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Honor is a Two-Way Street
April 20, 1975

St. Paul's United Methodist Church


When I was pastor of two churches and a college student, I made myself quite an expert by reading books and taking classes in family and marriage. I was quite an expert in the rearing of children and relating to teenagers. Then I got married and realized I wasn’t an expert in marriage but I still knew quite a bit about families. I was an expert in child rearing and youth until we had our baby; then I realized I didn’t know much about child rearing. But I was still an expert in youth. But now Jack is 13 years old. He’ll be 14 in August. Now I realize that all that’s left for me is to be an expert in geriatrics! I know all the problems of senior citizens.

I suspect that anyone you know who puts him or herself off as an expert in marriage, an expert in the family, an expert in how to raise children in this day and age—well, let’s just not listen to them. So I come before you in this series of sermons attempting to say something about family, marriage and child rearing not out of any expertise, but out of necessity because somebody has to say something!  Someone has to take the lead in getting a discussion going to share ideas on how we can help one another to develop strong, healthy, good families. I think this is the concern of all of us, regardless of our age, and regardless of our current family situation. We see around us in this chaotic day in which we live that it is difficult for families to be families, to really be helping and loving one another to grow.

I begin this series of sermons by going back to the Bible. As you know, I like the Old Testament. There is wisdom for us in those ancient writings that teaches us about an element that is true and a basic part of any relationship. Without this basic element in any human relationship, there’s no friendship. There’s no business relationship. There’s no neighborhood, there is no marriage. There’s no family without what the Bible teaches in the fifth commandment—honor, respect. Respect is one of the basic necessities. Respect is one of the foundations. Without respect, there is no friendship. Without respect there is no employer/employee relationship that is healthy. Without respect, there is no marriage. Without respect, there is no family.

“Honor your father and your mother.” Adults today accuse children and youth of lacking respect for their elders, lacking respect for their mothers and fathers. Perhaps that’s true. But I know from where I sit, and from having gone through and going through where we are, we hurt and ache and agonize over the youth who are lacking in respect. For we know how much easier it would be for them to live, how much easier, how much more effective, how much more successful they will make of their lives in this world if they can learn how to respect, if they can learn common courtesy, social graces, how to relate to their employer, how to relate to their peers, how to relate to their wives and husbands. We agonize for the youth to learn respect.

Back in one of my Minnesota churches, I remember the sheriff in that rural county. He often made the statement, “Show me a kid who does not respect his school teachers, show me a kid who does not respect the school, who does not respect the police, who does not respect the community, who does not respect property, who steals, who vandalizes and tears down the street, show me such a kid and I’ll show you a kid who does not respect his mother.”

I think he had a point. We learn at home how to honor our father and our mother. And when a kid doesn’t learn within his family to respect his mother and to respect his father, he probably will never respect his teacher, or the policeman, or the country, or the community, and he is in for one miserable life by not having learned the basic elemental attitude of respect.

But how does a boy or girl learn how to give respect?  How does one learn how to honor his mother and his father, his teacher and his community? How does he learn? He isn’t born with respect. He learns respect by being respected. He is first respected, and then he in turn can respect his parents. A child learns how to honor his father and mother because he is first of all honored by them. Honor is a two-way street. A youth or a child who is disrespectful, who does not respect his teacher, his community, or the police is a child or youth who does not respect his mother. Go one more step. Perhaps you’ll see a child who was not respected by his mother and his father. We learn respect by being respected. A Christian family acknowledges Christ as Lord and is attempting to serve Him, a family who honors and reveres Christ and makes him the goal and the focus of the family. A Christian family is a family in which each individual person within that family is respected and treated as a person of having infinite dignity and sacred worth.

Such a family may not be homogenized. Take a family where each individual person is encouraged to develop their own fulfillment as an individual, to become the kind of individuals that God made them to be, perhaps you won’t find a family that’s calm, serene and peaceful. Calm, serene, sedate, polite and a nice family often means that somebody in that family is dominating and stifling the rest. A Christian family that is built upon respect is not necessarily a peaceful family. For if each individual person is going to grow and find himself, he will involve struggle and conflict. So the lack of struggle and the lack of conflict is not necessarily the sign of a good family. It’s whether the foundation is respect. Respect, where the father and the mother, where the parents, have created the kind of home, the kind of environment reeks with awe and maybe even reverence for the kids. My kids you say! I should treat my kids with reverence? Yes, because children are gifts of God to us as parents and trusted to us for a time to treat them with infinite worth and dignity. To be entrusted with the care of a human life is one of the most awesome tasks we’re given.

John Frebonius was a school teacher back in the day where men wore hats and tipped them as a sign of respect. When John Frebonius would meet one of his pupils, he would take off his hat to his student. And they would say to him, “You’re the teacher, you’re the elder! How come you are taking off your hat to a student? Why are you showing respect to a mere student?” And he would answer, “Ah, but who knows! One of them may be a great poet, or a great philosopher, or one of my students may be a great preacher. Maybe one of my students will one day change the course of human history!” One of his students was Martin Luther. Who knows how much Martin Luther changed the course of human history because one teacher treated him with respect, one teacher treated him with reverence and believed in him.


