Like Your Father, a Father’s Day Sermon

By Jason Micheli, who blogs at The Tamed Cynic.

Perfect, Just Perfect – Matthew 5.38

     Dear Gabriel and Alexander,

Another year has passed! Boys, the more I enjoy our time together the faster it seems to speed by. Even to the two of you- looking at the photos on our cork board recently, Gabriel, I mentioned how much older you look now than you do in some of the photos.

And you replied: ‘Yeah, you look older too.’

No matter how old I look to you, boys, I hope you’ll at least realize that in your Father’s eyes you two are perfect, just perfect.

I told you last Father’s Day how I stole this idea of writing you a letter from Dennis (the other pastor at church). I figure Dennis spends much of his time taking credit for my hard work and brilliance so turnabout’s fair play. Boys, the folks in the 8:30 service won’t realize I’m joking but I trust you do.

I also confessed to you last Father’s Day how normally I have strong convictions against celebrating cultural holidays in worship. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day…they’re not Christian holidays. Christians have a different calendar and a different story I’ve always believed.

So in one vein you could say my writing you this letter for worship makes me a hypocrite.

But in another vein I think its a faithful act because if you two are not a means of God’s grace for me then God never spoke a Word.

Alexander,

You’ve been with us for three years now. It feels like yesterday and like you’ve always been here.

No longer do I need to hold you at night and reassure you that ours is your forever family. Instead you’re now content to hug me, pray your prayer, roll over underneath your covers and drift off to sleep.

This year thanks to those annoying place-mats your Aunt Andi bought you, you’ve memorized seemingly endless, inane Presidential trivia. You can tell us which President kept goats, which President was single, which President killed someone in a carriage crash.

And you do tell us, over and over and over, at every meal.

Sometime during this year, X, you finally got the hang of sarcasm. It was an answer to prayer.

There was the night I made polenta and onions for dinner and you leaned over your plate, inhaled the rising steam and said: ‘Man, I love polenta and onions.’

And there was the night after Christmas when we were stuck in New York City during the blizzard. I couldn’t see because of the snow and wind and I got us lost. And you said from behind your frosted hood: ‘Dad, you really know your way around New York.’

I suppose some parents wouldn’t want their kids to be sarcastic, but I thought it was perfect.

This year, X, I watched you on several Sunday evenings sit down on a love seat next to Eleanor, our elderly friend, and read to her. You had with her the same endless supply of empathy I see you display with your baby cousins.

I will forever remember the day before New Year’s, standing in the back of the funeral home and watching you kneel at Eleanor’s open casket and earnestly pray for her.

Far from feeling concerned for you, in that moment I thought you were perfect, just perfect.

This year, X, you’ve gone from not being able to swim at all to swimming Butterfly with the grace of, well, a butterfly.

Watching you in the water, you look perfect.

You may not even remember, X, but one evening this winter after swim practice another kid looked at you and then looked at me, and he asked you if I was your “real” Dad.

I wasn’t sure for a second if you knew what the kid was getting at, but then you said ‘Yeah’ and you grabbed my hand and you looked up at me and you smiled and I knew you got it.

And in that moment I felt perfect, just perfect.

Gabriel,

I can’t believe the little hands I first held at Easter four years ago are now holding #2 pencils and doing worksheets at the kitchen table.

I can’t believe you’ve gone from playing with the plastic astronaut toys Charlotte Rexroad gave you to explaining the revolution of the earth to me.

I can’t believe that the Legos you used to shove up your nose you’re now using to do math problems. I wish I could take those Lego pieces and subtract the time that’s gone by too fast.

This year you’ve learned to make pancakes. And you’ve learned to ride your bike without training wheels. Actually, you didn’t learn. You just announced you didn’t need your training wheels anymore and then you did it.

Like so many other things, you did it on your own terms. That same quality that often makes me want to wring your neck I think will one day make you a leader.

This year, Gabriel, you gave me my biggest laugh.

When we were camping, one morning while I was making coffee you emerged from the tent with your hiking boots on, your footy-jammies unzipped and hanging down your knees, with no underwear on and, for some reason, wearing your enormous orange skateboarding helmet on your head. You stepped from the tent, gave me a knowing grin and then marched over to a nearby tree to do your business.

Your mother won’t like that I’ve shared that story and I’m sure someone in church will tell me it was inappropriate, but I think it was perfect.

Perfect because you make me laugh, Gabriel.

Whether its wearing your underwear on the outside of your jeans, putting on a red cape and pretending to be Nacho Libre as you jump off the back of the armchair or whether its the glee in your eyes as you ring Mark Gunggoll’s doorbell and then run away before he can answer.

Your sense of humor- it’s perfect.

