Sunday, June 16, 2013

June 16, 2013

Rev. John Watts

NampaFirst UMC

 

CRISIS IN THE HIGHEST OFFICE OF THE LAND

Psalm 103:1-18

We do have a crisis in the highest office of our land.  It’s been clear for some time now but the passage of time has made it clear even to those who couldn’t see it before.  It’s really no longer even a subject for debate.  The question isn’t whether something has seriously gone wrong in our nation’s highest office.  The question is what we are going to do about it.  So I want to talk to you today about this national crisis and what we can do about it.  There’s a lot we can do, and we don’t have to wait until the next election.  Because the highest office of the land is . . . Dad.

Some of you were getting nervous, weren’t you?

I quote from Mort Zuckerman:  “Fatherlessness is killingAmerica.”  Absent fathers are wreaking havoc on our nation.  That absence might be physical.  It might be emotional.  Either way the consequences of a dad who isn’t there are devastating to families and ultimately to our nation.  It’s a lot more serious than the latest scandal inWashington,D.C.

Fathers hold a high and sacred office in our land.  Now I know I risk getting in trouble by referring to fatherhood as the highest office.  Mothers hold a high office, too.  I’ve saved an old “Blondie” cartoon that appeared just about the time women were starting to question their subservient role at home.  The phone rings and someone asks to speak to the head of the house.  Blondie and Dagwood are seen arguing over which one should pick up the phone and their teenage son tells the caller, “You’d better call back.  It might be awhile.”

In our own family, I am head of the house.  I make all the major decisions.  That was what we agreed to before we got married.  Helen and I have been married for almost 34 years now and amazingly enough in all these years there hasn’t been a single major decision we’ve had to make.  They’ve all been minor ones.  Helen takes care of those.

It can get confusing.  The roles of what the father does and what the mother does used to be so clear.  Now they aren’t clear at all.  Especially with working moms, dads are called upon to do many of the things we used to think only women could do.

There was a woman who was out of town on a business trip on her son’s sixth birthday.  She left her husband in charge.  The house was filled with screaming children.  After the cake and the ice cream and the indoor games, he decided it was time to let them play outside in the snow.  But first he had to make sure they were all bundled up.  He helped them one by one with their galoshes.  By the time he got to the last boy, he was exhausted.  Of course, the last boy’s galoshes wouldn’t unbuckle.  With great effort he managed to pull the unbuckled galoshes over the boy’s shoes.  By now he was out of breath.  The boy just stood there.  The dad said, “OK, you can go outside and play with the others now.”  The boy said, “These aren’t mine.”  So this dad struggled once again, this time to pull them off the shoes.  And of course the shoes cam off, too.  He had no sooner pulled the second one off than the boy said, “They belong to my sister, but she lets me wear them.”

It’s not easy being a dad these days.  It never has been.  But it’s a very important job.  I’m not going to say it’s more important than mom’s, but I did come across an interesting statistic.  In homes where the father is an active believer, 75% of the children will grow up to be active believers.  In homes where the father is not an active believer, but the mother is, 15% of the children will grow up to be active believers.  When it comes to the spiritual and moral development of children, the father’s role is huge.

A prison volunteer contacted a greeting card company to see if they would donate a supply of Mother’s Day cards to the men’s prison.  They did.  Boxes of them.  The prisoners were told that if they wanted to send a card to their mothers, cards were available.  The demand was unbelievable.  They ran out of cards way before they ran out of sons who wanted to send expressions of love to their mothers.

Since this was such a success, the same volunteer asked for a supply of Father’s Day cards.  Again the prisoners were told that the cards were available.  This time the demand was not so great.  In fact, this time not a single card was taken.  Not a single prisoner wanted to express love to his dad.  I’m sure in many cases, maybe most cases, they had no idea where their dad was and couldn’t have sent a card if they wanted to.  And I’m sure that for a great many of them, they wouldn’t have wanted to.

I had a little fun at the beginning making you think I was going to talk about our president.  Well, now I am!  President Obama was raised without a father.  His father did what way too many fathers do inAmericatoday.  He left.  His son’s only memory of him is a brief visit when he was 10.

So our president is in a unique position to talk about the national crisis of the absent father.  He has addressed this subject several times, most recently in his commencement address atMorehouseCollege.  Here’s what he said:

Be the best father you can be to your children, because nothing is more important . . . I was raised by a heroic mom and wonderful grandparents.  They made incredible sacrifices for me . . . But I sure wish I had had a father who was not only present, but involved.  I didn’t know my dad.  And so my whole life, I’ve tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father was not for my mother and me.  I want to break that cycle where a father is not at home, where a father is not helping to raise that son or daughter.

Today’s text is one of many places in the Bible where the image of “father” is used to help us understand the nature of God.  “As a father has compassion for his children, so the LORD has compassion for those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13).  In other words, God is like a good father.  If you had the best father ever, think of him.  If not, think of the best father you can imagine.  God is like him, and more.  God’s love for us is like a father’s love for his children.

