Deuteronomy 1:29-31 (NIV)
Then I said to you, "Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place."(NIV)
Ephesians 6:1-4 (NRSV)
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” —this is the first commandment with a promise: “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Sermon – In Honor of Dad
Good morning! Well, today is Father’s Day. Let me say “Happy Father’s Day” to all you dads and grandpas out there. You know, I am one of those fortunate people who grew up with caring and attentive parents. We were a close-knit family, and in many ways we still are. Since it is Father’s Day, I’d like to share a few things about my dad with you this morning. As I do, I’d like you to allow yourselves to recall some of the best things about your own dad. Now I realize that there some of you who didn’t grow up with a father or whose own father didn’t leave behind positive memories. If that’s the case with you, perhaps you might think of someone who was a positive male influence in your life – such as a stepfather, an uncle or grandfather; or even a teacher, coach or scout leader. Someone whose actions showed you what it meant to be somebody in this world. Someone whose actions made you want to be like them, even in some small way. Someone you would consider a good role model. Someone whose values instilled in you a sense of respect for them and the way they lived their life. I was lucky to have two parents who inspired me in some way; but like I said, today I want to talk about Dad.
As I was growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s, my parents blessed my siblings and me with the gift of the whole United States. Seriously, we moved a lot! My Dad was a chef, and a darn good one. Wherever we moved, one of the first places we got to visit was to Dad’s workplace to meet his kitchen crew. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel proud to let people know that the chef was my Dad. I have fond memories of birthdays when I was allowed to invite one friend to go to Dad’s restaurant for dinner. One night a year, I could treat my friends to a meal of shrimp cocktail, filet mignon and lobster tail, Shirley Temples and chocolate mousse - all because my dad was Chef LeMonte.
Dad always worked nights, so often when we got home from school, he would already be gone to work. Often, too, we’d be asleep before he got home. Sometimes, though, we’d get to stay up until he got home – or better yet – ride along with Mom to pick him up whenever she kept the car. What an adventure that would always be! Having that special time alone with Mom on the ride in, then waiting for Dad to finish the kitchen clean up, we would sip on Pepsi or 7-Up, listening to the whisper of brushes against cymbals as the lounge band played….these are special memories for me.
As I entered my teen years, I discovered that many of my friends had a crush on my Dad! I can remember slumber party games of “truth or dare,” when the dare of one friend to another was…”go say something to Suzy’s dad” or “I dare you to tell Suzy’s dad that you love him.” I wonder if he ever knew, back then, what all that giggling was about. I bet Mom did. She always knew I had the handsomest Dad in my circle of friends. After all, over the years my Dad has been mistaken for John Wayne – and later, for Barry Goldwater. My Dad was even on television – as the Guest Chef on the morning news show. That’s when my teachers would tell me how much they admired him.
These special memories are but a few that I have of growing up with my Dad…I think of Sunday drives, stopping by the side of the road to eat the delicious picnic Mom had prepared; or stopping by various mom and pop café’s for open-faced hot roast beef sandwiches and an ice cold pop. When we lived in Mesa or Tempe, we would drive aaaall the way out to the Blue Bird Mine on Route 88 and stop to take a look around before heading out to the foothills of the Superstitions to pretend to search for gold.
Both of my parents are Veterans. Mom served in the Air Force Reserves until she met and married my Dad in 1956. Dad served in the Navy during the “Korean War” aboard the attack cargo ship U.S.S. Whitley. When we were young, Dad had a photograph of his Navy ship that hung on the wall. One time when we moved, the portfolio it was in was stolen. A few years ago, I did an internet search, and found a picture of the U.S.S. Whitley. You’ll find a copy of it on the front of your bulletin. Mom and Dad raised five children – two boys and three girls. Both boys and two of the three girls are veterans of the armed forces. I guess you could say we followed in their footsteps.
The ship my Dad served on: The U.S.S. Whitley
I have always thought of my Dad as strong, quiet; and able to do almost anything. To this day, I know that if I call and ask Dad for help with something, he will be there. Even after he retired, Dad worked in food service – with the Mesa School District. He was the male role model for my children as they were growing up!
