escape!”
Because of our parents and those just like them, we no longer have to fear diphtheria, smallpox, scarlet fever, measles, mumps or polio. Because they knew what it was like to be poor and hungry and cold, they determined that it would never happen to us. We had food to eat, milk to drink, vitamins to nourish our bodies, warm homes, better schools and a great opportunity to succeed. They fought the ugliest wars and defeated tyrants like Hitler. Because they gave us their best, we are the tallest, healthiest and brightest generation to ever inhabit the earth.
And do you know who the best example of honoring our father and mother is? Jesus is! Remember in Luke chapter 2, when He was only twelve years old, somehow He got left behind in Jerusalem, separated from His mom and dad. And when they went all the way back and even searched for Him for three days, they finally found Him in the temple, talking with the teachers of the Law.
And though He told them He had to be about His Father’s business, the Bible says, “Then He went down to Nazareth with them and was subject, He was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51).
Born in September of 1804, Anna McNeill, the eldest of two daughters, eventually met and married a civil engineer and former army officer. But after giving birth to two sons, Jim and Bill, her husband died of cholera, giving her no choice but to try and make it on her own.
Now her second son, Bill, was a good son. After graduating with an M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, he worked as a surgeon in and around Richmond, Virginia and later in London, England where he became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and was the founder and senior physician of the London Throat Hospital.
Bill was a good son. But Jim, not so much. At first, she wanted him to become a pastor, but that didn’t work out so well. So instead, he went to West Point. But that didn’t work out at all either. Standing at 5-foot-4, with unauthorized long, black hair, his fellow cadets nicknamed him, “Curly.” Most of his off-duty hours were spent drinking at Benny’s Haven just outside the gates. Sloppy at drill, falling asleep in class, lampooning the faculty with his drawings, piling up more than two hundred demerits and failing chemistry, they kicked him out at the end of his third year. Five years later, when his mother had nowhere else to go, she moved in with him, while his redheaded mistress, Joanna, quickly moved out.
Those who knew him said he was arrogant, eccentric and shameless with a malicious wit, a massive ego and a talent for making more enemies than friends.
But even though there was so much he couldn’t do, there was one thing he could do--and that was paint. In all, he painted more than two hundred subjects, such as a man smoking a pipe or the river Thames.
But in spite of his rather fierce and obnoxious personality, he loved his mother and his mother loved him. So to honor her, he painted what would become one of the most famous paintings of all time, what we today call, Whistler’s Mother.
As our Lord, in His commandments once said: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).
We thank You, Father, for the gift of a mom and a dad. Help us to honor them, and to hold them in love and esteem, for Jesus’ sake. Amen