8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us.
Father’s Day and Juneteenth
Happy Father’s Day to all of the fathers and grandfathers joining us today, as well as those who have served as mentors and role models to young people in your lives. Our reading from Psalm 103 provides us with a beautiful image of God, who is most frequently referred to as Father and Lord. It speaks of the Lord as One with “a long fuse, a short memory, thick skin, and a big heart,” as one writer beautifully described it. When we think of our own fathers or of your experiences being a Dad, we know that not all fathers possess these qualities, or certainly not at all times…and of course, throughout Scripture, God is described in a variety of ways too, not all of which are ideal. For many people of faith, the images of God in the Hebrew Scriptures as distant, remote, judgemental or vindictive have not been life-giving or helpful in their spiritual journeys. But there are the beautiful and compassionate images as well, and Jesus himself, expands our understanding of God in the Gospel stories. And so this morning, we give thanks for the fathers in our lives, for those who gave us life, and we give thanks to God the father for the ways in which he has remained steadfast and loving, compassionate and patient to us. Let us pray, Our Father in Heaven, we thank you for this day, for the gift of our lives, and for all the ways in which you accompany us through our days. Be with us and continue to guide us. Amen.
A brief story… A farmer walks along the furrowed row, stopping every three feet, to place a potato start into the soil. His young son keeps pace, on the opposite side of the furrow, weighted with a burlap sack of starts, wholehearted in assisting his father. He places starts into the soil; unhurried, deliberate, and methodical. There are times when he picks the start from out of the ground, in order to turn it, so that the eye of the potato may be placed at the exact angle.
A neighbor, who has been watching over the fence, decides to offer his opinion.” I see you’re planting potatoes,” he tells the farmer, “But I’ll tell you this; it’s going to take you a good long while at your pace. Let me tell you like it is: You’d get it done a whole lot faster if you’d plant this field by yourself.” “Well, that may be true, but I’m raising more than just potatoes,” responds the farmer with a smile.
In recent decades, Dads have often gotten a bad rap in terms of how they are depicted in movies or sitcoms or commercials. They seem to be dim witted or incompetent or just silly, but of course, we know from our own experience that there are absent fathers and flawed fathers, but my hope is that many more are committed fathers who take their responsibilities seriously and work hard to be present and involved in their children’s lives. Over the years, new understandings and new models of fatherhood have emerged. My own father, who did not have the best model in his father, was very involved in all of our lives and in the care of his grandchildren as well. I know so many wonderful fathers, whether they are single dads, divorced, or
co-partners in parenting who devote energy and time, as well as love and devotion to their children. God has often been named as father and that has posed its own problems for people of faith at times. I understand that there are studies which show that our attachments to our primary caretakers have a big influence on how we view God or the divine in our lives. If we have not had the privilege of being raised by a caring father, those issues may get in the way of our connecting to a God who is only named as ‘Father.’ And, we know that many people of faith carry images of God that are more often drawn from the God of the Old Testament, sometimes seen as remote, distant, perhaps unengaged, and certainly judgmental.
Those images can cause people great distress when they attempt to connect with a God they could imagine accepting them and loving them for who they are. The models of fatherhood of earlier generations too often overlapped with Old Testament models of God. Even today, there are fathers who embrace that model in their own parenting styles…and I would suggest, to their own peril. The dads I know who are able to really enjoy their children are the ones who have been able to break out of the stereotypical models and bring the best of who they are to their own children. We know that there are many ways to be a good father, but essentially, it’s all about the relationships. Sharing love, connection, openness to who their children are and remaining faithful and present to them provides a wonderful foundation for the kinds of covenantal relationships that God invites us to as well.
I did a little research on the history of Father’s Day, which I must admit, I had never known. Apparently, the first known event that was held to specifically honor fathers, was in July of 1908 at a West Virginia church. The Sermon focused on the memory of the 362 men who had died in the previous December’s explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah, but it was a one-time commemoration and not an annual holiday. The following year in Spokane, Washington, a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd tried to establish an official holiday equivalent to Mother’s Day for fathers. (She went to local churches, the YMCA, shopkeepers and government officials to drum up support.)
Sonora Dodd’s father had been a Civil War veteran, who raised her and her five siblings after their mother died in childbirth. The idea came to her in 1909 while listening to a sermon on Mother’s Day, which at the time was becoming an established holiday. She reached out to various church and community leaders and found support especially among local faith leaders. The first Father’s Day was celebrated on June 19, 1910, the month of the birthday of Dodd’s father. In 1924 U.S. Pres. Calvin Coolidge gave his support to the observance, and in 1966 Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson issued a proclamation that recognized the day. It became a national holiday in 1972.
In our Psalm today, we hear these lovely adjectives to describe the Lord…merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. The Psalmist explains that the Lord will not always accuse or will not hold onto his anger forever. In other words, he will not be vindictive or hold onto anger longer than is necessary. In the passage from Luke’s Gospel, we hear of Jesus chasing out the demons from the man who had been suffering for so long. It appears that the man has been suffering from some form of mental illness and he wished to be released from that terrible affliction. Jesus, in his compassion, acts so that he may finally be healed.
These readings today provide us with beautiful understandings of what God wants in our lives and models of how God lives in relationship to us. We know that throughout history, our God has been faithful and loving, has not turned away even when people have turned from him. And Jesus brought healing in mind, body and spirit to so many during his time. I think of the many fathers I met sitting vigil next to their sick children when I was a hospital chaplain, doing anything in their power to help their children know healing. And I remember my own Dad, my own husband, awake in the night, helping care for their children when they are sick.
I do hope and pray that however imperfect our fathers may have been that each of us were able to learn something important and positive about God the Father through their lives and how they loved us. May the memories of our own fathers bless us and grant us wisdom and hope in the days ahead. May God bless all fathers and grandfathers this day. And may our loving Father God continue to bless us with mercy and graciousness, patience and steadfast love. Amen.
A Father’s Day Prayer
Ground of all being, Great Nurturing Spirit, This morning especially, we give thanks For beautiful days right in summer,
For flowers and green trees and freshly cut grass and lazy lakeside afternoons, For the sound and sight and heart-swell of being together in this place made holy by our presence,
For church years gone well, For ice cream and all manner of frozen treats on warm summer days,
And for all who father. For all who have warm and loving relationships with their fathers and children, we give thanks. For those who for whatever reason did not know their fathers, we will try to remember that this can be an uncomfortable day for you and others. And for those whose relationships with their fathers or children is painful or complicated, we support you. This Father’s Day, we lift up our gratitude for all kinds of fathers, and for the amazing ways fatherly love transcends blood lines and legal categories.
And this morning especially, We pray for peace.
Peace in Ukraine and across our own nation,
Peace in far-away lands and peace at home,
Peace in our community, peace in every heart.
For these and for all of the hopes and aches and prayers of our own hearts we pray for love’s sake. Amen.