Sermon for the17th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18)
Fathers’ Day

Text: Ephesians 5:2
Your life must be controlled by love, just as Christ loved us and gave his life for us.

God's love in our families

Every family has its highs and lows. Sometimes we can look back on a difficult time in the life of our families and smile at what happened. However there are those times that we readily acknowledge that things could have been handled better, or resolved in a different way.

The Bible has lots of stories about families and it’s not afraid to reveal everything. Nothing is hidden. It talks about families "warts and all".

There are heaps of stories about families where things didn't go well. Brothers in the very first human family didn’t get on, were jealous of one another, and in the end one brother killed the other.

There is the family of the Old Testament patriarch - Isaac. He had twin sons but he did the worst thing a parent could do. He favoured one more than the other. In the end Jacob deceived his father and was granted the inheritance that rightly belonged to his brother Esau. As you can imagine Esau was so angry and vowed to kill his brother.

Out of jealousy the sons of Jacob plan to do away with their youngest brother Joseph. They were so enraged they wanted to kill him.

Even the hero of the Old Testament, King David, had trouble in his family. His son Absalom led a rebellion against the king with the aim of getting the throne for himself. His army overran Jerusalem and to add insult to his father, publicly violated his father’s wives. Absalom is killed but David was grief-stricken.

The Bible also shows families in their best light. We read about how Noah and his sons worked together to build that huge boat and then fill it with all kinds of animals.
We think of Joseph who was sold into slavery and hardship by his jealous brothers and yet was so forgiving and accepting of his brothers when they met again later in life.
There is the loyalty of a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law in the story of Naomi and Ruth.
There is Jesus’ story about the father who had nothing but love for his two sons – the one son had demanded his inheritance and blew the lot – the other son grumbled when his brother came home and was given such a warm welcome. The father explained that he loved both his sons regardless of the wrongs they had done.

There was the family of Timothy, the friend and helper of the Apostle Paul. Timothy's father was most likely an unbeliever. His mother Eunice was a Jewish Christian, as was his grandmother, Lois. It was these two, his mother and grandmother, who taught young Timothy about Jesus and set the foundation for him to become a powerful witness with Paul in the spread of the Gospel.

And then there was Jesus’ own family. I think there were times when Jesus frustrated his parents, not because he was naughty or anything like that, but simply because they didn’t always understand him (e.g. when he went missing and they found him in the temple). In the midst of his agony on the cross, family concerns were still important. With his dying breath he expressed his love for his mother as he handed her over to the care of one of the disciples.

The Bible paints pictures of all kinds of families. God could have just told us about the happy and harmonious families, but he doesn’t. He tells it like it is. He gives us both sides of the coin so that we can see our own families in proper perspective. Sometimes our families are like that of Mary and Joseph, Naomi or Timothy’s and there is help and support among its members. Sometimes our families are unhappy and discordant like the families of Adam and Eve, Isaac, Jacob and David.

The biblical writers tell it like it is and remind us that any family, every family will go through those times that are stressful and difficult.
There are husbands and wives who are suffering or have suffered hurt and pain in their marriages.
There are many children who have been hurt physically, mentally and emotionally in unhappy families.
Young people rebel, leave home and live on the streets, resort to drugs to escape their plight, and perhaps even commit suicide. Today’s sad stories about families are an extension of the sad stories about families in the Bible. Today’s happy families are a continuation of those families in the Bible that demonstrated love, loyalty and forgiveness.

You can bet that in the midst of all the ups and downs of family life, God is no further than a prayer away. He is always standing by ready to use his power and to fill us with his Spirit as we struggle to find answers to some of the tragedies and troubles that hit our families. God stands by his promises to be there for us and our families in the day of trouble and that he will help.

When tension and strained relationships seem to take over in our families, we are reminded of the love that God has shown to us through his Son and the forgiveness that he has given us through the cross. He wants us to share that forgiveness with one another, renew the love between family members, to make new and fresh starts and restore the peace and harmony between one another.

When family friendliness is at an all time low, God reminds us that we share the same baptism and as fellow members of God’s family we should seek to make amends where we have hurt the other and seek reconciliation when disagreements have caused unkindness and disunity. As baptised members of God's family we make it our goal to restore friendship and peace where these have been disrupted by discord and tension.

God created families and put us in families to support and encourage one another, not to hold grudges, put up barriers between one another or be just plain difficult to get on with. What Paul said about the Christian family of the church can equally be applied to our own families - Christ’s death has broken down the wall the separates and divides one family member from another. Paul said, "The Messiah tore down the wall that we use to keep each other at a distance. Christ brought us together through his death on the Cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility" (Ephesians 2:14,16 The Message).

When we are stressed and frustrated at what takes place in our families, the Holy Spirit reminds us who we are – God's chosen and beloved people – and what we need to do to make things right in our families again. He helps us show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control (Gal 5:22). The Spirit reminds us of the need for forgiveness in our families and urges us to put the past behind us and no longer allow resentment and bitterness destroy the relationship between us and the people God has placed in our lives.

Since today is Fathers’ Day it’s good to be reminded just how special and precious our families are. God has placed us into families – given us mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, grandparents and grandchildren – for a very specific reason. He wants us to take the time to care for each other, to help one another, and to support one another as we face life’s difficulties and as we nurture the younger generation.
He wants us to pass on to the members of our families through what we say and do that we have a God who has made all of us and died for each one of us.
He wants future generations to know how much he loves us and to recognise the cross as a symbol of that love. He wants young and old to experience his love as it comes to us through the Bible, baptism and Holy Communion.
He wants families to pass on to their children that God will always stand by us when the going gets tough in life in the same way that a parent supports and stands by their child. There is no limit to God's love for us.
God places on parents the important yet happy responsibility of letting their children see in them what it means to live in an atmosphere of forgiveness and love and what it means that Jesus is their Saviour.

Our modern society places the family under a lot of pressure –
parents are busy,
kids are involved in many activities and organisations,
parents have to meet the demands of a tough workplace,
kids are put under pressure to perform and succeed and fit in and to meet all kinds of demands that are placed on them.
All of this erodes the time when a family can come together as a family, and not just a group of individuals living under the same roof.
This may mean something simple like making sure that a part of each day is spent together as a family and providing an opportunity to talk about whatever is important at the time, sharing a devotion and a prayer.

It is inevitable that as members of a family, there will be times when we will fail to be understanding and forgiving.
There will be tension and hurt feelings.
There will be times when we will wish things had turned out differently.
There will be regrets and lost opportunities.

Such occasions will provide an opportunity for us to be reminded again that our families belong to a much bigger family, that is, God's family. It is in God's family that we experience the never-ending love and forgiveness that he has for each of us as individuals and as a family. God's love erases our past mistakes and gives us new opportunities to let that same love influence everything that happens in our lives, including the lives of our family.

Just as Christ has loved us, forgiven us and restored our relationship with God, so also let us love, forgive and be reconciled to one another, especially those who God has given us in our families.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
7th September 2008

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