This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (February 3, 2019)

Believe it or not, I never watched “Seinfeld” when it was on TV in the 90’s. I have seen a few parts of episodes that people thought were particularly funny on YouTube. One of those came to mind this week. It is the 1995 episode called “The Soup Nazi”. Yev Kassem is the owner of a new soup stand that Seinfeld’s friend Kramer has highly recommended. Kassem is known as the “Soup Nazi” because of his insistence on appropriate behavior while placing an order. Jerry and his friend George stop at the soup stand. George complains that he didn’t receive free bread with his order like the other customers. Kassem spitefully decrees “No soup for you!” and take’s George’s soup away. The “No soup for you!” phrase subsequently became a phrase used to let people know that their behavior is inappropriate and so will be denied something of value. This week, we hear Jesus do something like that, though it has to do with who the person is, not what the person does. What Jesus says is shocking and disturbing (please take a look at the Sunshine for January 20, now known as ice storm Sunday, for more about disturbing comments made by revered and respected people). Jesus does not say “No soup for you!” Jesus says “No miracle for you!” What??? What is going on here? Come and hear about it on Sunday February 3 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church at 8:30 and 11 when Pastor Jeff preaches “No Miracle for You!” based on Mark 7: 24-30. We will look forward to seeing you.

An Old Age Problem or an Age-Old Problem? Thoughts on caring for our elderly.

Mark 7: 1-13

7Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’ 6He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’

9 Then he said to them, ‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! 10For Moses said, “Honor your father and your mother”; and, “Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.” 11But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, “Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban” (that is, an offering to God)— 12then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, 13thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.’

How do we care for aging family members?

Here are three examples.

The first woman ever to serve on the United States Supreme Court was Sandra Day O’Connor.

She was appointed by President Ronald Regan in 1981 and served on the Court until her retirement in 2006.

At the time of her retirement, Justice O’Connor was only 66 years old.

A veritable child by Supreme Court standards.

Justice O’Connor was somewhat unpredictable and that made her a powerful force and swing vote on the Court.

For lawyers, it really does not get better than that.

So, with a lifetime appointment in a powerful position, why retire so young?

Justice O’Connor did so to care for her husband, John, who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease.

When first diagnosed, John was home bound, but anxious when Justice O’Connor was at work.

She managed John’s anxiety by taking him to work with her where he could sit in her chambers.

But then John began to wander and was no longer content in his wife’s chambers.

Justice O’Connor had to make a decision.

She could place John in a special care facility or resign from the Court to take care of hm at home.

She resigned.

Then, just a few months after Justice O’Connor’s resignation, John had become too difficult for her to care for at home.

She was forced to place him in that same special care facility.

Had Justice O’Connor done that a few months earlier, she would not have had to leave the Court.

She might have stayed on the Court for another several years.

She gave up a lot for the sake of her husband.

There are many here with us this morning who sympathize with Justice O’Connor.

We have or have had aging loved ones who have lost the ability to care for themselves and who have turned to us for care and assistance.

It can be an overwhelming responsibility.

It can be life changing.

It can be painful.

Example 2.

In 2010, my parents lived by themselves in Edinboro, PA.

They were not very good at taking care of themselves.

My Dad’s poorly controlled diabetes blinded him.

He was also demonstrating signs of dementia.

May mother had had a heart attack, a series of kidney stones and an undiagnosed abdominal problem.

When I pointed out to them that their situation was untenable, that they were no longer capable of taking care of themselves, their solution was for me to quit my job, move to Edinboro and take care of them.

As their child, they believed that was my responsibility.

That is not what I did.

I convinced them that they should move into an independent community, but they rapidly went to assisted living, then skilled nursing and dementia care.

It was an emotional and physical drain for all of us.

Example 3.

There is this story Tolstoy wrote.

A grandfather had become very old.

He lived with his son.

When he ate, food sometimes dropped out of his mouth, so he was no longer allowed him to eat with the family.

One day he broke a bowl when he was eating out of it.

His daughter-in-law scolded him.

She said that from that day on he would get his food in a wooden bucket.

