Tree of Life: Thoughts on hate, and how to respond.

Matthew 5: 21-22; 38-48

21 ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister,* you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult* a brother or sister,* you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell* of fire.

38 ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,* what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I got up yesterday and started to put the finishing touches on today’s message.

This is Consecration Sunday.

The day we commit our time, talent and treasure to the mission and ministries of JMPC.

Then I got a text from my son in Milwaukee.

“What is going on in Squirrel Hill?

People are getting shot!”

Then I checked the news.

It was all about Tree of Life.

A guy with a semiautomatic assault rifle and three handguns had murdered eleven people in their synagogue while they worshiped.

One family was there for a brys.

The circumcision and naming of an eight-day old baby.

Why did this man do this?

Because they were Jews.

And he hated Jews.

And he believed that all Jews must die.

This in the United States in 2018.

In Pittsburgh.

The country and city where I live.

I was and am still outraged.

I felt the need to respond.

So yesterday I reached out to the local Jewish community and invited them to organize a joint worship service.

I also sent an email of condolences to the Tree of Life congregations.

I posted a personal message on social media and one from this congregation as well.

And now I need to encourage each of us to stand against hate.

I need to proclaim what Jesus taught were the greatest commandments.

Love God.

Love each other.

That it is a sin to believe that another person, an image bearer of God, is somehow inferior and thus eligible for elimination.

Just because they are of a different faith.

Or a different race.

Or from a different place.


This man who murdered those eleven people was an anti-Semitic firebrand who was willing to kill anyone who … what?

Threatened him?


What was the threat?

What was he afraid of?

Our world is a becoming a place where many are unwilling to live with people who disagree with them or are different from them.

They are unwilling to abide even their presence.

They seek ways to eliminate those who do not agree with or and are not like them.

That was what Tree of Life was all about.

That is fear.

That is hate.

That is sin.

And this presents a problem.

We, who profoundly disagree, who are horrified, who are angry, want to respond to those who think this way and do such things.

We want to respond to the hate.

But how?

How do we respond in a way that does not make us just like them?

How do we respond to hate in a way that is not hateful?

Because if we fail at this, the world will continue to descend into a violent, chaotic, free for all.

Hell on earth.

How do we avoid that?

We need to listen to Jesus!

In our scripture reading this morning he teaches us three things.

  1. Do not match insult with insult.
  2. Do not match aggression with aggression.
  3. Respond to those who oppose you in a way that de-escalates.

Pretty simple … but almost impossibly difficult.

Jesus’ words defy our human condition.

Rabbi Jonathon Sachs describes why in his book, Not in God’s Name.

I recommend it.

He describes the human condition this way.

Individually, humans are pretty vulnerable.

So we form groups.

These groups provide security.

Such groups can defend against attack, maintain order and share resources.

Within the group there is altruism, patriotism, courage, fidelity, obedience and sympathy.

But as between groups, there is none of this.

Between groups, we see our more basic instincts.

Aggression, fear, anger, combativeness, a willingness to fight and inflict injury on others.

Sachs describes it this way:

Groups unite and divide. They divide and unite. Every group involves the coming together of multiple individuals to form a collective Us. But every Us is defined against a Them, the ones not like us.

We need to defeat Them so our group will be safe.

And that is OK because those not like us, Them, are inferior.

Does any of this sound familiar?


Take a look at Twitter.


Turn on cable news.

What do we see?

Chest pounding.




Is that not what we saw yesterday?

A fearful white man convinced that the only way to save his group was to eliminate Them.

He started out with hate.

Went on to insults.

Now finally with violence.

What do we do in response?

Do the same?

I know what my visceral reaction was – and it was not pastoral.

That is what makes Jesus’ lesson so hard.

And here is the problem that Jesus identifies.

We are all members of groups.

We believe certain things that the group shares.

These beliefs are a part of our identity.

Part of who we are.

Part of what the group stands for.

So, if anyone threatens us, or our group, we take it as a personal attack.

A threat to our group.

Our immediate inclination is to respond in kind.

A retaliatory attack on Them.

Chest pounding.




Jesus says no!

Jesus says stop it!

He demands a different response.

A hard one to satisfy.

  1. Do not match insult with insult.
  2. Do not match aggression with aggression.
  3. Respond to those who oppose you in a way that de-escalates.

