First, to all of you fathers here today: Happy Father’s Day! I trust you know what an honor and privilege it is to be a father, to have a son or daughter – or both or several – who share your genes and will carry on your legacy.
It’s a tremendous gift and with it, an awesome responsibility. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that, beyond all the things men seek to accomplish in life, being a good father is, by far, the greatest opportunity … and the greatest challenge.
We celebrated Mother’s Day a few weeks ago, as well we should. Mothers deserve all the honor we can give them. But so do fathers, in their own right. It’s hard to nail it down, but I think we can all agree: There’s a distinct difference between a mother’s love and a father’s love for their children.
From the first moments of life, children look to their mothers for sustenance and comfort. Fathers look on from a second tier. No matter how active the father is in feeding and rocking and cuddling the baby, changing diapers – the works – it’s still the mother that the child looks to for warmth and security when the chips are down.
It’s as if the child intuitively knows the mother but has to get to know the father – as if the child naturally sinks into the mother’s breast, but cautiously eyes the father at a distance wondering, “Who’s the big guy standing in the corner?”
The starting place for any Father’s Day sermon, of course, is the Fifth Commandment:
“Honor your father and your mother,
that your days may be long
in the land which Yahweh your God gives you.”
Beyond that I’d like to take a closer look at the relationship we have – or have had – with our fathers. Here’s my thesis: At its best, a father’s love – however imperfect and rough around the edges – is a reflection of God’s love. As Jesus told his disciples,
“… who is there among you, who,
if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?
Or if he asks for a fish, who will give him a serpent?
If you then, being 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!”
So, how would you describe your father?
• Was he soft and gentle or harsh and demanding?
• Was he there for you when you needed him, or was he always on the go and away from the home a lot of the time?
• Was he affectionate and demonstrative, or did he keep his distance?
• Was he emotionally transparent and easy to read, or was he Stoic and reserved, keeping his feelings to himself?
• Was he an outdoorsman or a homebody?
• Did he read to you when you were little and play with you as you were growing up?
• Did he teach you to do things? What sort of practical skills did you learn from your father?
• Was he a good listener? Could you share your thoughts and feelings with him without getting a lecture in return?
• Was he a man of faith? Did he share his faith with you and help you to experience the peace of God’s presence and the power of God’s love?
• Was he authoritative or easy going?
• Was he quick to discipline you and keep you in line, or did he give you freedom to explore and make your own discoveries … your own decisions … and your own mistakes?
• If you’re a son, was your father someone you wanted to be like when you grew up? If you’re a daughter, was your father the type of man you hoped to marry some day?
• What did you love most about your father? If you had the chance, what words of gratitude and affirmation would you most like to share with him today?
These are just a few of the questions you might ask yourself in describing your father and your relationship to him. Already you get the picture: When it comes to fathering, some dads do a lot better than others … and some don’t do very well at all. There are a lot of reasons why:
• The most obvious is male ego. It’s hard to be attentive to the children when you’re caught up with yourself.
• Beyond ego is the way we’re wired. As a female colleague used to say, “It’s the Y chromosome.” And it’s true: Men and women experience life differently and, while that’s an asset when we work together and complement each other’s strengths, it can be a problem when it comes to rearing children. Child rearing comes more naturally to mothers; it’s something dads have to learn.
• Then there’s the maturity factor. If you marry young and have your children right away, you could be a father by the time you reach your mid-twenties. By the time you’re in your mid-forties, they’re grown and gone. Think about it: A lot of men don’t start growing up until they’re in their forties!
• Finally, there’s the generational effect. How does a young man know how to be a father except by doing what his father did? I can’t tell how many times I’ve heard an exasperated wife say of her husband, “He’s just like his father!” The good news is, if you had a wise and loving father, you have a lot of strengths to build on; if your father was a klutz, you’re apt to repeat a lot of not-so-healthy traits.
The bottom line is we don’t live in a perfect world. Most fathers fall somewhere along the scale of exceptional to average to poor. If your father was exceptional, consider yourself lucky. Most fathers are average, at best.
Regardless if your father was nearly perfect in every way or just the opposite, now’s a good time to cut him some slack. At this age and stage of life, the best gift you can give your father for Father’s Day is the gift of forgiveness … and, with it, a healthy dose of genuine gratitude.
Most fathers do the very best they know how to do. So, if you’re holding on to some bitter feelings because your father hurt you or failed you in some way, now’s the time to get over it and let it go. Focus on what he did for you, or tried to do. And know this: You carry his genes. Honor him by carrying them on to a higher level of excellence.
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When it comes to a father’s love, Jesus had a lot to say and they all point to the love of our heavenly father.
