(Significant Scriptures: Ephesians 6:1-4 & Matthew 20:20-28 )
A Sunday School teacher was teaching the Ten Commandments to her class of five and six year old students. After explaining the commandment to “Honour your father and mother,” the teacher asked, “Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?” Without missing a beat, one little boy in the class put his hand up and replied, “You shall not murder.”
Today we are reflecting about being the parents and children that God is calling us to be. And it is a struggle to fulfill those callings that God has placed on our lives. All of us are children, and so God has given to all of us this commandment, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12) The word honour here means to give respect, reverent love and obedience to our parents. When we are young, that means that we do the chores that our parents ask us to do. When we are older, that means that we care for our parents when they are no longer able to care for themselves. And I really struggle with this commandment, especially the obeying part. When I was in Grade 12, honouring and obeying my parents was the furthest thing from my mind. I wanted to spend as little time as possible at home and so I had my sporting and social activities arranged so that I was out every night of the week except for Sunday and sometimes then too.
A few years later, Susan and I were married and a few years after that we started having children. And I figured that this was going to be great! I love our kids but I wasn’t really thinking about my God-given obligations to them. After all, none of the Ten Commandments are addressed directly to parents regarding the care of their children. But as I became better acquainted with the Bible, I realized that Jesus did say, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40) And then there is this verse in Ephesians chapter 6: Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4) And so God does have something to say about how parents are to treat their children. And yet there is also a struggle for parents to love and serve their children in the way that God calls them. There is a scene in Indiana Jones 3: The Search for the Holy Grail Indy’s father berates him for bringing the diary with him and Indy responds by exclaiming “Stop calling me junior!” That’s what it looks like when a father exasperates his child. The word “exasperate” means to provoke to anger and when a parent exasperates their child, the anger being provoked is sometimes a deeply engrained, long-term kind of anger. And it is so easy for fathers, unintentionally or otherwise, to wound their children and cause this kind of anger and bitterness to take root. I have done it myself.
And so we are caught in this dilemma of knowing that God is calling us to love and serve our parents and our children (if we have children) and also knowing that we are failing to do what God is calling us to do.
But I have Good News for you today! Jesus loves you! And because he loves you, Jesus lived a perfect human life for you. Jesus is the perfect child, honoring and obeying his father in all the ways that we fail. Jesus loved and served his Father by doing whatever he asked, even when it meant going to the cross for all of your sins and mine and for all the sins of the whole world. Jesus paid for them all! And after dying on the cross, Jesus rose from the dead to give us forgiveness for all of our sins and everlasting life with him. You are forgiven for all the times when you dishonored or disobeyed your parents. You are forgiven for all the times when you said a careless word to your child that hurt them. You are forgiven for all the times when you did not nourish your child in the training and instruction of the Lord. You are forgiven because Jesus is the Son who perfectly loved and served his Father.
But there is more Good News! For you also have a perfect Father! God the Father worked through your parents to create you! He knit you together in your mother’s womb. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Your Father in heaven worked through your parents here on earth to give you the home and the nourishment and the love that you needed. Your parents were not perfect, but your heavenly Father is. And his loving care for you continues. Your Father in heaven created this world for you to live in and he works through farmers and grocery store owners to give you the food you need for each day. He works through doctors and nurses and medicines to give you the healing that you need in your body. He works through church workers and your sisters and brothers in Christ to encourage you to live in the forgiveness and the freedom that you have in Jesus.
You have a perfect Father who loves you and cares for you. And just as God works through many, many other people to give his loving care to you, so also God works through you to give his loving care to others. The perfect Father and the perfect Son have given you the perfect Holy Spirit to live within you and to lead you and guide you to love and serve your parents. And if you have children, it is God the Holy Spirit working in you and through you to love and serve your children. You probably don’t even realize the good that you are doing in other people’s lives as you live your life as a follower of Jesus. And yet God is at work there, respecting others, caring for others, encouraging others, and nourishing seeds of faith in others. God has called you to be a child who loves and serves your parents, and he is at work in you to make that loving service happen. If you have children, God has called you to be a parent who loves and serves your children, and he is at work in you to make that loving service happen. God is the one who is making it all happen! As it says in Ephesians 2:8-10, 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
A few years ago, I was encouraged to reflect on my past and to try to make amends for my failures where I could. And so I apologized to my dad for my rebellious ways when I was a teenager. Now my dad is a hard-charging, Type A personality. He is not known for being a sensitive kind of guy. But when I said I was sorry for all of my rebellion against him and all of the times when I had hurt him, you know what he said to me? He said, “Oh, I already forgave you for all those things a long time ago.” And as I sat there with a stunned look on my face, overwhelmed by the fact that my father forgave me before I even realized that I needed to ask for his forgiveness, my dad said this, “Well, wouldn’t you do the same for your kids?” My answer was, “Of course I would!”
You take the love that my dad had for me in the moment and multiply it by a million, billion times and that is how much your heavenly Father loves you. He has forgiven you before you even realized that you needed to ask for forgiveness. He has loved you in countless ways through a multitude of means before you even realized that God was behind all the loving care that you are receiving in this life. As his forgiven child whom he loves so very, very much and in whom he is at work, wouldn’t you do the same for others, like your parents, if they are still alive, and if you have them, your children? And if your parents are no longer alive, or if God has not given you children, are there others in your life whom you could love and serve in a similar kind of way? And wouldn’t you do it because of God’s love for you? Of course, you would. Amen.
(Preached at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on 8 June 2008 )