The message on Father’s Day used the lectionary of: I Kings 19:1-15a, Galatians 3:23-29 and Luke 8:26-39. The title was: “God’s Call.”
So today is Father’s Day. I come to the church on these commercialized days with a little trepidation. I want to acknowledge them, but there is always the thought that when you lift up some of these things there is always someone in the audience being left out, or perhaps someone who has mixed or bad feelings about the event. I personally can’t really remember too many times that we did anything special for my father, mostly on his choice, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that all of us can probably relate to someone who was an example to us, someone we looked up to in our lives, be it our biological father or another family member, a teacher, a coach, a neighbor, a boss perhaps or just an older friend. I am hoping that we all have someone we can think of to fill that slot, and hopefully for the majority of us, it is our biological father.
Yesterday James and I were in Bismarck, well Lincoln actually, for the wedding of his niece’s daughter. It was the first of the great-grandchildren of his parents to be married. As the father walked his daughter down the aisle and waited for the traditional “who gives this woman to be wed” question, you could see how tough it was for that father to part with a daughter, yet you could also see how he was welcoming this young man into his family at the same time. The really interesting part of the ceremony was what we might have had as a unity candle lighting moment, this couple braided three cords. They had a plank with the cords attached and a wording about how three cords together are harder to break. It was all part of the minister’s message about how there were more than just the two of them in their marriage. He said a marriage is three because it is the couple and God, and together the three are much harder to break than one alone. It was a very good message, and made me stop to think about God as father.
Being someone who leans just a little towards the feminist side of life, and someone who tries so hard to use more inclusive language and be open to all, I often avoid the father side of God, and perhaps days like this are good reminders for me that such a side exists and is also important. It is good that we look to God as we look to a father, to someone we can depend on, to someone who can guide us through the tough times, to someone who can call to us and show us the way to go. God is able to do those things for us if we open ourselves to the possibilities of God’s directions for us.
The lesson from the Old Testament this morning was just such a story. It was all about how Elijah ran away from what God was having him do. Elijah was terrified of the power of Jezebel and so he went far away from the king’s court. According to the story after traveling for a day he sat down under a tree and fell asleep. God sent an angel to wake him and feed him, this happened twice and after he had eaten the second time, he got up and traveled for 40 days without any more food until he ended up on God’s mountain, Mt Horeb in this story, but it is also known as Mt. Sinai where Moses picked up the commandments. And there on this mountain God found Elijah, hiding in a cave. Elijah was told to go out onto the mountain and wait for God to pass by. Basically he was summoned to go out and hear God speak to him.
We have heard the story already this morning so we know how it goes, in fact, I would guess most of us remember this story and knew the ending before I started reading it. As it goes, God sends several types of weather, first there is an extremely strong wind, but God does not speak through the wind. Next there is an earth quake, but God does not speak during the earthquake, and then there is fire, but God isn’t in that fire. And finally there is silence, and that is when God spoke to Elijah. It was through the quiet, the resting, the time of complete silence that God spoke to Elijah and gave him directions of what to do next, of where to go and how to do it. It was the direction of a father. This scripture was a story about the prophet Elijah, but the lesson in it is about how to find God, how to hear God our father.
Jesus in today’s story from Luke shows how the Son did his father’s work. In this story there is a man who is possessed by not just one demon, but by an entire legion of demons. It was interesting to read one of the commentaries on this story because they seemed to want to refute the idea of demon possession and call the problem with the man a mental illness. I am not so sure that these things are interchangeable, or if this instance can be explained in that particular light. On the other hand wouldn’t it be great if we could cure certain things in our days, but casting out the demons.
Well in this particular story according to the writings of Luke there was a man with many, many demons, and he was not able to function his whole life because of them. When Jesus came upon the man, the demons recognized who he was and what he was capable of doing to them. They were terrified and begged him to let them enter the swine herd because they were afraid he would send them back to the deep abyss where they would have to remain until the end times. Yet when the swine herd ran off the cliff, I am not so sure they didn’t go there anyway.
