The Dummies Guide to Reality They are the Boss of Me


How kids spit out "You're not the boss of me" to a sibling. One of the basics of reality is that there are bosses over everyone, but before we can teach that to children a dummy like me must learn it himself.

But how this truth rankles me. We are not to despise or anger, but honor, serve, obey, love and cherish not just parents but "other authorities." "Other authorities" is the way we've translated it since the late 20th century. I memorized the more literal "parents and masters." A German scholar translates "parents and lords" (Peters, Ten Commandments, 186). He says Luther said one confessing his sins should address the pastor as "'worthy dear lord,'" and defended this teaching as late as 1532 (Ibid. 205, fn. 161). "You're not the boss of me," we cry. "No one tells me what to do," I say as I elbow my way into the discussion about which of us is the greatest.

O how this dummy is rankled by the thought that I have authorities, masters, and lords over me. I didn't do well with parents either. I thought the 4th Commandment expired once I reached 18. I really thought the 4th Commandment somehow timed out. I didn't realize it was originally directed to adult Israelites who after taking their place under the authority of church and state we're to teach it to their kids.

Boy was I wrong. Paul sets apart this Commandment by saying in Ephesians 6:2 that it "is the first Commandment with a promise." Our Large Catechism sets the 4th Commandment apart by devoting over 3 times as much space to it than to either the 5th or 6th Commandment. But our despising or even angering parents or other authorities is not a big enough deal to warrant marking our heads with ashes. I mean it's not like we committed murder or adultery, right?

In some ways sins against the 4th Commandment are more destructive than either adultery or murder because they have a systemic effect. The Large Catechism says because this Commandment "is disregarded, God so fearfully punishes the world that there is no discipline, government, or peace" (LC, I, 177). In another place it asks, "Why, do you think the world is so full of unfaithfulness, shame misery and murder? It is because everyone wishes to be his own master, be free from all authority, care nothing for anyone, and do whatever he pleases" (Ibid. 154).

Judaism refers to the 4th as "the heaviest among the heavy commandments'" (Peters, 191). In the NT Jesus uses it as a trump card in confronting the rich young man. He also criticized religious vows that defrauded parents of the care and obedience of their children. And Paul in addition to pointing out that the 4th is the first Commandment with promise says one of the marks of the last days is people will be disobedient to parents. So how come our sin of chaffing under authority rarely rates even a confession and certainly not ashes?

Yes being under authority rankles dummies like me who chafe against the reality that we're all under someone. But the other side of the coin is that this Commandment holds authorities accountable to God. God has established 3 realms of authority: family, church, and state. Even pagans recognized the importance of parental authority in the world. Stoic philosophy called parents second gods appeared on earth; Plato called aged parents living images of god. Aristotle demanded a god-like honoring of parents (Ibid. 196, fn. 96). For Luther it wasn't the parents in general but the father in particular. For Luther the office of father connected the realms of church and state (Ibid. 206). Where he went to church, his kids went. Which government authority he chose to live under, his kids did too.

Lucille Ball was asked in the turbulent 60s what was happening to our country, what was missing? She said, "Papa's missing.If Papa was here, he would fix it." What are papas to do when the state is wrong, oppressive, and fails to do what God established it for? Luther said, "'Other than against God I cannot commit a greater sin than to sin against a power instituted by Him'" (Ibid. 195). He believed to rebel against tyrannical authorities is a sign of a lack of patience and confidence that God rules even when He does not seem to keep a tight reign on things (Ibid. 211).

This is what I have believed, taught, and confessed in the face of the state not doing its duty to bear the sword to protect innocent life, in the face of the state legalizing the taking of innocent life, and in the face of taxing me to pay for it. I now believe Luther would have considered the state to have stepped over a God-given line at that last point. He thought an insurrection against tyrannical authorities which might become violent is mandated where authorities ruin the divine institutions of church, family, or state by demolishing marriage and family or secular and spiritual authority (Ibid.).

