By swapping the readings for next week to this week, we now have the perfect reading for Father’s day:
‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.’
That will teach me to glibly say to those preparing the All Age Worship for next week, “that’s fine you can use the readings set for this week, we will just swap them around”.
The reality is though, that most parents have heard their children say at least once, “I hate you”. It may have been the three year old being made to sit at the table until they have finished their vegetables, or the 15 year old who has been told they can not go with all their mates to the night club that only opens at 11pm. The phrase, “I hate you” is said with profound anger and frustration. Fortunately, dads and mums who hear this tirade know not to take it personally. Usually by the next day the three-year-old is ready to snuggle up on dad’s lap ready for a cuddle and a good bedtime story. The 15 year old might take a week or so, but won’t hesitate to ask Dad if he can rush home at lunch time and pick up the forgotten school assignment.
Sadly, Father’s Day does not bring warm memories for everyone. Some fathers were so abominable that it is not surprising if their children hate them. There are also men who might have made great parents but for one reason or another never had children. So, as we celebrate Father’s day we also stand alongside those for whom it is a sad day.
All dads have good days and bad days. I suspect most of us have more good days than bad, and as the dad’s learn the difficult art of being a parent we learn to apologise for the awful days. We also learn to do some growing up ourselves. These days most of us make choices about becoming a parent. We choose when and how many children. It is not quite that simple, as the plans of mice and men rarely go quite to plan.
I have two families on my prayer list at the moment who are both desperately praying, one for safe delivery of mother and child and the other that they might have a child. I hold those couples in my prayers each day. But generally, these days we choose to be parents. Fortunately, most of don’t fully appreciate the decision we are making. Mother nature has a habit of whispering in our ear when we see other parents with their saintly little child.
Once the decision has been made most parents step up to the task feeding and nurturing their children, making huge sacrifices so they can get a good education. They sit with them for long hours when they are ill or drive all over the country side so they can play sport. Now of course it is not all sacrificial love. There are moments of sheer joy. Our child comes bursting out of the kindy door with outstretched arms calling joyfully, daddy. We watch with pride as they receive their graduation certificate from University. The camera is not always there to capture that moment, but the heart doesn’t forget.
So to day let’s give thanks for dads, for granddads, and for all the men who provide wonderful role models even when they don’t realise it. Thank you!
Now as I said, I inadvertently chose the worst possible reading for Father’s Day. So, let’s see if we can make any sense of it. Maybe it is not the worst.
Jesus says, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother…, cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26
First of all, lets remind ourselves of exaggeration, hyperbole. I sometimes say, I used to work for telecom, a million years ago. Clearly, I wasn’t alive a million years ago. It is a slight exaggeration! The Hebrew people used exaggeration in much the same way we do. It is a figure of speech that creates humour or shocks and therefore sticks in the mind more easily.
Secondly it is important to remember that families in Middle-Eastern countries as in many tribal cultures exert a huge amount of power over their adult children. The sort of scenario we know well from Romeo and Juliet. Here is a young couple who are duty bound to hate each other. That is what their family expects and even demands. They don’t, they love each other. Jesus speaks into that kind of profoundly unhealthy dynamic. If your family expect a suffocating lifestyle that runs counter to the Gospel Jesus calls us to be ready to leave and become “persona-non-grata”. Francis of Assisi also had expectations placed on him. He would join his fathers growing mercantile business and like his dad become very wealthy and powerful. With this kind of scripture passage in mind Francis strips off naked to hand back to dad every item that symbolised the growing capitalism of the early sixteenth century. Francis was prone to a good dose of exaggerated exuberance making many wonder if Francis was mad rather than holy. But Francis chose not to be bound by unhealthy expectations which hindered the Gospel.
The third thing to keep in mind is that Jesus had made up his mind to go up to Jerusalem. As I said a couple of months ago, it was like he was in a pressure cooker environment, he was so focused on going into direct conflict with the religious and political leaders. He knew it would end in crucifixion. Nothing else was important by comparison.
So, with those three things in mind, what is Jesus saying to us today.
Jesus wants us to make a choice which is a bit like choosing to be a dad or choosing to get married. These things are hugely important and deserve to be given plenty of thought before you commit. We need to take very seriously not just the tangible cost, that is the easy bit. No we need to consider the real challenge of sacrificial love and the need to grow up to be a genuinely loving and responsible parent or spouse. Parenting and married life are like a wonderful cauldron that distils in us the very best that we have to offer. Following Jesus is equally if not more so a cauldron distilling us.
Now I seem to have mixed metaphors here. Surely a still is used to distil pure water or fine whiskey. We tend to think of a cauldron as volcanic or as something to brew up a witch’s potion. However we often feel a large portion of chaos thrown into the cauldron of parenting and marriage and yes even Christian discipleship. It doesn’t feel like pristine stainless steel, temperature controlled, refining.
But here is the good news, if we men step up to be the dads that we are called to be we will discover the moments of joy come more often. We may have to take out the heart of stone that sees the child who is driving us crazy as an abomination and instead nurture a heart that sees the child/ adult child as a gift from God. We are called to nurture them to reach the full potential of being themselves and not to be the child we need.
Likewise, with marriage we are called to step up and be the husbands we are called to be. The cauldron has a good portion of chaos, but the magic distils goodness. If you jump out of the cauldron you will almost invariable find the next wife and the next are just as bad, because it was us who were being called to step up. Again, the good news is we discover rich joys that we could not have imagined. When we hold up the champagne at the 70th wedding anniversary we will be able to look back and say 70 great years.
And of course, women, while I have addressed this mainly to men, it is not unique to men. Men and women are called to step up.
As for granddads and grandmas, uncles and aunts, role models, we have a different role. The relationships are different. Perhaps not quite as challenging but they can be very important. I guess we are partly called to give the parents and grandchildren, nieces and nephews even space to make their own mistakes. Give them space to be abominable at times. And yet let them know that there is a store of deep love and hopefully a goodly portion of wisdom that they can call on at any time.
Now hopefully in all this rambling we haven’t forgotten the Gospel. Jesus invites us to choose carefully to be disciples. He is calling us to live a life that is committed to bringing about the Kingdom of God here and now. Jesus wants us to realise that it will be like being in a cauldron at times. It will be hard, confusing painful at times. But again, the Good News is that in this cauldron of discipleship the blessings being to appear more and more often, the abundance of life bubbles up like good champagne and there is the wonderful eternal dimension to it. Our life gains a great sense of meaning and purpose beyond our imaginations. So yes, we need to think three times before following Jesus. If we step up into the role of disciple, we discover rich joys abound.
Happy Father’s Day
Don’t forget, Jesus said:
‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother…, cannot be my disciple”.