A Father’s Day Sermon…If I Had To Preach One

I had not planned on this post. But there were enough requests to get me thinking. Some were encouraged by the Mother’s Day Post so much they wanted one for themselves. But I just wasn’t sure. The Mother’s Day Sermon post is my most popular post. It went all over the world and was used in pulpits everywhere. I didn’t want to do one for Fathers that was unpopular. Or worse, was seen as  trying to capitalize. And to be honest doing one for Fathers felt self-serving.
And then it turned out to be so.
For whenever I lacked imagination, I just inserted myself in, and voila. I’ve been doing this whole preaching-the-good-news-to-myself thing for so many years – as my pastor asked me to so long ago – that I figured I might as well do so here.
Further, as I thought about this, an irony struck me. It is less acceptable to feel condemned for men than for women. (I could be wrong about that, sure. But I’m gonna err on the side of being right here.) It reveals weakness. And weakness is social kryptonite for men. 
Then you must add this overlooked reality – failure has a weight, a weight with all the pressure of a culture which pushes relentlessly against the soul of a man. The net effect of wanting to be Superman as a boy is not just dusty comics in moldy cardboard boxes pushed into the corner of attics. There is also the failure to become one. Whether unconscious or not, the reality is Fathers want to be super and seen as being so, if only by those citizens, plucked up out of harms way, residing within his own home. But deep down, the weakness is known to be there, like a scar needing to be covered up.
Fathers are more likely to brag on the scar than confess their displeasure with it.

I’ve no wish to create a movement of weepy men, though Jesus did weep over a friend. And I’ve no wish to guilt Fathers into being more in tune with their weakness. To share it, even. Mainly because the guilt is already there, residing. It’s feet are propped up on the coffee-table and it knows where the silverware is in the drawer.
I’m calling it. The guilt is real and it’s there whether I say anything about it or not. It gnaws like mice and slithers through veins like an asp. It feels like poison. It feels as if it’s thieving life from under your very nose. And sometimes the taking of a deep breath is as the death rattle.
And when the dust settles and the echo ceases to bounce around inside your skull and the night is still, more than anything the Christian Father is faced with the specter of condemnation. An accusing finger rises up and points at his heart and says “condemned” for one thousand failures. Or worse, one in particular.
So Fathers need to also hear the message that in their God-given calling, they are not condemned.
The following is not the only sermon that could be preached for Fathers. But it’s one.

Romans 8:1
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Thesis: Fathers, if you are in Christ Jesus, you ought to have no fear of condemnation because of your standing of righteousness because of Christ’s work on your behalf on the cross.
Fathers, even though you may feel you are…

You are not condemned because you cannot take your family on a dream vacation. Or on any vacation at all.

You are not condemned by the sins in your past which haunt like unsatisfied ghosts.

You are not condemned by your need for rest.

You are not condemned by your inability to fix all the broken things.

You are not condemned by your lack of promotions.

You are not condemned by your child’s lack of abilities in comparison to others.

You are not condemned by the obscurity of your job.

You are not condemned by the check engine light.

You are not condemned by a dwindling savings account.

You are not condemned because you are divorced.

You are not condemned by your son’s lack of interest in what interests you.

You are not condemned by a lack of desire to play with the kids after work.

You are not condemned by your failures as a father, that repeat themselves like the days, themselves.

You are not condemned by your wayward daughter.

You are not condemned by being fired or laid off.

You are not condemned if you find it difficult to talk to your children.

You are not condemned by not being able to afford to throw the birthday party of the year for your kids.

You are not condemned by the size and state of your home.

You are not condemned by your introverted personality.

You are not condemned for not living up to the standards of your Father or Father-in-law.

You are not condemned by the debts hanging over you like death itself.

Fathers, even though you may feel condemned, if you are in Christ, you are not condemned. This is the real reality.

You are not condemned, because if you are in Christ, your identity…your righteousness is Christ alone. Therefore, enjoy the unending love and affection and acceptance of being a son perfectly loved with an unwavering love that flows from your Father in Heaven.
And to all those who are not Fathers…do nothing to diminish this reality. Nothing.

Dad’s Love for Mom

(This is the fourth post in a series honoring my father: One, Two and Three.)

No effort is required to picture the love between my parents. The pictures and scenes were constant companions as I grew into manhood. And continue still. Hands held, kisses given, kind words and the acts to back them up were plentiful.