Remain calm.

Find a way to reach out.

Respond with peace.

Refuse to retaliate.

That is what Jesus teaches in our scripture reading.

How the heck to we do that?

It means we must give up our hate.

It means freeing ourselves from the power our opponents exercise over us with their hate.

That power our opponents use to goad us into acting just like them.

We take that power away from them by giving up our hate.

Listen to Paul from Romans 12:

17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves …  20No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

I love that line.

… for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.

Giving up our hate takes their power away from them.

That is not to say we do not confront those who hate us and would have us eliminated.

That is not to say we do not oppose those we disagree with.

That is not to say that we don’t stand up for what we believe.

We are not called to passivity.

But we are called to do something.

Sachs puts it this way:

The Sermon on the Mount tells us to love our enemies. That is a supremely beautiful idea but it is not easy. Moses offers a more livable solution. Help you enemy. You don’t have to love him, but you do have to assist him. …

A decent society will be one in which enemies do not allow their rancor and animosity to prevent them from coming to one another’s aid when they need help. When someone is in trouble, act. Do not stop to ask whether they are friend or foe.

That is what Jesus is talking about.

When Jesus says we are to provide food, water, shelter, clothing, care and hospitality to those who need it, he does not say we are need only do it for those like us.

We are to act, and not first ask if they are friend or foe.

Which, believe it or not, brings us to a point I wanted to make in my original message.

The scripture reading was Marks’s telling of the feeding of the 5,000.

You know the story.

A huge crowd surrounds Jesus and the 12.

This crown is from all over Judea, Trans Jordan and what we would call Lebanon.

They are a diverse group.

Some Greek, some Jews, Some gentile.

Not a harmonious bunch.

They are not alike, and they do not know each other.

It is late in the day and the 12 are afraid.

Afraid that the people are going to need food.

The 12 don’t know them.

The 12 are uncomfortable and want to be rid of these folks.

There is going to be trouble ones they all get “hangry”.

Their response is to ask Jesus to send them away.

But Jesus says no.

There is a better way.

If what they need is food, give them some.

Don’t send them away, share what you have.

The long story made short is that the disciples do just that, and apparently the diverse crowd follows suit.

Everyone is sharing with everyone else.

Even with folks they might otherwise not much care for.

No hate.

No insults.

No aggression.

Just sharing.

And there is peace.

There is no doubt that we live in a dangerous world.

We are simply called by Jesus to not make it more dangerous.

And maybe make it a bit better.

Maybe if we share.

Maybe if we respond to hate in a different way.

I read this last evening in the on-line Atlantic Magazine.

When Rabbi Joseph Miller learned of the Squirrel Hill massacre, less than a mile from his own pulpit, he ordered the doors of his synagogue locked. Despite his congregants’ terror that they would be next, they recited the mi sheberach. They didn’t pray for their own protection; they prayed for the healing of others.

They prayed for the healing of others.

Jesus would include the healing of this Synagogue murderer.

Certainly, his soul is in need of healing.

All that is hard, but it is the Jesus way.

It is called grace.

Why should we act that way?

Because God acts that way toward us.

God responds to our hate with a Savior.

To God, no one is irredeemable.

No one is disposable.

No one is inferior.

Jesus says we are to act the same.

Is there some way to connect all this with our contributions to the ministries and missions of JMPC?

I think so.

The contributions we consecrate today can and must be used to reach out in the communities surrounding us to meet people’s needs.

We do much of that now, but we need to explore what more we can do.

With our contributions maybe we can do our part in making the world a more peaceful place.

For Us.

For Them.

Isn’t that the goal?

Isn’t that what we are called to do?

Isn’t that living the Jesus way?

I think it is.

Pray with me this prayer written by Pastor Jill Duffield of Presbyterian Outlook.

Lord, we know your power, your promises and your presence, but on days like today when your chosen people are gunned down in your holy house we question everything we thought we knew about you, about humanity, about ourselves. How can such hate fester and plot, destroy and kill? How can those created in your image and called good commit such horrendous acts? How have we gotten to this place? Where do we go from here?

Lord, help us. Help us rise up and resist evil with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. Help us confront the hate within and without that is overtaking our land. Comfort, O comfort your people, Lord. We beg for an outpouring of compassion and love to overwhelm the scourge of violence besetting our communities.