I remember a boy we tried to work with. The whole church tried to undergird and support this boy. As he reached his teens, he began to drift to the street. He wanted to drop school. He lowered his ideals. He had a very poor low opinion of himself, a very poor self image. We tried so hard to surround him with support. One day his mother encouraged him to try out for football. He was a big kid. He never been interested in athletics but we encouraged him to try out for football. Football can be a vehicle of the Holy Spirit. Sports, music, drama, anything like that can be the salvation of a person as he finds himself, discovers his body, tests his strength and his abilities and grow. He was kind of interested in football and he was doing well at it. He was beginning to actually enjoy it.  We were all breathing a sigh of relief until one day! His father never had too much interest in the children and he didn’t really know what was going on. When he heard that his son was trying out for football, he laughed, “You’re going out for football!” The next week, the boy very conveniently sprained his ankle so he could drop the team. His father had a very low opinion of his son and the son was intent on demonstrating that his father was correct. There are very few things in life more important to a boy than to have the respect of his father. There are very few things more important and more crucial in the life of a boy than to have the interest, encouragement and the support of his father. There are very few things in life more important to our boys and girls than to have the pride and the admiration and the respect of their parents.

I’m thankful to God that I was raised in a home where our parents respected us three children. We were respected and our parents had great pride in us. My parents never pushed me. They never forced me to do anything or go any direction that I didn’t want to go. They never laid heavy trips on me. I was free. But whatever I chose to do, they were with me. They were proud of me. Every school play, every concert, every chorus, every band performance, every debate, every Sunday school program, my parents were there and always proud of me. So it would never have entered my head to do anything that would bring shame on them. I was honored.

In so many instances, we become what our parents expect of us. In so many instances we become the way we are treated. If you treat a child with respect, if you treat a child as if he’s an important person, created by God and of great dignity and worth; if you treat him with respect, he’ll learn self respect and how to give respect to others. If you treat a child as as a know-nothing, as one will never amount to much; if you treat your child as an animal, he’ll snarl, bark and bite.

One boy ran away from home and wrote back this letter to his parents. He’d been in trouble with the law; he’d been a juvenile delinquent and now he ran away from home. “Dear folks, thank you for everything but I’m going to Chicago to try and start some kind of new life. You asked me why I did those things and why I gave you so much trouble. And the answer is easy for me to give you but I’m wondering if you will understand. Remember, when I was about six or seven, and I used to want you to just listen to me? I remember all the nice things you gave me for Christmas and my birthday. I was really happy with the things about a week at the time I got the things. But the rest of the time during the year I really didn’t want presents. I just wanted all the time for you to listen to me like I was somebody who felt things too. Because I remember even when I was young, I felt things. But you said you were busy. Mom, you are a wonderful cook, and you had everything so clean, and you were tired so much from doing all those things that made you busy. But you know something Mom, I would have liked crackers and peanut butter just as well if you’d only sat down with me a while during the day and said to me, ‘Tell me all about it. Something I can maybe help you understand.’ And when Donna came, I couldn’t understand why everyone made so much fuss because I didn’t think it was my fault that her hair is curly and her skin is so white. And she doesn’t have to wear glasses with such thick lenses. Her grades were better too, weren’t they. Well, if Donna ever has children, I hope you will tell her to just pay some attention to the one who doesn’t smile very much because that one will really be crying inside. And when Donna is about to bake six dozen cookies, make sure first that the kids don’t want to tell her about a dream or a hope or something because thoughts are important to small kids even though they don’t have many words to use when they tell about what they have inside them. I think that all the kids who are doing so many things that grownups are tearing out their hair and worrying about, are really looking for somebody that will have time to listen a few minutes, and who really and truly will treat them as they would a grown up who might be useful to them; you know, polite to them. If you folks had ever said to me, ‘Pardon me’ when you interrupted me, I’d have dropped dead. If anybody asks you where I am, tell them I’ve gone looking for somebody with time because I got a lot of things I want to talk about. Love to all, your son.”

A child learns how to respect his parents and his community by being respected by his parents. How does a poor parents learn how to respect the children? That brings us to the Lord. Jesus treats you and me with respect. Jesus treats parents as people having great work and ultimate significance. All through the Bible, Jesus treated the people with respect. Jesus treated Zacchaeus, the hated tax collector, with respect. Jesus treated the woman being stoned for committing adultery with respect. Jesus treated Mary Magdalene and all the other women and the disciples with great respect. Jesus treated the poor, the outcast and the downtrodden with respect. Jesus even treats parents with respect. By the grace of God, because we know we are loved, because we know we are forgiven, we are better enabled to love and forgive, and treat our children with respect. For God gave us a great task as parents. God entrusted children to us. And God is saying to you that you are the best father and the best mother your children ever have. I told my mother-in-law once, “You’re the best mother-in-law I ever had.” And you are the best father, and you are the best mother your children have ever had, and will ever have.

Out of all the people who’ve lived on this earth, and out of all the people living on this earth now, God chose you to be the parents of your children. He picked you out. You are of such tremendous worth and significance and so important in his plan, he chose you. And God gives you the love and forgiveness necessary. It’s possible for us even to apologize to the children, to say to the children, “I’m sorry, I blew that. I’m sorry I said that. I’m sorry I acted that way. I’m sorry I was too busy.” It takes a mature person to apologize. It takes a mature, healthy person to apologize to a child. But we can be enabled to do that because God forgives us. It’s not easy to be a parent. When I was an expert, I thought it was. And now I know it’s not easy to be a parent. God puts up with a lot. God has a lot of patience. God forgives us and the children forgive us too. So as parents, family life begins with respect, mutual respect. It’s possible when we open ourselves to God, when we give ourselves to Christ and say, “Jesus, love me, help me, forgive me so that I may be the best parent I can be.”

Children and youth, open yourself to God. Let Christ into your life so that you may be the best son or daughter that your parents will ever have. Honor your father and your mother. Honor is a two-way street.

© 1975 Douglas I. Norris