Last Friday night (August 2, 2019) something awful happened in a place where happiness should have reigned. Young men grew angry, no one seems to know why. Shots rang out and a young woman died and now one has answers. Death - a senseless loss of lvife because anger went unchecked, and now a light has left us as lesser than. Erin Langhofer was killed by a stray bullet as she was casually strolling along 18th street for First Friday, leaving a distraught and devastated community to pick up the pieces. Erin was 26, a gifted and passionate advocate for survivors of domestic violence - a young woman making a difference. A young woman who poured life into everyone around her, who's smile was infectious and who's laugh was a joy to anyone near her, and now she is gone, and her light has gone with her. We can't get it back. She was killed, her life stolen, her future robbed from her and her community forever changed. When will we heed the words, offered by the Author of Life, 'Thou shalt not kill'?
The sixth commandment, as found in Exodus 20:13, is variously translated, 'You shall not murder' (NRSV) or 'Thou shalt not kill' (KJV). The translation of the Hebrew word rasah has been a sharply debated and vigorously discussed topic over the years, but I've been challenged and inspired recently by Terence Fretheim's comments on the word: 'Perhaps the command is best seen to function in Ex. 21:12 and Num. 35:20-21: any act of violence against an individual out of hatred, anger, malice, deceit, or for personal gain, in whatever circumstances and by whatever method, that might result in death… “Murder” does not sufficiently capture this sense of the word. The more general word “Kill” serves the community of faith best, forcing continual reflection on the meaning of the commandment and reminding all that in the taking of human life for any reason one acts in God’s stead…'(Fretheim, Interpretation, Exodus, 232-233) That last line is most troublesome - when we take a human life, for any reason, we are acting 'in God's stead'. When we take life, we take God's place and play God's part. Are any of us qualified for such a role?
Jesus has some sobering thoughts on this subject, which he offers for us in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:21-24:
"You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift." (NRSV)
Jesus isn't trying to help us just barely avoid murder - he's calling us to live a different kind of life. He's calling us to live a life where we not only avoid taking another's life, we intentionally allow him to lead us in exactly the opposite direction. He has called us to allow him to change our hearts and to heal and take away the anger, the bitterness, the hurtful words and violent disposition that lead us to destroy and damage others. As Dallas Willard said, in his thoughtful work on Jesus' Sermon, “To cut the root of anger is to wither the tree of human evil.” (Willard – Divine Conspiracy) Perhaps missed in the use of obscure words like 'racca' or 'fool' is the fact that Jesus is teaching us to avoid treating others with contempt - casting them out of fellowship with us. In Jesus day, to use these words was basically to condemn someone to 'Hades', the trash pit outside Jerusalem. This was the equivalent of saying, 'I wish you were dead.' If the need to be accepted and loved is one of our most basic human needs, then to be excluded or cast out of society is worse than being killed.
Do you remember what we talked about this last Sunday? Honoring the people most important to us, specifically our parents? (Honor is the exact opposite of contempt/cursing.) Do you think the positioning of these two commandments ('Honor your father and mother', and 'Thou shalt not kill') side by side is telling us that, rather than cursing or treating those around us with contempt, we ought to be honoring them, celebrating them, holding them in the highest esteem? What do you think would have happened differently last Friday night on 18th and Main if all the involved parties had been honoring, edifying and magnifying God and one another? What would the world look like for our kids and grandkids if we allowed Jesus to change our hearts, lead us away from anger and bitterness, feuding and fighting? What would happen to the world around us if we prayed, 'Lord, let your Kabad Kingdom settle on us', and what if we really meant it? Wouldn't it be great to see Erin Langhofer smile again?