Yes, like many lucky children, I have great memories of my Dad. In spite of all the wonderful memories their children have, I think maybe sometimes fathers wonder if they have done a good job at being a parent. I suspect that, like everyone else, they are most critical of themselves. In today’s world, unless you have a strong positive male role model in your life, it’s sometimes difficult to recognize the good that men exist. Much is made of male perpetrators of domestic violence, of violent crimes and of acts of prejudice or bigotry. Popular movies often depict men as bumbling, crude, inattentive and selfish.
I am here to say to my father and many other fathers out there – you have done a good job! Most of the time, I know that parents do the best job that they can do; however, as their children, we may not let them know that. The thing is, of course, that most parents – both moms and dads – do their very best because they love us. What is it that makes our parents love us and want to do their best for us? I think it’s because of who we are. We are their children. We love them. And we are who we are in part because of them.
These significant others in our lives, our mothers and our fathers, love us because of the relationship we have with them. So it is with God. We each have a special relationship to God. We are God’s children. And we are who we are because of God. Our biological parents gave us their genetic code – we have something of their physical attributes; something of their mannerisms. Those who raised us, whether or not they were biologically related to us, gave us something of their attitude and emotional makeup. God, however, gave us everything. In Psalm 139, the Psalmist wrote, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.”
God not only created us, but also loved us enough to create us in God’s own image. In light of this wonderful knowledge, we can consider…what is a good father? What makes a good man? What makes a man worthy?
In his book Justice: Rights and Wrongs, Nicholas Wolterstorff seeks to define what gives a human being worth. He says that as beings who are created in the image of God and who have a relationship with God, human beings are worthy not because human we earned it; rather, but only because of our relationship with God. This relationship – and therefore the reason for the worth of all humanity – is love.
Theologian Mary A. O’Neill tells us that “…the image of God is reflected in a community of persons…” This is part of what it means to be “created in the image of God.” It is in community that we reflect the image of God. It is in community that fathers reveal their worth. As a man lives his life with authenticity, serving his family in love, he claims his place in that community. Where his “physical” place in the family might be varies according to the dynamics of his family – he may be the sole breadwinner, or a partner with his spouse in income earnings. He may, like my Dad, be away from the home and children for most of their waking hours in order to make a living. Or, like many families today, he might be the children’s caregiver and “chief cook and bottle washer” as his spouse works outside the home. He may or may not live with his children on a regular basis. Whatever his physical or economic place in the family community, a good man reflects the values that support solid, positive community. His children will learn their values from him, and as they grow, those values will manifest in them. There are many character traits that make a good father. They are the same traits that make good mothers. Some of them are loyalty, honesty, caring, serving and self-sacrificing. I believe that these are traits that my father brings to my family.
In the years since I began working in the Church, I have been privileged to get to know some excellent men, whose families attest to their worth as fathers. They were men whose lives became acts of true discipleship. In God, they learned what it meant to be a good man and a good father. They looked for a model of excellent living, and as Christians, what they found was the life of God’s son, Christ Jesus. By following the teachings of Jesus, they learned not only how to be a good father, but also how to be a good child.
You see, Jesus was the best son that ever lived. He did everything that his Father asked him to, not because he was forced to, not because he had no choice, but because he loved God and he loved those who God sent him to serve. Jesus exemplifies the life that God would have the individual live. We pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done;” but Jesus actually lived his life on this earth in anticipation of God’s will. Jesus lived and worked among the most disenfranchised population, because God wanted them to know that they were loved. He spoke to those who were outcaste, those who were hungry and those who were lonely, because his Father wanted them to know that they would be welcomed, fed and loved. He healed those who needed healing – not because they deserved to be healed or that they did something special to earn it; Jesus healed them because they came to him broken and God wanted them to be whole.
Jesus shows us through his earthly walk that in order to be good children of God we must love our brothers and sisters as he loves us. We must live to heal relationships. We must look to our siblings with tenderness and forgive them the injustices we feel have been done to us. I talk now of both our biological and our spiritual siblings. For all the squabbling we do as children, we know that it will make our earthly fathers (and our mothers) proud to know that we have outgrown such pettiness. For all the jealousy, competition and disagreement we carry on as spiritual children, we know that it will make God happy to know that we have outgrown such selfishness. As we learn to forgive, as we learn to serve as Jesus did, we will better be able to obey the commandment to honor our fathers and our mothers. As we do, we will find our lives have new meaning, for as Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6:1-4, “this is the first commandment with a promise: ‘so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”
Happy Father’s Day!