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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Pentecost 4 – Year C

Happy Father’s Day! Bill Cosby once said that compared to Mother’s Day, Father’s Day is almost as exciting as Groundhog Day. Cosby pointed out that while Moms get breakfast in bed or bouquets of flowers on Mother’s Day, the most memorable gift he ever received on Father’s Day was soap on a rope, followed closely by the year his kids gave him 1,000 yards of dental floss.
Garrison Keillor, during a broadcast of his “Writer’s Almanac” on National Public Radio once reported that Father’s Day goes back to, “a Sunday morning in May of 1909, when a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd was sitting in church in Spokane, Washington, listening to a Mother’s Day sermon. She thought of her father who had raised her and her siblings after her mother died in childbirth, and she thought that fathers should get recognition, too. So she asked the minister of the church if he would deliver a sermon honoring fathers on her father’s birthday, which was coming up in June, and the minister did. And the tradition of Father’s Day caught on, though rather slowly. Mother’s Day became an official holiday in 1914; Father’s Day, not until 1972. Mother’s Day is still the busiest day of the year for florists, restaurants and long distance phone companies. Father’s Day is the day on which the most collect phone calls are made.”
My favorite Father’s Day story is the one about the mother out walking with her four-year-old daughter. The child picks up something off the ground and starts to put it into her mouth. The mother grabs it and says: “Don’t do that!” “Why not?” asks the child? “Because it’s been on the ground,” says the mom. “You don’t know where it’s been. It’s dirty, and it’s probably loaded with germs.” The child looks at her mom with total admiration and says, “Mommy, how do you know all this stuff? You’re so smart.”
And the mother says: “All moms know this stuff. It’s on the mom’s test. You have to know it or they don’t let you be a mom.” Then there’s a long silence as the child thinks this through. “Oh, I get it,” she says at last. And if you don’t pass you have to be a daddy!”
Ouch! Father’s Day does indeed get short shrift in our culture, as do fathers in general. Some of it is deserved given the number of “dead-beat dads” in our country today. But in general, fathers and father figures are important people in our lives. They have a great influence in making us who we are and they deserve to be celebrated. Of course not all of us were fortunate enough to know our fathers. Not all of us were blessed enough to have father’s we can be proud of. Not all of us have good relationships with our fathers today. But all of us have those people in our lives that acted as strong, positive, fatherly mentors and guides. For their presence in our lives we can and should be thankful.
Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about my father and my maternal grandfather and the gift their presence was in my life. My father was a veteran of the war in the Pacific during the Second World War. He never made much money or climbed very high on the corporate ladder, but he taught me, among other things, that there is honor in hard work, that real strength is getting out of bed every day and doing what you need to do to care for your family, that sometimes fewer words are better, that laughter helps with almost everything, and you can never be too old or too grownup to give or receive a hug. My grandfather was born in 1902. He was born and raised in Marshall, Virginia. He was for me the quintessential Virginia gentleman. Tall and handsome, gentle and perceptive, he taught me that faith matters most, that there are few things in life as wonderful as a good dog, that honor and integrity are a man’s most important treasures, that being a loving father and husband is the greatest work a man can do, that a bad day hunting is better than a good day in the office, that anything worth doing is worth doing well, and that patience is indeed one of life’s great virtues. Two men among many who formed me, who gave me great gifts by what they taught and how they lived, two men without whom my life would be greatly impoverished. Who are the people who have best fathered you in life? Who are you thankful for this Father’s Day?
In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus drives out demons from a man possessed. Evil spirits that have destroyed a man’s life, spirits that have stripped him naked and left him bound and shackled. Jesus not only heals him but by driving out the demons he literally gives back to this man his best self. As someone who is proud of being a man and a father, as a priest who works pastorally to support many other men and fathers, there are at least three demons I wish we could drive out of men’s lives this Father’s Day. Maybe they aren’t demons in the sense of being evil spirits with their own mind and volition, but they are destructive mindsets that can twist a man’s life and shackle his best self. They are mindsets, beliefs that mislead us to the truth about our lives.
1. A man is only as valuable as what he does. Your worth is wrapped up in your professional success. Without your work you really aren’t worth much.
This mindset is perhaps the most pervasive and destructive idea that I see in men’s lives. I see it in retired men who believe they have no purpose or value because they no earn a paycheck. I see it in many men who are struggling during these days when our economy is in the dumpster. They have lost their job and they are having a hard time finding another. Not only are they struggling because they are making less money, but they believe their unemployment makes them less valuable as individuals, without work they have little worth. But our faith says that we are much more than what we do to earn a living. Whether we know it or not each one of us is in fact a beloved child of God. We are valuable because we are God’s children. Our value is in our love, our compassion, our willingness to give for the sake of others. In essence, Jesus says, do not lose yourself in your work, rather ground yourself in me and thereby discover your true worth.
2. When it comes to kids, fathers aren’t as important as mothers. Dads are secondary, they exist to pay the mortgage and stock the fridge. That’s why every professional athlete looks at the TV cameras and says, “Hi Mom.”
Could anything be farther from the truth? Every study shows that the love of a father figure is critical to the self-esteem of a child. Moreover, the number one influence that indicates whether or not a child will become a regular participant in a faith community is whether or not Dad participates. A father’s strength, a father’s acceptance, a father’s calm approach to life’s challenges are foundational for both boys and girls. If you are a Dad, don’t kid yourself. Your presence is huge.
3. Whatever life throws at you, you have to bear it in silence, you have to be tough, and you have to go it alone, that’s the man’s way.
That mindset, it seems to me, is the primary reason women live so much longer then men. We aren’t made to go it alone. We are made to share our lives with others in community. Our faith teaches us that we find Christ in our relationships with one another. There is in fact great strength in vulnerability. The truth is, while it is important to be tough, but it is more important to allow yourself to be loved. Christ wants to heal us and to love us, but we have to let him in.
As we prepare to baptize these beautiful children this morning, I am reminded of the old story about the Dad who walks past his son’s doorway as his son kneels before his bed saying his nighttime prayers . . . and the dad overhears: “Oh God, let me grow up to be good and big and strong and so wonderful like my dad.” And the dad stumbles into his own room and kneels before his bed and prays, saying: “Oh God, let me be half the man my son thinks I am.” On this Father’s Day may all of us know the healing love of Jesus Christ that can make us into more than we are, and lead us into everything we are intended to be – healed and whole and loved. Amen.

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