We move on to the Fourth Commandment today in our sermon series on the Ten Commandments, found on page 321, which we will recite today right off the bat.
What is the Fourth Commandment? Honor your father and mother.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents or other authorities but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.
This commandment reminds us that when God says “Love your neighbor,” He does not just mean those people who do not share a home with you. He also means our family members. And more than just loving them, in faithfulness to God we honor, serve, obey and cherish our parents. We might disagree with them, but we must always show them respect. This commandment also applies to how we treat bosses, police officers, teachers, and all other authorities in our lives, but today’s sermon will only be about authority within the home.
Our first two readings today show that family is important to God. Long before He gave the Law to Moses at Sinai, God spoke to Father Noah, his wife, and his sons and their wives. God established His promise in the rainbow, that He would preserve the lives of future generations of their family. Then, in our Epistle, Paul talks about his prayers for the Ephesians, referring to God as “the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Ephesians 3:14-15). The Christians in Ephesus were having a difficult time seeing God’s care for them. And so Paul took the time to build them up in the knowledge that they were God’s children, and that just as they were confident that their earthly fathers cared for them, so also they could be confident in God’s fatherly love – for all earthly fathers are called by God to be mirrors reflecting the divine Fatherhood of God, bringing order and stability to chaotic lives, applying Law and the Gospel; not in a tyrannical way, but in a way that keeps in mind that God has entrusted His little ones to our care.
Our parents were the first way God delivered His love to us. From this fact, Martin Luther made the point that both God’s love and our parents’ love should move us to keep the Fourth Commandment. He wrote that everyone should “consider what his parents have done for him, and he will find that he has from them body and life, moreover, that he has been fed and reared when otherwise he would have perished a hundred times in his own filth” (Large Catechism, I.129).
Without our parents, and even more so, without God, we would have been left for dead in the mess we had created. Yet when we want to be disobedient to this Commandment – or any other – we conveniently disregard the times they rescued us, and all other times they sacrificed to provide for us. We mentally change them, imagining them to be worse than they really are, so that we do not have to be grateful for the way they benefit us. Going back to Luther, he said, “here again the devil rules in the world, so that the children forget their parents, as we all forget God, and no one considers how God nourishes, protects, and defends us, and bestows so much good on body and soul; especially when an evil hour comes, we are angry and grumble with impatience, and all the good which we have received throughout our life is wiped out [from our memory]. Just so we do also with our parents, and there is no child that understands and considers [what the parents have endured while nourishing and fostering him], except the Holy Ghost grant him this grace” (paragraph 128). Strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:16), our minds easily recall the sacrificial love of our parents.
More than just feeding and clothing us, godly parents see to it that their children know God as our Father and Jesus as our Savior. Like Noah before the Flood preached not only to his neighbors, but also to his own family, so also godly parents preach to us the destruction of unbelief and the Lord’s salvation from it through His Baptismal waters. Parents lead their children to worship the Lord, like Noah led his family after the Flood, building an altar in thanksgiving to God.
Our parents proved their care for us in both body and soul. Unless they told us to do something God said is sinful, what reasons did we as little children have for ignoring or going against what our parents told us? It would be inconsistent for them to care for us as they did, and then to turn around and parent us in a way that would hurt or harm us.
Except that, as parents ourselves, we know that we are inconsistent. We have abused our God-given authority in ways that will benefit us, with little thought for how it might benefit our children. It hurts, but you and I know Jesus is right when He says, “you… who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children” (Matthew 7:11). We can do the right thing for our kids… and yet we are still evil, seeking to get good gifts for ourselves. And so we do not consistently do good for our kids. We change.
Though it seems like our Gospel text has nothing to do with our life under the Fourth Commandment, Mark 6 has some Good News for such inconsistently obedient, constantly changing people as ourselves. It started out with Jesus immediately hustling His disciples into their boat, sending them “to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He dismissed the crowd” (Mark 6:45). St. John lets us know that the 5000 who had just fed on the 5 loaves and 2 fish were thankful for the teachings and miracles of Jesus. But then they wanted to change Jesus, like children who want to change their parents into sugar daddies and indulgent mommies. They wanted to make Jesus into their king on the spot, so that He would always be there to exercise His messianic muscle, giving them bread so that they would never have to work again. They had immediately changed from thankful to self-serving.
So, after seeing His disciples safely away from that crowd’s influence, Jesus heads off on His own to pray with all boldness and confidence as a dear child speaking to His dear Father. He has not changed. He is still the obedient Son of God. He did not become a man to be crowned a bread king. Jesus is here as the Lamb to be sacrificed, to take away the sin of the world.
The disciples change. They become afraid. Not so much of the waves. Many of them are experienced fisherman. Though they expected to take 3 hours to get where they were going, and it had now been 8 hours of hard rowing, they had seen worse weather before. But then, about 3 am, they see something they had not seen before, and it did scare them. Seeing Jesus walking on the water, they think He is a ghost, and cry out terrified. The disciples have changed from faithful followers to fearful fishermen. Rather than rejoice that Jesus is coming, they want Him to disappear.
But Jesus has not changed. He is not a ghost, but the faithful Son of God. So He speaks His word of comfort, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Mark 6:50). Even though the disciples have changed from faith in Jesus to fear of Jesus, the Lord does not leave them floundering. He comes to them, because the Creator of sea and wind is here to deliver them from their fears. The setting may change, but Jesus is Jesus. When He is feeding 5000 with five loaves and two fish, He is the Son of God who has come to save. In the middle of the night, when it is all dark and threatening, He is still the Son of God who has come to save. And when you realize how your sin has made you fail your parents as their child, or your sin has made you fail your child as their parent, Jesus is still the Son of God who has come to save as He hangs on the Cross, shedding His blood for the forgiveness of your trespasses. “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
Sinners like you and me are inconsistent. We change. By the end of this morning, your thoughts will have turned to something less than godly. By the end of the day, you might snap at the kids, or been frustrated by your parents. You will again become worried about what the future holds as the storms of life will make Jesus look far away, unable to help, like when the Disciples thought He was a ghost out to get them. Or, like the crowd that wanted Jesus to be the bread king, your sinful mind will try to change who Jesus is, expecting that being God’s child should make your life easier. But Jesus does not change. And thanks be to God for that. Because He does not change, His promises are certain. Promises such as, “This is My Body, This is My Blood.” Promises such as, “I shall raise you up on the Last Day.” Promises such as “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.”
To fulfill these promises, the Son of God honored His Father in Heaven, was obedient to the point of death – for all the times you failed as a child to honor, serve and obey, love and cherish your parents; and for all the times as parents we have abused or neglected our authority. On the Cross, Jesus exposes the fatherly heart of the God who calls His wayward, wandering children home to Himself; our Father in Heaven who gives good gifts to His children, not because we get good grades in religion, or high marks in home economics, but because He is good and gracious and merciful.
Do not doubt that God will strengthen you for your tasks as parent or child. For He “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us[. To] Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”