I want to tell you a Father’s Day love story. My dad grew up in NYC, the youngest son of Irish immigrants, and I really loved him. He was very smart, and good looking (in a Tony Randall sort of way), and playful. He taught me to play chess, and to tell jokes, and how to hold my hands to practice piano. We spent many Saturdays in New York museums, checking out the dinosaurs, or the costumes and the paintings at the Met. Our relationship fell apart as my parents’ marriage disintegrated. My brother and I were young when he left home. He fell into a deep depression and drank himself to death.
Because of our age difference, my brother and I remember a relationship with different dads. My memories are sweeter. Still I went through a time in which I was very angry with him for leaving, for his drinking, and for his inability to be what I thought I needed. I looked up to other adults as father figures as I grew up. I am grateful to those who exemplified maturity and manhood for me – and I am still a bit envious of people who come from large and close families.
As an adult, I learned that life – marriages, families, and identities – it’s all very complicated. We are not all the Waltons, or whatever perfect fantasy family we can imagine.
Navigating this emotional minefield of Father’s Day, I have found that love wins after all. I still love my dad. I love that he loved me and loved my mother. I carry the losses in my heart. Our relationship is a love story not because he was an example of perfect parenthood, but because beautiful things emerged on the fragile edge of imperfection and messiness.
Our scripture lessons are excellent illustrations of the fragile edge of faithful life.
The psalmist complains that his faith has caused others to hold him in scorn and even to threaten his life. Think of the Christians in Nigeria, Pakistan and the Sudan whose lives are endangered because of their faith. Even if our lives are not threatened directly, there is always a cost to living faithfully. If there is no sacrifice, we are not doing it right.
The lesson from the Letter to the Romans reflects Paul’s understanding that we receive new life through baptism. Good news: we will rise with Christ. The other good news is our old self – by which Paul means our culture, our rights, our private space, and the desires of our flesh – the old self was crucified with Jesus Christ. Our daily living must demonstrate our absolute dedication to God – our newfound and grace-filled status in Christ.
And Jesus himself tells his followers that their future will hold persecution and estrangement from their families. The cross is the reward for faithfulness. What cross, what burden, is each of us willing to endure for Jesus Christ?
Our lessons may not offer the sunny vision of Christian life that we expected. Sometimes God doesn’t protect us. Our baptism signifies our death as a prerequisite to resurrection. And the family issues are always complex! Still they teach us a profound lesson about our life with Christ.
There are times when the scripture is best used not as a prescription but as a comfort. Today’s lessons teach us that the faithful who suffer are not outcast and are not alone. They offer an invitation: how will we courageously share our blessing with others, even if we face difficulty? In contrast to the teachings of some popular television evangelists, mere positive thinking will not necessarily change the way our world operates. Some things are way out of our control. Faithful prayer does not always get us what we want. Sometimes we get what we need. And sometimes we do not get what we think we need, but we get the blessed promise that God loves us anyway.
Which brings me back to those magical moments of love stories, human and divine. The divination of true love has been revealed among us in human flesh. God loved us so much that God chose to come among us as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus has promised us that even those who are as insignificant as sparrows are still known by name and cherished. When the midsummer stars rise tonight, know that God loves you, and that God needs you to share that love with the world, in all its messy, imperfect, fractious, and painful beauty.