WHO'S YOUR ‘DADDY’?
June 20, 2010
[Several of you requested copies of this sermon, but because the illustration was to be used only orally I could not print it without permission with copyright.law. Fortunately, l was able to get permission, as you will see below.]
For Fathers' Day, I thought about what l might preach about as I read the lessons in the ecumenical lectionary. Upon considering the- text in the Apostle Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, my mind went almost immediately to the pop culture question that has been asked half in jest and half-seriously, "WHO'S YOUR: ‘DADDY’?" It has too often been asked because of the number of children born out of wedlock who were fathered by professional athletes. Basketball players, in particular, were and are notorious for fathering children with sports "groupies" and other women with whom they have one-night stands or sometimes longer term relationships.
Children aren't always the result, and this immoral behavior isn't limited to basketball, as Ben Rothlesberger a football player, and Tiger Woods, a golfer, and others prove. But when they are, the children are not to blamed for parent's irresponsible behavior.
Moreover, we must not judge people too harshly when they make mistakes or sin. For Christianity is not about laying down the law, whether we are talking about it in a legal or moral sense, it's about the Gospel or good news of God's love and forgiveness. That's what we read in the New Testament and what our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ taught about in word and deed. In this Letter to the Christians of the church in Galatia, Paul wrote about Christians being children of God through faith. To understand what he penned in this Epistle, it is necessary to explain about "The Law" or the Torah, a Hebrew word meaning "teaching." These are teachings or instructions or directions that are Divine from God, such as the Ten Commandments, or those that are from inspired .human beings, in this case Moses, to whom the first five books of the Old Testament are dedicated and whose own laws, especially those regulating the living of Jewish religious life are contained in the Torah.
So, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and. Deuteronomy, are known as the Torah or The Law in Judaism. As a rabbi named Saul, Paul would have been trained to teach this "teaching" and considered to be a teacher of the Law. When he became a Christian and was renamed Paul, who became the greatest missionary of the Christian faith that the world has ever seen, Paul had a unique perspective on the Law or Torah. He exposed the inadequacies of The Law and its moralistic legalities, yet he also appreciated the fact that it provided necessary discipline on the road to Christian faith and fulfillment.
Now, however, because of faith in Christ, Paul said that The Law was no longer needed as a pedagogue or servant responsible for getting a child to school or educated. For we are no longer mere children and spiritual descendants of Abraham and Sarah and of other matriarchs and patriarchs, but instead sons and daughters or children of God through faith.
Through Baptism, we have been clothed with or put on Christ, which is to say we have become his possession. We are His and He is ours--our Lord and our Savior as the actual and living Son of God. And as Christians we are children in one family--God's family. As Paul put it, There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
As Christians, who belong to Christ and who are descendants of Abraham and Sarah, too, we have a "Father" in heaven, as Jesus called God. He even used the more personal term, Abba, or "Daddy" to refer to God His Father.
Today, given concern about inclusive language, we do not usually refer to God as Father, except in the Lord's Prayer, which Jesus taught His followers to pray, or when using other traditional- prayers of the Church. We often substitute words like Creator for Father and that is apropos. However, many older hymns, such as those we are singing today, are about God the Father. We ought to use them, realizing that while the words are a bit archaic they're yet appropriate. For God is like a Father, as well as like a Mother, or like a Daddy, as well as like a Mommy, to us. Indeed, God is a heavenly Parent to us, yet God is and always will be God, so using earthly terms for God has to be done carefully and with the awareness that God is not human.
Our vision of God needs to be expanded. For some people, their view of God is black or white, and so their vision of others is too limited. For others, God is considered to be on the side of their nation over others and, therefore, their view of God is too American or too European. For some folk, God is thought of from the standpoint of their religion and thus they have a triumphalist attitude toward people of other faiths. We must be careful as Christians not to fall into this trap, since we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and our Lord and Savior.
God is the God and Father or Mother or Heavenly Parent of all people. For God made all of Creation and all creatures, great and small. We are blessed by God Whose love and care for Creation includes you and me and all of our sisters and our brothers in the human family. Our vision of others needs to be expanded, too. But that's a subject for another sermon.
On this Fathers' Day let us ponder how wonderful God's father-like care is. And let us realize that as fathers and mothers and simply as human beings we need to especially let children know that they are loved by God--no matter what their background or no- matter who their earthly father may be.
Yes, we have to take care lest children be stigmatized by thoughtless or judgmental people, including us. I've used this story before, but it's well worth re-telling, especially in this context. It is a true- story from Fred Craddock, a well-known Disciples of Christ pastor, professor, and preacher to preachers across the ecumenical spectrum.
Years ago, in a lecture at Yale, Craddock told his listeners that he and his wife once took a summer vacation trip with his wife to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One night they went to a little restaurant where they looked forward to a quiet meal--just the two of them. But while waiting for their meal to be brought, they saw a distinguished looking, white-haired gentleman moving from table to table, visiting with the diners. "Craddock whispered to his wife, "I hope he doesn't come over here." He did want the man to intrude on their privacy.
But the man did come to their table. "Where you folks from?" he asked amicably. "Oklahoma" "Splendid state, I hear, though I've never been there. What do you do for a living?" he asked looking at Craddock. "I teach homiletics at the graduate seminary of Phillips University." "Oh, so you teach preachers, do you? Well, I've got a story I want to tell you." And with that he pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with Craddock and his wife. Dr. Craddock said that he groaned inwardly. Oh, no, here comes another preacher story.
The man stuck out his hand. "I'm Ben Hooper. I was born not far from here across the mountains. My mother wasn't married when I was born so I had a hard time. When I started school my classmates had a name for me, and it wasn't a very nice name. I used to go off by myself at recess and during lunch time because the taunts of my playmates cut so deeply. What was worse was going through downtown on Saturday afternoon and feeling every eye burning a hole through you. They were all wondering who my real father was."
"When I was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to our church. I would always go in late and slip out early. But one day the preacher said the benediction so fast I got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. I could feel every eye in the church on me. Just about the time I got to the door I felt a big hand on my shoulder. I looked up and the preacher was looking right at me.
"Who are you, son? Whose boy are you?"
"I felt the old weight come on me. It was like a big, black cloud. Even the preacher was putting me down."
"But as he looked down at me, studying my face, he began to smile a big smile of recognition. ... `Wait a minute,' he said, `I know who you are. I see the family resemblance. You are a son of God.' With that he slapped me across the rump and said, `Boy, you've got a great inheritance. Go and claim it."'
The old man looked across the table at Fred Craddock and said, "That was the most important single sentence ever said to me." With that he smiled, shook the hands of the Craddocks, and moved on to another table to greet old friends.
Suddenly, Fred Craddock remembered. For two terms the people of the great state of Tennessee had elected an illegitimate, as the law then termed him, to be their governor. His name was Ben Hooper. [Dr. Craddock, now retired as the Professor Emeritus of Preaching and New Testament in the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, gave me permission on June 22 to use this story here in printed form.]
My friends in Christ, we are all the children of the One God of all people. And we have a great inheritance that we have been called to claim. It is up to us to do just that.
Go from this place to claim your God-given inheritance. Go, as Christians, to love and to serve God and other people today and always. And come back each Sunday to celebrate God's eternal love for you and all people which was made known through Jesus Christ.
The above sermon was preached by the Rev. Gary Hauze, Pastor of First Congregational Church, UCC, Whitman, MA