“You shall not murder. (Exo 20:13 NIV)
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. (Mat 5:21-22a NIV)
In one of his books, the great preacher and teacher Leslie Weatherhead tells about visiting some friends who had an old dog named Pete. Pete was in sad shape. He tottered about, had a raw spot on his back, and arthritis in his joints. Weatherhead asked his friends, “Why don’t you have Pete put to sleep?” “Oh no,” they said, “Pete is Mike’s dog.” Mike was their son who was away at the university. “If we put old Pete to sleep, what would we say when Mike came home and looked for his beloved dog? We couldn’t bear to say to him, ‘oh, we put him to sleep because he was such a bother and he wasn’t worth saving.”‘
“Not worth saving.” That was the label that Weatherhead could hang on old Pete, but not the parents because of their love for Mike and Mike’s love for old Pete. Love is a heavily value laden term, especially objects of sentimental value. The old dog Pete may not be loved by us but he’s definitely loved and valued by Mike. Can you imagine some cynical angel, like Weatherhead, looking down on the world and saying, “I don’t see why God keeps those mangy humans around? Look how they disobey. Look how wretched most of them are. Why don’t you just wipe them out? They aren’t worth saving!” Morally speaking, we deserve the moral description of being mangy, but the reason why God doesn’t put us down, so to speak, is because our value is based on God’s benevolent love for us. We are God’s creation, made in His image and by virtue of this– HUMAN LIFE is sacred; human life is priceless.
So why does God give us a commandment that all cultures to one degree or another agree that murder (the unlawful taking of a human life) is wrong. Is God being superfluous? No!! God (in what some consider stating the obvious) is reinforcing the idea that human life is sacred. If there is no God, all things are permissible… even murder! Apart from God, there is nothing left but (as the late John Paul stated) a culture of death.
A culture of death surrounded ancient Israel. Not only was animal sacrifices acceptable, but also human sacrifice. (God Moloch). These pagan gods reflected the blood thirsty culture of death. It was in the midst of this culture of death that God commands Israel to value life. The term used in the Hebrew is RATZACH; this Hebrew word is never used in connection to the lawful execution of a death penalty or the kind of killing that takes place when a soldier is in a life and death situation that demands killing, nor is this word ever used in connection with hunting or killing animals for cultic reasons. What the bible forbids is not killing, but the unlawful killing of a human being: “You shall not murder.” This ranges from premeditated, cold blooded murder, from voluntary manslaughter (crimes of passion) to involuntary manslaughter (unintentional deaths). The sixth commandment is a prohibition against the unjust taking of a legally innocent life. This is why God does not exclude one participating in a just war or capital punishment. This is why I am not a pacifist when it comes to war or capital punishment, because to sanctify life is to sanctify INNOCENT life.
(All preaching is about afflicting the comfortable and bringing comfort to the afflicted!) When we look out upon our moral landscape how has innocent life been compromised? Abortion! Now I know that there may be some rare cases for abortion (like if the life of the mother is compromised) but we all know that abortion policies are basically a license to kill. The task of the faith community is to urge pregnant women to give their unborn children the right to life. An abortion happens in America every three minutes. 27 percent of all the pregnancies in America, over one/fourth, end in abortion. During this service of worship, 180 abortions will occur. 94 percent of them happen because the mother (with or without husband) says that she can’t afford the child or that the child would interfere with the parents’ life style. To abort an unborn child for those reasons is a violation of the sixth commandment.
More and more we are living in a culture of death. In our secular and pragmatic society, innocent life is no longer sacred, but useful. If one’s life is no longer useful, but in fact becomes a burden on society or if one’s life is defective (of no use) then it’s time to abort.
A university professor, Dr. Christ Gabbard, valorized human intellect, while detesting poor mental function. This led him to adopt the ethics of Peter Singer who argues that society has a right to exclude people who are not “persons.” For instance, Singer and Gabbard believed that severely disabled people should either be killed or allowed to die. But the birth of Gabbard’s son who was born with permanent brain damage and is today a blind quadriplegic with cerebral palsy changed his mind. Gabbard writes:
“After his birth … I was deeply ambivalent, having been persuaded by [Peter Singer’s] advocacy of … infanticide. But there was my son, asleep or unconscious, on a ventilator, motionless under a heat lamp, tubes and wires everywhere, monitors alongside his still and transparent-plastic crib. What most stirred me was the way he resembled me. Nothing had prepared me for this shock of recognition, for he was the boy in my own baby pictures, the image of me when I was an infant….Many such well-meaning people would like to end my son’s suffering, but they do not stop to consider whether he is actually suffering. At times he is uncomfortable, yes, but the only real pain here seems to be the pain of those who cannot bear the thought that people like [my son] exist.”