May we relentlessly speak up for and reach out to our Jewish brothers and sisters and all of those reeling in fear as they simply go about their daily living. Grant us the courage, the will and the stamina to live every day with faith, hope, mercy, kindness and justice until crying and mourning and death and hate are no more. We pray in the name of our Savior, a Jewish man from Nazareth, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Amen.

This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church

In the book, Between Heaven and Mirth, by James Martin, S.J. he tells the story of a barber in a small town. One day a Franciscan monk stops for a haircut. The barber proclaims that he loves the Franciscans and gives the monk the haircut for free. The next day there is a basket of wild flowers from the Franciscans on his doorstep with a thank you note. Later that day a Trappist Monk stops for a haircut. The barber proclaims that he loves the Trappists and gives the monk the haircut for free. The next day there is a basket of Trappist made cheese on his doorstep with a thank you note. Later that day a Jesuit priest comes in for a haircut. The barber proclaims that he loves the Jesuits and gives the priest the haircut for free. The next day the barber opens his shop door and finds ten more Jesuit priests.

This silly joke illustrates a problem that sometimes affects our desire to be generous. Sometimes we are thanked. Sometimes we are taken advantage of. But often we are simply overwhelmed with how many people need (or want) our generosity. (If the barber had given the ten Jesuits free haircuts, how many would have showed up the next day? The next?) We are called to be generous, right? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty, right? But if we read the paper each day we see that the number of people who need these necessities of life is overwhelming. We don’t have the time of the money to get it done. We might simply avert our eyes.

Another way to address this issue is the way Jesus did it when he had his disciples use five loaves of bread and two pieces of fish jerky to feed over 5,000 people. Magic? Hardly. A better way? You bet. And it was enough. Come and hear about it Sunday, October 28, 2018 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church at either 8:30 or 11 when Pastor Jeff Preaches “Enough” based on Mark 6: 34-44. We will also collect the Family Estimate of Giving Cards and consecrate them to the work that God has called JMPC to do. We will look forward to seeing you.

A Good Investment: Thoughts on giving to the church. And it’s not what you think!

Matthew 25: 14-29

14 ‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents,* to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.” 21His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” 23His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” 24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” 26But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

Stewardship messages are not fun to preach.

No one likes them much, particularly the preacher.

But there are more difficult tasks.

It was April 22, 2010.

I got a call from Tommy of the Pirates ticket office.

He wanted to know if I was interested in buying a season ticket plan.

This was the morning after the Brewers had embarrassed the Pirates 20-0.

Two days after the Brewers routed the Pirates 8-0.

And three days after the Brewers pummeled the Pirates 8-1.

The three game total?

Brewers 36 – Pirates 1.

And here was Tommy asking me to give the Pirates some of my money.

I asked Tommy if this was the hardest work day of his life.

He said it was in the top 5.

I did not buy a ticket plan.

Why would I want to invest my hard-earned bucks on those Bucs?

There were better alternatives for my entertainment dollars.

Things to spend money on that actually entertained me.

You know who else wants some of my money?


We get reams of mail and lots of phone calls from charities asking for money.

And you know who one of those charities is?

The church – JMPC!

You got mail this week from us, if you are a member.

I think most of us here want to give money charities.

We want to donate to organizations that do good things.

I think all of us want to give money to the church for the same reason.

We want it to be used to do good works.

But that’s not always the way it’s presented, right?

Which brings us to our scripture reading.

The Parable of the Talents.

First, we need to define a term.

A ‘talent’.

The Greek term refers to an amount of money.

Around $1,000, I have read.

The master is usually identified as God.

We are the slaves.

God gives us each an amount of wealth.

It is God’s investment in us.

Some get a lot.

Some not so much.

But we all get something in accordance with our ability.

God expects a “return on the investment”.

In the parable, two double God’s money.

They get a reward.

One does nothing with it.

He gets scolded … or worse.

That’s the message, right?

Make money for God?

Here’s a surprise.

That is no what the parable is about.

It’s not giving making money for God.

It’s not giving God back 10%.

It’s using the money for these things:

Loving God.

Loving each other.

Making disciples.

How do we generally use God’s money to accomplish these things?

We give money to the church.

