Fathers Day Selected Sermon
June 15, 1997
The Unbearable Lightness of Love
Morning light pours
from the whitewashed sky
like golden honey,
perfuming the air;
butterflies electrify the woods;
the scent of fresh-cut hay
push old men toward death
as if wealth and youth
were complete success
like the rings around
to episcopal eminence.
Imagine harmony instead,
a choir of bells
across the lake
and in the field the sons mowing
their bare backs shining, signifying:
thanks for the field.
Your lives went well.”
On the soft breath of early summer
as the land swells
and the fiddlehead ferns uncurl,
I would sever the pity
from the war of the journey.
That is from Fathers: A Collection of Poems, edited by David Ray and Judy Ray. A book I purchased to help focus my thoughts about Father’s Day only to discover that at the outset the editors were seeking poems that shed a light on what they call “Fatherless America,” or troubled America when it comes to any modern day discussion of fathers.
Many of us received our first impressions regarding modern day problems in the discussion of fathers when working in summer day camps. We realized that we would be spending more waking hours of the day with these children than their own parent or parents. Some of us worked with children in foster care. Some of us work with children in our youth ministries. We often work with groups of boys and girls aged 6 – 10 spending our time to teach them the lessons of the church. Think about the lessons found in the Lord’s Prayer. We learn and discuss the words, “Our father who are in heaven….” When we ask some of the children we know what to us seems the obvious question, “So, what about your father?” We are greeted with uncomfortable silence and quizzical stares. For, of course, one of the main reasons they are seeking help outside of their family in the first place was because they do not “have” fathers.
Of course we all have fathers. Some we have never met. And of those we have met, some we will never know. But we all have fathers. And today is their day.
We must admit, that our first interaction with young boys and girls forces us to consider how problematic this controlling metaphor of “father” in our church, in our Bible and in our prayers must be for those who know little or nothing about their own fathers. Over time those same children and countless other adults throughout the years have taught us that absent or “unknown” fathers really need not be an impediment to knowing and honoring God as Father. For many of us, knowing God as Father has meant the literal difference between life and death, and has helped us to know what love is in a world that often shows little evidence that trust in such love is justified.
The very fact that we have a world to live in, a field to mow as the opening poem puts it, is due at least in part to the fact that yes, many fathers lives have gone well, and we are their beneficiaries.
“Fathers, thanks for the field. Your lives went well.”
The primary warrant for our Father’s Day celebration would have to be the commandment, well commended and slightly amplified by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
“Honor your father and mother” — this is the first commandment with a promise: “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Ephesians 6: 1 – 4.
Paul points us to the fact that this is the first commandment with a promise: connected to the commandment to honor is the promise of a long and good life.
And at the heart of fatherhood, he adds, is to nurture the children we procreate in the knowledge and love of the Lord (BCP p. 423).
So that somewhere in the mystery of this life, fatherhood and godhood are inextricably tied together. Somehow to know one is to know the other.
This is one of the things Jesus shows us by his very incarnation. As John puts it, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” (John 1:14, trans. E. Peterson, The Message)
And although it may be argued that Jesus had no earthly father, we know there was one man who nurtured the young Jesus in the knowledge and love of the Lord. The statue of Joseph in the back of our church stands as a reminder of the power of foster fatherhood. Joseph must have been a devout and faithful man, open to receiving dreams and visions and a vocation from the God Jesus would address as Abba, father. He took Jesus to temple and synagogue. He taught him in the ways of God. They celebrated all the great festivals together. He marveled with pride as his young son sat among the sages and doctors of their people. Just as Mary is the blessed Mother of God and Mother of us all, so Joseph graciously and generously offers to be Father if we will only let him point us to God in Christ. Light a candle and kneel before Joseph and pray for the spirit of fatherhood to surround you and fill you.
My friend and spiritual guide Pierre Wolffe always says, “We come from love, we return to love and love is all around.” And it is thanks to our own fathers that Love was able to bring us into this world.
Some fathers have been there every step of the way. Every day we should look at the words told to us by our fathers as we approached adulthood. The words spoken, sometimes written, that were born out in their lives and given to us by their very presence. To honor our fathers may not be an easy task, but we can get better at it each day and by being with our own children.
Others, we are becoming more aware, have been absent, or worse present in harmful and destructive ways. Honoring them is also not easy, but still, as the book of poems bears testimony, it is possible to get free of the bitterness of abuse, neglect and dysfunction. This is necessary for us to both honor our fathers by living into the promise.
“Do not glorify yourself by dishonoring your father, for your father’s dishonor is no glory to you.” Sirach 3:10 “Those who respect their father will have long life…Honor your father by word and deed….”Sirach 3:6,8.
And it is living into the promise of a good and long life that is at the very heart of the Ten Commandments and the will of God.
Honor thy father and mother.
As the opening poem suggests, we can be ungrateful children, or we can imagine harmony instead.
How many of us believe, like Walter Brueggemann, that Holy Scripture is given by God as an assault on our imaginations? To enable us to imagine kingdom living. To enable us to imagine who God wants us to be. To be able to imagine what Verna Dozier calls “The Dream of God.”
One day each year is set aside to reflect on the connection between God and our fathers. One day to sit with Joseph. One day to reflect on Jesus moving into the neighborhood, that one-of-a-kind glory, like Father like Son. One day to remember we come from love, we return to love and love is all around. One day to imagine harmony instead.
One day when we not only give thanks for this day and being alive to live it, but to join in one voice, if only for a moment, to say to one of the ones who put us here:
“Fathers thanks for the field. Your lives went well.”