Rev. Kit Billings
January 18, 2004
Isn't it awesome that our two Scripture lessons today, which deal with honoring one's mother and father, are included in the spiritual foundation of Judaism and Christianity? I take it very seriously, and joyously, that the Lord saw fit to comment directly upon the Fourth Commandment. On the literal level of its meaning one can surmise that God has family values…that is, the Lord deeply values the family unit and especially religion that is based within good, loving relationship. In particular this morning we are taking note that God sees great value in honoring and supporting the two overt human leaders of the family, “Mamma Bear” and “Pappa Bear,” the ones who bear the burden and joy of primary guidance and responsibility. Family unity and wholeness are central values of our Creator, which is why they are included in the great Ten Commandments handed down from on high.
The first three Commandments given to Moses and the Hebrews are referred to as the first table of Divine truth, and the final seven as the second table of Divine truth. The first table is directed at man's relationship to God, while the second to our relationship to one another. Both deal with love in its deepest degrees.
These two tables of the law correspond to the two great Commandments given by Christ our Lord—we read in Mark 12:
29"The most important [Commandment]," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
What matters so very, very much to God is our love and relationship with Him and with each other, not to mention how we feel about ourselves. And this is why the Ten Commandments are what they are—divine and timeless truth about what spiritual love demands from us to be in alignment with our Creator who is Infinite Love and Wisdom Itself. As it turns out, the Fourth Commandment is a powerful bridge between the table of law concerning God and the table dealing with human charity and kindness. I think you will see what I mean in a moment.
Honoring our moms and dads. Honoring our grandmothers and grandfathers. The Lord said through Moses that this will enable us to inhabit the land of life that God is giving us as our inheritance. Woah! Pretty major stuff here wouldn't you say? All ten of these spiritual laws lay at the heart of what it means to live a truly just and sound way of life. Each Commandment is, in a sense, an eternal guidepost which stands to reveal that if we walk in this direction of which they speak, then all will be well with our souls. But if we choose to stray in a different direction, then we will be sinning against God our divine Father where we can seriously damage our souls, endangering our eternal welfare. Sinning against the Commandments keeps us from Heaven in the long run, and from our divine Father's Home.
But what about those parents who hurt and abuse their children? Are we meant to honor them too? What about those of us who had primarily loving and caring parents, yet who also could easily have been wounded and neurotic in some ways, certainly imperfect to be sure, due to their own unresolved emotional wounds from their own upbringing, or from the dark stuff that we inherit from the ugly side of our humanity? How can we honor our parents in the face of such realities, and be true to this Commandment sent to us from God?
Let's talk a bit about what it means to honor our natural parents and also our spiritual ones.
Honoring is about treating someone with respect and choosing to have a merciful and forgiving attitude toward them. Honoring my parents is having respect for what they say and stand for, yet still learning to have my own sense of self and conscience for what is right and wrong. It is also about honoring that which is truly good and honorable in them, and learning to distinguish these qualities from those that hurt us and perhaps wronged us if that happened while growing up. As Ray and Star Silverman suggest, honoring our parents is about taking the time to “re-see” them with our spiritual eyes and not just our natural ones.
Re-seeing our parents is essentially about being willing to not deny or wipe away the possible pain and wounding our mothers or fathers committed, but rather choosing to not remain stuck on their faults or weaknesses, in favor of generally trying to honor what was good and beautiful in them. In essence it's a choice to re-see our parents the way God does—focusing one's gaze most of the time at the good in someone rather than upon the sin. This is not about denying someone's sin, nor am I advocating not taking serious and deep time now and then to carefully examine the hurtful or neglectful attributes, which if denied can wreak havoc upon our present relationships, especially our marriages. But rather, this Commandment is about primarily focusing upon our parents' goodness, and helping them to move in such a direction by asking the Lord to help me be grounded in my God-given love for them. Re-seeing one's parents is also about taking the time to look deep inside the neurotic or negative traits they may possess and seeing if there might be a kernel of spiritual goodness or wisdom at the heart of the way they spoke to and dealt with us when we were young.
