Saturday Sermon: On being a father
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By Pastor Herb Beyer
The wisdom of Proverbs says, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it."
St. Paul gives guidance to both children and parents in his letter to the church at Ephesus, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the Earth."
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Training, teaching and modeling faith and life are the tasks and joint responsibilities of father and mother. It is in the home where a child learns what it means to be a godly man or woman, a devoted husband or wife and a loving father or mother.
With Father's Day on Sunday, you might expect me to focus on dads. And you'd be right. Hopefully, our children will remember the good and forgive our shortcomings, and as fathers, we will step up to the challenges and responsibilities entrusted to us. In our culture, we see fathers taking on a more directly involved role in the lives of their children.
When I was a child, I remember my grandfather attending church most every Sunday, attending the adult Bible class in what was called the parlor and serving on the church council. He was also the kind of guy who was up by 5 a.m. and on his way to work at 6 a.m.
That was just part of his way of taking care of his family. He and my grandmother were married for more than 50 years. And every time we would come into my grandparents' home, each adult child and grandchild would typically give a hug and kiss to my grandmother and then my grandfather. The same show of affection has continued in our family from one generation to another.
My father was not one prone to talk of his faith. But there were important moments when he said what I really needed to hear from him, as when he shared, "Son, I know that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior and he died for my sins."
A simple confession of faith touched my heart and changed my perception of my father. There was a time when we were not close due to the divorce of my parents on my 16th birthday. The death of a marriage brings all sorts of pain to family and friends.
Sometimes, the hurt takes a long time to heal. It wasn't until the later years, when he was facing a surgery with only a 50 percent chance of survival, that we were reconciled. And I remember him saying to me, "I'm sorry. I wish there had been some way to undue things. But I couldn't."
Until that day, "I'm sorry" was not a phrase heard from my father's lips. It was a tough day for a man who put up a pretty tough image to others, but he wanted forgiveness and the healing of things that were broken. It was an opportunity to give to each other what was needed, namely, Jesus. While our Heavenly Father is perfect, we are quick to realize that our earthly fathers aren't.
Nearly 25 years ago, my wife gave birth to our son. My wife gave me important words to remember, "Before you know it, he'll be grown and off on his own."
She was speaking of the importance of the time we have with our child as he grows up. Now is the time to be involved. Don't put it off until it's more convenient because there are always going to be demands on your time, attention and energy. It's easy to get caught up, even with the worthy endeavors of work, church and community organizations.
But the simple truth is, there is no more important work to be done than raising your children, to spend time with them and show up for them. The time goes quickly with all its joys and sorrows, successes and challenges. And before you know it, the child becomes a spouse and a parent.
I would not have imagined that our son would call home as often as he does (and I am grateful he does), or enter into the kinds of conversations that he does, particularly having to do with theology and Bible.
It is heartwarming to hear his voice, knowing that his early childhood declarations that our rules at home were meant to make his life difficult have given way to a more adult wisdom that sees it was meant for his good. He is now a husband and father with a second child on the way.
From one generation to another, we pass on the faith, we point to Jesus, we teach the values and we model a life in Christ as best we can. And men, like women, are important for that to happen.
Each new generation needs those who are truly committed to sharing what is ultimately important for a meaningful life, meaningful relationships, making clear our God-given purpose for being here and the difference we can make in the lives of others.
Father's Day observances are opportunities for the Church to lift up the important role of men in the life of the church, community and family. Men have a tremendous impact upon whether or not their children will remain active Christian disciples when they become adults. If Dad goes, everyone goes. And those kids, when they enter adulthood, tend to follow in the faith steps of their fathers.
General Douglas MacArthur had this to say, "By profession I am a soldier and take pride in that fact. But I am prouder - infinitely prouder - to be a father. A soldier destroys in order to build; the father only builds, never destroys. It is my hope that my son, when I am gone, will remember me not from the battle but in the home repeating with him our simple daily prayer, 'Our father who art in heaven.'"
Our children love us. They long to be with us. They imitate us. They find it in their hearts to forgive us. And in some measure, they will be us.
In the journey with them, let us give them the love and affection they yearn for, the time they deserve, the patience required, a forgiving heart in dealing with their failures, encouraging words in times of distress and doubt, the spiritual guidance for life in this rather difficult world, a solid foundation in Scripture, and a faith in Jesus.
Let us be worthy of the love and honor shown to us by our children, and the respect and affection of our wives. Happy Father's Day, guys.
The Rev. Herb Beyer is pastor of Tri-County Cooperative Ministries, ELCA.