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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I grew up in a time when people believed that “Father Knows Best,” or so it seemed. If nothing else men knew their roles. Fifty years ago in my hometown, fathers would go to work at the plant or if they were lucky at the corporate office across the road and would come home to their stay at home wives and 3-4 kids. They would sit in their comfy chair and read the paper, help kids with their homework, mow the lawn, fix the car and things around the house, eat dinner and help put the kids to bed. Most of the caretaking for the children, cooking and cleaning was left up to the mother.
We laughed innocently at jokes about prospective fathers. Four men were waiting outside the delivery room for the big news. A nurse came out to the first father and said, “Congratulations! You’re the father of twins.” “That’s odd,” answered the man. “I work for the Minnesota Twins!” A nurse said to the second guy, “Congratulations! You’re the father of triplets!” “That’s weird,” answered the second man. “I work for the 3M!” A nurse then came out to tell the fourth man, “Congratulations! You’re the father of quadruplets!” “That’s strange,” he answered. “I work for the Four Seasons hotel!” The last man was groaning and banging his head against the wall. “What’s wrong?” the others asked. He sighed, “I work for 7-Up!”
But times have changed, many men today are now responsible for more of the childcare, household chores, cooking, helping with homework. It’s no longer a “Father Knows Best” World, in fact we often wonder, whether some fathers even have a clue. Certainly, that’s how the greeting card companies have chosen to portray contemporary fathers- bumbling, well intentioned folks, who are a bit Neanderthal emerging from their Man Caves, stoic and unemotional-unless it has to do with the remote control. And that’s too bad. Why? You may ask. Because I believe that fathers still have a role to play in the spiritual lives of their families.
The Apostle Paul knew the significant role of fathers. In his Letter to the Church at Corinth, Paul offered a poignant insight into the Christian home. He wrote, “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers.” In the ancient world as today, women often played the important roles as nurturers, teachers and mentors in the faith while men shied away. But my friends, if the “Father Knows Best” world has changed, then fathers should be prepared to change with it.
Herbert Edward Parker authored a wonderful poem that captures the spiritual role that fathers can play in this changing world, he wrote:
“To get his good night kiss he stood beside my chair one night, And raised an eager face to me, a face with love alight. As I gathered in my arms the son God gave to me, I thanked the lad for being good, and hoped he’d always be. His little arms crept around my neck, and then I heard him say, Four simple words I shan’t forget, four words that made me pray. They turned a mirror on my soul, on secrets no one knew. They startled me. I hear them yet. He said, ‘I’ll be like you.’”
My father died a year ago this past week, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think about him every day, and I wonder whether, “I’ve become like him.” Spiritual mentors stay with us all our lives. We remember their words and ways when we face our own trials. So this morning, I would like to share with you a Father’s Day message inspired by St. Paul’s own farewell to the Church in Corinth. Three Words for the Father Who Knows Best, “Touch, Show and Tell.”
Fathers are often skipped over on the journey from Mother’s Day to the Fourth of July. As one little boy, observed, “Father Day is just like Mother’s Day, only you don’t spend as much on the present.” I know that was certainly true in our Father Knows Best home. Perhaps it was that perceived warmth and caring that was a part of so many homes in those days. Fathers were to appear strong. I am reminded of the little second grader who was asked to write about her personal hero. Her father was flattered to find out that she had chosen him. “Why did you pick me?” he asked her later. She replied honestly, “Because I couldn’t spell Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
Men like to be viewed as heroic, but I have discovered over the past 50 years that fathers also want to be remembered for being loving and affectionate. St. Paul encouraged the Christian community to show gentle intimacy. “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” No, this is not intended to be ritualized hand shake. Paul truly meant that we are to show gentleness and kindness through our smallest gestures to one another.
Almost every time a personal blessing was bestowed in the ancient world, it involved touching or a kiss. Throughout the gospels, we read that people brought children to Jesus so that he could touch them. Jesus took them and placed them on his knee, and laid his hands upon them, and, “He blessed them.”
As spiritual fathers and mothers, it is important to do that in our homes and in our churches. We begin when children are very small when they don’t understand words yet. The best way to communicate love to a very small child is holding them closely and kissing them. But this shouldn’t end when children begin to speak their first words. They need that regular, loving touch. The same is true for those who enter into the life of the church. Talking about love and forgiveness is fine, but it needs to have a human dimension. And so Paul writes, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” Yes, even fathers.
Second, Show Interest. There are times when we let ourselves get in the way. A young husband admired his six-year old daughter while she was dancing around the kitchen. Finally, he stopped her with a hug. “You know,” he said, looking her in the eyes, “You’re cute- just like your father.” The girl was silent for a moment. “You mean my heavenly Father or you.” The poor man was deflated. It happens all the time in life, when we let our egos and pride overshadow the lives of those we love.
Even loving parents are often too quick to criticize and remind children of their mistakes. Of course, there is room for constructive criticism. But it’s more important to communicate through words of love and acceptance. And they need to be spoken over and over again, even when our children stumble and fall. The same is true for those who enter the doors of this church.
But it’s not just about words. It is about showing interest. We show this and teach this in a number of ways. A lot of times when a child comes to us needing encouragement, we’re too busy. We have one eye on the computer and one eye on them, and we can’t concentrate on what they’re saying. So when a child comes to talk to you, turn off the radio or TV set; lay aside the newspaper, and listen to what they have to say. Show them that you truly care. This communicates value. It says, “You’re worth something. You’re more important to me than the ballgame or work. You’re a valuable part of our family. I’m glad God gave you to us.”
In the early Christian church, criticism was great and persecution was real. Christian sons and daughters needed to be reminded that there were others who cared about them and prayed for them- even those who did not know them. That is why St. Paul reminded the Church in Corinth that “All the saints greet you.” My friends, you are the saints who greet those who enter this church.
Finally, as spiritual fathers and mothers you need to tell the story. Every blessing you offer a son or daughter is a promise of a brighter future. It is a word that God is preparing them for something wonderful. But there is another reason for telling them God’s story as well. As spiritual mentors, you are there to help your children find their own niche, and discover who they are, and why they’ve been made. Often as parents we make the mistake of trying to get our children to become what we want them to be, instead of allowing them to become what God made them to be. We try to force our children into becoming something God never equipped them for. We need to tell them instead that God made them special unto themselves.
Your children need to hear and grow into the assurance, so you need to tell the story. They need to hear of love of God who created all possibilities, of the Son who graciously offered himself for each one of us on the cross, and of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit that continues to seek out the world’s possibilities moving in their lives. That is the word a Father Who Knows Best should share with his family. Your responsibility as a spiritual mentor is to help them see for themselves who they really are and to help them prepare for a glorious future. It is the gift of hope and confidence which will allow them to say one day, “I’ll be like you.”
It is said, a father is the one who holds our hand when we are to cross the road, teaches us how to face the world in adversities, encourages us to believe in our abilities and is always there, by our side, when our world is all dark and dismal. But I would add a father is one knows when to Touch, Show and Tell. These are truly the gifts of a Father Who Knows Best. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.