I recall a story about a man who was born into an atheistic Jewish household. Interestingly, the son of the passionately atheistic (albeit Jewish) father wound up becoming a Christian, who then felt a calling into ordained ministry. As you can guess, the father was completely torn up in his heart about this and disowned his son quickly. Later, after the son grew into manhood, he sported a nice, long beard and lost about 40 lbs. of weight. He never totally stopped thinking about his dad and hoped for reconciliation. The son knew that he had chosen a life that fundamentally broke away from the deepest passions his father had taken into his own heart, yet he still knew how wrong his father was.
Years after their disillusionment, the son learned that his father had a heart attack and was convalescing in a city hospital. Given the son's change in appearance he decided to pay his father an unannounced visit and see what might unfold. Upon entering his father's hospital room, he saw a very different man than he'd known before. His father was calm and peaceful, meditating upon who knew what as he stared quietly out the window of his hospital room. His father thought him to be one of the hospital social workers and welcomed him into his room. The father talked warmly and openly about life and the way to happiness. His son just listened to him, being careful not to reveal his name and identity. He learned that his dad was a very caring and thoughtful man. Then the son chose to reveal his identity by quoting a favorite Italian phrase, which was enjoyed deeply by his father. It was a sarcastic phrase that meant, “When is this `sweet life' going to come to an end?”
Upon hearing these beloved words, the father expressed aloud, “Raymond, are you my Raymond?”
“Yes, Dad,” his son replied. And the two men hugged with deep affection, while his father said aloud, “I have always loved you.” A miracle of reconciliation had happened, which sort of faded momentarily when the father broke the embrace and revealed, “But I'm still mad at you.” His son had turned against the most passionate belief of this man, which was his hatred of religion. Soon they found themselves chuckling and making light of the strangeness of it all.
This bearded Christian minister found himself then being able to not deny the dark side of his father while also looking further to see the good qualities of his father, such as sincerity, honesty and a love of life that was free from hypocrisy. It is possible to look beyond how our parents may have treated us and discover the love from and within them that has always been there. As we choose to center ourselves within the positive qualities of our parents, the Lord is then able to grant us longer and longer periods of peace and happiness inside our hearts—inside the spiritual “land” which God is giving us…His heaven!
Clearly, however, there are some situations where the abuse and wounding can get so terribly severe, that relatively quick re-seeing of one's parent or parents is partially or completely beyond our ability to heal. Also, the wisdom within the Fourth Commandment would still leave major room for the goodness of anyone who felt the need for psychotherapy to carefully re-enter the memories and issues which create serious problems in our current relationships.
Our theology reminds us that there is a spiritual degree of meaning to each of the Ten Commandments. Honoring father and mother draws us to the relationships we have with God our Father and the Church our spiritual Mother. Honoring the Lord encompasses a great deal indeed. It means in part choosing in life to honor the Lord as He reveals Himself to us in His Word, which shows that God speaks to us deeply as we read and meditate upon these holy writings. Honoring our divine Father calls us to be willing to listen to His voice, which speaks to us, in part, through the goodness and wisdom contained in the holy Scriptures.
And what of our spiritual Mother? What are we dealing with in this Fourth Commandment's calling to honor our spiritual Mother? It is talking about more than being honorable toward whatever organized church one feels at home in…indeed, it's drawing us to honor and recognize the good spirits or people who make up the one universal church of God, which exists beyond the divisions of creed and religious structures.
There is a vast web of spiritual allies that make up the supportive network of loving and influential people who've made a positive difference in the lives we lead. This would include those people we can physically see and touch with our natural senses, and those who help us all throughout our lives, who work with us as our guardian angels that the Lord supervises. Psalm 91 reads: “For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” (Psalm 91:11-12) Spiritually accepting the Fourth Commandment means becoming open to the awesome spiritual realities of God that serve us every day and guide us in Jesus' way.
So, where are you at at this point with the wisdom of the Fourth Commandment? Are you able to perceive the deep importance of honoring your natural father and mother, their good qualities, and also your heavenly Father and spiritual Mother? Giving life to this Commandment is about a choice to dwell in the land of appreciation, gratitude and thanksgiving, and allowing the Lord to bless your heart, mind and life from doing so.
I pray that you grow in your unique capacity to honor the good qualities that live in your natural parents. I pray that we all may further recognize and appreciate the existence of Christ's universal church and the countless people who've helped us along our way. And may we also honor and celebrate the work and diligence of unseen spiritual allies who nudge and support us through the movement of the butterfly and the timely gaze or presence of our furry pets both big and small.