A few days later, the old man’s grandson was putting something together out of small pieces of wood.

His father asked him, “What are you making?”

The little boy said, “I’m making a wooden bucket. When you and Mama get old, I’ll feed you out of it.”

Happily, I know few families like that, but the lesson is worth learning.

How are we as a society, as disciples of Jesus, going to take care of our aging family members?

Justice O’Connor quit her job to take care of John.

I did not quit my job, but I did start on a two-year odyssey of managing my parent’s lives and trying to meet their expectation that I was going to solve all their problems.

Others, just struggle.

What is our responsibility?

A couple months ago I talked about the 5th Commandment.

Honor your Father and Mother.

The Israelites understood that the 5th Commandment required more than just giving respect to mom and dad.

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.

We are to care for them.

We are to protect them.

We are to provide for them.

That is what moves us closer to God.

OK, so we have that responsibility.

How do we prepare and organize in 2019?

It’s complicated.

It’s hard.

It’s expensive.

As Chair of the Board of Directors of Baptist Senior Services, I spent a recent Friday afternoon at a Board retreat talking about these three things.

  1. What are the options?

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.

  1. How do we convince our aging loved ones to do it?

That is hard, and requires patience, and persistence.

Now the hardest.

  1. How do we pay for it?

Taking care of aging parents can be an economic disaster for a family.

It can include everything from the increased cost of food if mom and dad move in, to the cost of remodeling a house to allow mom and dad to have privacy and a bathroom on the first floor, to a $10,000 a month fee to an assisted living or specialized care facility.

And this list does not include the emotional and physical toll placed on the primary family care giver.

This can all be overwhelming for an individual or family.

It is a much bigger issue than just a family matter.

It is a societal matter.

A societal matter where we, as disciples of Jesus, choose how our aging population will be cared for.

How do we decide what to do?

Today’s scripture might give some guidance.

A bit of background.

Jesus has been dealing with an endless stream of questions from religious authorities who are trying to discredit him.

Today’s question is seemingly simple.

“Why don’t your disciples wash their hands before they eat?”

This is not a question about good hygiene.

This is about religious purity.

This is ritual.

This is the requirement to “keep Kosher”.

This question irritates Jesus.

These religious authorities are criticizing Peter, James, John and the rest for not washing their hands and so are not pure and so are far from God.

Like ritual handwashing makes someone close to God.

Jesus calls these religious authorities hypocrites.

They think that they can make up some ritual that will make them “pure” when, in their hearts, they are far from God.

Then Jesus uses an illustration that makes his point.

God says that we are to honor our parents by caring for them in their later years.

Honoring parents in this way brings people closer to God.

But the religious authorities created a loop-hole.

Dedicate what you have to God, and you don’t have to spend it on Anything but yourself and the religious establishment.

It cannot be used to care for your parents.

Why this loop-hole?

The religious authorities wanted to free the people from having to spend money on taking care of mom and dad, so to free up money dedicated to worship.

Jesus says that such loop-holes don’t work.

Like hand washing, giving money to the religious authorities won’t make you closer to God.

Caring for your parents will.

So, how does this help us understand how we are to care for mom and dad, and so become closer to God?

To some this is not a problem.

Mom and dad might have enough money to cover the cost of one of more of the available options.

Unfortunately, few of our senior citizens can afford private pay.

Mom and dad might have bought long term care insurance.

But long-term care insurance is basically unavailable or too expensive and does not cover the entire cost.

Which means that we rely more and more on government services to help us care for our aging loved ones.

Mom and dad might qualify for some type of government program such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or VA benefits which cover less and less of the cost these days.

Have we as a society stepped into this gap to help?

The answer, in my experience, is “No!”

As a community, have we sought to make any investment into fixing this problem?

Have we sought to re-prioritize our resources, whether they be governmental, communal or personal, in order to assure that we can care for our senior citizens?

Do we educate people on these things?

Do we encourage these things?

When we ignore the responsibility to care for our parents, because we have some “more important” priority, does that make us like the religious authorities in Jesus day who ignored the command to care for aging parents so the money could go to some “more important” use?


