It’s Complicated

Date: June 21, 2020/Speaker: Jon Hauerwas

It’s Complicated

Genesis 21:8-14 and Genesis 21:15-21

Last year, Westminster hosted a talent show that featured singing, dancing, and, memorably, two of our Tweens, Gaby and Kinsie, telling “dad jokes.” Now, for those of you who may not be familiar with this genre of comedy, this is what the dictionary has to say. A dad joke is “an unoriginal or unfunny joke of a type supposedly told by middle-aged or older men.” So I think that you are getting the point here. When someone says that you’ve just told a “dad joke,” it isn’t a compliment.

In fact, Gaby and Kinsie, both of whom serve as liturgists here, were implying that their fathers are corny, unoriginal, and not nearly as funny as they think they are. James and Todd, I hope that you are watching. I hope that you are healing from the wounds that your daughters inflicted last year. And I hope that you are having a happy Father’s Day.

Moreover, even if what your offspring say is true, and it very well maybe, I want you to know that there is no judgment here. None at all. Instead, I feel your pain. Because every day, one of my sons, ages 10 and 4, tells me that I am cringy. Some of you may have never heard that word before. But, I assure you that it means exactly what you think it means. The things that I say and do on a daily basis are so embarrassing to my children that they feel the need to shake their heads in disbelief, turn away, and cringe. “Dad, you are SO cringy.”

On Father’s Day, I know that I speak for James, and Todd, and myself when I say that we love every minute of this banter with our children. No matter our age, we all have a need to be playful, to lighten the mood, to laugh. And in a world of so many serious challenges, these momentary distractions often serve as highlights in the journey of fatherhood. So when the timing is right, we take the opportunity to do whatever it takes to get a rise out of our children and to make them cringe.

Still, at the end of the day, we don’t really wish to be an embarrassment to our children. We desire to provide them with good examples and solid morals, with nutritious food to eat, a good education, and quality healthcare. We want them to enjoy the benefits of a safe environment and a well-appointed home. We wish the best for them and we give them whatever we are able. Whatever is possible given our means.

We work hard to demonstrate our love. We go to work. We change diapers. We teach life skills. We provide new experiences. We comfort our children during moments of disappointment, and we celebrate their accomplishments. Then, having enjoyed so many firsts along with so many successes, we beam with pride for the people that they become. And when we go to bed at night and reflect on the day that has just passed, we are honored for the opportunity to take part in their development.

Families, though, are incredibly complicated. We rarely take a linear path from point A to point B. There are surprises, and setbacks, and inevitably, some degree of pain. Many families experience the loss of employment, the hardship of moving, or the stress of divorce. And each family, both as one, collective body and, as individuals within it, must ultimately come to grips with the concept of earthly mortality. We are wise to recognize our need for one another. And we are wise to celebrate each day as a gift for, in doing so, we honor time itself.

In worship these last two Sundays we have been exploring the narrative of Abraham and Sarah. We heard about God’s promise to provide Abraham with many descendants. Then, as the decades charged ahead, it seemed as if the promise would never come to pass. Elderly couples don’t have children. They knew that. We know that. So we’re not surprised to learn that they come up with a plan B. In an effort to seize on God’s promise and take control of it for themselves, the couple agrees that Abraham will bear a child with Sarah’s servant named Hagar.

When the child is born, he is named Ishmael. And through him, there are now approximately “one billion Muslims, 85 percent of whom live outside the Middle East,” who revere Abraham as their father. [1]  (NIB, 490) Likewise, Jews and Christians trace our spiritual ancestry to this same family. But rather than looking back to Ishmael, we see ourselves in the lineage of Isaac, the second child of Abraham, born of his wife, Sarah. Scripture clearly articulates that we are people of God’s promise. And yet, just as clearly, those very same scriptures declare that Ishmael’s descendants are also a part of the promises of God. Yes. Families are complicated.

In Genesis, a family feud erupts when Sarah becomes jealous of her servant and of her husband’s firstborn child. She views both Hagar and Ishmael as a threat to her son, Isaac. She believes that they might infringe on God’s promise. And so, they are subsequently cast out. The situation escalates quickly, and Ishmael’s life is soon in peril.

As we look back on the father of the world’s three major monotheistic faiths, we can’t help but cringe, not because he messes up the punchline, but because his missteps are so evident. The son that he was so eager to welcome arrived in a manner of his choosing, or so it seems, and was eventually dispatched in much the same way. These are the kinds of rifts that devastate families. The actions are not easily forgotten nor forgiven.

And so it is with Abraham, the father of three faiths, at times an exemplar of righteousness and at others, well, just cringy. On this Father’s Day, we affirm that no one is perfect, not even our fathers. And as we stand in that tension, we give thanks for everything in them that is good, and kind, and generous, and just. We are grateful for lessons they have shared, for fences they have mended, and for moments of wise counsel. We ask this day that we may not idealize the past, but rather, build upon it in pursuit of God’s promises for ourselves, for our children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls. May it be so and all thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Terence Fretheim, Genesis, The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary Volume IX, ed. Leander Keck (Abingdon Press, 1994). Pg. 490.

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