Sermon: Honor

Father, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing in your sight. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

I was a bit of a smart aleck as a kid. Once I hit middle school and high school, I did not really want to do what my parents said, so I began to go look for arguments and ways to get out of it. Johnny and Zack, don’t try this at home. It won’t work. I went to the Bible, knowing that if the Bible was on my side, my parents could not argue with me. I would win. So I found Ephesians 6:4, which said, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” I got really good at quoting that whenever I felt exasperated, which was pretty much every time that I got asked to do something I didn’t want to do. This didn’t last very long, though, because, as my parents wisely pointed out, I was quoting verse 4, but had somehow missed the three verses that came before in Ephesians 6 – this is why you don’t try this at home – which says, Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” So that backfired on me.

We have spent this fall listening together to the Ten Commandments, given by God on Mount Sinai to his people to show us how we are to live as his people. The first four commandments deal more directly with our relationship with God – who we worship, how we worship, how we use God’s name, how we keep time. The fifth commandment, which we will hear this morning, is part of the transition from commands dealing directly with what we owe God and toward what we owe our neighbors. It’s Exodus 20:12. Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Who do you honor?

Honor is Hebrew is the word, Chabad. It means to make something heavy. In the Bible, to make something heavy is to give something significance, honor, or authority and to make something light is to treat as insignificant, to disrespect it, as if it was nothing. If in the third commandment, we were told not to treat God’s name as if it was nothing, to treat it lightly, in the fifth commandment, we are told to give weight to our father and mother. We still talk this way sometimes – we give weight to certain people’s opinions, which means that we consider them more significant or of more value than just anybody off the street. I remember different times where I have been challenged in my faith by someone more mature in Christ than me and it felt different than when my friends would tell me they thought I was a fool. I had to give a different weight to what that mentor said and consider more carefully whether they were right. I needed to honor their words to me.

Honor means to give weight, significance, reverence, and respect to someone else. It is to give them – their person, office, and words – the significance and gravity they deserve.

Obedience. It is difficult to get around the force of the word ‘honor.’ Unless their requests contradict the word of God, to honor our parents includes obeying them.

Honor is more than just obedience, though not necessarily less. You can obey someone without honoring them. You see this in unhealthy organizations, where people obey the boss but clearly do not respect him or her. You can keep the letter of a command, but dishonor someone when you speak disrespectfully about them. To honor is to give weight and respect, which runs deeper than just obedience.

Who do you honor?

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

Who do you value, who do you listen to, whose voice is given the most weight in your life? Think about the voices and people given the most weight in our culture today – self, celebrity, youth, wealthy. For some, there is a resistance to recognizing any authority outside of myself. For others, the people on the screen, whether on YouTube, CTV, or the silver screen have more authority to shape our lives than the people who know us and are charged with caring for and nurturing us. We want celebrities, not experts, to comment on the issues of the day. Our culture honors the celebrity, the self, the rich and the famous.

When God calls for us to show honor, it is not to the famous or the wealthy, but to mother and father. What a contrast. Mother and Father are personal and ordinary. Honoring Mother and Father values wisdom and nurture over power and vitality. The call to honor father and mother is a call to reverence the person who changed your dirty diaper over the person who played your favorite character on TV, the person who stood by your bed at night over the hip Youtuber. It is a reversal of how our culture values people – the bold, bright, and beautiful. Instead, honor your father and your mother.

Coupled with the honoring of status-figures in our culture is a growing antagonism between the generations. Boomers disrespecting Millennials, Millennials dismissing Boomers, Gen Xers feeling forgotten, and iGen feeling misunderstood. This breakdown of honor between the generations is damaging to society. As a culture we do not value our elders, our mothers and fathers. “If we undervalue our elders today, what will be our place in society when we reach that age?” Our attitudes toward the elderly are indicative of our attitude toward the past and the future. We see this in that the youngest and the oldest of us are treated with the least honor.

Who do you value, who do you honor, who do you treat with respect and reverence?

Who do you honor?

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

There is value in the generations listening to and respecting one another, particularly in the church. We are all brothers and sisters, fellow disciples of Jesus Christ. However, when God calls upon us to give honor, he specifically commands us to honor our father and mother.

This is not a relationship between equals. Parents are placed in authority over their children. Even as children grow into adulthood and the relationship with their parents change, we never outgrow the call to honor, give weight, give respect, and largely obey our parents. To honor our parents includes submitting to their authority over us. This is why Paul can say, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—  “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

This call to honor and obey goes beyond just our biological parents. It is not just in the home that God has placed authorities over us for our good. In the church, in school, in society, there are people placed in positions of authority. As the consistory was studying the scriptures a couple weeks ago, we noted that elders in particular were to be honorable people. Since they were to be honored and respected in the church, to be an elder is to have a character worthy of honor. This is also why the qualifications for elder are deeply connected with how one manages their household. Just as parents are placed over children, in a similar way the elders are placed over the household of God, so it is important to know how an potential elder manages their household.

Honoring our father and mother includes honoring all those in authority over you. As the catechism puts it, “That I honor, love, and be loyal to my father and mother and all those in authority over me.” In a few weeks, Canadians will have the opportunity to vote for their leaders and have a voice in who placed in authority in this nation, but there is an honor due to the office of those placed over us.

The fifth commandment begins in the home, but extends beyond it. It moves out into the household of God, where we are to honor our fathers and mothers in the faith. And it moves out into society, where we are called to honor those God has placed in authority over us. 

Who do you honor?

