When I was a child, I thought like a child. When I was a young man I thought like a young man. Now, as an adult — this point is debatable — I try to think like an adult. These concepts are certainly not anything new and I suspect were pretty well established when Paul spoke about them in 1st Corinthians.
I like to describe these as intellectual stages of our lives. As children we were filled with wide-eyed wonder and eager to learn about everything in existence. It was pretty common to be bombarded with a thousand new thoughts and experiences every day and still we would bounce back for more.
As a young men and women, we took our accumulated knowledge and readily converted it into passion and dreams and hopes and aspirations for the future. We wanted to right the wrongs of the world, make our fortunes and dance the night away. Along the way though, something happened to interrupt our plans and that something was called ‘life’. Life quickly turned into reality and reality destroyed the innocence of our youth. When this happened, we became adults.
Many of you know the story of how it was that my daughter Tracy who got me to come back to church after a 20-year absence. But I don’t think I have told anyone why I left. I was raised in a Methodist Church not too far from here where my grandmother was the church organist for over 50 years. As a child, I attended Sunday school and got to know all the teachers and parents, the elders of the congregation and all the ‘who’s who’ and who did what and who was mean and who was nice and all the stuff a kid needs to know
to survive the three hour ordeal of church on Sunday mornings. My child-like intellect was in awe of certain individuals as any kid would be. One gentleman in particular impressed me as someone who must have been a ‘pillar of the church.’ He was a large man with a gregarious smile and warm handshake. He knew everyone’s name and always seemed to know the right thing to say. I would fantasize in my youthful exuberance that ‘someday I’ll be just like him.’
A few years later, I was overjoyed when having just gotten out of school, he asked me to join his agency. He sold real estate and insurance in town and I was to become his protege. While I was working to get my licenses, he took me around to meet all manner of ‘swells’ and ‘big wigs,’ to do lunch at the country club and be seen at all the right events and happenings. I was well on my way to fulfilling my greatest dreams. Often I would be called into his office and he would give me sales pointers and we would discuss strategies.
On one such occasion, he started talking about blockbusting. Now if you are not old enough to remember, blockbusting was a method of excluding individuals based on race or religion from acquiring homes where they were not wanted. I was totally shocked when instead of telling me how wrong this was he continued the conversation with ‘This is how we do it.’ He concluded our conversation by stating ‘If you ever show a home to any Blacks or Jews, you will be fired and black-balled from the multiple listing association and will never sell anything again!’
My whole view of the world suddenly came crashing down. This man who I had spent much of my life trying to emulate had just destroyed everything I had believed in. Reality had slapped me in the face. It was like my Sunday school stories and youth group experiences had all been no more than fairy tales. Spirituality and religion had no place in real life and I had just had my first lesson in adulthood.
Very shortly after, I left that job, left the world of real estate and insurance, left the world of sales and I finally left my church. Thus I began an absence that lasted for 20 years. During this time I developed the attitude that if God didn’t interfere with my business, I wouldn’t interfere with His. Had anyone asked me if I had seen God, I would have replied ‘No, but if YOU do, tell Him I’m waiting and have a few questions for Him.’
So I approached my reentry into church with a great deal of caution, slowly at first, attending only when asked and even then with a great deal of reluctance. As I’ve learned over the years, God works in mysterious ways and it wasn’t too long before I found myself on Sunday mornings tugging on Tracy’s bed sheets yelling ‘Come on, we’ll be late for church!’
The most amazing thing happened somewhere, somehow along the way and I have no idea how it happened. Within a very short time I realized that if anyone had come up to me and asked, ‘Have you seen God?’ I would have said, ‘YES! A thousand times, and thousand ways.’ It was a child who had converted me, the adult, back to God. I have never forgotten the words of Matthew 18:3, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Joanne and Bob, today we have baptized your beautiful third daughter, Elizabeth Devon, into Christ’s holy church. You have renounced the spiritual forces of wickedness, rejected the evil powers of this world and repented of your sins. Elizabeth, ‘Izzy,’ today we welcome you into the family of Christ. We have promised to surround you with a community of love and forgiveness. You have become our sister in Christ. This bond will last for the rest of your life.
At this point I have to pause for a moment and explain that last week when the Sunday school classes were fishing, I mentioned that our children had become ‘fisher’s of men.’ I was promptly and thoroughly chastised for using the term ‘men’ instead of ‘persons.’
Izzy, today is a special day indeed. Not only is today the day of your baptism, it’s also Father’s Day. I am reminded of Mark, Ch. 1 ‘Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the spirit descending like a dove on him, and a voice came from heaven saying ‘You are my Son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.’ The kingdom of heaven lies before you and also the kingdom of earth. One is filled with glory and the other is filled with things of life.
Nowhere in life is a father better thought of than when he uses these two fingers. Try to think back to your own childhood when you would reach up and wrap your whole hand around these two perfect fingers. Their touch represented all that was needed in life. At no time was life more secure or happy or the feeling of utter contentment greater than at that moment.
As we grew our fathers became much more human and fallible and capable of making mistakes. And the world became less secure. I believe there is a correlation between the amounts of knowledge we gain and the amount our fathers lose. What I remember about my own father was that when I was 18, he was just about the dumbest thing this side of anywhere! But when I was 30 and attempting to raise a family, trying to pay the mortgage and all my bills on time, he was the smartest man I’d ever known. He had raised 6 kids nd never made much more than $100 a week!
Fathers are often given the responsibilities of the big decisions while mothers take care of the everyday tasks of life. Fathers set the tone for the way we live our lives and set the examples for us to follow. And they do it mostly by the seat of their pants! I feel that I am guilty of the sin of omission because I’ve never watched the Sopranos. As much as I know, the show recently aired its final episode. One reviewer described Tony Soprano as someone who showed no remorse at ordering the execution of another human being, yet was a kind and loving family man. I believe that there exists a little bit of Tony Soprano in all of us. We are all required to make hard decisions that may seem ruthless to others at the time. Fathers are willing to give up their souls for their loved ones and stand alone before God’s judgment trusting in God’s mercy and unconditional love. Fathers dispense discipline and command respect and try not to outwardly show the sentimental idea of “you are my child, my beloved. With you I am well pleased.”
Fathers are given the task of forgiveness. When Jesus was questioned about how often one was to be forgiven he replied “7 X 7 X 70”. In my own mind I have often thought that’s okay for now, but what about next week?
Finally, a father has to walk the tightrope between compassion and reality, between discipline and indulgence, between the covenants of our baptisms and the harsh realities of life. Fathers make mistakes. Fathers are imperfect. Could there be any greater satisfaction than to have a child say, “Father, I forgive you for you know not what you do. You are my father, my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”