The church will get all that done.

So, get out your wallets.

That is another sermon.

But, I am not a fan of that message.

It creates little enthusiasm.

Just giving money to the church should not be equated with doing the things God call us to do.

We need to be a bit more involved.

We want the money we give to actually do the things God call us to do.

Particularly the kinds of things we believe will make a difference in the world.

So, we are allowed to encourage the church to:

  1. Do something you are passionate about,
  2. Do it well, and
  3. Use your money to produce the good works the church says it will.

And here is a very important consideration:

  1. Does the church invite you to ask: “What have you actually done with my money?”

If you are investing in a church to produce a return of the good works you want, the good works God wants, you want to know if it actually happened.

Which is why I don’t like a sermon that just says “get out your wallets”.

Giving money to the church is important, but it is not quite enough.

We need to be a bit more involved.

Because when we get more involved, we hold the church accountable, and we get a benefit as well.

A spiritual benefit.

In a past issue of Presbyterians Today, the cover story asked the question, “Why we give.”

The author, Karl Travis, said this:

It’s not because God needs the money – it’s because giving helps us grow as Christians.

Travis reminds us that giving is identified by Jesus as a spiritual discipline.

I like the way Travis describes it.

Our hearts follow our dollars.

Jesus says, where our treasure is, that is where our hearts will be.

Dollars first, then our hearts.

Just like an investment.

You invest your money and then you watch the investment doing all that is necessary to assure it produces.

Churches are like that.

We donate to churches and then we get involved in the work of the church to make sure the money is spent well.

Our hearts follow the dollars.

So today I want to look at the parable in a different way.

You , those who donate to the church, are the master.

The one who invests.

The officers and staff of the church are your slaves.

You give us money.


You expect this money to be used in a way that accomplishes the mission of the church.

So you are free to ask, “What have you done with the money we gave you?”

Have we changed lives?

Saved souls?

Loved God.

Loved each other.

Made a difference in the world?

Our answers determine what you will do next.

Are we the slaves who doubled the master’s money?

Or are we the slave who did nothing?

If we were like the first two slaves, and we made your money produce greatly, you might decide you are willing to give us more for next year.

But if we have not done anything, you have the right to take away what you gave.

But how do you evaluate JMPC on these standards?

You need to get involved.

You need to find out some things.

  1. Does JMPC do something you are passionate about,
  2. Does JMPC do it well, and
  3. Does JMPC use your money to produce the good works it says it will.
  4. Does JMPC invite you to ask: “What have you actually done with my money?”

So, let’s have a look.

Our mission is to provide an opportunity for people to know, glorify and serve God.

This is what all churches do.

What makes JMPC different?

It’s how we know, glorify and serve God.

It is a long list.

I will just highlight a few.


This year JMPC gave away almost $11,000 raised from The Christmas Affair.

JMPC sent mission teams to do clean up and construction work in Houston (twice), Chiapas, and Bethel Park.

JMPC offered VBS to 130 kids and gave a couple dozen adults the opportunity to teach them discipleship.

JMPC sponsors Bond’s of Love, a neonatal care and education program for young women in Duquesne.

An incredibly successful and growing pre-school.

Housing of homeless families.


Sponsored new members classes, new members receptions and organized mentors for the new members.

Offered several luncheons and membership gatherings.

Sponsored a game night with food, fellowship and fun.

Spiritual Development

Choirs and bells and bands and preachers and baptisms and weddings and communion and funerals and seasonal services.

A reorganization of our Sunday school.

Two new Bible studies.

Growing Kids Club, Youth Group, and Confirmation classes.

Worship every Sunday.


A well-kept place for all these activities.

Lawn mowing and snow plowing.

Heat and light.

Financial oversight that included a successful completion and overhaul of our book keeping and management.

All of these things help us to know, glorify and serve God.

But more than that, each time someone participates, funds, or receives the benefits of any one  of these ministries, that person is changed, transformed, even if just a bit, for the better.

Lives are changed.

Souls are saved.

God is loved.

Neighbors are love.

The world is made a bit better.

That’s us!

We did those things.

God worked through us.

We were God’s hands in those cases.

These are the return on your investment here at JMPC.

