Pentecost Eight (sort of)
13″You shall not murder.”
For those of you who are parents, you know, like me, that when you have just one child to deal with at a time, things can go pretty smoothly. When you have two kids or more, problems can rise exponentially. When you have just one kid, or you just have one at home while the rest are at school for example, you will not hear, “Give me that back!” “That’s mine!” And you will not hear, “I am going to kill you!”
Today we are going to discuss the fifth commandment, which states simply, “You shall not murder.” That’s pretty clear, right? “Don’t murder.” It is hard wired into (just about) everyone’s heart, although not in the hearts of judges and politicians who think abortion is ok. It is wrong to go murder someone. The natural knowledge of the law tells us this. But God made sure we knew this.
Now I want to address something here before I go on with our discussion. You may think I am misquoting this commandment. Did that sound right to you? “You shall not murder.” That might not be the way you remember it. If you memorized this stuff as a kid using the same catechism I did, which was published in 1941, you memorized the King James Version, “Thou shalt not kill.” You might think I am wrong here today by saying the commandment is “You shall not murder.” I want to be clear here, the King James translation is wrong. I am not saying the Bible is wrong, I am saying the King James translation is wrong. The Bible is God’s Word, it is infallible. There are no errors in the Bible. It is also written in Hebrew and Greek. That is why your Missouri Synod pastors have to learn Hebrew and Greek. And the Hebrew word in Exodus 20:13 is “murder.” That is the translation in the ESV, the NASB, and the NKJV.
This may not seem like a big difference. But it is. It really is. Suppose someone breaks into your house and threatens you and your family. Is it a sin for you to defend yourself and your family when attacked? Suppose you are in the Army stationed in Afghanistan and some Taliban twerp tries to take you out. Is it a sin for you to be in our armed forces and take the life of an enemy combatant? Suppose you are a police person and you have to draw your weapon to protect yourself or a citizen. Is it a sin for a law enforcement officer to take someone’s life protecting themselves or another civilian? No. Many of you know I am a police department chaplain, and I work with and assist the Edmond PD. There have been law enforcement officers who have had to discharge their firearms on duty and take someone’s life, who have thought that God could not forgive them because they took a life. There have been many police who were raised on the King James Bible who think they are damned because they had to take a life in the line of duty. But in the Hebrew, the verb “rasach” is not to be translated as “kill,” It should be translated as “murder.” It isn’t murder to shoot a bad guy who is a threat to a civilian or a law enforcement officer. It isn’t murder for our troops to shoot at terrorists who threaten them in Afghanistan. It isn’t murder for you or me to take a life in self defense. That is why it is important that we recognize today that the Fifth Commandment reads, in Hebrew, “You shall not murder.”
Now you may be thinking to yourself as we continue this sermon, “I am not a murderer, so this sermon is not going to apply to me.” It will.
One of the things that I hope you are catching on to here as this sermon series moves along is that the Commandments tend to cover broader areas of things than they do at first glance. The commandment says, “You shall not murder.” Luther gave us the meaning to this as, “We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” So you haven’t committed a murder. That’s a good thing. But have you ever punched someone? Kicked them? Threw a rock or a snowball at them with malice in your heart? Ever pushed someone in anger? Uh-oh. Guess we have broken this commandment. Maybe it has been a few years since this happened. It is certainly not uncommon to see children, siblings, get into these kinds of altercations. Mine had one Tuesday, and I pointed out to them this Sunday’s sermon was going to be about them. And while it may be a while since we threw a snowball at someone, spouses can get into these kinds of things, people in bars, sitting in a sports stadium, and so on. We are not to hurt folks, again unless it is self defense.
And it gets worse for us. Have you ever gotten mad at someone with no righteous reason? Ever called someone a bad name, or insulted them, or hurt their feelings? Uh-oh, I guess we have broken this commandment.
Ever been at a football game and yelled out at your quarterback, “Excuse me sir, your talent is lacking!” We usually say worse things than that, don’t we. Ever been driving down the Broadway Raceway here and someone cuts you off, and you yell at them, “Excuse me, but your ability to maneuver that automobile is not satisfactory!” We usually say worse things than that. Ever sat down to dinner and said to your spouse, who has worked hard on the evening meal, that “This takes like sawdust.” or ask, “What is this glop?” We are not to hurt people emotionally, we are not to hurt each other’s feelings.
Then there is this: have you ever hated someone? Jesus equated hate with murder. 1 John 3 tells us, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer.” I am pretty sure all of us know hate. We have hated those who attack our country, both foreign and domestic. We have hated those who broke our hearts. We have hated those who we work for and who do not treat us in a way that shows we are valued. We hate those who play quarterback for our teams who retire, and unretire, and retire, and then unretire and then play for our chief rival. We have all let God down regarding this subject. We break this commandment. We are not to hurt anyone, physically, emotionally, or spiritually. We are to be nice!
That is the whole other dimension to this Commandment. Let’s look again at Luther’s meaning, “We should fear and love God that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” Which part of this is easier to do, the positive or the negative? Is it easier to avoid hurting our neighbor or is it easier to “help and support him in every physical need”?
Obviously the positive side is harder. We can avoid hitting people or murdering them, but how do we help them? The positive to the Fifth Commandment is to “…help and support our neighbor in every physical need.” This means going out and helping. It means sacrificing for the sake of someone else’s welfare. It means thinking of someone else’s needs before your own. It means not being selfish but selfless. That’s hard. That’s demanding. That’s impossible. That’s the point. And that’s why Jesus came and fulfilled all the Law’s demands in our place.
We admit at the start of every worship service on Sunday that we have sinned “by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.” In fact, many of our sins are sins of omission, not sins of commission. It is the thousands of good things we fail to do. We don’t see them. We focus so much on ourselves that we don’t see the opportunities to help and befriend people every day. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
There are needs out there. God has put us here to help our neighbors, whether it is someone here, at work, in our neighborhood, or on the other side of the world. How much are we helping? The answer is, “Not enough.” And for the record, this is the big reason why I, as the pastor of this congregation, think we should be a congregation that does comfort dog ministry. I am not for this so the church can get a mascot. I am for this because I know this will expand our ministry out there. We, as a family in Christ, could be helping people out there that we are not helping now.
There is no one here that can honestly say they are doing “enough.” That is why we need Jesus. We say, “For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us and lead us.” Jesus came to bring us that perfect eternal mercy from God. He died and rose for us. He was the perfect sacrifice for our sins. In spite of all of our sin and rebellion and weakness, we are forgiven. We are welcomed into His Presence. He calls us His own. And then He sends us out there to spread His kingdom and love. He sends us out to show His mercy in a hurting world. God has shown us His mercy and love in Jesus. We are now called to be merciful, to be loving, to make sacrifices, to love our neighbors.
We are called by God…to be nice.
God grant each of us the wisdom and strength to do just that.