Once upon a time a young boy became frustrated and used a word he had been told not to use. His mother sent him to his room and said, “When your father gets home he will deal with you, young man.” When his father got home he said, “I’ll teach him a thing or two about swearing!” Unfortunately he slipped on the way up the stairs, and while falling let fly a string of expletives the likes of which the boy had never heard. Then Mother said, “I think you’ve taught him enough for tonight, Dear.”
Today is Father’s Day, and (for those who do not know) it is not just a scam from the cartel of greeting card lobbyists in Washington. It actually started 100 years ago when Mrs. John B. Dodd of Spokane, Washington began to understand the hardship her father endured on her behalf. Her father, William Smart was a veteran of the Civil War, and lost his wife during the birth of their sixth child. He raised six children as a single parent on a farm through harsh winters in Washington State before the advent of indoor pluming and a modern infrastructure of electricity. Similar sentiments continued around the country, and President Lyndon Johnson finally signed the national holiday into being in 1966.
Father’s Day is an interesting time for me, personally. Many of you know that I only recently lost my own father a year ago in February. Truly he is not “lost” though, for I know whose loving embrace holds him until he can again hold me. I do find it interesting though that God would elect for me through seemingly random and unrelated events to preach on the two Father’s Days directly following this profound loss. This is of particular interest to me because I have, for years, struggled with the concept of fatherhood primarily because of my father’s absence during my adolescence. I say these things not to use the pulpit to engender sympathy or to make anyone feel awkward or bad. Rather I say it to acknowledge that we all have different perspectives from our experiences that color our preconceptions about who and what God is as “our Father.”
The thing that God has done that has taught me the most about fatherhood is to make me one. My children teach me many things, but two of the most profound have to do with who I am and who God is. I have learned that what I do not say and do not do often says more about who I really am than the things I do say and do. I have also learned that our Father in Heaven is trustworthy, and that his grace is sufficient for me. Just the other night when tucking Zoe to bed we had this conversation, “Daddy, do you believe in God?” “Yes, Zoe.” “Do you trust in God?” “Yes, Zoe. Now go to sleep.” “Daddy, do you believe and trust in God?” “Yes, Zoe. Do you?” “Uh-huh.” “OK, good. Go to sleep now.”
That’s the kernel of truth in understanding and accepting God as our Father, isn’t it? Do you believe and trust in God? Our scriptures today speak of being created by God for good works and walking in the path offered us through Christ Jesus. Naturally, when pondering this concept I thought of the song “Walk this Way” by Aerosmith, even though I must say that song is about something much more base than good works. If anything it is the antithesis as Steven Tyler belted out an anthem for a generation that looked to pleasure for a sense of satisfaction. My thoughts then turned to one of the oldest gags in film and theater involving a stooping butler who says,“Walk this way,” as the hero follows in a similar fashion.
Isn’t that just how we feel when we read a text that tells us that we must be perfect? Something inside us recoils at the idea and walks away limping because it is a lot easier to find solace in a good game of golf or tennis than it is to deal with the problems of the world. Besides, I’ve been fighting the good fight, and this is my time. Or maybe there are other burdens that keep you feeling that if only you could get this rock off your chest you could do something about the rock on someone else’s.
Unfortunately that is not what our text tells us. These words from the Father who loves us like no other confront us and make us feel like the dad who trips on his way to enact justice only to land in a position that makes our need for grace undeniable! So, instead of charging off with all facades intact (as my mother is want to say), let us look more deeply into the rabbit hole to see where it takes us.
In this portion of the Sermon on the Mount we find a turning point. Jesus has been speaking about our relationship with others and is beginning to move into our relationship with God. What I find interesting about this passage in Matthew is that the Greek form of the verb for you and me ‘to be’ perfect is a future tense. It is not so with God. God ‘is’ and always shall be the present tense. We ‘shall be’ perfect, as God ‘is’ perfect. But how? The clue precedes the command. By doing what God has done through Jesus Christ. By loving our enemies and “praying for those which despitefully use you,” as one translation puts it. As we consider our enemies and how hard this is we must remember this one thing. We once were the enemies of God ourselves.