What do we need to do?

We need to get our priorities straight.

It is a complex problem.

The solution is not obvious.

But what I am saying is that we need to approach our plans and decisions on the issue from a desire to live the Jesus way.

Jesus does not tell us how to do it.

Jesus basically says, to be close to God you have to do your best to figure it out!

Figure it out as a society.

Figure it out as a family.

But figure it out.

Which brings me to something I believe to be important.

Caring for aging family members can be an overwhelming responsibility.

Many of you have had that same experience.

Some of you are in the middle of it now.

Which is the last thing I want to talk about.

When you are in this situation, who do you talk to”

What is your source of ideas?

Of support?

Who cares about you?

Who cares for you?

What I would like to have happen here at JMPC is for a group of people who have been in this situation, are in this situation, or anticipate being in this situation to form a support group.

A support group, not unlike Al Anon, where folks can share, learn, vent and know they are not alone.

We need that here.

Let’s get together and see what we can accomplish.

There is a sign-up sheet in the narthex.

If you are interested and willing, please sign up and we will get organized.

Let’s do what we can to live the Jesus way in terms of our aging family members.

And when we do that, we:

Honor our fathers and mothers.


This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (January 27, 2019)

Age Old Sunshine

In 1971, Raoul Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was made into the movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” with Gene Wilder in the role of Willy Wonka. The book has no setting in time or place but was written in England in 1964. Charlie Bucket, the main character, lives in an impoverished area with his family. He and his parents sleep on mattresses on the floor because both sets of grandparents live with the Buckets and all four sleep in the one and only bed. It is an alarming image.

It seems this is the Bucket’s answer to taking care of the aging family members. Whenever I think of this scene, I am a bit anxious. Is that what is expected of us? What are we called to do in scripture? What does Jesus expect? What are our options? How do we pay for it? As our family members age, how do we care for them? Come and hear about it at 9:30 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church when a one-hour seminar is offered on how to care for aging family members who can no longer care for themselves. Pastor Jeff will preach “An Old Age Problem or an Age-Old Problem?” based on Mark 7: 1-13 at 8:30 and 11. We will look forward to seeing you.

This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (January 20, 2019)

When my kids were younger, we all got excited when a new Harry Potter book came out. We read them all. One time we bought two of the same book because my son was going to take one to camp and the rest of us did not want to wait for him to come home to read the book ourselves. Why do we like the books so much? Like everyone else, there is a sense of good versus evil, teen angst, heroic action, wise lessons, and interesting characters. I’m sure each of us has their own particular character they like. But one of them isn’t Snape. Snape is a dark character who was once a follower of the evil Voldemort, but who redeemed himself and became one of Harry’s teachers. Snape and Harry did not get along. Snape resented Harry and treated him with contempt. We don’t know why really until Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. While Harry never knew his parents, he has held them in the highest esteem, and so do we. But then we find out that Harry’s father, James, was actually a bully. This is revealed to Harry, and us, in a scene that describes the complete humiliation of Snape by Harry’s father, for no other reason than James’ personal entertainment. What?!!! When I read that scene for the first time, I was appalled. This cannot be Harry’s beloved and esteemed father! James would do nothing like that! But he did. It actually made me sad. Of course, Harry Potter is fiction. But haven’t we all witnessed something like that in real life? When we see or hear someone we hold in high esteem say or do something that shocks us and maybe makes us gasp? How do we explain it? This week’s scripture reading has something like that in it. Come and hear about it when Pastor Jeff preaches “A Helping Hand” based on Mark 7: 24-30. We will look forward to seeing you.

Honor Code: Thoughts on what the Ten Commandments Really Require: Gratitude!

Exodus 20: 1; 14-17

20Then God spoke all these words:

14 You shall not commit adultery.

15 You shall not steal.

16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Last week I compared this series on the Ten Commandments as a two season TV show.

We had the fall season and now the winter season.

The fall season was about our relationship with God.

This season was to be about our relationship with each other.

So far, so good.

But then the network executives (the staff) got together Wednesday and looked at the scripts for the rest of season 2.

