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Happy Father's Day!
Mt. 10:24-39
HW in HI

When I look at today's Gospel reading, I have to wonder about the people who put together the lectionary. I wonder whether they figured that from time to time we would find ourselves reading, "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise up against their parents and have them put to death" on Father's Day! Maybe they just thought it would be a good challenge for the preacher….

I was listening to NPR this week, and they had a group of dads in, talking about the pleasures and pitfalls of being a father. The fathers of the little ones, the 3 and 5 year olds were glowing with a sense of their own fatherhood, their ability to help mold these little creatures God has entrusted to them. The fathers of the ten year olds reported struggling with difficult questions and tough decisions. The fathers of the teenagers reported struggling. Period. Just struggling.

I want to ask a question. Would those of you here that feel you've been a good father stand? Or maybe just put up your hand. How about those of us that feel we've had a pretty okay father?

Fatherhood is a tough job. It would seem, however, that most of you dads are doing better than you thought you were. You might take comfort in the musings of Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain: "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

There are a lot of stereotypes for dads out there. Television gave us Father Knows Best, and a whole slew of competent and incompetent dads. Ben Cartwright on Bonanza (anybody but me remember that?) was a strong father, filled with wisdom and good judgement and compassion. Desi Arnaz in I Love Lucy and Fred Flintstone were bumbling incompetent dads. The list goes on and on.

I believe we expect a tremendous amount from our fathers. We want strength when we are struggling, words of encouragement when we fall. Safety from our enemies. Protection when they overwhelm us. We want forgiveness when we fall short. And we want unconditional love.

It seems to me that sounds a lot like God, and not so much like a human father. I wonder whether we have not set fathers up just a bit, expecting them to have the qualities of God. It happens naturally enough. When we are five, after all, we think they are God. When we get to about the age of ten, we figure out they really aren't, and we are sadly disappointed.

We spoke a few weeks ago about Jesus crying, "Abba" which means father or dad, when he talked to God. And so we understand God as the Father. And yet even more. Which is to say Father with a capital F. God the perfect Father. Jesus called us to try to be perfect, "Just as my Father in heaven is perfect." Because the Father in heaven really does know all and see all. That is the father that is always there, never failing us. The Father in heaven offers forgiveness and unconditional love. And that's the goal of modern day fathers too. Most try so very hard to fulfill their roles. Some have been so overwhelmed by the demands of fatherhood that they have left. Some never even stayed around to see how things were going to turn out.

Fred Craddock is a well known homiletics professor. Which is to say he teaches preaching. I think he’s another Methodist. In any case, he was in Tennessee a few years back: Gatlinburg, Tennessee, on vacation with his wife. One night they found a quiet little restaurant where they looked forward to a private meal—just the two of them. While they were waiting for their meal they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting guests. Craddock whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn’t come over here.” He didn’t want the man to intrude on their privacy.

But the man did come by his table. “Where you folks from?” he asked amicably. “Oklahoma,” they said. The man responded: “Splendid state, I hear, although I’ve never been there. What do you do for a Living?" Fred told him: “I teach homiletics.” This got the gentleman going. “Oh, so you teach preachers, do you. Well, I’ve got a story I want to tell you.” And with that he pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with Craddock and his wife.

Craddock said he groaned inwardly: Oh no, here comes another preacher story. It seems everyone has one. The man stuck out his hand. “I’m Ben Hooper. I was born not far from here across the mountains. My mother wasn’t married when I was born so I had a hard time. When I started school my classmates had a name for me, and it wasn’t a very nice name. I used to go off by myself at recess and during lunch-time because the teasing of my playmates cut so deeply.

“What was worse was going downtown on Saturday afternoon and feeling every eye burning a hole through you. They were all wondering just who my father was. “When I was about 12 years old a new preacher came to our church. I would always go in late and slip out early. But one day the preacher said the benediction so fast I got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. I could feel every eye in church on me. Just about the time I got to the door I felt a big hand on my shoulder. I looked up and the preacher was looking right at me. “Who are you, son? Whose boy are you?’ I felt the old weight come on me. It was like a big black cloud. Even the preacher was putting me down. But as he looked down at me, studying my face, he began to smile a big smile of recognition. “Wait a minute,” he said, “I know who you are. I see the family resemblance. You are a son of God.”

With that he slapped me on the shoulder and said, “Boy you’ve got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.” The man looked across the table at Fred Craddock and said, “That was the most important single sentence ever said to me.” With that he smiled, shook the hands of Craddock and his wife, and moved on to greet the people at another table. Suddenly, Fred Craddock remembered. Not so many years ago the people of Tennessee had elected Ben Hooper as their governor

Most dads struggle and do a pretty great job, some disappear. But Ben Hooper had a story to tell: the most important parentage is this: we are all children of God.

So what of the brother against brother and child against parent? In the early days of Christianity those that followed Jesus risked persecution. Jesus warned them, he warns us, to put God first. Parents can be wonderful. God is even more wonderful. But the call is to put God the Father, God the perfect, front and center.

Perhaps it doesn't take great wisdom to figure out that if we expect our fathers to be perfect, if we expect Ben Cartwright or Robert Young to come leaping off the television screen into our homes and point out the path to perfect fatherhood, well, it's not going to happen. But God in heaven does show us something of the model for perfect parenting, something about always being there, and probably something about forgiving fathers that haven't quite managed perfection just yet. And God in heaven says: let me be the perfect father. So here's to all the dads: those who’ve raised their children, those who are trying hard, and even to those who were so scared they left. In Christ, they, too, are all sons of God. Amen.