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Forget Father's Day

6/20/04

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Did you know that Father's Day wasn't an official holiday till 1972? it was first celebrated in 1910, but it wasn't official like Mother's Day till '72. Fatherhood took on new importance in the 70's when studies showed that a common link among serial killers, homosexuals, juvenile delinquents, and the prison population in general was the lack of a competent, loving father in a child's daily life. Having said this I still say, forget Father's Day. Yes, rather then celebrating fatherhood, thanking your father or finding out how to be a father, it's far more important to find out who your father really is.

Is your father a man? I don't mean is he manly, but is he a flesh and blood human being? If you grew up in a loving home with a caring father, you'll immediately say, "Yes, my father is a man." Now, if you didn't grow up with a loving father. If you grew up without a father, or with one who didn't care about you, ignored you, or mistreated you, you're still likely to say, "My father is a man. He' my friend's dad. My older brother. My uncle. My next door neighbor." Even if you had no father figure in your life, even if you had no positive male model at all, your father is still probably a man. It's you. You stand on your own two feet. You take full responsibility for your actions.

Having a man for your father works fine through most of life. Whether you rely on a biological father, a male role model, or yourself, a flesh and blood father can do a lot for you. But then you run into something bigger than flesh and blood. Do you see proud, sure Death in the text? It's carrying a young man away. The large crowd from the town can't pull the young man out of Death's jaws. His grieving mom is helpless to stop Death too. Do you think if the young man's father was there, he could have?

You and I are that helpless in the grizzly face of Death. Our fathers who are on earth can't help us in the face of Death. If we're dying, all they can do is watch. O they can get us the best medical care; they can speak words of encouragement, but when Death snaps shut its jaws, they can't open them again. It's not any better if they're the one's dying. I was sadder when my mother died, but I was more afraid when my dad died. Sitting alone before my dad's coffin I realized he was just a man after all. Though he lived in Christian disregard and destain of death throughout his life in the end it swallowed him as easily as it had everyone else I'd seen die.

Forget Father's Day; it's more important to figure out who your father really is. If all you have is an earthly father, it's not enough. If your strength doesn't extend beyond flesh and blood whether it be somebody else's or your own, know this: the arm of flesh will fail you. Okay, okay, enough already. God is my Father then.

Yes, that's a good answer, isn't it? He is all sufficient. Didn't we chant in the Introit that the cattle on a thousand hills are His? Surely then, He has more than enough to help us in every physical need. And isn't He a good father? In the Collect didn't we describe God as the One "from whom all good proceeds?" So what but good should we expect from the hands of our heavenly Father? And doesn't our Father in heaven promise to help and deliver us? Doesn't He command us to "Call upon Me in the day of trouble," and doesn't He promise us, "I will deliver you?"

What earthly father, what person of flesh and blood, could provide for us, protect us, or deliver us as our Father in heaven? Ah, but there's a glitch. There's this matter of what's going on in our text. There's the pesky matter of Death. Singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot in his ballad The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald asks the question that has never been answered. "Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?" Lightfoot sung of a freighter on Lake Superior going down with all 29 crew members. He pictures the families waiting onshore for news of the overdue freighter. Where is the God who has so much, does so much, and loves so much at times like this?

Look at our text. Do you see how St. Luke paints the details in painful, raw colors. "As Jesus neared the gate of the city, behold! was being carried out one having died, a young man, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow." It doesn't get any more tragic than this. The young man was the widow-woman's provider, protector, helper, and future, but now he is stone gold dead. Can any of you fathom what on earth God in heaven is doing in such a situation as this? Nearly all of you have experienced a death that made no sense. The very person most needed in a family was struck down by disaster, by disease, and Death just leers at you.

Where's the love of your heavenly Father now? Where's all His protection, providing, and promises now? All you can do is what this poor widow woman in the text probably did. All you can do is moan, "Why? Why? Why?" And you'll get no answer from heaven. Then you might pound on heaven's gates. You might even insult God. Dare God to show His face, like Job did, so you can have it out with Him one on one. But even your insolence gets no response from God, and you feel like an orphan.

