"The 5th Promise: Stability - The Law of Caring"

Mark 7:1-15; Ephesians 6:1-4

Rev. Dr. Lisa Rzepka

Listen     Bulletin

Our second scripture reading for the morning again addresses the Fifth Commandment – Which is to honor one’s father and mother. Listen again for a word from God in the letter to the Ephesians, chapter 6:1-4: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—this is the first commandment with a promise: 

3 “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” And, fathers [and mothers], do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." The Word of God for the People of God. Thanks be to God, Amen.

When my grandson was born, a seasoned colleague and grandfather told me, “Your Children are an investment in the future and your grandchildren are the dividend. You are going to love that child more than you ever imagined.”

It’s true. As grandparents, John and I look at this child, as we did our children, with such hope and love because babies are gifts filled with promise. So, when Lincoln (that’s his name) looks at me and outs his arms out so that I can hold him…my heart melts, there is nothing like it. It brings back memories when there was such a strong mutual bond between our sons and John and I as their parents.

Life can be thought of as seasons…and that particular season of parenting is fleeting,  because babies and children grow up possessing an innate need to become autonomous. In the process of developing autonomy, children come to the realization that their parents -- are human. As humans, we CAN and DO make mistakes.

So it is that in the teenage season of life, children come to think their parents ARE ALWAYS MISTAKEN. Thank the Lord that season changes, usually around the time they become parents themselves.

Adding to the realization that our parents are fallible, is a culture of pop psychology, where many of us learned to blame our mental and emotional issues on our parents.
A long time ago a friend of mine said to me, “No matter how hard we try, our kids will find something to blame on us.” The Bible is bold to state a different view of parents.

In this worship series focused on the Ten Commandments, you’ve heard us refer to them as the Ten Promises, a concept introduced by the late Professor Albert Curry Winn. Winn contends that there is an implicit promise God makes in each of the Ten Commands. The fifth Promise shows up first in the book of Exodus, and as you heard it stated in the letter to the Ephesians, it’s the first time a promise is explicitly stated:

Honor your Father and Mother so that your days may be long in the land the Lord is giving you. In the very next chapter of Exodus, Moses, the presumed author, gets specific: 15 Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death. 17 Whoever curses father or mother shall be put to death. The second appearance of the Ten Words is further amended in the Book of Deuteronomy: “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

This Promise gets blurred in our society for a couple reasons, worth mentioning. One is that we live in a time of divorce and blended families. There is a constellation of relationships to navigate among imperfect human beings. How do we understand all the complications that go with the ancient words to honor our fathers and mothers, step-fathers, step-mothers – especially if there are step siblings to complicate matters?

Even more detrimental to the fifth promise is the ageism that is tightly woven into the fabric of our society alongside other ‘isms such like racism and sexism.

Nearly two years ago there was a Ministers’ March on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington. The preachers that day spoke about the moral decay happening in our country. The Rev. Al Sharpton preached that on a moral dilemma saying, “We shouldn’t take healthcare from our mama because we don’t like Obama.

He was referring to the threats being waged at Medicare and the Affordable Care Act.
Which in reality are threats to our nations’ most vulnerable; our aging population as well as the otherwise disadvantaged.

There is a tendency in our society to favor those who can produce, especially produce income because that’s how we are valued. We value what someone makes rather than who we are – beloved children of God. Sharpton struck the chord of ageism that challenges our society’s intoxication with youth. When we stop producing as we age, our value goes down and we are vulnerable to elder abuse, both physical and in legislation.

Joan Chittister, in her book The Ten Commandments: Laws of the Heart, points out that as families get smaller and offspring often [live far from parents], the whole notion of what happens to an older generation left alone, and sometimes left penniless, becomes a larger question than ever before.

It’s also an age-old question, the same one that Jesus is addressing in the gospel reading today. Religious folk approached Jesus to challenge him about not following the traditions of his faith regarding washing hands and food and utensils. His response reveals that the nit picking got under his skin. He lashes out calling them hypocrites.

And then he brings up something that REALLY matters -- the economics of honoring father and mother. He warns that their excuse that they can’t support their parents because they are giving their funds instead to the Church or synagogue--voids the promise of God!