So papas, is it time to take up the sword now that the government has sanctioned a definition of marriage contrary to God and plain common sense? Is it time to take up the sword against the powers that be because they are making families with 2 daddies or mommies and placing children into them? Is it time to take up the sword now that the state has decided that preaching against the sin of homosexuality is racist? Is it time to take up the sword fellow papas now that federal government has taken away the state government's power to regulate marriage?

No, on Ash Wednesday the first thing to do is think about your great and grievous sins against the 4th Commandment; think about your failures as papas, my failures as papa, pastor, and person. Confess our sins first and foremost not the sins of others. Confess our sins first and receive absolution for them so that we may deal with the reality that those who are the boss of us are making the world increasingly difficult for Christians to live in. It's as if we're fish and they are draining the pond. But should that surprise us? Government is never portrayed in Scripture as anything but a beast, an animal, a predator, who is often used as a tool of Satan but never slips the leash of God Almighty, not even in these days.

It's only in the forgiveness of our sins, the removal of our ashes, that we will be able to face and deal with the potential burning to ashes of the Christian civilization that has existed for almost 2,000 years.

First we recall that the Father's commission to His Son in Psalm 110 is to "rule in the midst of your enemies." And the Good Shepherd's promise to us in Psalm 23 is that He "prepares a table for me in the midst of my enemies."

Second, recall that in the Reading when dummies like us, the apostles, got sidewise on this issue of authority, Jesus smacks them on the snout like recalcitrant puppies. They're thinking like pagan kings who pretend they're doing everything for the people's good while they're exerting authority over them; sound familiar? There is only one ultimate authority in church, home, or state and that's God and He was at that table in service to them, to us, to all dummies everywhere. And the suffering and betrayal He just told them He was about to undergo wouldn't stop His will from being done, His kingdom from coming, or their sins from being forgiven. In fact, all the evil about to be done to Him by church and state would insure that His kingdom would come to sinners and they would be forgiven.

Do not be mistaken. Christ is betrayed by unbelief, and those who have no respect for God's authority and so refuse either to be under the bosses He has put over them or to exercise authority on His behalf. These are described by Jude, "They have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These men are hidden reefs in your love feastscaring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever." They aren't to be praised as doing their part in God's plan, but they aren't to be feared either: who fears clouds without water?

The part of Judas in rebelling against His Lord's authority and the part of the church leaders wrongly using their authority is only evil. They intend to betray Jesus to judgment by the state in order to put Him to death for crimes He did not do. And they are doing these things to preserve the authority they were misusing. That is their intention, but what they are ultimately doing is betraying Jesus to atonement, to redemption, to salvation not His but ours.

God the Father gives His only beloved Son into the authority and power of sinners and Satan and God the Son willingly goes because that's what our rebellion against the bosses over us and our failure to exercise our God-given authority deserve. Jesus never sinned against authority. He always did what He was told cheerfully, willingly. Yet tonight we see Him take His first steps down the path where all the exposure, judging, and pain you know you deserve will be suffered by Him in your place.

He knows that is all before Him. He knows the death He will die without mercy, damned to hell, abandoned by God so why does He eagerly desire to eat this Passover with them before He suffers? Because this is the Passover where He institutes the Meal in which He gives His Body for Bread and His Blood for Wine to forgive us our sins. But there is more. Eating and drinking at the King's table means we share in His kingdom, and are given the authority to judge Sin, Death, and Devil. And I judge that none of these whether springing from my fallen body or coming upon me from fallen church or state shall separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus my Lord.

It is time to despair. Time to despair of ourselves, of our government, of our synod. These have always been and always will be ashes to ashes. But there is no time ever, not even on the night Jesus is betrayed, to despair of God's authority to protect and provide for His people. Why? Because it was on the very night He was betrayed that He told His disciples, "Let not your hearts be troubled." If He could say that then, I can, in His name, say it to you and even to dummies, now. Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Ash Wednesday (20160210); 4th Commandment, Passion Reading 1