“What Then Are We To Say?” – Rev. Tony Romaine – June 21st , 2020
As the father to a pastor, every year my dad gets to hear what stories have stuck with me; what I usually share as the beginning to my message on Father’s Day. And while I could list a multitude of stories, today I think it is important we talk about what we should say in the first place.
What then are we to say?
What is there truly left for us to say on Father’s Day in 2020 that has not already been said? What is there that we could possibly explain more about God, how He acts as Our Father, or what that love that comes from Him means? Truthfully, our explanations will most always fall short, and what we have to say is difficult and complicated. But I believe that we, as a society, are missing out on one very important basic step in our process of understanding God; our stories.
It is the memories we have and the stories we share that create the bonds of family, the bonds of continuity, and the bonds of love that we must continue to share regardless of how many times we share a similar story. I am reminded of an epiphany I had one time when listening to my Poppy tell the same story again that I had already heard many times. The epiphany I had was that I was not bored having to listen to it again, but that I cherished hearing it again, because I had heard it so many times that it was becoming my story now too! In fact, I find myself sharing those stories over and over again as if Poppy is telling them through me.
See, we all too often forget that for most of our human history we did not have this great compilation of God’s Holy Inspired Word, that we now call the Bible. For most of our human history we shared stories, we told the stories passed down from generation to generation, we told of our God who created us out of nothing, who loved us into being, who was a jealous God, but ultimately the jealousy is out of love for us. We shared how God flooded the whole earth but saved one family to begin anew. We shared stories of giant fish, of warrior men and women, of imperfect human beings; and we shared those because they not only allowed us to connect with an otherwise other God, but we shared them because in those stories we found ourselves.
In those moments of imperfection where men and women, dad’s and mom’s, children, friends, strangers, and all people lived. We shared because their imperfections were familiar to us; because those very same flaws and failures occur in and through us too. And we shared those imperfections because the humanity of it all was loved across time by an Immortal, Indivisible, All-Powerful, God; who despite our failures, still uses us for good, still believes in us, and ultimately loved us so much as to forgive everything we ever did!
Undoubtedly there are stories we do not want to continue. There are narratives that involve slavery, systemic injustice, war, death, sinfulness of humanity and the list goes on. But in an ironic way, we actually need to share these stories too. Not to hold over our heads as a weight that drags us to the depths of the seas; but rather, as a constant reminder that when we fail to know our history, when we fail to remember our past, when we fail to see the sin within ourselves before we condemn the sin in others; we only set ourselves up to repeat the sins of our fathers and their fathers. This does not mean we need to memorialize or celebrate our sinful past; but that we must learn and never forget. This is why the Cross is such a poignant part of our Christian story. A symbol of the place where Christ died, a reminder of what it took for us to gain eternal life, and a constant lesson in what a people will do to their own people out of religious misunderstanding and zealotry.
What then are we to say?
What we are to say is our story. We are to share what we hear in Scripture today. We are to talk about and remember on Father’s Day, Abraham, the “father” of the three mainline monotheistic religions of the world. As we say in church circles, the three Abrahamic faiths; Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. We are to talk about how Jesus Christ came from Our Father, to return us to Him and that in order to do this God recognized that there was nothing we could do in our power to be completely free from the sins of our humanity. That Our Father in Heaven gave the ultimate gift of becoming Incarnate so that we could recognize and learn and re-shape our pathways of hatred, exclusion, and misguided worship to a pathway of acceptance, love of all God’s Creation, and forgiveness. We must share that there is nothing we can do to gain God’s grace, but that it is a freely given gift from our Father to us. And we must share that while there is nothing we can do to gain eternal life, there is everything we can do to love our neighbor as ourselves in celebration of that gift; so that others may know of our story, of our God’s story, of the unconditional love of a Father.
We are to share that Our God is a giver of great gifts. That those gifts do not depend on how much we give back, that those gifts do not depend on who we are or where we live, that those gifts are not all the same, and that the gifts of our Father come with only one string attached…Our God only wants us to love Him. Let me say that again if I can; our Father only wants us to love Him! And in my human understanding of this great story that God has shared with me a thousand times over, this great story of God my Father, I would add that Our Father only wants us to know we are loved.
What then are we to say?
See this is one thing I feel our churches need to start doing more of; one thing Christians need to start doing more of…sharing the stories of their faith. Maybe that story is one of trial and tribulation where you feel God is a distant father who is never around, sounds like Job to me. Maybe yours is a story of wonder and awe at the very fact that we would be created at all, sounds like Genesis to me. Maybe yours is a story of a humble servant being called to great things despite their short-comings, despite their failings, despite their sordid past or sinful history, sounds like let’s see: Exodus, Jonah, Jeremiah, 1 Samuel, Acts, all of Paul’s letters, Esther, Ruth, and many more! Or maybe the story you wish to share is one where the world was given a chance to change and it did not realize it until it was too late; but now, no matter how late we are, we still have that chance. Sounds like the Gospels to me, or the Prophets, or even Revelations.
But please hear me say this, you do not have to be a biblical scholar to share the stories of the Bible. Your life, the stories you share, are the Bible. Your faith through thick and thin is the story that people want to hear. Your trust in God regardless of outcome is what our world needs. Your faith in the eternal life guaranteed by Jesus Christ without being able to see or know is the faith people will gravitate towards. And while you may not realize it, the impact those stories have, the continuity you provide, is what future generations will one day celebrate. Yes, the Bible is God’s Holy Inspired Word, but you are God’s Holy Creation living and breathing, making and sharing, writing the pages of future Bibles that have yet to be printed; the story of God, Our Father, in the world each and every day through your hands and feet!
I could tell you stories of a dad who carried me on his shoulders, who taught me to catch fish (or not how to catch fish, right dad!), who threw a baseball with me, who was imperfect and yet also perfect, who was patient and impatient, who was there and not there, who to this day I know loves me and I hope knows how much I love him. And while this is my story, this is also your story.
So what we are we then to say on this Father’s Day of 2020? We must share the stories the world has heard a thousand times already, because it needs to hear them again. We are to share the stories that make up our lives. We are to share the stories which make up our faith. And when we have nothing to say, we can fall back on the old standards, the stories we have heard a thousand times over. And in that comfort that comes through knowing the end; through knowing how the whole story ends, it is there we will find ourselves, our fathers, our lives, and our God.
Happy Father’s Day, Amen