A sermon for Father’s Day, June 17th, 2012 based upon 2Corinthians 5:14 – 17 and Mark 4:26 – 33.
We don’t get to choose our Daddies. They are just given to us.
Which can be tough, since the answer to the question of “who’s your Daddy?” goes a long way in determining where you find yourself in this world.
You can get a Daddy with white skin, black skin, or brown skin.
You can get Bill Gates for a Daddy, or you can get a Daddy who gets laid off just before you’re born.
You can get the president for your Daddy or you can get a Daddy who is doing time at the Federal Penitentiary.
You can get a Daddy with a PHD or you can get a Daddy who never learned to read.
The Daddy we get isn’t something we choose, but nonetheless it goes a long way in determining the settings in which we live out our lives, what sort of people we will associate with, what we will believe in and value. Who our Daddy is determines to a large extent what doors will stand wide open to us, and which doors will be slammed shut.
Who our Daddy is figures in to about 50% of the DNA we get dealt in life – the aptitudes we possess: whether we are good at sports or are clumsy and uncoordinated; whether we have an ear for music or are tone deaf; whether school comes easily for us, or whether it’s always a struggle. Our Daddy’s DNA will go a long way in determining whether the world considers us beautiful or homely.
In all these ways and more it makes a big difference just who is our Daddy, but the most important detail about the Daddy we were dealt is none of these things. It is whether the Daddy we got loved us or not, or more accurately, how well our Daddy loved us.
Some of us have had fathers for whom we feel nothing but gratitude, who expressed their love well and did so consistently, and who provided a reliable model of how to live in this world.
Others of us may have been abandoned early on by their fathers, or had fathers who actively abused them.
Whether you find yourself in the first or the second category, I suspect that such love or lack of love has shaped your identity far more profoundly than any of those other categories I mentioned that the world deems so important: the race, religion, class or giftedness into which you were born. None of it was as significant in how you experienced life as the kind of relationship you had with your father.
Most of us, however, probably wouldn’t identify with either of the two categories I laid out. Most of us had neither perfect fathers nor fathers who were perfectly terrible. Our fathers loved us, but there were times we felt neglected by them, or misunderstood by them, or even harmed by them. We have fathers who loved us as best they could — as best they knew how.
Part of what it has meant for us to grow up in the deepest meaning of the word was to go through a process of sorting through the things we received from our fathers, forgiving and letting go of our father’s failures in love, and embracing gratefully the treasure of how our fathers did in fact, truly love us.
Father’s Day snuck up on me this week. I was preoccupied with preparing for my mother’s Memorial Service that was held in Pennsylvania Friday, so somehow I managed to overlook the fact that today was Father’s Day. I had to redo the bulletin I sent to Connie to print on Thursday when shortly afterward I received an email from Richard Witter wishing me an early Happy Father’s Day, alerting me to check the calendar. Yep, this Sunday is Father’s Day.
I realized though, as I thought about it, that I’d been thinking a good deal about the relationships between fathers and their children, because one of the most significant things about my mother’s life was the way her relationship with her Daddy lived on inside her well after he had departed from this world.
My mom’s father was there in the background throughout her childhood. His presence was largely overshadowed by the formidable presence of my mom’s mother, who had a strong personality, dominating the household. Her father was a quiet man who rose early each morning before the rest of the family, six days a week, to lay a fresh fire in the stove. By seven he would be off to the grocer where he worked as a bookkeeper, supporting his family through the depression years. Unlike her mother who was generally always home, her father was off working a great deal of the time. He loved his daughter, but the opportunities they had to together for him to personally express that love were far fewer than those shared with her mother. For him, the primary expression of his love was the hard work he put in to provide for the family, and such love is often more difficult for a young person to recognize.
The day before my mom was to return to college for her senior year, her Daddy fainted in the bathroom. The family doctor was called to the house, and he concluded that her father was simply exhausted and needed rest. In retrospect, it is likely he suffered a stroke, leaving some impairment of his mental capacities. Her father likely despaired of the prospect of no longer being able to fulfill his role as the provider of the family.
Two weeks later, while my mom was back at college, her father took his own life.
It’s a cliché, but nonetheless true: you never really know what you have till it’s gone.