For your fifth birthday, Gabriel, you asked for a kitten. You named her Karli, and you’ve displayed with her nothing but gentleness. It’s the same gentleness that wakes me up every morning with your smiling eyes on the corner of my pillow and your hand rubbing my hair.

Speaking of which, Gabriel, you keep telling us you’re too old to keep sneaking into our bed at night, but you’ve yet to make good on your words. As you get older, my share of the bed gets smaller and smaller.

Even still, waking up to your gentle, smiling eyes is perfect, just perfect.

One afternoon this April, Gabriel, you walked in on me while I was struggling to write a sermon and you found me crying. You asked me why and I told about you about a little boy who’d died.

You blinked and then gestured emphatically with your little hands and said: ‘Poor him. His poor family. It’s a good thing Jesus loves all the children.’

And you didn’t know it but you’d just given me my sermon and, just like that, you’d reminded me that you’re perfect, just perfect.

Boys,

A few months ago we were in the checkout line at Safeway. Sharon Perry was behind us. She hadn’t noticed us but, Alexander, you saw that it was her. I could see the little gears in your head turning.

Alexander, you pointed up at an issue of Men’s Health and you announced loudly so Sharon (and everyone else) would hear you: ‘Dad, his muscles are way bigger than yours.’

I feigned outrage and threatened to teach you a lesson. Alexander, you responded by saying: ‘Dad, you could not beat anyone up.’

Maybe that’s true now, but it wasn’t always true.

There’s a story I tell the confirmation kids every year. It’s more like a confession.

When I was in the sixth grade, I was bullied mercilessly for 3/4 of the year. I was the pimply, awkward, new kid on the bus, and every day- every day- a boy who was two years older and sat in the seat in front of me would shame me, spit on me, pick on me and hit me.

There are worse details I could share but if I did you’ll never go to middle school. He literally made that year Hell for me, and, as is the way in Jr High, I suffered it in silence.

Everyone called him Frog because he kind of looked like one. It never occurred to me that he was the way he was because he’d been treated the same way he treated me.

Anyway, after suffering nearly a year of his abuse, I decided to put a stop to it. One afternoon I didn’t get off at my bus stop. I rode for three more stops and got off at Frog’s neighborhood. And then I beat him up. Badly.

Boys, when I tell that story to the confirmation kids, I always build it up in a deliberate way; so that, when I get to the part about beating Frog up the kids- girls as well as boys- they always applaud. They always cheer.

They always think the way I handled Frog was perfect.

And then I tell them the rest of the story.

I tell them how what I did to Frog made him a sad, timid person who never again looked me or anyone else in the eye. I tell them how I became a Christian some years after that, and I tell them about the Sunday morning I heard Dennis Perry read from the sermon on the mount at Woodlake United Methodist Church:

“I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Every year, boys, I tell the confirmation kids how, having heard Jesus’ sermon, I knew that if I was serious about being a Christian then I needed to ask for Frog’s forgiveness.

That’s what I did, in the parking lot of a grocery store where he worked as a bagger.

No one ever applauds when I end the story there. My Father’s Day wish is that one day you’ll become the sort of men who do.

Boys, in my eyes the two of you are perfect in every way. And I’ve no doubt God looks upon you with a joy similar to my own. But the hard Gospel truth is that the perfection God wants to see in us is a peculiar sort.

To be perfect is not to be sinless or without fault.

To be perfect in God’s eyes is to love those you’ve no inclination to love, to love those who do not love you, to love those who hate you and those you long to hate.

Jesus could’ve said it in so many other places in the Gospel.

When Jesus praised the generosity of the widow with her single coin, Jesus could’ve said: ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.’

When the disciples ask him how to pray, Jesus could’ve ended his lesson with ‘Be perfect as your Father is perfect.’

Or when Jesus told the rich, young man to sell all his possessions or when he told the lawyer “to love your neighbor as you love yourself’ Jesus could’ve added ‘Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfec

But Jesus says it here about turning the other cheek and loving your enemies and giving the clothes off your back to the person attacking you behind your back.

Don’t think, boys, this is about the avoidance of conflict. Because nothing will make enemies for you like a determination to love like Jesus, and that’s where faith comes in, boys.

After all, if you really did give your clothes to the person accusing you, then you’d be left standing there before a judge naked and that sounds ridiculous.

Except that’s exactly what Jesus did. You see it’s about faith, boys. Christians love their enemies not because its a guarantee our enemies will cease to be our enemies.

No, Christians love their enemies because that’s the same love that was nailed to a Cross. That’s the love God vindicates on Easter.

It takes faith- faith that if we love as Jesus loved then God will vindicate us too. Of course, boys, this sort of love is costly and counter-intuitive and doesn’t come any easier for your father than for anyone else in this world.

So I’m not the example you should be looking to. Instead you should strive to be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.

-Dad

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.


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