An example. Christmas mornings were genuine magic in the life of my family. But the presents are not the memories I return to. (Though I remember handing out packages from my dad to my mom with tags saying “To my lover.” I wasn’t ever grossed out. Par for the course.)

After the presents were opened, every year my mom would invariably tell my dad he had done too much. Then he would take his hand, scratch at the white stubble on his chin, grin, look around and get up before saying something was missing. Mom would feign surprise. He would hand it to her and she would place it in the lap of her robe. Now her hands are moving slowly to carefully open the package. Her eyes get misty. She then throws her head back with a gasp. Looks longingly at my dad and then puts her hands to her face – one on each cheek. Almost always it was something she pointed out six months earlier, he had remembered and she had forgotten. Dad Just sits there and smirks enjoying her being loved.

As a young man still trying to fit into the clothes of manhood, all these scenes became focused like a laser on my dad. Watching his ways with mom. Taking them in as some kind of relational vitamin hoping for the very health I beheld.

I have no memory of my father being unkind to my mother. I’ve flipped back through the tattered pages of memory and have come up empty. Nothing is there. This is probably hard for some to believe. And I’ve navigated the rough seas of this culture enough to doubt my memory. Surely, he would laugh at such an idea. No question, my dad is not perfect. At some point in the long line of points they have shared, he most likely was unkind to my mom. But is it not amazing, I remember nothing? The tenor of their relationship has the consistent ring of kindness throughout.

What really struck me early on was how much they liked to be together. By the time I was old enough to notice, they were on into their fifties. And they wanted to go places without me. Just them. They still dated and went on vacations to the beach without the kids. They sat close always angling to be with the other. This lovingkindness has never waned. They still love to be together.

Whatever failures of mine as a man towards my own wife can be traced to my ignoring my father’s example. Whatever kindness, any goodness and dignifying treatment I’ve shown can be traced with a straight line back into their love story.

Thankfully, a story still being written. And still being read.

A Glimpse of My Dad

Father’s Day is coming up.

When you write, the temptation is to use a subject to display your writing. It’s real and powerful. And deadly to the soul. It’s the reason I have not written on some subjects and been careful when writing about others. So. Please believe me when I say that my desire to honor my Dad with a post each week is simply because of my respect and the joy of many memories where he is featured.
When I told my parents I was writing a book, they were not surprised and of course, wanted to know more. So I sent them the actual proposal sent to the publisher, along with the first chapter. A few days later, my Dad looked at me and shook his head in a way I have seen him do many times before. Actually he has two versions of this. One is the disappointment I saw after every report card.  It was usually a few days after I got the report card because we always got them on Thursdays – too close to the weekend. So I waited and would watch him shake his head on Sunday night. After he’d been working all day as a pastor. Brilliant Matt, brilliant.
But here I saw another kind of shake of his whitened head. He shook it like you would a “no.” But it was coupled with a wry smile telling you the opposite of the motion. This is the undeserved but far too common, “I’m proud of you shake of the head.” 
He said, “You are a great writer.” And then I was told they could not get over I had written it. They have always been easily impressed by me and my brothers. Especially by my brothers. And then my Dad – the man of a thousand pitches in the backyard – proceeded to tell me what I had written meant much to him. “My life is very mundane now. I cannot do much.” And he thanked me.
About 2 weeks before September 11, 2001 my father suffered a heart attack while playing tennis – the game he taught me to play before I can even remember playing it. During his bypass surgery, he had the first of many strokes. And these strokes have done their damnedest to do him in and break his spirit. But his kind heart and sharp mind still fight tooth and nail. And I mean damnedest in the theological sense. His sight is failing him miserably and his memory worries him. His smile charges on with the power and speed of a train bent on its destination.

He is one reason I write…why I cannot help myself. His poems are legendary for being part of our family gatherings. He used poetry to celebrate people and memories and times and places. And while not Donne or Hopkins, Dickinson or Whitman, they are made of fireside warmth and irresistible smiles. The way a Hobbit would have done song. You just won’t catch him with a pipe or pint.

My parents were always glad to read my painful poems. And buy me books and encourage me to read. They never questioned me and made me embarrassed about all the poetry I would read and write as a teenager. Their love for me has always taken the form of encouragement and the structure of praise. Even though I threatened to fail my classes and be a raving success at day-dreaming.

So these posts are for my Dad. I ask you to bear with me for the next month as I tell a few stories and give you a glimpse into the goodness of Robert D. Redmond. Dad to me