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the fifth commandment is that we do not get to chose who we are called to honor. We don’t pick our parents. We are born into relationships that call for us to give honor, to give weight, to give respect to someone and we have no say in who that is. You might wish you had different parents or you might think you have the best parents in the world, but you don’t get to choose them. Either way, you still have to honor them. It is one of the few relationship we have that is simply a given in our lives, not something chosen. Before words, before we can do anything but eat, sleep, and poop, we are already embedded in this relationship.

The fifth commandment is part of the turn from loving God toward loving our neighbor and the first place where God calls us to show love for our neighbor is in the family, in a relationship that none of us chose.

In some ways, we choose our friends. We can choose our spouse, and in some fashion even choose our employer. But we cannot choose our parents. They are given to us. Before we were ever born, they were there. Raise your hand if you are a child of someone. Good 100% of you. The child-parent relationship is universal. Whether our home was broken, blended, or whole, we are all children. Whether we are orphaned, adopted, or sick of all our siblings, we are all children. The first relationship that God tells us to care for is one we did not choose. It is a relationship that was handed to us before we could speak, could move, could do anything but trust that we would be cared for.

And it is here where our love of neighbor begins. It is here in the unchosen, given relationship of a child to a parent that we are called to continue our discipleship as one belong to Jesus Christ.

Loving our neighbor is not something we choose, but something we are given. We do not get to pick which neighbors we are called to love. They are given to us. Like with parents, if it was up to us, we might have chosen differently, but that is not how love or honor works. We may have the chance to choose the neighborhood or the house we will live in, but we don’t get to pick our neighbors and we don’t get to pick and choose among them which we want to love and which we do not. They are not chosen, they are given. This is fundamental to what it means to love your neighbor, to love those given to you, not those you have chosen.

Who do you honor?

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

So far, we have been hearing all about the responsibility of the children in this relationship, those under authority. We are to give weight, respect, and reverence not only for our parents, but for all those God has placed in authority over us, even though we did not choose them. However, there is responsibility on the side of those placed in authority. Let’s go back to Ephesians 6 for a second:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and your mother” – which is the first commandment with a promise – “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Parents, it says, are to bring their children up in the training and instruction of the Lord and not to exasperate them.

As parents, as ones in authority – whether teachers, elders, guardians, employers, we struggle with the fifth commandment by either eliminating responsibility or freedom. When we always swoop in to protect and consistently remove consequences, we fail to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. We stunt their growth and taking on of responsibility, which is part of growing into maturity and living out the vocation God has given each of us as people made in his image. When we remove responsibility, as parents, as those in authority, we fail to keep the fifth commandment.

Yet, when we remove freedom and act with impatience, we fail as well. When force, shame, guilt, or coercion become our primary means of motivation, we suppress the freedom God has given others by virtue of being made in his image. In this, we can exasperate those God has placed in our charge. Instead, we are to train and instruct them in the Lord in such a way that develops both freedom and responsibility.

Who do you honor? Honor your father and your mother so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

For some of us, what we have heard so far is making hair stand up on the back of our necks. We hear ‘honor,’ ‘obey,’ or ‘submit to authorities’ and we have seen how this can go wrong. We know parents who never showed up, who stepped aside on their duties to care, nurture, defend, and guide their children. We know parents who have abused their power, turning the fifth commandment into a weapon to force submission upon their children. What does honor look like then?

It might be easier to begin with what it does not look like. Honor does not look like sitting silently under abuse. It does not look like obeying when the command runs contrary to the will of God. Honor also does not look like bad-mouthing and slandering your parents. Instead, honoring means speaking the whole truth with respect, at times bearing with the faults of our parents, and honoring God above all else. It is difficult to know how best to honor someone when they are dishonorable.

Who do you honor? 

Honor your father and your mother so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Ultimately, honoring our parents is a way of honoring God. We honor God through honoring those he has placed over us in our lives. This is true of our parents, elders, deacons, and all those who have gone before us.

In February, we sat in this sanctuary with stones in our hands. We talked about Jacob setting up standing stones to remember what God had done and to point others to the LORD. We also talked about how each of us had people who were standing stones in our lives, who pointed us to Jesus by their words and witness. With those people in mind, we placed these stones at the foot of the cross. We honored our fathers and mothers in the faith.

None of us would be in this world, nor standing and worshipping the LORD of the universe without people who came before us, loved the LORD, loved us, nurtured us, and shared the gospel with us. We would not be here without our fathers and mothers in our home and in our faith. We are called to honor them, give them the weight and significance they are due.

Who do you honor?

Honor your father and your mother so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

As we heard in Ephesians 6, this is the first command with a promise. In the fifth commandment, we are promised that if we honor our parents we will live long in the land the LORD is giving us. For Israel, this meant the people would remained rooted in the promised land. These words were first given to a rootless wandering people, that if they honored their parents and elders, then as individuals and as a people, they would find a deep rootedness and stability. The same is true for us. When we honor those to whom honor is due, we are promised a rootedness and stability of our person.

What might it look like this week to honor your father and mother?

  1. Visiting your elders in the faith – I think this can be particularly important for the young, since the church is one of the only places in our culture where different generations have regular contact. Visit with them, ask them questions, honor them with your time and attention, for they have poured out their life for Christ before you.
  2. Honor your parents in speech and action – Think about the way you talk about your parents to others and how you consider them in your heart. Also, this looks different in different stages of life. As a young person, honoring may look like obeying without backtalk and trusting your parents when they ask you to do something. I know it is hard, but it is good. As an adult, it may means speaking respectfully about your parents even when you do things differently in your home than you did with your parents. As we grow older, honoring your parents may mean caring for them physically just as they care for you long ago. Consider thanksgiving tomorrow…

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