The execs thought that the prohibitions against stealing, lying, “adulterying” are pretty self-explanatory.

One of the execs pointed out that four of the last five commandments are all basically about “stealing”.

Stealing someone’s life.

Stealing someone’s spouse.

Stealing someone’s possessions.

Stealing someone’s integrity.

These actual acts of stealing are not all that is forbidden.

There is the last commandment.

The last one is prohibits even “thinking” about stealing.

Maintaining a mindset that encourages stealing is equally forbidden.

And we already talked about the fact that “just thinking about it” was forbidden, too, when we talked about murder last week.

So … nothing really new here … series cancelled.

Now, no one likes a series to be cancelled mid-season – it needs a conclusion!

We have to tie it all up, right?

How do I tie these last five commandments together?

Better yet, how do I tie all the commandments together?

Let’s start with the last five.

Killing, “adulterying”, stealing, lying, coveting.

What is damaged in all these acts?

Relationships with others, clearly.

But more than that.

The human community is damaged systemically.

Damaged in a way that separates us and pits us against each other.

This is not what God intended.

God created the human community because God thought it was not good that we be alone.

We need community.

We need to get along.

We need some rules to tell us how to get along.

The last five commandments are those rules.

According to Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, these commandments are concerned with a kind of “acquisitiveness” that destabilizes the community.

What do they say?

Simply put, don’t steal what is not yours.

Don’t even think about it!

That is not in our nature.

We are like the toddlers described in the “Toddler’s Creed” by Berry Brazelton.

If I want it, it’s mine.
If I give it to you and change my mind later, it’s mine.
If I can take it away from you, it’s mine.
If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine.
If it’s mine, it will never belong to anybody else, no matter what.
If we are building something together, all the pieces are mine.
If it looks just like mine, it is mine.

We all have a bit of that in us.

That is why we have so much trouble getting along.

We cannot get along because we covet.

We are covetous and envious.

We want things we do not have and so we spend our time figuring out how to get them.

And once we figure out how to get them … we often do it.

And when we can’t get what we want, we envy those who have it.

Envy turns into anger or depression.

And anger and depression destroy communities.

Melanie Klein, a well-known psychologist, defines envy as “the angry feeling that another person possesses and enjoys something desirable – the envious impulse being to take it away or to spoil it”.

What might that look like in the 21st century?

Think about Facebook.

You are sitting at your desk Monday morning and you take a quick turn around your virtual community.

What did the folks do over the weekend?

Wow, look at the pictures of that party; that food; that game; that house; that life.

There is a moment when you think – why was I not invited to that party?

Why don’t I eat stuff like that?

Why was I not at the game, not asked to play?

Why don’t I have a house like that?

Why don’t I have a life like that?

I would do anything to have that!

Grrr …

Sigh …

Nobody likes me … everybody hates me … even me.

The next time you see the people in those pictures, you are more distant.

Less friendly.

Community begins to crack.

It has always been that way.


Listen to the New Testament book of James, my favorite New Testament document after Mark.

4Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 4Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

Human beings spend a lot of time coveting something that someone else has.






It’s why we fight.

We are toddlers.

James puts a darker twist on it.

We are cravers




Pleasure seekers

Friends of the world

Enemies of God

James likens this to devilish temptation.

So, what do we do about it?

How do we avoid it?

How do we control ourselves?

James says to do this:

7Submit yourselves therefore to God. …  8Draw near to God, and [God] will draw near to you. 

How do we do that?

Here is one way I think.

It requires us to change the way we think about our lives.

Instead of focusing on things we do not have, and want, be thankful for the things we have.

An attitude of gratitude.

Gratitude to God, who is the provider of all.

When we spend time in gratitude, we do not steal.

And as John Wesley put it, our good will between people comes from our gratitude to God.

James might say that gratitude is a way we submit to God.

We live lives of “Gratitude and benevolence”

… [G]ratitude to God, our supreme Benefactor, and benevolence to our fellow creatures.

Christine Pohl, author of Living into Community – Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us says it a bit differently.