  • JMPC does do many things we should be passionate about,
  • JMPC does do those things well,
  • JMPC does use your money to produce the good works it says it will.
  • JMPC does invite you to ask: “What have you actually done with my money?”

You can trust us with more.

And we can do more.

With an increase in pledges, we can fully fund all our pillars, tithe to mission and produce more of what God has called us to.

If Tommy from the Pirates called me tomorrow and asked me to invest in a season ticket plan for the 2019 season here at JMPC, I would.

I would gladly spend my charitable dollars right here.

But it is not Tommy, it is me as a representative of your leaders, who is asking you to invest your charitable dollars here at JMPC for 2019.

So, if you have questions, ask them today.

What are we doing with you money?

Get the information you need.

Also share what you think.

What more should we do?

What should we do differently?

Then, go home, take some time to pray, and fill out your estimate of giving card.

Come back next week and let’s show God what we are going to do with what God invested in us.

Invest more than your money.

Invest yourselves.

We are a good investment!

This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church

When I want to catch up on the news, I generally tune in to NPR’s Morning Edition as I drive to the church. This week, I turned on the car and the first words I heard were “fall pledge drive”. Ugh. In between every story, there was Kevin Gavin asking for 4 more calls or $500 to meet a challenge pledge. And, if you pledge, you will get … not the usual Morning Edition mug (I have several) … but an entry into a raffle for Hamilton tickets! Wow!

That is the way many non-profits encourage giving. Offer something in return for the donation. What does a church have to offer in return for a donation? Mugs? Pens? Pledge envelopes? How about this?

A man received a letter from a large Christian media broadcaster seeking financial support. They needed money to maintain their broadcast. Based on their ratings, the broadcasters calculated that if every listener would send in $76 (yeah, it’s an old story), this financial need would be met. So far so good. Members of JMPC got a letter like that this week.

But then the letter went on. God cannot be out-given, the letter said, and so if someone gives to God, God will give back to that person more than that person gave. The letter then guaranteed, on the principle that God cannot be out-given, that God would find a way to give that $76 back three times over. “Send us the $76 and God will give back to you; just watch how he does it.” Um … really?

The recipient of the letter thought about that and concluded that the broadcaster had it backward. He wrote a letter back and said, “I believe what you have written; I believe it is true that God cannot be out-given; and I believe you have a tremendous need for funds. So, I would like to suggest that you send me the $76 and God will give back to you three times over. You can get rid of your debt a lot faster that way.” Too funny.

Actually, both had it wrong. Donating money to a church has little to do with financial rewards (or tchotchkes) for either the church or its benefactors. It is actually an investment in the work of the church, its missions and ministries. What is the return on that investment? Come and hear about Sunday, October 21 when Pastor Jeff preaches, “A Good Investment” at John McMillan Presbyterian Church at 8:30 and 11. There is one reward offered this week. Hot dogs and chili after the 11 o’clock service! We look forward to seeing you.

Family Values? Thoughts on Honoring our Parents. It’s not what you think.

Exodus 20: 1, 12

20Then God spoke all these words:

12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Everyone who is a parent, finish the final sentence:

You: Billy, it’s time to go to bed.

Billy: But why?

You: Because … what?

It is a phrase I trotted out without any reservation whenever my kids asked why they had to do what I told them to do.

I would simply say, “What’s the best reason you can think of?”

They would turn away and say, “Because you said so.”

And I would say, “Right! Because I said so.”

I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of parents who ever existed thought they had the absolute right to tell their kids what to do and then expect them to just do it without question.

And the 5th Commandment confirms it right?

Honor your father and mother.

Do what they say.

Paul even confirms it in Colossians and Ephesians.

Ephesians 6:1

6 Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.

Colossians 3:20

20 Children obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

So pardon me while I go back to children’s church and tell them: kids, obey your parents!

And all God’s parents said:


Oh, wait …

What if the command from the parent is for the child to submit to abuse?

Must the child obey in order to satisfy this commandment?

To satisfy Paul?

An abuser would say yes.

An abuser would use the 5th Commandment, and Paul’s letters, as a weapon claiming some kind of right saying, “the Bible says so!”

That is absolutely and completely a fundamental abuse of scripture.


First because the 5th Commandment is not about obedience.

We will get to what it is about, but it is not about obedience.

Second, the Bible does not condone any kind of abuse, particularly abuse of children.

