My Father’s Faith
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on 1 John 4: 7 – 21. Focus on my Father’s faith became my faith. Check out Kelly Crandell, Lydia Diaz and the Choir as they sing – My God is an Awesome God! Simply awesome.
When I think about my father he was the first deity in a line of many leading to the one we call Abba today. I suspect that’s the case for most boys maybe for girls too, but that I’m not qualified to speak on. For boys at least our first experience with a god-like figure was our father.
Now my first memory of my father was as an orbiting figure that was more transcendent than he was imminent. My Mom was the more imminent one. If my Mom was Emmanuel, my father was El Shaddai – God Almighty.
There was nothing better than his arrival home from work and nothing more to be feared if I had misbehaved. “Just wait till your father gets home and hears about this.” A refrain patented by mothers who bore boys in the late 50s. And from this I learned about the fear of God but really it was more a sense of awe.
Awe that this tall person, who seemed so big, important and adored was my father at the same time. And yet as I grew this same man would become the greatest Dorkator I had ever known.
Speaking for sons across the world Mark Twain said: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
But then who he was and is comes to mind and I realize that who I am also resides in him. Some twists and turns are different but the tree doesn’t fall far from the acorn.
You see we spend the first years of our life wanting to be like our fathers, the teen years wanting to be anything but our fathers and our adult years finding out whom our fathers truly were, and appreciating and forgiving them for it at the same time.
And out of all these experiences our image of god is formed. Less then a perfect reflection of the one we call Abba, but it was my father’s faith that became my faith. And I suspect that’s the case for others as well – that we are here today because of our parent’s faith or the faith of those who treated us as parents.
From the moment when we were born until the moment we die; and every second and every minute of every hour and every day and every month and every year and every decade, the purpose of life is simply this: God giving us the time to learn how to love as Abba – Daddy loves. The entire purpose of time itself is to learn what it means to be a truly loving and living person.
But the shape of God’s love is forever changing throughout our lives. The shape of God’s love in us never stays the same.
If you are three, four or five, the shape of love looks like this. A little three year old comes up and without ever asking or thinking about it, throws his or her arms around you, kisses, hugs, pulls, tugs and slobbers all over you. Without giving it a second thought a three year old will trust a parent the way we are supposed to trust God. That is the shape of love when you are three.
Then the shape of love begins to change and you become a little older and let’s say you are in fifth grade. And with my fifth grade friends, Guy Freesen, Jimmy Twiford, Jimmy Hackett and Bill Chalk, we would take our knives and BB guns and hike out to the Jacksonville creek. Where we’d build forts, shoot up tin cans and old soda bottles. Just boys. No girls. That was the shape of love when we were fifth graders and it was all boy.
Time passes. And the shape of God’s love changes again. Around ninth grade, when I was fifteen years old, falling in love for the first time with Leslie. She was the daughter of my Dad’s secretary and we met in our church youth group. And Leslie was having a slumber party at her house and I talked my best friend Kent into driving over to Leslie’s house.
Mind you I wasn’t supposed to be driving my Dad’s VW van. So with Kent we hatched this ingenious plan to drive the VW van in reverse all the way to Leslie’s and back then in reverse to Kent’s. In those days you could actually reverse the mileage on the VW van’s odometer by driving in reverse.
This was the shape of a boys love for his first girlfriend in those days. Show your girlfriend how daring you could be. We only stayed for 15 minutes. We were so nervous. And when we went to leave, the van would not start. So Kent and I had to push the van down a slight hill and I popped the clutch and we both jumped in and got the van home in the wee hours of the morning while my folks slept.
By the way, my father found out and I found out about another shape of love the next day.
The years pass and I have my daughters – Hannah & Rachel. The moment they were born was beyond compare or description, its one of life’s greatest most amazing surprises you will ever have, exhilaration, awe, and terror all rolled up in one. I went from aren’t they amazing to how am I going to pay for college within a nanosecond of each other. And this was yet another amazing shape of God’s love in me.
Life quickly changes again and I go through a divorce and I think my life has ended before it’s even begun. From my father I experienced unwavering support. When dear friends and family wondered aloud to me that I might be ending my career before it had even begun, my father counseled me to trust my gut and my faith, not my fear and he was right!
From my father I learned that God is real, not just a subject to be studied, but something that was worth staking your life on. He did this by being totally into God. He talked about God, thought about God, studied God, lived for God, debated God, asked others about God, shared his questions and his experiences of God, sinned boldly against God and in all of this I saw someone who lived his life based on God as Abba – Daddy.
From my father I learned that grace is more important than law and that families and faith communities live on mutual forbearance and forgiveness more than they do on justice and rights. From my father I learned that it’s not always about being right. It’s also about being kind, gentle, gracious, speaking truth in love and that you can get much farther by leaning on things than by pushing on them. As he points out – everyone moves and no one knows exactly why. It just feels natural.
In the blink of time God’s graciousness puts the woman of my dreams into my life and within two weeks of dating her I knew I was going to marry her and the shape of love inside me changed once again.
The years have gone quickly since I married Dotty and I have discovered that there is a quality of love that has always been there but was not as pronounced in the beginning as it has become, which is the quality of friendship. Where your spouse becomes your best friend, the person you trust with everything about who you are, the person who speaks truth to you, holds you to incredibly high standards and loves you despite the childishness in you, and the shape of love changes once again in you. And before you know it your children are grown and have left the nest to start adult lives of their own.
Life suddenly changes again and suddenly you notice how fast life is going, it’s picking up its pace. It feels like life is on fast-forward and the rewind button is broken and the play button has moved out of its expected place.
I watch as my Mom and Dad and so many others take care of each other as they grow older, the diseases, the incapacities, the cancer, the dementia, the march of time picks up speed and I realize time is no longer on my side as the Rolling Stone’s sang it was.
The shape of love has moved far past the passions of years gone by. The shape of love has moved even past the friendship that had deepened through the decades. You now have the possibility of loving someone who does not know your name. Their face and heart do not know you except for fleeting moments. That too, is part of the changing shape of love.
From the moment we are born until the moment we die, its about learning how to love the way God loves, which from our own experience is always changing in the chronos – the tick tock of time. Yet always remains in the kyros – the eternity of time.
So when God commands us to love in these different ways it’s like God commanding fish to swim. It’s like commanding birds to fly. When God commands us to love as God loves, God is simply commanding us to be the kind of people that we were first created to be.
So on this father’s day. I wish my father were here, and I have no doubt that had I sent him a plane ticket it would have helped, but if he were here right now I’d give him a hug and tell him how much I love him and say thanks for being the father in whom I am well pleased! Amen