From the Pastor’s Desk:
September 15, 2019
“You shall not murder.” Exodus 20:13 (Big Ten Series)
I remember when I was ten years old and got to make my first confession to our parish priest. Confession, in the Catholic Church, is also known as the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The first time you do it can be a bit nerve wracking. You have to go into the confessional booth with the priest and tell him all the bad things that you have done. If that isn’t bad enough, there are choices you have to make before you can even get to the confessing part. Do I sit facing the priest, or do I kneel behind the screen so he doesn’t know it’s me? What will people think if I am in there too long? Too short? What if I make my confession and forget some sins? What if I am given a penance and cannot complete it?
A wise teacher, seeing my obvious anxiety prior to my first confession, pulled me aside and asked what was bothering me. All of the peripherals were just that: peripheral. The biggest thing was making sure I confessed everything and didn’t forget anything. At 10, it wasn’t a huge list but I was nervous all the same. She gave me the best advice I could have hoped for. She told me to just think through the ten commandments and confess each of them as I go along. She told me that if we really think about it, we discover we are guilty of them all.
As I ran through the list in my head, I came to a sticking point at “You shall not murder.” I had never killed anyone. Maybe I had swatted a few flies and some pesky mosquitoes, but that was it. A small part of me was worried this teacher had murdered someone and was trying to get me to take the rap. When I asked about it, she explained that we murder people every day, not physically mind you, but we kill them all the same.
When we use unkind words or actions towards others, we are killing their spirit, their emotions, their self worth. And that, that I could understand having been bullied a lot by other kids. It didn’t take much reflection to realize that I had doled out plenty of unkind words and actions myself.
We like to look at the ten commandments and pride ourselves that, not matter what else we might have done, we are at least clear of any murder charges, but that simply isn’t the case. We murder each other every day with our unkind words, thoughts, and actions. In a world as fractured as ours it is important to remember that these things matter.
What I would learn much later in life is that wise teacher was simply quoting the wisest teacher, Jesus. Jesus told us that if we have anger in our heart against our brother or sister, then we are guilty of murder (Mt. 5:21-22). Jesus had a way of getting to the core of the matter.
People liked to simply think about the physical damage we can do and not worry about the psychological or emotional sins we commit against each other. Some of these wounds take decades to heal; others never do. Instead of a quick death the person is forced to live with the scars of our hatred and unkind words.
Since school started, I have been asking my girls each day when I pick them up: “What is one kind thing you did today?” Some days it has been hard to come up with one; others have come easier. But what I want them and you to know is that what we say and do matters. If unkind words and actions can be the instruments of murder, then kind words and actions can be instruments of resurrection.
Don’t forget to check out the “Grace Cubed” podcast wherever you get your podcasts, or go to www.anchor.fm/gracecubed
Cherry Hill United Methodist Church