Remember the words of Jesus when he said this:

Mark 9: 42

42 ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.

Abusers – it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea!

Third, the passages from Colossians and Ephesians refer to an obedience to Godly parents.

Ephesians 6: 4

And, [parents], do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

And Colossians 3: 21:

[Parents], do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart.

Simply put, we are not to honor parents, or follow the teaching of parents, or obey parents who do not try to follow the commands of God.

So, if it is not about obedience, what does this command to honor father and mother mean?

Certainly, it means “to show respect,” “to treat kindly” and “with courtesy.”

But it means much more than that.

The Hebrew word we translate as “honor” is kavod.

Kavod means “to give weight.”

We are “to give weight” to our parents.

That means we give our parents significance.


Several reasons.

First, they were the ones who were the conduit between God and our human existence.

Second, our parents also care for us and raise us and teach us and provide for us.

Third, and I think most important, the 5th Commandment describes a social order.

An order necessary for a community to survive.

It describes a succession of responsibility.

There are “parents” who are in charge and “children” who follow.

The “parent” leads the next generation.

That next generation follows that “parent” in order to prosper.

In time the next generation assumes leadership and the next follows it.

This succession allows our family, and our community, to be organized in a way that ensures its continuation into the future.

In all these ways, our parents are our link to our heritage – our history.

Why was this so important for Israel?

Why is it important for us?

Why is it in God’s top 10?

Because the loyalty of the following generation of Israel was paramount in a community whose identity and faith were based on historical events that were unrepeatable.

In Exodus, the elders of Israel are the link to the history of the exodus.

Of God choosing Israel to be God’s people and using Israel to bless the world through Jesus.

In similar ways, our parents are the link to our history of unrepeatable things and our relationship with God.

And so it goes.

It is the way of things.

We need to give that weight.

It has always been this way.

We need to give weight to all those things.

Looking at the 5th Commandment this way means it is not specific to individual families, though it has application there.

It primarily concerns the continuation of a community.

And this has always been a challenge.

Because the commandment is two sided.

One writer I read this week put it this way:

…[T]his Commandment is double-edged. It cuts in two directions at once. To us as children it says, “Give primary authority to the parent. They should carry the most weight with you.” To us as parents it says, “You are God’s appointee for the nurture of those lives entrusted to you. Care for them well. Be worthy of the ‘weight’ they will give you.”

There has always been friction and disappointment and disapproval between the generations.

Listen to this quote:

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect for their elders. They love to chatter in place of exercise. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, babble before company, gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

That was Socrates 2300 years ago.

We have all heard that scold from our parents.

I did.

And I resented it.

I certainly did not honor it.

The weight I gave it was to make sure I was not like my parents, at least in that regard.

One day, I was talking about this with a pastor friend of mine.

We were talking about relationships with our parents.

We did not want to irritate our kids the same way our parents irritated us.

Then he said something I found both funny and insightful.

He said, “Well, just because we don’t do what our parents did, does not mean our kids won’t just think of something else we did to complain about.”

Funny because it’s true.

Insightful because it recognizes that every generation holds something against the previous one and the next one, because every generation is different.

But perhaps we give each other a bad rap.

Children, when we disagree with our parents, we need to try and understand what their life was like and why they did things the way they did.

Put it into context and try to put your feet in their shoes.

The world was different then.

And they did the best they could.

And parents, the 5th Commandment was never interpreted as requiring community stasis.

Change was expected.


And the 5th Commandment kind of set up a process.

Here is what this looks like in 2018.

We have divided our generations into several categories.

We have “The Greatest Generation”.

The one’s who defeated fascism and made the United States a world power.

Then come the Baby Boomers.

We are the children of the great ones.

We came of age in the 60’s.

A time where we rebelled against our parents.

Fought against the “old ways”.

And we were accused of not honoring our parents.

But maybe we weren’t.

I think this quote talks or what we did:

[The Commandment requires us to give our parents] “weighty” consideration in deciding such things as how, or on what, we should base our systems of values; on who, or to whom, we should look for guidance in determining our lifestyles; what persons ought to stand highest on our list of human beings who matter to us most and who ought to have a high priority within, and claim on, our lives.

