As I write this blog I am keenly aware that today is my father’s birthday. Being a father myself (both to my son, and, more broadly to my parishioners) I have spent no small amount of time appreciating the influence of my dad. This is also the week leading up to Father’s Day on Sunday. I’m sure I’m not the only one with thoughts about the Pater Familias– the father of the family.
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them a new way to speak to God and about God– God the Father. "Pray then in this way: Our Father who art in heaven…(Matt. 6:9)" Every time Episcopalians (and many other Christians) gather we pray this prayer. Perhaps reminding ourselves, in no uncertain terms, that we are all sisters and brothers of one another and children of our heavenly parent. However, I wonder how often we forget that notion even as we leave the church? The words of my own father often come to mind. He used to say to me and my brothers, "Remember, as you leave our home, you are a Baker and you represent our family when you leave these doors." Of course, the implication being, "Behave yourselves and conduct yourselves in a respectful and honorable manner." Jesus said very much the same thing in Matthew’s gospel, "God is holy so too are you to be holy." It is a tall order indeed but it is also the mission of Christians everywhere to not only represent the Kingdom of God as citizens of that Kingdom but also to behave as children of the Most High by loving our neighbor as ourselves and loving our heavenly Father. Thanks be to God it is a process and by God’s grace one that goes on throughout our life times. When we have lived that life, hopefully when we reach our heavenly mansion we will hear those blessed words, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:34). I will close this blog with one of my favorite writes, Fredrick Buechner who wrote the following thoughts on the word "Father".
"When a child is born, a father is born. A mother is born too, of course, but at least for her it’s a gradual process. Body and soul, she has nine months to get used to what’s happening. She becomes what’s happening. But for even the best-prepared father, it happens all at once. On the other side of the plate-glass window, a nurse is holding up something roughly the size of a loaf of bread for him to see for the first time. Even if he should decide to abandon it forever ten minutes later, the memory will nag him to the grave. He has seen the creation of the world. It has his mark on it. He has its mark upon him. Both marks are, for better or worse, indelible.
All sons, like all daughters, are prodigals if they are smart. Assuming the Old Man doesn’t run out on them first, they will run out on him if they are to survive, and if he’s smart he won’t put up too much of a fuss. A wise father, sees all this coming, and maybe that’s why he keeps his distance from the start. He must survive too. Whether they ever find their way home again, none can say for sure, but it’s the risk he must take if they’re to find their way at all. In the meantime, the world tends to have a soft spot in its heart for lost children. Lost fathers have to fend for themselves.
Even as the father lays down the law, he knows that someday his children will break it as they need to break it if ever they’re to find something better than the law to replace it. Until and unless that happens, there’s no telling the scrapes they will get into trying to lose him and find themselves. Terrible blunders will be made—disappointments and failures, hurts and losses of every kind. And they’ll keep making them even after they’ve found themselves too, of course, because growing up is a process that goes on and on. And every hard knock they ever gets knocks the father even harder still if that’s possible, and if and when they finally come through more or less in one piece at the end, there’s maybe no rejoicing greater than his in all creation.
It has become so commonplace to speak of God as “our Father” that we forget what an extraordinary metaphor it once was."
From Fredrick Buechner’s Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter’s Dictionary. ©1993