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Parenting Rules


Elizabeth Buckner —

Leviticus 19.1-2, 9-18
1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. 9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. 11 You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. 12 And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord. 13 You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. 14 You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. 15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. 17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Have fun and be smart.

Have fun and be smart was the one rule my dad had for me while I was growing up.

How many of you remember the rules your parents had for you when you were a child and a teenager? My guess is that just now you not only remembered the rule but could also hear your mother, father, grandmother, or grandfather’s voice. Rules we can remember. Now I am not going to ask for a show of hands of those who broke any of your parents’ rules so don’t worry about that.

Rules only have so much power, you know. We have the choice, do we not, to uphold them or break them. I remember certain aspects of growing up that I vowed I would never continue when I was a parent. Things like the expectation to finish all of my lima beans at dinner.

But something funny happened when I became a parent fourteen years ago. I looked into the face of my first born and sobbed because I didn’t even know—couldn’t even imagine—how much my parents loved me up to that point. Of course they told me and showed me and cared for me, but as I held Katarina I was struck by the pureness of joy and awe and wonder and knew that if my parents even felt a little of what I was feeling then I was well loved. Even if I had to finish my lima beans.

Something else happened when I became a parent that threw me for a total loop. It doesn’t happen all time time but when it does it makes my eyes go wide and make me think…uh oh….My Christmas present from my aunt says it best.

Sometimes I open my mouth and my mother comes out.

It happens. And while sometimes it makes me groan and roll my eyes I always am thankful to have the training I got from my mom and dad. I appreciate that they spoke into my life words to live by that I now repeat practically verbatim to Katarina and Ben.

Today’s scripture is really no different. These are words to live by. Words that bear repeating. Words worthy of being etched into our hearts just like all those parenting rules that shaped our childhoods.

What I find interesting is that most rules are to modify our outward behaviors—what we do, what we say, how we act in certain situations. And while I do think these types of rules are important…I mean, we don’t want our children acting like total fools do we?… I think we all want something more meaningful than just don’t speak with your mouth full, keep your elbows off the table, shut the door when you come in the house. We want something deeper. I believe that if we conducted a survey about parenting rules that parents would ultimately come to the conclusion that they want their children to be good, compassionate people—not just ones who act right. They would want their rules to be about matters of the heart and about how to treat others—not just about hanging up towels after a shower.

Today’s text gets right to the heart of what God wants from us and for us—which is Holiness. I fear that holiness has gotten a negative reputation. When we say that someone is “holier than thou” we are not paying a compliment, are we? We place unrealistic standards on ministers expecting them to be holy in ways we believe we are unable be holy. We have this warped view that holiness is wrapped up in unobtainable perfection. That somehow holiness is measured quantitatively in things like right practice, right speech, right thought, even in perfectly worded prayers. What our text shows us today is holiness is qualitative. Holiness is found in the quality of the common, in the beauty of the everyday. Not in anything grand, certainly not in anything unrealistic, but in the common acts of everyday life.

First, our text lets us know that holiness is for all of us. Let us hear it again.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:

Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

The Lord didn’t speak to Moses and say this is just for you Moses or just for the anointed or just for the priests. No, this is for all of the congregation. Though millennia have gone by these are our parenting rules, too.

At first glance, we may not initially find a common bond with these rules. I would guess that some of you are like me and do not have land from which to reap a harvest nor do I own a vineyard. Even if you are a farmer it is not our custom here in the Great Plains of these United States to leave the edges of the fields unharvested for those in need. But if we can take a moment and read deeper we know that these rules are not about right behavior but about right intent—about our heart. Verse 10 tells us that we are called to help the poor and alien. We are to remember them. We are to see them. We are to see the face of God, what is called the imago dei, in the faces of the single moms on food stamps. We are called to see the face of God in the high school drop out struggling to make ends meet while working two minimum wage jobs. We are called to see the face of God in the faces of refugees who are fleeing unspeakable horror and risking it all to come to the land of opportunity. We are called to see the face of God in everyone…especially those in need. And when we can truly get to the heart of the matter, to the deepest longing God has for us in these rules we learn that when we care for those in need and those who are foreigners we are holy. We are holy in the common act of a handshake and eye contact which gives dignity. We are holy in the common act of baking a casserole for the Somali refugees who just moved in down the street. We are holy in the common act of lending a hand.

We are holy in the common act of treating each other fairly by not stealing or lying or withholding what we owe one another. We are holy in the common act of being a decent person and not making fun or impeding of the deaf or blind or different. We are holy in the common act of not always having it our way.

We are holy when we decide that all of our neighbors are worthy of the love of God—even those neighbors who this past November had political signs in their yards that we did not agree with. Even those neighbors who borrowed your rake and didn’t give it back. Even those neighbors who don’t look anything like you. And especially even those neighbors who don’t live close to you.

Our text from Leviticus 19 opens wide the heart of Isreal’s theology of neighborly love. It is through this neighborly love that others who do not know God can experience God. God’s holiness is for wholeness and completeness which we can be a part of when we are fair and kind and helpful and generous. God’s desire for wholeness comes we we love our neighbors in real and tangible ways as we love ourselves. These parenting rules God has for us maps out the way our community can make a difference because holiness is for all of us.

What I particularly love about these parenting rules is that we learn the character of God. God’s character is revealed when the hope is for the community, not the individual. Holiness is others focused for a reason. When we move beyond basking in God’s LoveLight just for ourselves and move then to sharing that LoveLight with others we transform families and churches and communities. We love because God loves us. We are honest because God is honest with us. We are generous because God is generous with us.

These rules lay a foundation for us as Christians today just as they laid a foundation for our ancient Israelite  spiritual ancestors. This is what our parents wanted for us, too. They wanted to lay a foundation with their parenting rules that would help us survive and thrive. When my children and I moved into our house 5 years ago I decided to come up with list of house rules as way to lay a foundation for our new phase of life.

Our house rules are:

  • Love: first, BIG, and bold
  • Words have power! Make sure yours have a positive charge!
  • Obey your mom and dad and you will have a long life!
  • Do your part to make this family awesome.
  • Have fun and be smart.

Yes, without even thinking I wrote have fun and be smart…the only rule my dad had for me growing up. It happens. Sometimes we come upon rules that bear repeating. Jesus did the same thing. Who knows how many times Jesus heard the rules we now find in Leviticus but we know that he found them worthy to repeat, worthy to have etched on the hearts of his followers. In Matthew 22 we hear these words:

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Rules are not just for our benefit, but when we choose to obey and choose common ways to be holy in this life of ours we are not just being good rule followers. We are flinging open our hearts and living a life that showers God with love and praise. Rules are not for us to live a life without fun. Rather these rules we heard today are to give life spice, to enjoy life in community with others through learning and sharing. These parenting rules from God are not to limit us but to encourage us to have fun and be smart.


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