So we can apply this connection between God’s love and a father’s love to the whole passage.  It says here that God is “merciful and gracious and slow to anger.”  That means dads are supposed to be merciful and gracious and slow to anger.  That “slow to anger” part is something some dads need to work on.  It goes on to say that God abounds “in steadfast love.  He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever.  He does not deal with us according to our sins” (103:8-10).  In other words, mercy is given priority over justice.  God doesn’t give us what we deserve.  God gives us better than we deserve.  And so do godly fathers.

Of course no father can ever come close to being “like God” in any absolute sense.  “As the heavens are high above the earth” so much higher and greater and better is God than even the best of us.  But even so, our children are going to look at us and whatever they see when they look at us is going to be how they are going to tend to see God.

A little girl was dying of leukemia.  Everything that possibly could have been done had been done.  Now her parents had accepted that she wasn’t going to get better and they just wanted to do all they could to let her know how much they loved her.  One night as her dad was tucking her into bed, the girl looked up and said, “Daddy, I want to ask you a question.  Is God as nice as you are?”  The father was a little taken aback.  He said, “God is a whole lot nicer than I am.”  And the little girl said, “Then I know I’m going to like God a whole lot.”

That’s our job, as fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers and Sunday school teachers, to make sure our children like God a whole lot.

That’s not being done very well in a whole lot of cases today.  There is a crisis in the highest office of the land.  It’s not just a crisis of child abandonment.  It’s more than deadbeat dads who father children and then leave and assume no responsibility for them. It’s also the dads who stay home and pay the bills and play the role of Dad but are emotionally absent from the lives of their children.  These are the dads who have other things besides being Dad that matter more to them.

There is a pair of old diaries.  They date back about 150 years.  One was kept by Charles Francis Adams, our ambassador toGreat Britainduring the Civil War.  He was the son and the grandson of United Statespresidents.  He is credited with persuadingGreat Britainnot to recognize the Confederacy.  Had they done that, it could have changed the course of history.  Charles Francis Adams was a very busy, very important man.  He wrote in his diary one day:  “Went fishing with my son today — a day wasted.”  But we also have the diary of his son and his son’s entry on that very same day:  “Went fishing with my father — the most wonderful day of my life!”

Our greatest strength can often be our greatest weakness.  The greatest strength for a great many men is that we are strong and confident and self-reliant.  We’ll get the job done.  We’ll make it happen.  Even if it’s all up to us.  We don’t really need any help.  That’s a great strength.  That’s also a terrible weakness.  There’s an old saying:  “A man alone is in bad company.”

I’m encouraged that men are discovering more and more what women had figured out a long time ago.  We need to support each other.  Every Saturday we have a group on men from this church meeting for Bible study.  Last Tuesday was our monthly men’s breakfast.  To be our best, as husbands and fathers but also just as men, we need each other.

There was a young man whose wife had died, leaving him with a small son.  The night of the funeral they went to bed early because the pain was just too great to do anything else.  As the father lay in the darkness alone with his thoughts, his son called out from his room.  He wanted to know where Mommy was and when she would come home.  He picked his son up and carried him into his bed.  They talked in the dark for a few minutes, then the little boy asked, “Daddy, is your face toward me?”  He was told that, yes, it was.  The boy reached out and touched his dad’s face.  He said, “If your face is toward me, I think I can go to sleep.”  He did.

The father was still awake, so he took a moment to pray.  He said, “God, my life is very dark right now, but if your face is toward me, I think I can make it.”

By ourselves we’re not going to make it.  Even tough, self-reliant men.  But with the help of others and especially with the help of God, I think we can.

Psalm 103 says God’s love is from everlasting to everlasting and God’s righteousness “to children’s children.”  As fathers, the love we give and the righteousness we live will make a difference long after we are gone.  A difference in the lives of our children, our children’s children, our children’s children’s children, and on down the line.

What’s so alarming about the “crisis in the highest office of the land” is not the consequences we’re seeing all around us today, alarming as those consequences are.  Worse are the long-range consequences as children grow up without fathers, as children who were never loved have children, as the dysfunctionality of today is passed on and multiplied from generation to generation. Helen and I are not yet grandparents.  When and if we ever get grandchildren, we’ll be pretty old if we ever get to see great-grandchildren.  But I wonder what the world will be like for my children’s children’s children.  I wonder if the life I live now will make a difference in the kind of life they will live then.

Mother’s are important, too.  Terribly important.  But fathers, don’t forget.  In homes where the father is an active believer, 75% of the children will grow up to be active believers.  And in homes where the father is not an active believer but the mother is, 15% of the children grow up to be active believers.

A five-year-old was just beginning to understand death.  It bothered him.  He had lots of questions about it.  He knew his Dad could answer his questions, so he asked him:  “Daddy, what would I do if you died and Mommy died and my brother died?”  His father was not quite prepared for such a question so he answered, “I don’t know.  What do you think you would do?”  The little boy thought for a moment and then he said, “Well, I guess I would just get on my tricycle and go on down to church.”

 

Dear God, our heavenly Father, thank you for the men you sent to be our fathers here on earth.  If not for them, many of us would not be here in church this morning.  It’s our turn now, many of us, as fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers.  It’s an awesome privilege and responsibility.  We need your help, dear God.  So many tiny lives are hanging in the balance.  Help us, strengthen us, bless us, and through us, bless our families.  In Jesus’ name,  Amen.