Living as A Christian Ought
June 3, 2018
Last Sunday morning we recognized the service of veterans. We made sure we included all of them: male and female, fallen heroes, retired and active, and all military branches. We recognized them because that is what our nation does on Memorial Day weekends. Also, we recognized them for their commitment to this great country of ours and for their individual and collective sacrifices so that we can continue to enjoy the freedom that we have in the USA. We value the freedom that we enjoy and know the cost of it.
There is another freedom that we don't recognize, call to memory, and celebrate much. That is the freedom God gives us in the commandments. I suppose there is very little recognition of this freedom. God indeed freed the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. As I have said in this series of sermons many times God freed his people in a miraculous way. God battled Pharaoh and his lords, supervisors, leaders, counselors, and his mighty chariots and warriors and God won great victory! The beautiful words that stick in my mind and heart is "God bore his people on eagle's wings." We know of this freedom from the long history of the church's teaching and preaching. But there is a freedom we recognize in the commandments five through 10 that extends to all in the community. It is a freedom that results from treating folks right. It's a freedom that benefits everyone who lives in any community. It is not a time-limited freedom. It lasts from generation to generation. It's a freedom that is available today as it was for the Israelites.
Let us try to get an understanding of this freedom that God gives us. Let's look briefly at these commandments. Again, the commandments I've preached on up to now have been about giving honor to God. Now, we consider the commandments that speak to you and your neighbor. We consider the section of the commandments that speak to how we are to get along with one another. Here is the fifth commandment:
"Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
What do you think of when you hear this commandment? For you it probably sounds just right on Mother's and Father's Day. But scholars believe it has meaning far beyond those days. They believe this fifth commandment is speaking to mothers, fathers, and others who are in positions of authority within the community. That puts a completely new spin on this commandment. What a beautiful world this would be if we at all times truly honored mothers, fathers, and those in positions of authority! Our quality of life would be the best it could possibly be if we behaved toward mothers, fathers, and others in authority as if we were listening and obeying God as if he were speaking directly to us from Mt. Sinai.
I believe I got a glimpse of this kind of honor a long time ago. I grew up in a very small rural community in Safford, Alabama. You have heard me talk about Safford lots of times from this pulpit. But I have some very good memories of how the people honored mothers, fathers, and others in authority. We obeyed these folks. For example, we didn't sit around grown folks engaged in grown folks' talk. These folks didn't tolerate that at all. When they sat on the front porch and instructed us as children then to go in the back and play, they meant it. And we knew without a shadow of a doubt that they meant it. The consequences of repeatedly disobeying resulted in our potentially getting our face splattered with tobacco spit from one of the old ladies sitting and talking on the front porch. We gave these folks honor by obeying them.
I believe I got a glimpse of this kind of honor for mothers, fathers, and others in positions of authority when I learned from them that I was under no circumstances to talk back to grown folks. I grew up with these words, "Yes, mam, and yes, sir." I learned to say those words even when I was hot under the collar, so to speak. I learned that to do otherwise was to invite the wrath of my mother and others in the community whom my mother had given authority to correct me. We were to be known throughout the community as "Florence's boys." You see, my mother raised us the same way she had been raised by her parents.
I believe I got a glimpse of this kind of honor for mothers, fathers, and others in authority when I learned that I was not to ever call my mother by her first name, Florence. That was a no, no! The reason was to show her respect. In fact, I even learned that I was not to play with my mother like I played with others. This was the way I learned to honor my mother, father, and others in positions of authority in the community.
Let's turn to the sixth commandment: "You shall not murder." I am so glad God gave us that commandment. I believe there are lots of people who really mean it when they say, "I could kill her." "I could kill that heifer." The reason many of them don't follow through there and then is that they just don't want to get caught and have to serve the time.
Also, I believe there are a good number of "crazy people" that it would not take much for them to kill someone. In today's world it is risky to anger anyone at some homes, work, school, and in the community. It seems this matter of killing folks has become the first step to getting even with people whom we feel have mistreated or berated us.
Also, I don't buy into many mental illnesses models we hear to explain the killings occurring in our country today. God doesn't give leeway for "crazy" people to kill people. God's commandment is "you shall not murder."
Let's turn to the seventh commandment:
"You shall not commit adultery.
If you watch television today you know what this commandment means. If you know political leaders, television anchors, sports figures, high profile physicians, and many others then you know a lot about adultery. It's widespread; it's acceptable to many. For example, not too long ago a young man shared an assignment his class was given. The assignment was to delve into downsizing. And the professor asked them to give their thoughts about downsizing the Ten Commandments. The class agreed that the one commandment they thought should be downsized was the 7th commandment. Their view was that the 7th commandment was outdated and very few people obeyed it anyway so why have it. (The Ten Commandments, by Dr. Laura C. Schlessinger, 1998)
God gave this commandment to us for a good reason. Even if you don't fully understand the reasons for the 7th commandment, believe me we need the 7th commandment! I must tell you the truth I have gotten into some hot water with folks that want me to marry them when I question them about what appears to be their adulterous relationships. They don't want to hear it. But I didn't give the commandments. God did on Mt. Sinai.
Let's turn to commandment number eight.
"You shall not steal.
Now, if you have ever had someone steal from you, then you know how violated you feel. Have you ever had someone steal from you? When I was a junior deacon at the New Mount Zion Baptist Church in Cleveland, we attended evening services. I had so many batteries stolen from our car parked at the church that I went to the pastor and asked for money to replace my batteries. My feelings were hurt so badly. Whatever happened to these words: "Keep your hands off what's not yours?" Don't steal. That is what God says! That is ignored by many people! It ought not be that way. God never meant for it to be that way for us living in our communities.
Finally, let us consider commandment number 9. Due to time, I will consider commandment number 10 next week.
"You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
"Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" People answer yes to that question and are standing right before the judge, the public, and God, and lie.
Yesterday, I shared with the trustees that a contractor that had promised to do some work for us here at the church had lied to me not once, not twice but a number of times. And I don't know why he felt a need to lie to me. I just merely asked him if he could do some work for us. He lied without a reason as far as I am concerned. All I needed was a truthful answer to my question and request for his service.
So, in all of these commandments God has given us freedom to live right with our neighbors. Freedom to do what is right. Freedom to do good to one another. Freedom to be neighborly in the most basic ways. God has given us a freedom that exceeds all other freedoms.
God spoke these words to his people. They are for people that live according to God's laws. They are for people that choose to believe God. People that reject God don't value his laws. Christians do. People that want to harm you and others will not give heed to these commandments. You can do your part by taking these laws seriously. You can see them differently than you have in past years. You can see the value in them for society and learn to value them for the good of society and all of us. Amen.