Gratitude is … vital to sustaining communities that are holy and good. … [G]ratitude or giving thanks is surely a response to the epidemic of complaint, envy, presumption, and dissatisfaction that undermines human relationships and plagues human communities.

Gratitude also draws us closer to God.

Karl Barth, perhaps the greatest reformed theologian of the 20th Century, said that to believe in Jesus Christ is to be grateful.

Grateful that God has come near.

Grateful that we are drawn to God.

Submitting to God and drawing near to God discourages envy and so encourages community

So we have tied up the last five commandments.

Can we tie all ten together?

You bet!

Pohl offers this in her book.

Our thankfulness to God is shown in the care we give to one another and to our enemies.

In other words, how we relate to each other depicts how we relate to God.

The first five commandments describe our need to have a thankful and loving relationship with God.

We are commanded to worship only the one true God and worship nothing else.

We are not to diminish God by invoking God’s name for trivial things.

We are to mimic the rhythm of God, working and resting.

We are commanded to care for our parents, the way God cares for us.

Put all together, we are to love God.

The second five are how we relate to each other:

No murder.

No adultery.

No stealing.

No lying.

No coveting.

Put all together we are to love each other.

These are all interrelated.

We cannot love God if we don’t love what God created.

We cannot love each other if we do not love the one who created us.

Our relationship to our fellow human beings is evidence of our relationship with God.

Our relationship with God should be evidence of our relationship with others.

Jesus says these are the only two real commandments.

Loving God and loving each other.

It creates a universal loving community that includes creator and creation.

It would be nice if I could say, “Just do it!” and be done.

But there is one other thing we need to discuss.

How can we ever meet that standard?

It seems impossible, doesn’t it?

That is Jesus’ point when he talks about the commandments in the Sermon on the Mount.

For us, it is impossible.

So, we need help.

We need someone to intercede for us.

Happily, we do.


Jesus came to bring us forgiveness for our inability to follow the rules.

This forgiveness, grace, is a gift.

What Diana Butler Bass calls an “untargeted gift”.

[God’s] gifts are not targeted. Then simply are. Then are not obligations to be repaid [like targeted gifts]; rather, they are gifts to be enjoyed. There are no expectations of exchange. No transaction involved. … [I]f you understand in your heart that gifts and gratitude are part of the very fabric of the universe, you will both be a better person and do good in the world. … This is all encompassing Grace.

A gift from the God and gratitude from us.

That is how we can live the Ten Commandments.

But all this takes practice.

How do we do that?

How about this recommendation from Krista Tippett’s book Becoming Wise:

Start the day with this thought.

This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!

A start to the day with praise to God and thanks for the day God is giving you.

Then as we move through the day, we can use Paul’s words as a lens through which we see the world.

Philippians 4: 8-9

… whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Look for the good and be grateful for it.

It will instill love of God and love of neighbor.

This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (January 13, 2019)

Dan Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Behavior Economics at Duke University. He wrote the book, “The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves.”

Ariely made this interesting finding:

…[S]imply being reminded of moral codes has a significant effect on how we view our own behavior. … Inspired by the thought, my colleagues and I ran an experiment at the University of California, Los Angeles. We took a group of 450 participants, split them into two groups and set them loose on our usual matrix task. We asked half of them to recall the Ten Commandments and the other half to recall 10 books that they had read in high school. Among the group who recalled the 10 books, we saw the typical widespread but moderate cheating. But in the group that was asked to recall the Ten Commandments, we observed no cheating whatsoever. We reran the experiment, reminding students of their schools’ honor codes instead of the Ten Commandments, and we got the same result. We even reran the experiment on a group of self-declared atheists, asking them to swear on a Bible, and got the same no-cheating results yet again.

When I read this, my many years practicing law made me think of witnesses being “sworn in” before testifying. The witness takes and oath to tell the truth. In Pennsylvania we have a particularly powerful oath. I have probably heard it a couple thousand times.

“You do swear by Almighty God, the Searcher of all hearts, that the evidence you shall give this court and Jury in this issue now being tried shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth and as you shall answer to God on the last great day.”

