|There's always room in God's closet|
for another tie.
In law enforcement, department psychologists, chaplains, and human resources staff alike try to combat the natural effects of the highly emotional interactions required in that profession. There, it is referred to as “cocooning.” Imagine the stress of constantly dealing with both perpetrators and victims, both smiling criminals and angry citizens. Add the demands of both community and workplace politics. Multiply that by court appearances where two adversarial sides seem united only in their animosity toward officers who do both more and less of their job than either side would prefer. No one is surprised when officers begin to disengage emotionally from victims as well as their attackers, even from children as well as their abusers. But the officers themselves are often dismayed to find that in the process they have also distanced themselves from those closest to them.
|The greatest quality in preaching:|
that others hear a pastor's heart.
So, I should be able to shrug off something as simple as this past Sunday’s anonymous, post-worship-service note of “disappointment,” if not entirely disapproval. Here’s what it says: “Sent with tender observations. Thank you for today’s message. It resonated with us. We were disappointed that your message didn’t include a message about fathers. The Lord our Father. Our fathers – our children teaching their children from what they learned from their fathers. Mentoring someone who hasn’t had a father, or had a harsh father. Praise Godly fathers.”
In the recent past, I have begun to acknowledge some holidays. But previously my practice of preaching chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse through entire books of the Bible continued throughout the year. I was used to being questioned about Christmas or Easter failing to be Christmas-y or Easter-y enough. But in addition to all my reasons for pursuing a serious commitment to expository preaching, I also have been troubled by my marketing background and the usual bait-and-switch practices that only reinforce the habits of many who attend only on those “special occasions,” since the rest of the calendar pales in comparison. In short, I have very good reasons for not throwing out the next passage or swapping it for something more topical in my preaching schedule in favor of Christmas or Easter (though I have begun to relent for those occasions) much less Mother’s, Father’s, Memorial, Labor, Independence, Thanksgiving, Arbor or Groundhog Days.
|When you say "Christmas-y" to me,|
this is the image that floods my mind.
But that’s not the main reason that the note affected me so badly.
It is not like I had not considered potential applications from the passage. But the only overtly parental relationship in II Samuel 2 is that of Ish-Bosheth, son of the recently deceased King Saul. But other than stating the relationship, anything beyond simply mentioning that (which I did, since it is written in the text I read aloud) would be a stretch. No, what I had considered more was the great difficulty many face during mother’s or father’s day. Among our parishioners there is great fondness for many of our fathers, deep sorrow over the loss of some of our fathers, distinct frustration over the difficult relationships with a few of our fathers and, as my anonymous critic seemed to suggest, a tendency to sugar-coat even the worst of circumstances that have accompanied the damage and betrayal inflicted by fathers on a number of our parishioners.
|And as for "Easter-y?" It's clear that for some,|
the resurrection simply isn't magnificent enough.
One of them had sent me a Facebook message on Father’s Day afternoon, just as I was trying not to reflect too much further on the “absence” of a message on fathers (though in the course of the worship service we did, of course, acknowledge, speak of, and pray for/about/with fathers). This parishioner had been exposed to a more traditional emphasis on Father’s Day. Specifically, they have been under pressure to unilaterally “forgive and forget” the unrepentant man who contributed to her birth (I’m dancing around the term others might use here). The pain of her mother’s choice to return to him only multiplies the challenges she faces in her family relationships. But no one, notably, suggests that he has changed his habits, preferences, or boundary issues, even those that led to the legal penalties that resulted after he sexually assaulted his young-adult daughter while she was incapacitated by illness.
She was not in church on Father’s Day. If she had, perhaps she might have been spared the pressure (indeed, what she identified as the “guilt”) to which she succumbed. Her note expressed the anguish of trying to decide whether or not to call her father, much less apologize to him and forgive him as she had been instructed to do. Then, when she did, in fact, call and apologize, she faced the personal disappointment of having tried “to make the guilt go away.”
I shared with her what I have been slowly working toward sharing with you.
While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.” But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50, NASB)
If we are to honestly pursue the blessings of knowing God as our heavenly Father, we must first begin be recognizing that our human fathers, however well-or-ill-intentioned, however succeeding or failing in their attempts, and however present, absent, attentive, neglectful, inspiring or otherwise they are or may have been, the role of parents in the lives of their children must always be seen in light of the perpetual efforts of God to raise us as His children. (Hebrews 12:4-13 is a good place to look for more details about how this works.)
|Look more closely at God's word, and see if our|
cultural occasions coincide or conflict or merely coexist.
My point, then, is this: the pretense of nostalgically perfecting our remembrances, or the rehearsing of wrongs inflicted upon us, or anything in between is a part of the reality of human nature and the ongoing effects of The Fall that should point us ever and only to the loving care of our heavenly Father.
Could that be more strongly emphasized on Father’s Day? Perhaps. If the passage supported it. Otherwise, I think we should continue to address it as often as it comes up in worship, fellowship and service…that is, pretty much every day, just as we commemorate the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, Pentecost, and so many other “occasions” as they arise in the course of preaching the scriptures and in the life of the congregation, not just because they show up on the calendar.