The focus, I kept thinking about as I read this scripture, I almost shouldn’t tell you because it shows my reading-teacher mentality. I kept focusing on the loss of that swine herd. I was in the “True Story of the Three Little Pigs” as told by A. Wolf. In that version, A. Wolf defends himself for eating the first two pigs, who died when their houses collapsed on them because he didn’t want to let a perfectly good ham meal go to waste. I couldn’t get off the idea of how upset the owners of the pigs were for losing their livelihood. I seriously thought that is why the people of the area asked Jesus to leave.
The truth was the demons were terrified when they realized exactly who Jesus was. They were afraid of what it meant to be in the presence of God’s own Son and the people of the area were also afraid. The kind of afraid where you are in awe of someone, so much that you are so overwhelmed by the person you don’t know how to react or act. The point that only Luke makes is that the healing the man received was more than just healing. The Interpreter’s Bible said the particular Greek word that Luke used for healing is also the word for saved. This man was not only healed by Jesus, but he was saved by Jesus. At the end of the story we read that the man was not encouraged to join Jesus and the disciples, but was told to return to his home and share his experience with everyone. And so he returned to his home sharing all that Jesus had done for him.
The epistle lesson that we had for today tells us what Jesus has done for all of us. Paul’s words tell us that because of Jesus we are no longer subject to the law, but we are all children of God through faith. Paul writes this scripture to the early church in a day when the temple was built with divisions. The outer division in the days of King Herod, which was around the time of Jesus, was open to all, Jews and Gentiles and men and women. It was in that area that the money changing happened. The next court was open to all Jews, even women, the next court was only open to Jewish men and the final area was only for the priests. Anyone who entered a court which they were forbidden to enter could be punished by death, and the Romans allowed the Jewish people to carry out that sentence even on Roman citizens.
In some ways in our time this particular scripture might seem like an obsolete passage except as a matter of historical reference, and at first I was going to leave it at that, just a bit of history. My thought was that we don’t need to hear these words, of course we are all equal under God isn’t that what our life, our freedoms here in our country are about? And the more I tried to fit that thought into today’s idea of Father’s Day and the other stories we have looked at, the harder it was to just flip over this idea of: “We are all one.” It just wasn’t coming out the way I thought it would.
Let’s go back and see how Paul said it. In verse 28 Paul writes, “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.” Now I see the problem, it is that last clause. If we would just stop with those first three examples then we could leave it historical, but when Paul sticks that last part on, it opens it up to all of the rest. Not just Jew or Greek, but American or __you fill in___, not just slave or free, but upper and lower and middle class or perhaps skilled or unskilled workers, higher degrees or high school or college drop outs or even gasp young vs. old. And then we have the not just male or female, but in today’s world male, female and even those others that we don’t want to name at all.
The truth is, We are all God’s children. We are all able to say, Abba Father as Jesus did the day he was crucified, the day that he brought salvation to all, even to us. It was the same day that he said, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” He was able to forgive those who crucified him, and he is able to forgive us. And because of that we are able to go to God as our Father and be accepted into his family just because we accept his grace.
Today is Father’s Day when we celebrate the Fathers we have among us, if not with tangible gifts, at least in congratulations, and for us today in this church by allowing some of them to make the song choices. In our lives we need to celebrate our eternal Father/God. We need to celebrate and thank and share our faith in the one God whose Son, who died for us, is so powerful that demons fear him. We need to celebrate our God who spoke to Elijah not through storms but in the silence. We need to do those things, but what we really need to do is more, it is the hard part, the actually difficult part where we step out of our comfort zone and look on others as equal to ourselves in the eyes of God.
Paul told the early church that they were now all one through faith. It means the same thing for us. No we don’t have divisions of outer court or inner court in our place of worship, but we still sometimes look at others as different than us. God the Father, God our Father let us know through the scriptures, through the sending of Jesus to die on the cross for us, that we are all loved, we are all wanted, we are all called to be children of God—equally. Let’s remember that specifically as we go about this week and let’s share our love for God with all the others we meet. Amen!