Notice what Dr. Gabbard says: “What most stirred me was the way he resembled me. Nothing had prepared me for this shock of recognition, for he was the boy in my own baby pictures, the image of me when I was an infant.” You see, Dr. Gabbard realized that his son’s value wasn’t in his function, but in his humanity. He noticed that his son was a human as he was human. But how did Dr. Gabbard come to the asinine conclusion that functionality defined humanity as humanity?
Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University’s Center for Human Values Peter Singer has said; “Killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person.” Singer, who is considered the father of the international animal rights movement, has said that children less than one month old have no human consciousness and do not have the same rights as others. (Religion Today, 4/19/99). What is evil about Dr. Singer and his wicked statement is that personhood is connected to function. If our usefulness is radically compromised then our humanity is dehumanized beneath that of a common beast: ready for the slaughter house.
Even recently in the news we have seen the obscene and callous nature of Planned Parenthood, relegating the value of little aborted babies to the usefulness of their body parts. What is evil about both Planned Parenthood and Dr. Singer and his wicked statement is that personhood is connected to function. If our usefulness is radically compromised then our humanity is dehumanized beneath that of a common beast: ready for the slaughter house, while body parts are auctioned to the highest bidder!
To press this point for why this is morally evil and intellectually obtuse let me share a very important distinction between God’s love and human love. G K Chesterton notes the difference between human beings loving what we create versus God loving what he creates! He notes that we can only truly love what we create after it comes into being. We can tear down a house halfway and no big deal. But it’s not until a house becomes a home that we have a strong emotional connection. Not so with God. God loves what he creates before it comes into being. Question—is a baby a human product, something humans construct, not worthy of love until it comes into full being, like a house that can be torn down half way through construction? Or is a baby a divine creation deserving love before he or she is born? Which is it?
A professor at the UCLA Medical School asked his students this question: “Here is the family history: The father has syphilis. The mother has TB. They already have had four children. The first is blind. The second had died. The third is deaf. The fourth has TB. The mother is pregnant. The parents are willing to have an abortion if you decide they should. What do you think?” Most of the students decided on abortion. “Congratulations,” said the professor. “You have just murdered Beethoven!” Nothing is so final as murder, even when it is done very early in a life. The collaboration of the medical community in collaboration with an increasingly secular state is a dangerous combination without the strictures and moral guidance of religion. The church must be the moral conscious of a nation to uphold the sanctity of innocent life when human life is obviously profaned; this is obvious!
However, what about when it’s not so obvious. Abortion is an obvious violation of the sixth commandment, but what about no so obvious violation? In our text this morning Jesus talked about a not so obvious way that the sanctity of innocent life is compromised: viz. resentment, hatred. 21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.
Leonard Holt was a paragon of respectability. He was a middle-aged, hard-working lab technician who had worked at the same Pennsylvania paper mill for nineteen years. Having been a Boy Scout leader, an affectionate father, a member of the local fire brigade, and a regular church attender, he was admired as a model in his community – until that image exploded in a well-planned hour of bloodshed one brisk October morning. A proficient marksman, Leonard Holt stuffed two pistols in his coat pockets and drove to the mill. He stalked slowly into his shop and began shooting with calculated frenzy. He filled several co-workers with two or three bullets apiece, firing more than thirty shots, killing some men he had known for more than fifteen years. When the police found him standing defiantly in his doorway, he snarled, “Come and get me, you ________. I’m not taking any more of your _______!”
Bewilderment swept the community. Puzzled policemen and friends finally found a train of logic behind his brief reign of terror. Down deep within the heart of Leonard Holt rumbled the giant of resentment. His monk-like exterior concealed the seething hatred within. The investigation yielded the following facts: Several victims had been promoted over him while he remained in the same position. More than one in Holt’s carpool had quit riding with him due to his reckless driving. The man was brimming with resentment – rage that could be held no longer. Beneath his picture in Time, the caption told the story: “Responsible, Respectable, and Resentful.” (God Is For Life, 5/16/99, J. David Hoke). Let us not forget that when we hate our brothers or sisters, let us not forget when we personally hate our neighbor and our enemies we violate the sixth commandment. May we uphold the dignity and sanctity of life.
In conclusion, during the 1840’s in the Fiji Islands of the Pacific, a man was worth $7. You could buy a man for a musket. After you bought him you could starve him, work him, whip him or eat him. Cannibalism was very popular in those regions. But if you went to the Fiji Islands forty years later you could not buy a man for $7 million. What had made the difference?
Heroic missionaries like John G. Paton had brought the Gospel. Twelve hundred Christian chapels were scattered over the islands. The people had learned to read a book which says, “You shall not murder.” They had learned to see persons through the eyes of Christ. As we put on Christian lenses and focus on them as persons, murder will stop and God will be feared and our fellow man honored. What is a mangy human life worth? Priceless!! Amen!
 Chris Gabbard, Papa Ph.D: Essays on Fatherhood by Men in the Academy, ed. Paige Martin Reynolds, Mary Ruth Marotte, and Ralph James Savarese (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2011), 217-223.