So, what does this Law of Caring mean? Does it mean parents can stop saving for retirement because their children are responsible? I’m certainly not…

It doesn’t mean to agree with your parents in all things.

It doesn’t mean to draw sentimental, unrealistic images of them that never existed.

Chris Hedges offers one way to think about honoring one’s parent in his book, Losing Moses on the Freeway. Hedges tells the story of his father who was an outspoken Presbyterian pastor. In a town with no people of color. Hedges’ father and mother sympathized with the civil rights movement.

He says: “My father and mother’s early embrace of the movement, and of Dr. King in particular, rankled some in the church. It came up when I went to get my hair cut down the street,
with the old men sitting around quizzing me. It came up at school, where kids teased me about it. It came up at home, where my father told me that doing what was right was not comfortable. Moral choice, he said, always entailed risk. If there was no risk it was probably not moral.” [1]

Hedges went to seminary, did an internship in an inner-city church, and as a result decided not to be ordained. Instead, he became a journalist and war correspondent.

In 2003, Hedges was invited to deliver the commencement address at Rockford College. He knew nothing about the school, other than that its most famous and celebrated alumnus was Jane Addams, a feminist, activist, and pacifist founder of Hull House in Chicago who was berated for denouncing World War I.

Hedges decided his commencement address would include commentary about his perspective of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He was not in favor of the invasion and he spoke his mind. The speech didn’t go well. As listeners began to grasp Hedges point of view, he was heckled, and attempts were made to shout him down. His microphone was unplugged twice. When the speech was over, he was escorted offstage and driven directly to his hotel. His employer, The New York Times, reprimanded him for undermining the public’s trust in the paper’s impartiality.

Yet, Hedges felt he was honoring his father. Hedges says, “To be silent would be to betray my father, to turn my back on what he stood for, to deny his life, to dishonor his memory, to dishonor my own memory.”[2]

Hedges compares what he did to Resurrection saying, “The physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead is not the only story of resurrection in the Gospels. A few weeks after the crucifixion in Acts, two disciples, who had fled Jesus on the night of his arrest, were hauled before the authorities for preaching. This time they refused to betray Jesus. This refusal was a physical manifestation of Resurrection, of new life.”[3]

The broader implication of The Fifth Promise is to honor the past, and the wisdom and art of living that comes with experience.

It’s been said that “The fifth promise builds perspective into humanity. Caring for one another is not simply a mandate to remember the past but to be aware also of our own responsibility to future relationships.

Native Americans have a saying: no decision should be made without considering its effect up to the seventh generation. The fifth promise calls us to consider the past seriously and the future thoughtfully. We learn to understand that what we do now will also impact the future, just as the lives and decisions of our own ancestors affected us.
This builds stability in our lives. That’s the implicit Promise.

Pondering the fifth promise helps us rediscover the world's need for sages. Sitting among us today are sages and sages-to-be. This fifth Word is the call to bring new respect to the intergenerational connections our society stands so near to the brink of losing. In Bible study this week I was sharing that studies show churches that foster intergenerational relationships fare better in retaining youth as adults in church attendance more than churches that focus simply on entertaining youth.

Each of us, whether we have children or not, gives birth to the next generation. I often tell couples preparing for marriage that the covenant relationship they are about to enter into will reflect their covenant with God. To grow together in God will help them grow together as a couple. That is not the only relationship analogy. To honor father and mother also reflects a relationship that honors God. To honor one’s elders is to honor God. That may be why this Promise is contained on the first tablet along with the Promises that involve our relationship with God. Throughout the Bible parental metaphors exist; God as Mother as well as God as Father.

No parents are typical. No parents are perfect. We do not honor them for imperfections. We honor them because they did what they could in making us what we are. The rest is up to us. Throughout life, we encounter those who will offer sage wisdom. So, the command to ´╗┐Honor your father and your mother is inclusive. We are to Honor those who are parent our souls to wholeness.[4] Amen.


[1] Hedges, Chris. Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America (Kindle Locations 1363-1365). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Hedges, Chris. Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America (Kindle Locations 1499-1503). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

[4] Chittister, Joan. The Ten Commandments:  Laws of the Heart (p. 58). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.