Monday, June 18, 2012

Happy Father's Day

I had the pleasure of giving the sermon at Trinity Episcopal Church this past weekend, which coincided with Father's Day. I had a really tough time getting started, but after a lot of reading, prayer, and a handful of drafts, I think the finished product turned out to be a good message.

Good morning. Happy Father’s Day! Gosh, fathers are something special, aren’t they? We have so many father figures in our life that are so easy to take for granted. Not all relationships are perfect, but most of us have had some great father figure in our lives, whether that is a biological father or grandfather, an adoptive father, a coach, teacher, professor, neighbor, or friend who has stood in as a father figure. And the most important father of them all, Father God.

We learn such important lessons from the fathers in our lives. There are unnumbered how to’s that I learned from my dad. How to use a hammer and nail and how not to use the hammer and nail. How to mow the lawn and how to avoid the woodchips. How to paint a room, and how to put down a drop cloth before beginning to paint. How to follow your dreams. How to resolve arguments. How to, how to, how to. And I’m learning that it doesn’t end. I’m still calling my dad with a “gotta quick question for you” phone call every week or so.

Our earthly fathers are all very different. Some of us have wonderful fathers. Some of us find something lacking. But no matter what we have here, we have the assurance that our heavenly Father is perfect. A flawless Father.

In Matthew, Jesus says to the people,

“Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
Our Father in Heaven knows what we need and he provides. He is there to those who do not have someone to turn to. He is, as it says in Psalms, a “Father to the fatherless and a defender of widows.”

But unfortunately, that level of perfection doesn’t just rub off on us. Sometimes we need a little discipline. In Proverbs, it is written, “For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.”

I kept thinking about God as the Father as I wrote this sermon, but then I began to contemplate the other half of the equation. Us. If he is our perfect father, then we are the children, striving to please him. Just as Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, “Whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him."

Just like many of us have tried to please our earthly fathers over the years by doing the right thing and working hard, we also aim to please our Heavenly father. We might make mistakes, but we try. I believe that God counts our efforts, even if the finished product is less than perfect, unlike many of my college professors who only looked at the final answers on my exams.

A lot of life is about what we learn, how we grow, and it’s important to be thoughtful about what we do with our time here on earth and how we impact the lives of others. Both my dad and God have taught me a lot of lessons throughout the years. One of the biggest and most important rules my dad taught me, was also a key message in Sunday school – the Golden Rule. "Do unto others as you would have them do to you."

Perhaps that explains why when my sister and I would come running to our parents after an argument, they would ignore the part about what she did, and instead ask, “But what did you do?” My parents taught me very early on that I cannot control my surrounding, but I can control what I do about them. I remember seeing in my parents room when I was very young, a wooden plaque that read one of my favorite prayers to this day,

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”
It kind of sticks in your mind. Unfortunately, when those situations arise when I can’t change it, I often would prefer to ignore that bit of wisdom and convince myself that there’s got to be a way around it. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way a few times.

When I was a teenager, I was pretty typical in that I felt a little awkward, most of the time. I was too tall, my glasses felt too big, I was too clumsy and shy, and sometimes I just thought I was weird.

Now…ten years later. I can confidently embrace the truth that we are all unique and that God did so on purpose. He doesn’t make any mistakes.

You know, now I like my body. Sure, it’s one of those love-hate relationships and it took some time to get used to, but I’m getting there. My eyes have seen New York City and San Francisco, the green mountains, the blue ocean, and the yellow prairies. My nose has smelled Christmas trees in December, flowers in the spring, and pumpkin pie in the fall. My ears have heard teachers’ lessons, parents’ advice, and the songs of nature. My hands have felt pens and papers, rocks and dirt, hands and hugs from friends and family, have wiped tears and stifled inopportune laughter. I have tasted food, drink, and everything in between. I have been beyond blessed in this body. So many memories. So much love.

And then I ran across today’s reading where Paul writes to the Corinthians,

“Therefore, we are always confident, knowing that whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.”
While I am in my body, I am away from the Lord? Yes, God is always “with us” through the Holy Spirit and the sacrifice of his son, Jesus. However, we will not be standing face to face with God in heaven until we have left the familiarity of the earth. My body is a great vessel, a shell for my soul. But that’s just it. It’s only a shell.

And sometimes it’s hard to imagine anything else. I like the familiar. But I am among very few who find this world “comfortable.”

There are countless organizations trying to help those who live in conditions we can’t quite imagine as we sit in our air conditioning, driving our cars around town, and calling and texting friends with our phones.

The Water Project is reaching out to the billion people around the world who suffer needlessly without access to safe water, one village at a time. Building wells, providing water, and unlocking potential.

The Heifer Project is feeding the hungry and providing sustainable food resources by giving impoverished villages animals for milk, eggs, and meat and plants to grow grains, fruits, and vegetables.

UNICEF works to help children survive and develop, provide basic education and fight gender equality, prevent HIV/AIDS and other diseases, protect children from violence, exploitation, and abuse, and serves as an advocate and leverages partnerships around the world, all to serve as a driving force that helps build a world where the rights of every child are realized.

Clean water, food on the table, and a basic education? If you have these three things, you are among the richest people in the world. Sometimes it’s easy to lose that perspective with our American culture telling us we need to be smarter, faster, prettier, cooler, richer. It’s all in perspective. Like I said, our bodies are only temporary shells for our eternal souls. Your life doesn’t end here. What’s really important at the end of the day?

I once heard a beautiful analogy to explain what happens to our souls when we move on from this world. Have you ever put on a glove? Imagine you have a glove on your hand right now. When you wiggle your fingers, the gloves’ fingers wiggle too. When make a fist, or peace sign, or a thumbs up, the gloves follows the shape of your hand. Now, when you remove the glove and wiggle your fingers, the glove no longer follows your movements. The same can be said about our bodies and souls. Our when we move our bodies, we move our souls.

But our souls are not our bodies. When Paul refers to “we” in his letter, saying, “Therefore, we are always confident, knowing that whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him,” he is referring to our souls.

Bodies seem normal, but they are not eternal. That being said, I think it is good, and healthy, to come to terms with the life God has provided for you – the good and the bad. Each one of us has a story that is unique. We all have joy and sorrow, pain and happiness. But you’re not a photocopy or a manufactured product. You’re the original, with the artist’s signature still drying. You’re a work in progress. He isn’t done with you yet. You are beautiful, but not complete. Each day, a few more additions, alterations, finishing touches are made to make you into the work of art he envisioned when you were first created. I know that God sees each and every one of us as beautiful.

I have been fortunate to have two fathers who love me. Both my father God and my father Jim Brown.

Tomorrow/today is Fathers day. While we will take time to honor our earthly fathers, remember your Heavenly Father. Take time to sit with God in love, thankfulness, and praise.

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