My mom wrote a lot of really wonderful poetry, but the poem that has always moved me most deeply is one she entitled, “Listen, Daddy,” describing a tender moment she recalled sharing with her Daddy, once, long ago. The poem is addressed to her long departed father:
I was lying face flat on the backyard grass
One summer afternoon in my early teens,
Shivering and ruined,
Because a boy I liked, liked someone else.
You came so quietly I didn’t know you were there
until you stooped beside me asking what was wrong.
I cringed with shame that you should see my swollen eyes.
I clamped my lips and pressed my mouth into the dirt.
You just sat still and waited. I blurted it out at last.
You listened and you did not laugh.
You said, let’s watch and see how this comes out
In twenty years.
You told a story then how, long ago as twenty years,
Your granddad’s crazy mule reared up and kicked
and scared you so you wet your Sunday britches
in front of the pretty girl, who scared you, too.
You didn’t want to live to tell the tale.
We both began to laugh. Because, look,
There you were right there,
right then—all right.
Daddy, why couldn’t you have waited out
those twenty years you spoke about?
I have stories good as yours I need to tell you now.
The poem stirs me so in large part because of the longing my mother expresses for her long departed Daddy. It points out the importance of a Daddy — that her Daddy’s significance went so far beyond his capacity to be the provider – a fact that neither of them truly appreciated during his life time. After his stroke, he may not have been able to be the father who paved the way for his daughter – but he would have still been able to be the Daddy who loved her, and that was what mattered most.
Part of what strikes me as so beautiful in the poem is the way it shows my mother going back through the fog of childhood memories to find the precious gem of a one sweet memory that exquisitely demonstrated the reality of her father’s love for her.
The Apostle Paul declares in our scripture lesson: “From now on… we regard no one from a human point of view…” The human point of view are those judgments we make about people based on all the stuff that comes to people largely by virtue of the Daddy they get: their race, education, religion, socio-economic status… their looks, their talents. We look at these things and we divide people into groups: those who are our kind of people, and those who are not; those who matter, and those who don’t.
Paul says that once upon a time he looked at the world from this human point of view — he even looked at Jesus this way, judging him to be the wrong kind of person – that he was trash that got what he deserved – nailed to a cross.
But then something happened to Paul that absolutely blew him out of the water. You may have heard the story before. At the time he was known as “Saul,” and he was walking down the road to a city called Damascus to carry out those judgments rendered by the human point of view, intending to harass the Christians who were there because they weren’t the right kind of people – weren’t his kind of people.
And suddenly there was this blaze of divine light that left him blinded for three days. And out of the light came a voice, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
“Who are you, Lord” says Saul.
“I am Jesus.” At that moment he realized he’d been seeing things all wrong.
And so from then on, he made a point of trying to see the world through the new eyes that Jesus gave him, remembering that Christ died for everybody. Not some, but all. That God cherishes every single human being.
In a sense, what happened for Paul in that blaze of light was that he got a new Daddy – one that showed him a love far beyond anything his earthly father was capable of.
Our words from Paul finish off with this way: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
What he’s saying is that once we’ve been touched by Christ’s love, we are no longer defined from where we came from — who our Daddy was. What matters is where we’re headed. We’re headed to that place where God is everybody’s Daddy.
We’re headed to the perfection of love. The kingdom of heaven is a communion of love so inviting that it compels us to leave behind everything that blocks the love.
Earlier we heard Jesus talk about the seeds that mysteriously bring about a great harvest.
Every time we experience real love in this life, seeds of the Kingdom of Heaven are planted. My mother’s memory of her father’s tenderness – his just-right- response to her teenage angst – was a seed of the kingdom of heaven – a memory for my mother to hold onto – a memory to show her the way home.
If our fathers loved us well, then, thanks be to God! In that love, we are called to be vessels of love to others.
If your father loved you poorly at best, perhaps there is a seed of love you can find somewhere in your inheritance from him for which you can give thanks — a seed to plant deep in your heart.
And if not, then celebrate this day the seeds of love that came from elsewhere — from other men who have blessed your life with love and grace, and give thanks.
Every gift of love in this life is a gift from God, no matter where it comes from.
Every gift of love shows us the way home.