The Ten Words from God pt 5
“The Law of Life”
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 1/18/2015
Based on Exodus 20:13
Tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr Day, a day where we honor as a nation one of America’s greatest voices for unity and dignity of all human kind. It is the 47th anniversary come April 4, when Rev Dr King Jr., was killed by an assassins bullet. Ironic isn’t it, that a man who advocated peaceful change and passive resistance died through an act of murder. A man who was passionate about the quality of life for not just the African American, but for all peoples of this country, because he knew that when one person is seen as less, then we all are less.
Today, we continue our look at the Ten Words from God. The sixth commandment “You shall not kill” seems pretty straight forward. Yet, I cannot imagine a more controversial topic to ever try and speak upon. For a pastor, this topic is one of the top ten on the list of “No Win” subjects. Why? Because everyone has already figured out what the “correct” answer is to this commandment.
Why is this commandment not so straight forward? Knowing that all the commandments are built upon each other, we know through the first commandment that God is God, supreme in all that exists and has the power to free us from slavery. We know through the second commandment that God has authority over all life. So why the confusion about the sixth commandment? This commandment is confusing because there are numerous laws following this commandment that speak about what to do with someone who has killed. There are numerous passages that speak about the legitimacy of killing, as examples: the stoning to death of an unruly child, of adulterers, of fornicators, of homosexuals, those who worship false gods. In one of my most favorite passages from Ecclesiastes it speaks about a “time to kill and a time heal”, which I like to use in wedding ceremonies as a springboard to the various ways we can kill love within a relationship. The scriptures are full of contradictions around the concept of rightness and wrongness of killing.
A second reason for the confusion is in the understanding of what does “to kill” mean, within the evolution of the Hebrew people. If you look at the same Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy (chapter 5:17) you see a change in wording to:“You shall not murder”, which seems to change the whole focus of what might or might not be allowable, a sort of loophole. We understand the word “kill” to mean the taking of life for any reason and in all forms. We understand the word “murder” to mean a criminal act. So how are we to interpret what the intent of this commandment was? Not how we try to manipulate to support our personal opinions, but what was the original intent of “do not kill”. This is where the preacher enters into the “no win” zone.
We make up reasons all the time to kill: we kill to preserve the state; we kill to protect the self; we kill to punish wrongdoers; we kill to enforce authority; we kill for political reasons; we kill whole segments of society – strip their lands, rape their forests, soil their air – to satisfy whole other segments of society. Pg 70, The Ten Commandments, by Sister Joan Chittester. These all pertain to physical killing. There is not enough time this morning to go into how we kill emotionally or kill some ones character.
About 5 or 6 yrs ago the movie “Avator” came out with an amazingly in-depth message about the sanctity of life and various views on what justifies killing to American audiences. It brought to light, the approach of justifying the destruction of not just human life but of the ecology by an imperialist society. The indigenous people, the Nahavey, understood the sacredness of life and how all plants and beasts were connected. The invaders from earth never understood this sanctity of life and because of that lack of understanding brought death and destruction; a killing of life not just on the planet Pandora, but of their own planet earth.
In all of recorded human history, over 60% of all war deaths have occurred in the Twentieth Century. In just the past two years, after the mass shooting at the elementary school in Sandy Hook, CT, there have been 95 more mass shootings across this nation at schools. In Florida, the Superior courts have upheld the right to kill a person by “reasonable fear of safety”, and we have many instances of accidental gun violence. Is abortion murder or is it killing? War, is it justifiable killing or murder? When actress Mae West was having a battle with the Hayes Commission who was trying to censor her sexual innuendos as being immoral, she is reported to say,”I will tell you what is immoral. Sending our boys off to war, killing one another, that is immoral!” Capital punishment is it a deterrent or is it murder?
To add to this confusion, we as Christians try to follow the examples that Jesus set while here on earth. Like Rev Dr King, Jr, Jesus also preached a non-violent revolution and was executed by the state. For the first couple of centuries, the Christian church in general followed a philosophy of pacifism until it was sanctioned by the Roman Emperor Constantine as the legitimate church of the state in the Third Century.
I think when we argue the differences between “killing” and “murder”, trying to legitimize one over the other, we are missing the intent of this commandment. What this commandment is pointing toward, I believe, is the understanding and struggle about the “Sanctity of life.” When we think in terms of being made in God’s image and what that means about all of creation, the focus of “sanctity of life” starts to bring in a much broader view about “what is life”? I wish to play a video that addresses this question in a very compelling apology (meaning statement of theological belief) about the commandment “You shall not kill.” [youtube video: January is Sanctity of Life month, by Focus on the Family]
As this video speaks about the sanctity of life is a world view, it makes being prolife an issue that goes beyond the topic of abortion, it speaks about how we should regard life in general. The Third Parliament of the World’s Religions met in 1999 in Cape Town, S. Africa. The first Parliament of the World’s Religions met in 1893 in Chicago, to address the issues of Religion in the world and focus on the commonalities of differing faiths instead of the things that separate religious groups. In the 1999 assembly, this Parliament agreed on a document called Global Ethic’s. There were four central ethical principles, one of these principles being “you shall not kill.” Life, every religion in the world said, was to be affirmed, protected, honored, and sustained. Pg 70, The Ten Commandments, by Sister Joan Chittester
Maybe it’s time for us to look at this commandment in a different way – of turning the wording from a negative into a positive. Instead of focusing on “You shall not kill”, how would we approach the topic of sanctity of life by saying, “you shall enable life!” Would that not help change the view of Medicare and Social Security, and food stamps, and unemployment compensation from being simple “social programs” into the essence of what it means to sustain life for others, to make life livable for everyone? Maybe the greatest sin against the sixth commandment, “You shall not kill”, may be indifference to what goes on that is sapping life out of the world around us. Is not the underlying principal of “salvation of humankind”, the making of everything that affects the quality of our life’s the concern of quality for all lives? Pg 70- 72, The Ten Commandments, by Sister Joan Chittester
Rev Dr King, Jr had a dream, Jesus of Nazareth had a dream. Both were the dream of the sanctity of life. Let us honor that dream by practicing “You shall enable life!” Amen