Monday, June 20, 2011

Show Me the Way to the Father...

The Rev. Amy Morehous
Trinity Sunday, Year A
Church of the Ascension
June 19, 2011

Genesis 1:1 - 2:4

With the whole church:
With people everywhere:
With all creation:

(Iona Community Daily Prayer)

Today is Father’s Day. To be perfectly honest, I’ve always tried to avoid preaching on Father’s Day, because for most of my life it’s been a holiday that made me profoundly uncomfortable. So today, I get Father’s Day AND Trinity Sunday all in one day. That’s like a theological double-whammy for me. (That just goes to show you what happens when you try to avoid something.)
I’ll bet, at some point in time, there’s something about the idea of the Trinity that’s made you uncomfortable, too. “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.” Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Now, I am perfectly comfortable with the idea of the triune God. That’s not the part I trip over.

No, the hard part for me has been God the Father. Most of you know that my father left our family when I was quite young. Even before that, he and my mother had a turbulent relationship. I grew up in the midst of frequent chaos and instability. As my mother now says, “We really knew how to suck all the fun right out of dysfunctional.”

So, as a child growing up, you can see why I would be confused as to why I would call God, “Father.” I really had very little understanding of what that meant. There was what I saw on television or in movies. After all, there clearly were some great fathers out there. I was really fond of Mike Brady. And Heathcliff Huxtable. And Clark Griswald. (You can see how my perception might’ve gotten a little skewed!) On television or in the movies, everyone had a great dad. Dads who drove station wagons, and played catch, and told their kids to brush their teeth, and get good grades. However, reality did not seem to work that way in our house. Maybe it didn’t in yours either.

As I got older, God gave me the gift of re-formation. I saw God the Father in different places. There were the young parents who signed up to be a youth leaders at church, who were also the first people I had ever seen demonstrate that you could be married AND happy at the same time. My good friends all had fathers who hosted me in their homes for sleepovers and dinner after dinner after dinner, without question or explanation. I had teachers who challenged and pushed me. There were the fathers who chaperoned the school field trips. Who drove the cranky and unbearably hot bus to away football games. Who schlepped instruments to countless performances for the band. Then came my stepfather, who was brave enough to marry a woman who had two teenage daughters, and live to tell the tale. And then there was my husband, who I’ve had the sheer joy of watching grow into being a spectacular father to our daughter.

I’m here to tell you that it took all of them to help me understand God the Father. It took a whole community to help me understand that kind of loving relationship. But that’s how God works. We understand the Trinity in their relationship to each other. God’s full self is best expressed not alone, but in a triune communion, one substance, three persons. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. God the Father who loved us into being, God the Son who came down to be human and live among us and redeem us, and God the Holy Spirit, who dwells in each of us.

I experienced all those faces of God in the community that helped raise me, mentor me, befriend me, and educate me. What I lacked in a father, God gave me in other fathers - in the people that surrounded the people that surround me still. It took all those people, over the past 39 years, to help me come to understand that holy, all encompassing love. They helped to bathe me in God’s unconditional love, peace and grace. Without them, I would be a far different person than I am today.

So for all of you fathers who have shown up today to sit with your children, or who are thinking of children far away, thank you. You are nurturing not only your relationship with them, but you are helping them understand and explore their relationship to God by your presence in their lives.

To the mothers out there who are being mothers and fathers, thank you. Know that you are not alone in your struggles, that there are many of us who count ourselves lucky to know and love you and your children.

And for each one of you out there today - men and women - who have shown extravagant kindness to children who weren’t your own, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Today is for you, too. That kind of unselfish, embracing love matters in the kingdom of God, and the child whose life you impact will always remember it, even if you don’t. I can think of no better way to live into Christ’s great commission to the disciples, than to be present to the children in our community. There are few people more vulnerable, or in greater need.

If you listened to Jesus’ last instructions to the disciples in the gospel of Matthew, I hope you heard the verbs in it. Jesus says, “Go. Make disciples. Baptize. Teach.”

God calls us all out of our comfort zone today, to do that with all God’s children. Because what it comes down to, in the end, is relationship. God calls us to go forth from this place, to walk outside those doors, to step out of our warm, familiar routine, and look for ways to be in relationship with those around us. All those around us...not just those who look like us, act like us, dress like us. All those around us.

Nowhere in that commission does Jesus say, “Sit back, and welcome those who come to you.” Welcoming is good - we want to be welcoming. But Jesus says, “Go forth. Make disciples. Baptize. Teach.” And yes, that probably makes you uncomfortable. It does so because relationship requires a bit of risk. It’s a risky thing that Jesus asks us to do. Because with true relationship comes the possibility of being hurt, of being unsettled, of being uncomfortable. He’s asking us to do something which he knows will make us uncomfortable. But we have our travelling companions in other disciples. Jesus never sends them out alone. And we have the risen Christ’s promise that he will be with us, always, to the end of the age.

Jesus asks you today to live into your discipleship. We can show up here on Sunday, and be members. We can enjoy each other’s fellowship today, and go home with warm, fuzzy, happy feelings. All of those are good things. I love a good fuzzy feeling as much as the next person. But that’s not the work of disciples. Disciples of Christ are here to build bridges into the community, to go forth from our comfortable place into a world in need. There are people - children and adults - out there in the world today who don’t understand that they are important to God, that their lives matter. There are people who yearn to know that they are priceless because they are the very children of the living God. Those people are waiting on us to shine Christ’s light into their lives.

In a few minutes, we’ll be living out part of our discipleship by participating together in the baptism of two children. Listen to the vows you make to each other, to the children being baptized - and to all of God’s children. Do not make your vows before God lightly, but do it purposefully, and with great joy. Make your baptismal vows before God, knowing that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit will be with us all. Always.