Gabrielle Banks wrote an excellent article on testimonial oaths in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on August 10, 2006 and noted that North Carolina has witnesses are required to “appeal to God, as a witness of truth and avenger of all falsehood.”

There is little doubt that for those of us who believe in Almighty God, the Searcher of all hearts who is a witness of truth and avenger of all falsehood, and who we shall answer to … on the last great day, taking such an oath encourages truthful testimony!

But even if someone is not a person of faith, promising to tell the truth has an effect on what that person says immediately thereafter. As Bank’s article reported:

Going beyond the more succinct Hollywood version of swearing “to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” has an effect on the oath-taker, said tipstaff Patrick Boyle, who regularly swears in witnesses before Common Pleas Judge Kathleen Durkin. “It may make witnesses think before they go up there, ‘Hey, maybe I should tell the truth.'”

Promising to tell the truth seems to work.

Which brings us back to Ariely’s observation:

…[S]imply being reminded of moral codes has a significant effect on how we view our own behavior.

This week Pastor Jeff will finish his series on the Ten Commandments by connecting the last five to each other and by connecting them to the first five. Come and hear about it at John McMillan Presbyterian Church at 8:30 and 11 when Pastor Jeff preaches “Honor Code” based on Exodus 20: 1; 14-17. We will look forward to seeing you!

The Monster Within, Part 1: Thoughts on what it means to “not murder”.

Exodus 20: 1; 13

20Then God spoke all these words:

13 You shall not murder.

Last Fall I started a series of sermons on the Ten Commandments.

We had just finished the commandment to honor our parents when the series was interrupted.

A stewardship campaign, a special service on All Saints Sunday, John Welsch, Consecration Sunday, Advent.

So it seems like this series has been split into two parts.

Kind of like two seasons of a TV series.

Let me remind you of what happened last season.

We are commanded to worship only the one true God and worship nothing else.

That’s the first two.

We are not to diminish God by invoking God’s name for trivial things.

That is number three.

We are to mimic the rhythm of God, who rested after creating, and to care for humanity by allowing us to have sabbath.

That is number four.

We are commanded to care for our parents, the ones who cared for us.

That is number five.

As we move on to the 6th Commandment we should begin to see the structure to the list.

The commands move from our relationship to God and then moves on to family and now starting with number 6, to others.

And what is the first commandment about how we deal with others?

Don’t kill them.

It might seem to be the easiest one to avoid.

My feeling is that there are few, if any, in this room right now who confess to violating this commandment.

While most of us will never take another life, we often think about it.

It is something we seem to fantasize about from time to time.

From road rage to office anger to family blow-ups to political fury, it crosses our minds every now and then.

Here is an old joke:

Three weeks after her wedding day, Joanna called her minister in hysterics. “Pastor,” she cried, “John and I had our first fight together! It was awful. What am I going to do?”

“Calm down, Joanna,” her pastor answered, leaning back in his chair and shaking his head. “This isn’t nearly as bad as you think. Every marriage has to have its first fight. It’s natural.”

“I know, I know,” Joanna said impatiently. “But what am I going to do with the body?

And then there is the relationship we have with our kids.

How many times have we, as parents, thought … or said … “When Billy gets home, I’m going to kill him!”

How many times have we, as kids, thought … or said … “My mom is going to kill me!”

As human beings we often have the urge to kill.

Is ending the life of another person the only violation of the 6th Commandment?

It’s complicated.

Hebrew scholars say this about the 6th Commandment.

… [I]n the command, “Thou shalt not kill,” not only is the accomplished fact of murder condemned, …  but every act that endangers human life, whether it arise from carelessness … , or wantonness …, or from hatred, anger and revenge … .


And before we say, “accidents just happen”, we need to consider why accidents happen.

Author John Schoenheita says this:

“[A] quick review of the history of mankind will clearly show that a lot of “accidental deaths” could have been prevented if people had cared more about their own lives and the lives of others. Accidental deaths often occur in an environment that could have been made safe if proper attention had been paid to safety. We will never be able to assure perfect safety for people, but things could be a lot safer than they are if human life were more highly valued.