As we heard in the text this morning, he said if your son asks you for something to eat, you wouldn’t give him a stone or a snake. So, if you who are only human know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly father give you the gifts of life in all its abundance, if you ask. Jesus said:
“Therefore I tell you, don’t be anxious for your life:
what you will eat, or what you will drink;
nor yet for your body, what you will wear.
Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
See the birds of the sky, that they don’t sow, neither do they reap,
nor gather into barns. Your heavenly Father feeds them.
Aren’t you of much more value than they?”
Jesus also said:
“What do you think?
If a man has one hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray,
doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine, go to the mountains,
and seek that which has gone astray?
If he finds it, most certainly I tell you, he rejoices over it more
than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray.
Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven
that one of these little ones should perish.”
One of his greatest teachings on fatherhood was the Parable of the Prodigal Son. You know it as well as I do. A father had two sons. One was faithful and true and served his father as a loyal and devoted servant; the other was wild and reckless and rebelled against his father and did all sorts of shameful things to discredit his father’s good name. Yet, in spite of everything, the father loved them both, just the same. And when the wild and reckless son came home, he greeted him with open arms and rejoiced that he’d come to his senses. What’s more, he threw him a big party and invited everyone to attend – especially his brother … to let bygones be bygones and live together in peace and harmony, as family. Jesus wanted us to know this is the nature of a father’s love.
Ideally, a father’s love is a reflection of God’s love – it’s grace-filled, merciful, forgiving, patient, kind and, most importantly, unconditional – not something you earn by doing and saying the right things, but a gift that’s given freely and will never, ever be taken away.
The most dramatic expression of the Father’s love came at the moment God gave himself in the form of Jesus to redeem us from our sinful state. In Jesus’ words,
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
God-in-Christ – Jesus – laid down his life for the sins of the whole world. He gave his life to redeem us from our fallen nature and reconcile us to God and each other. Through faith in him we’re able to live as children of the heavenly Father and heirs of his eternal kingdom. In his Letter to the Romans, Paul writes,
“For you didn’t receive the spirit of bondage again to fear,
but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God;
and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ;
if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him.”
And to the Corinthians, he echoes what God told Samuel concerning the people of Israel:
“‘I will dwell in them, and walk in them; I will be their God,
and they will be my people. … I will be to you a Father.
You will be to me sons and daughters,’ says the Lord Almighty.”
(2 Corinthians 6:16-18)
As fathers, we want the best for our children. We want them to be successful, well adjusted and happy. We want them to be responsible citizens and contributing members of society. Most importantly, we want them to be men and women of faith – to know for themselves the love of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
When it’s all said and done, the gift of faith is the greatest gift a father can give his children – to help them know that, beyond all the hopes and fears and uncertainties of this mortal life, God will be with them to give them the gift of life in abundance through faith in Jesus Christ. It’s the ultimate expression of a father’s love.
I got a glimpse of this not long ago. The setting was the baptism of a six-year-old boy. The boy’s father joined the minister at the baptismal font to give his son a blessing. Here’s what he said:
“Jimmy, today I want to impart a father’s blessing to you as a father myself and as a representative of your Heavenly Father.
I bless your life, Jimmy. The life God gave you. He knew you before He created the world. He formed you in your mother’s womb to be exactly who you are, to look as you do, to have the personality and character you have. You were uniquely crafted and specifically designed for God’s purpose. He loves you and wants you to know the height, depth and breadth of His Love for you.
I bless your personal faith in Jesus Christ that you may not only believe what He has said, but receive what He has promised for your life. I bless you in your walk with God. Your mother and I pray that you may be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ with your mind bound to His thoughts, your hands bound to His work and your feet bound to His path for your life.
I bless the day you were born, the perfect timing of your birth and the destiny that God pre-planned for your life. All the days of your life were ordained before one of them came to be. May you discover the sheer joy of walking in the steps that God has ordered for your life.
I bless your gender as a cherished young man of God created in God’s perfect design. I bless your birth order. May the timing of your arrival and your relationship with your brother and sisters be used by God to perfect you according to His will.
I bless your emotional life that you may understand deep in your heart that God will always provide a safe place for you, a place of refuge in this earth from the forces that set themselves against you. May God’s perfect love displace any fears in your life.
Jimmy, know this day that you are a blessed son of the most High God with the same inheritance as that of His Son, Jesus Christ, in Whose name and authority I pronounce this blessing on you today.”
Let’s end the sermon with a benediction. It comes from the Letter of Jude:
“Now to him who is able to keep you from falling,
and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory in great joy,
to God our Savior, who alone is wise,
be glory and majesty, dominion and power,
both now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25)
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2014, Philip McLarty. Used by permission.