Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, August 20, 2018
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The Gift of Fatherhood

1st Samuel 15:34-16:13

 It’s a rather strange quirk that of the five Father’s Days that have come along since I became a father, this is only the second time that I’ve actually preached on Father’s Day.  Once or twice Annual Conference fell on Father’s Day.  Once or twice I was on vacation on Father’s Day, which I guess is the traditional way to celebrate it.  But I’m glad that I have the chance to preach today on Father’s Day because it’s something that has been on my heart lately.  It may be something that gets me into trouble, but I’m willing to take a chance.  

 In the last few years, I’ve read a few books about masculinity and spirituality and the Church.  I’ve been a part of several discussions about men and spiritual life.  I’ve seen several movies that dealt with the subject.  And the conclusion that I’ve been forced to come to is that we have a crisis of masculine Christianity in the Church today.  Go into any church and you will likely see that of the adults present, only about 40 percent are men, and most of the men that are there are on the older end of the age spectrum.  Young men simply are not involved in the Church.

 One of the books I read recently is called “Why Men Hate Going to Church.”  I wanted to bring it this morning, but I can’t seem to find it.  Either I lent it out and never got it back or I lost it in the move.  But the main point of the book is that men avoid the Church because the dominant culture of the Church is not appealing to the masculine spirit.  The Church places too much emphasis on love and emotions and relationships to appeal to most men.

 Don’t get me wrong.  There’s nothing wrong with any of those.  They are all vital parts of the Christian faith.  But they don’t have a broad appeal to men.  And they are not the only ways to understand what it means to be a Christian.

 The problem specifically for the Church today in America is that most men are uninvolved or at best, passively involved, they’re present, but they’re not doing much.  I’ve ever heard it said that if you want to preach a message to fathers, you have to do it on Mother’s Day because that’s when their wives are more likely to drag them to worship.  And if men are uninvolved in the life of the Church, then children grow up with the message that Church is for women and children.  Boys will grow up expecting not to be involved when they’re older, and girls will not expect their future husband to be involved.  The difference in their lifetime involvement in the Church between children

who are brought to church by both parents and those who are brought by one or no parents is startling.  One study I heard about said that children are 7 times more likely to stay in church if both parents are involved than if it’s only their mother.  

 The reason so few men are involved in the Church is because, often, it is unappealing to the masculine spirit.  Another book I read a couple of years ago was called, “Wild at Heart,” and I did find that one for today.  There the author’s main point is that the masculine spirit craves adventure and challenge and a sense of duty.  But those ideas are by and large missing from the church, replaced with an over-emphasis on emotions and relationships.  But those ideas are needed in the Church.  There’s more to being a Christian than just loving Jesus and having a relationship with him.  We are also called to follow Jesus.  

 Jesus called twelve men to follow him.  He called them to leave their familiar, predictable lives and go on a great adventure with him.  He challenged them to get out of their comfort zones and spend time on the road with him, sleeping under the stars, never knowing what each day would hold.  He asked them to face danger and uncertainty for the sake of a sacred duty.  He didn’t ask them to come be his friend; he challenged them to change the world!  Most churches today ask nothing more adventurous of men than to sit on the Trustees or collect the offering.  

 But we Christians have a duty and a challenge before us.  We are to resist evil and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves.  We are to change the world.  And the Church needs to recapture that message.  I’ve been very glad for the film ministry of the Sherwood Baptist Church which produced movies like Fireproof and Courageous.  They depict men in masculine, dangerous roles:  Firefighters and policemen.  And they depict those men taking up the challenge of being godly men, godly husbands, and godly fathers.  

 Well, now, what should we do?  How should we as the Church recapture some of that adventurous spirit?  

 First, I think we need to challenge men to take a prominent place in the spiritual life of their families.  Because it matters.  Society has bought into the notion that there’s no real difference between men and women, or even to say that men are not necessary.  But the facts don’t bear that out.  Children who grow up fatherless are much more likely

to become involved in crime or addiction or any number of other negative behaviors.  Where can a child learn what it means to be a godly man if not from a godly man?  

 I feel very strongly that wives, mothers, grandmothers, even children have every right to expect the men in their lives to take a prominent role in spiritual life.  And if the men in your life are not doing it, ask them to do it.  Challenge them to do it.  See if they have what it takes to be a man of God.  

 Second, I think the Church needs to recapture that message of challenge and adventure that Jesus gave to his disciples.  We need to get out of our comfort zones.  Often we need to get out of our buildings and become more involved in our communities.

 I’m very glad that when I was a teenager I found the Algonquin Canoe Camp that I’m still involved with to this day.  It taught me that living the Christian life can be a great adventure.  

 Third, Christian men should take a role in the spiritual lives of not only their own children and family, but also those who are spiritually orphaned or fatherless, those whose own fathers have no significant role in their faith formation.  I was one of those.  My own father was not actively involved in the Church for most of my childhood.  When I became a Christian, I found myself drawn to Christian men as spiritual role models.  I didn’t even know I was doing it, but as I look back now, I realize that the five most significant influences on my spiritual formation were all men.

 A few years ago, I was doing a Confirmation Class.  I had two young men in that class whose father was uninvolved in their lives.  On a hunch, I decided that all of the students that year should have “Confirmation Sponsors.”  I paired everyone up with an adult that I thought they would connect well with and who could help mentor them in their faith.  I think it was a good call because shortly after, their father died and was out of their lives permanently.  That happened in a formal way, but it doesn’t have to be formal.  It can be as informal as a Christian man taking an interest in the lives of the children of the Church to help them to grow up to know Christ.  That is, after all, a part of our vows as the church when those children are baptized.  

 One more thing:  I read that Scripture from Samuel, and up until now, I haven’t said a word about it.  Don’t you hate when the preacher reads something out of the Bible, then talks about whatever he wants to?  Yeah, me too.  

 Well, the reason I chose today’s Scripture is because it’s the only one of the Lectionary Texts that has a father in it.  Actually, it has two fathers:  Jesse, David’s biological father, and God, his heavenly Father who is the model for all fathers.  

 One of the things that I take away from this story, aside from the obvious point that character matters far more than appearance, is that one of the greatest gifts a father can give to his children is to see the potential within them and challenge them to live into their potential.  I think men are better at that than women.  Women just seem to be hardwired to nurture their children while men are hardwired to challenge their children.  

 David’s anointing didn’t make him king.  He wouldn’t become king for many years.  But I sincerely believe that the challenge his heavenly Father placed on his life to live into that role is what made it possible.  And I’d like to think the encouragement and support of his father Jesse was important, too.  

 Fathers:  That may be the best gift we give our children; to see what they can become and challenge them to make it a reality.    

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