Forget Father's Day. It's far more important to know once and for all who your father really is. We've seen the arm of flesh fails us at death and even in lesser tragedies. We've seen that a heavenly Father does many things that we can't fathom and just plain scare us. No, we need a father who is earthly flesh and blood like us, but heavenly too. In short, Jesus is the father we need. Don't be surprised. Isaiah calls Jesus, the Everlasting Father. Jesus tells us in John 14, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father."

You know what that means? You aren't seeing the Father's face when a carload of teens die in an accident. You aren't seeing the Father's face when the doctor tells you your cancer is inoperable. You aren't seeing the Father's face when the phone call comes in the night that your father has died. In fact, you're not seeing the Father's face when people point you to God doing this, or God doing that. You're not seeing the Father's face even when talk of God fills the air. You only see the Father's face when you look at the face of Jesus. So look at the text. Look at your Bible. Look at what Jesus does in the Bible not at what you think or others may tell you God is doing in the world.

What do you see Jesus doing in this text? I see Jesus facing Death down. St. Luke wants us to see this. He tells us Jesus, Life itself, meets Death face to face at the city gate. Death is carrying away another helpless victim right in the face of Jesus. "What are you going to do about it," sneers Death? And though the jaws of Death are clamped tight around this young man, Jesus sticks His hand right in.

There's a whole lot of theology, a whole lot of comfort behind this bold act of Jesus. You see Death has a right to that young man even as it has right to you and me. Who gave Death that right? Why God Himself did. He promised that the soul that sins shall die. We are all sinners. Death has a claim on us from the womb on. Death doesn't have to wait till we're 70 or 80 or have some disease that medicine knows kills people. Death can claim us anytime it wants. Well, that's how it was once. Once Satan wielded Death anyway he chose based on God's Word. "You said sinners must die. This guy's a sinner, so I claim him now." That's how it once was till Jesus, God the Son, showed up in our flesh and blood. This is what Hebrews 2:14 says. "Jesus partook of the same flesh and blood that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil."

Jesus can face down death because He has flesh and blood like us, but He is perfect. All the things that we don't do, all the things we can't do, Jesus did. And Jesus did none of the evil we have done. He is perfect Man, and Death has no right to Him. Yet, Death has a right to us. Death has a claim on us. On the cross Jesus honored that claim. Bearing all of our sins, Jesus spread His arms and said, "Come and take Me Death. Swallow Me whole." And Death did, but Death couldn't keep Jesus down because He's not just Man but God. Death could swallow flesh and blood but it couldn't swallow Divinity. Death had to spit God back out and because Man was attached to God in the Person of Jesus, Man went where God went; out of the grave all the way to heaven's throne. Those joined to Jesus by Baptism, by Communion go where He does.

God in Jesus reveals Himself to have defeated Death for us and more importantly God reveals Himself in Jesus as a Father who has compassion on us in tragedy. God in His majesty, God in His unrevealed will, God in His blinding light may seem distant and uncaring in tragedy, but God in Christ has "tears for all our woes and a heart for every plea." Our text says that when Jesus saw the grieving mother, "His heart went out to her." That's the special Greek word for compassion used only for Jesus in the NT. Hear this word in whatever tragedy you face, whatever grief, whatever trouble, even if you own sins caused it, hear that God is a compassionate Father in Jesus. He refuses to pay you back according to your sins because He already paid for them all.

Forget Father's Day; it's more important that you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is always your kind, loving, helping Father in Jesus. In the tragedies of life, in the griefs of life, in the problems of life, you are to stop looking at what God may or may not be doing, saying, or planning, you are to look only at the face of God in Christ. Do you ever see Jesus turning away from a heartbroken sinner? Do you ever hear Jesus saying someone is too sinful for Him to forgive or help? Did you ever see such a wonderful, helpful, loving Father as Jesus? Now that's a happy Father's Day! Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Pentecost III (Father's Day, 6-20-04); Luke 7: 11-17