What we in the 60s were doing and what our parents did before us, and what our children are doing today was examining and evaluating what our parents did, giving it weight and significance, learning from it, and deciding how we would proceed until the time came to pass the responsibility on to our children, who would then follow the same process.

That is what will happen as we move from the Boomers to the Xers to the millennials to whoever comes next.

Parents are honored, not in being obeyed, but in being resources the next generation will rely on to choose how it will continue the community into the future.

That is the process the 5th Commandment puts in place.

Give weight.



Carry on.

And when we do, we will live long in the land that God has given us.

But there was a much more practical point to this commandment.

The Israelites understood that the 5th Commandment required children to care for their parents in their old age.

Patrick Miller puts it this way:

The feeling of respect and honor cultivated in the growth of the child continues on into maturity and is the impetus for the necessary protection and care of the now-aged and weaker parents. Honoring father and mother is expressed in concrete actions that enhance and thus give weight to the parents in the most literal way possible: with respect to clothing, food, shelter and maintenance of general welfare.

In other words, we are not to be animals that leave the weak and sick behind to die alone.

We are to care for them.

We are to protect them.

We are to provide for them.

The family and community are to be organized that way.

What does that look like in 2018?

For most of us it means finding them a place to live where their daily needs can be met.

Home care, assisted living, skilled nursing, dementia and behavior health care.

I learned what that looked like when my parents got sick and realized they could no longer live alone.

It was an overwhelming responsibility.

Many of you have had that same experience.

Some of you are in the middle of it now.

How do we honor our parents when they become our children?

I spent Friday afternoon at a retreat for the Board of Directors of Baptist Senior Services which I chair.

We spent several hours listening to people describe the challenges of elder care and how we as a community and society can improve it.

It is complex and costly, but over the years we have done a better and better job of it.

If you want to know more about it, read Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal.

We want our parents to live with dignity that includes both care and attention to their wisdom.

To give them weight.


What we will learn by doing that, we can incorporate into how we live, and how our children will live.

What is interesting is that this commandment might have the most to teach us as a community of faith.

We honor the heritage given to us by those who have gotten us to where we are, learn from it, and then decide how we will continue the mission into the future while caring for those that got us here.

It will certainly require investment of our time, talent and treasure.

That is what that sign in the Narthex is about.

We have been given much in this community.

Now it is time to make sure it carries on … for now, financially.

And when we do that, we:

Honor [our] father and [our] mother, so that [our] days may be long in the [church] that the Lord your God is giving [us].


This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church

In the movie, “Moonstruck”, Loretta is engaged to Johnny. Johnny tells her that he must go to Italy and care for his dying mother before the wedding can take place. He goes but is reluctant to tell his dying mother that he is getting married. Why is Johnny reluctant? The implication is that the news will hasten her death. She will no longer be Johnny’s highest priority. But when he finally tells her, she has a “miraculous” recovery. She begins to care for him again like the old days. It is then that Johnny decides that he will not marry Loretta because his mother has recovered and resumed her place as Johnny’s highest priority. This sub-plot of Moonstruck is a fascinating illustration of parental use of guilt to manipulate children – even adult children. The mother knowingly uses her position as mother to manipulate Johnny into doing her will. She is somehow “guilting” him into submission. That he submits is, in his mind, “honoring” her. That the logic of mother and son is tortured and is almost impossible to follow is irrelevant.

Is that what the Fifth Commandment requires? Honoring mom by doing her will? Such guilt-tripping by parents is an old trick and common. This from Psychology Today:

No weapon in the arsenal of a controlling person is as strong as the guilt message. Daughters or sons with poor boundaries almost always internalize guilt messages leveled at them by their mother [or father]; they obey guilt-inducing statements that try to make them feel bad. Consider these:

  • “How could you do this to me after all I’ve done for you?” …
  • “How can you abandon me like this?” …
  • “You have no idea how much I’ve sacrificed for you.” …
  • “Doesn’t the Bible say ‘Honor your parents’?”

This is the message of Johnny’s mother.

While the Bible does say that we are to honor our father and mother, it does not mean enslaving yourself to manipulating parents. So, what does it mean? You might be really surprised! It is not what you think. Come and find out when Pastor Jeff preaches “Family Values” based on Exodus 20: 1; 12 on Sunday October 14 at 8:30 and 11 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church. We will look forward to seeing you.