But thanks be to God that we have been created, that we are being created. One translation of that word is ‘achievement.’ We are the very means by which God has decided to achieve God’s purpose! We…even we are God’s workmanship, created for good works that God thought up before God even thought up you and me to do them! It’s like the Crabbing event, or the congregational retreat we are having this fall. It’s like anything that we are called to do in this congregation. These are all God’s ideas. And God also thought up people to do them, and you are one of them. This congregation is part of God’s project! Not to compete with the Baptists or Methodists, but to burn so brightly that all the world might see the power and majesty of God spilling out the doors of this sanctuary and into the world!
Some of us saw this happening last week in VBS. This place was alive with activity, and the children loved it. We taught them about God’s saving love through Jesus Christ. Our theme was G.A.D.G.E.T.’s Garage, and the story that wove things together was about a teenager who built a robot in his garage to take out the trash. G.A.D.G.E.T. stands for God is Always Doing Great Exciting Things, and we tried our best to encourage the children to see that God is doing exciting things through them today. One of the things they did was to share their pennies and quarters in a mission offering supporting the Bethesda Home for Boys. They raised around $130.
What about you? Are you ready to make good on that same promise, the promise God has made for you through Jesus Christ? Is this proclamation simply for children, and now that the job is done we can pack up our robots and go enjoy our day? I have to admit feeling that way at the end of VBS. I was so thankful for the week, but I wanted it cleaned up and out of here so that I could get on to the next thing. An elder in this congregation stopped me from throwing away a pile of the cardboard boxes we had been using. He wanted to recycle them.
A small thing I know, seemingly insignificant. But it is the smallness of our faith that makes way for the greatness of God! It is in the wanting of the right thing that we put ourselves in a place to do the right thing. For God set a table for you before you could eat from it! God created a community of believers for you before you could join it! God created you and me to love those who would not love us. In fact God even created us to pray for them, and we may be the only ones who ever do. For God created them to help us find our true selves, since we were once the enemies of God ourselves. And I will tell you one thing more. God created you to offer hope where there is no hope, even if the place of hopelessness is within your own heart.
You know, last Wednesday I was feeling a little low. It was the middle of VBS and I had trouble waking up. I prayed for help and found none. Then I remembered that my sister was running a day camp this past week, and I had not prayed for her once. I began to pray for her, and then for the others here staffing VBS, and an amazing thing happened. I suddenly became energized! As soon as I took the focus off of myself I became so full of life that my entire worldview changed. And guess what. It hasn’t changed back.
We have been created for a purpose, and all we need do to find it is to look to our Father in Heaven. About a month after my father died, Treva found a card in a store that has the following quote from G.W. Douglas. “A father is neither an anchor to hold us back or a sail to get us there, but always a guiding light whose love shows us the way.” My father was not the kind who mentored me. He was absent in a significant portion of my life. But he taught me something no one else could in the humility and self-offering of his confessions and his care in the later part of his life. And before he left me I had the privilege of serving him his final communion at my grandmother’s kitchen table. The reconciliation we have through Jesus Christ is the most precious gift in all the world.
You know, my dad had a piece of paper on his desk that said, “People will forget what you say. They will forget what you do. They will remember how you made them feel.” What witness do your unspoken interactions offer to the world? Do they reflect the love that you have received as “God’s beloved, chosen and holy, clothed in righteousness” through faith in Christ Jesus? Salvation is not an afterthought, friends. It starts today, and both of my Fathers would think it a sin if I did not offer it to you today. If you want to talk about a closer walk with God I am here for you, as are John and Claire. For whether our faith is life long or brand new we all stand in need of grace, and we all should be walking toward the goal that God has set for us in Christ Jesus. And to God be the glory, both now and always. Amen!