Sermon: Faith of our Fathers

I really appreciate what BJ shared during the Children’s Time this morning, about the `circle of the church.’ It makes an important point about the beliefs, the values and principles that get passed down – transmitted from one generation to the next – and which defines our faith and our lives together.

We’ve been given an invaluable inheritance; and thus we have a precious legacy to leave behind. And I believe that it is so vitally important, particularly at those pivotal moments in our lives, be they moments of celebration or grief, to remind ourselves that we are family.

We are the family of God.

I now join with so many of you who – over the past year or so – have lost a father or a parent. And, while I know that all of us experience such loss in very unique and personal ways, I’m sure we can all agree that, no matter how long we might have had a loved one with us it’s never easy to say goodbye.

It is somewhat poignant timing that, on the first Sunday I return from burying my own father, we are celebrating a baptism.

Thus the circle of the church – the circle of the family of God – indeed goes on.

So, if I may, in light of all this, I’d like to share just a little bit with you about my father today; because family was really everything to Poppa.

From the time my sister and I were children, Dad’s dedication to providing for and caring for his family was always fully apparent; if not always fully appreciated. And even throughout his final years, his whole life was focused on taking care of his – now extended, blended, sometimes needing to be mended – family.

But really, everyone who came into Poppa’s circle of concern, he also took in his heart. And I don’t really think that was a conscious decision he made; that capacity for compassion was just part of who he was. Something he shared naturally with just about everyone he met.

In talking about all this after Pop’s funeral service, my family affirmed that it was that very focus on taking care of others that kept him going for so many years beyond what any of us expected. As our friend, Rev. Dr. Gary Blaine, who officiated at Pop’s service, said during his Children’s Time for all the greatgrandchildren, “It was Poppa’s big heart that kept him going for so long.”

Even so, the night Pop passed away, it still came as a real shock. Certainly, we all understood that – with his long-standing heart disease – his health was obviously precarious, and that he had essentially been living on borrowed time for many years.

But, he’d been beating the odds for so long that we had hoped – and really thought at that point – that this new pacemaker was going to help him beat the odds for just a little longer; to give him a few more good years. Of course, that wasn’t to be.

And then the downturn happened so suddenly that we really had the rug pulled out from under us. One minute we were planning for his discharge; the next thing we knew we were calling folks from the hospital hallway to share the sad news.

And it was tough.

But then, something my big sister said in one of those early phone calls really struck me, and has stayed with me since. She was talking to a cousin at the time, I think, and – while I could only hear one side of the conversation – Cathy was saying, “I know. I know. Yes. It was unexpected. It was a real shock.”

And then Cathy added, “But, you know, he gave us all such a good foundation, that I think we’re going to be ok. I really think we’re going to be ok.”

To hear my sister say that – in the midst of all that turmoil and chaos and sudden grief – gave me a real sense of comfort and courage. And I thought to myself, “You know, she’s right. Pop has given us all a good foundation. And we really are going be ok.”

Poppa passed away that evening, surrounded by members of the family he loved so dearly, after having lived a good long life. “It’s been good run,” as he told my brother-in-law Greg just a few days before he passed away.

But – and now here’s the thing – because of who Poppa was, and because he shared himself so generously and so selflessly with all of us, we had been given this truly amazing foundation of love for family and the value of friendship. What a wonderful legacy Poppa left as an inheritance to his children, grandchildren, and greatgrandchildren. Indeed, to all of us.

And, as I told folks at Pop’s funeral service, no matter how much distance might come between us in the days to come – geographically, temporally or corporeally – we can remind ourselves that we will remain family always. And during difficult times find comfort and courage in the truth of that. And in times of celebration – such as today – draw the kind of strength and sense of purpose from that same truth, which will continue to enrich our lives as we move forward. And thereby also, perhaps, enable us to widen our own circle of concern with those we meet along the way.

Surely, that is also the firm foundation of love and faith that we affirm on this special day in the life of the church, as we baptize this precious child. That, because of who Jesus was, and because he shared himself with humanity so generously and so selflessly, we too have been blessed with an inheritance that continues to enrich our daily lives together, and which gives us a sacred legacy to pass on.

My father died on July 3rd, one day before we celebrated the 242nd birthday of this great nation. And I’ve done a lot of thinking about the serendipitous proximity of those two dates over the past week or so. Many would say – and I include myself among them – that we are going through a very difficult time in our country; perhaps even a crisis of sorts. Politics has rarely been as contentious and polarizing as it is right now. The mass media seems to incessantly stoke those fires with its 24/7 partisan news cycle.

The unfortunate result seems to be a growing acrimony and enmity, uncertainty and uneasiness, amongst our nation’s populace.

Millions of Americans feel angry, discouraged, disenfranchised, disempowered, and even despondent, over what they see going on around them today.

Some even fear that the strain of it all will eventually rent our precious democracy asunder.

But you know what? Our founding fathers gave us such a good foundation that I believe it’s going to be okay. I really think we’re all going to be okay.

We have been given such an amazing legacy; one which has carried this great nation through many crises thus far, and will surely carry us far beyond this current national despair.

In 1384 John Wycliffe – the English scholar, philosopher and theologian – in the prologue to his translation of the Bible wrote: “The Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People, and for the People.”

Then, during a time of incredible division and stress in our nation – one which, indeed, threatened to rent the fabric of our democracy asunder – Abraham Lincoln ensconced those words forever into the American psyche in his Gettysburg Address. I think it would do us well to remember those words today:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate – we can not consecrate – we can not hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” (November 19, 1863)

Today – some seven score and fifteen years later – we do indeed remember Lincoln’s words. For we will not forgot our fathers; neither those who fathered our families, nor those who fathered this country. We won’t forget their sacred words. We won’t forget their ideals, their principles, their values, or their vision for our lives together.

With the death of my father, I now share with many of you the dubious honor of being in the senior succeeding generation of my family. With that honor comes the weight of responsibility.

And when our own fathers – yours and mine – were placed in that same hallowed ground with those who founded this great nation, after having done what part they could – be it large or small – to advance the cause of liberty, equality, and justice for all, they left, in turn, that legacy of the fate of this nation in our hands—yours and mine.

We cannot absolve ourselves, today, of our civic and personal responsibility by pointing fingers at the politicians in Washington who seem to largely serve their own political interests, or the media pundits who serve only the daily ratings. We are not helpless or hapless in the dramatic course of current events. Our founding fathers have given “We the People” power over our own destiny. They’ve empowered us with a mighty foundation to continue building on: they’ve given us a voice and vote; the right to protest and dissent or to support and endorse; they have affirmed our inalienable rights under God—the right to freedom, equality and justice for all.

We’ve been given a great inheritance, and along with that inheritance great responsibility.

It is now up to us to bring the circle round again for the sake of our nation, for the sake of our children, and for the sake of our faith.