That concept is demonstrated in our strong desire to teach people to be careful and not to do anything that endangers other human beings.

It is behind all laws that require our workplaces, buildings, roads, foods, and manufactured goods, to safe.

To put it simply, the 6th Commandment says that human life is to be highly valued.

And it is to be protected.

But then we might ask, what about that death penalty called for in the Old Testament?

Like the one that says we are to stone to death unruly children?

What about all those wars in the Old Testament where commands that entire cultures be eradicated?

While we might not understand why God thought such things were justified, and could spend hours trying to do so, we need to remember that we live in New Testament times.

So we need to hear what Jesus has to say about this commandment.

Jesus addresses that specifically in the Sermon on the Mount.

Listen to Matthew 5:

21 ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.” 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister,* you will be liable to judgment; 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. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister* has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister,* and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court* with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

And so Jesus says, not only is murder prohibited, but so are all the things inside us that lead to it.

Inside us.

All of us.

What does Jesus tell us to do?

Whatever must be done to reconcile and temper our conflicts and so avoid potential harm to others.

Hans-Dieter Betz wrote a book on the Sermon on the Mount and said this:

Simply stated, the source of murder is a broken relationship. … What is the intent of the [6th Commandment]? According to the [Sermon on the Mount], its intent … to [come to] grips with the root cause of murder. … Once the root cause is identified as anger, the ethical demand follows: one must control anger. One achieves this goal by avoiding situations that lead to anger, or, if the situations already exist, by defusing them through reconciliation and the restoration of the peaceful … relationship.

If we want to refrain from killing, we need to exercise some self-control.

We need to control the urge to retribution and revenge.

We need to control the anger that boils up inside us when we think we are wronged.

We need to control the urge to kill.

We need to control the monster within.

The 6th Commandment tells us to control it by becoming peacemakers, so that we do not even encourage murder.

But there is even more.

John Calvin himself interpreted the 6th Commandment this way:

We are to aid our neighbor’s life by every means in our power. 

Listen to what he said.

…[N]atural common sense demands more than that we should abstain from wrongdoing.  … God not only forbids us to be murderers, but also prescribes that everyone should … defend the life of [our] neighbor, and …to declare that it is dear to [us]; … that our neighbors are to be loved. It is unquestionable, then, that of those whom God … commands to be loved, [God] … commends the lives to our care.

The Heidelberg Catechism found in our own Book of Confessions says the same:

  1. 107.

But is it enough that we do not kill any man in the manner mentioned above?


No: for when God forbids envy, hatred, and anger, he commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves;

to show patience, peace, meekness, mercy, and all kindness, towards him,

and ?

prevent his hurt as much as in us lies;

and that we do good, even to our enemies.


Because that is what God did for us!

God has every right to be angry at our continuous rebellion and disobedience.

But instead of killing us, God reconciled with us at great expense.

That is what we remember today at this table.

Instead of wrath, God grants mercy.

If we do the same, we satisfy the 6th Amendment.

Think about that when you come to this table.

This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (January 6, 2019)

Our Declaration of Independence states this in its preamble:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

And then there is this from Exodus:

Then God spoke all these words: … You shall not kill.

The Declaration affirms that we, all human beings, have “Creator” given unalienable rights to “certain” things. The signers of the Declaration declared that any government that interfered with any of the unalienable rights was subject to being abolished and replaced. One of those unalienable rights is life. Life … We have the right to be alive. Which means we have the right to stay alive. In other words, the government, according to the Declaration, should not be taking our lives away from us. The government should not be killing us. Which is consistent with the 5th Commandment, right? We are not to kill, right? But we, our government and humanity in general doo a good bit of killing. In fact, though the 5th Commandment tells us not to kill, the Old Testament is chock full of killing! How do we sort all this out? Maybe Jesus can help. What does he say about the 5th Commandment? Come and hear about it Sunday at 8:30 and 11 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church when Pastor Jeff Preaches “The Monster Within, Part 1” based on Exodus 20: 1; 13.