June 20,2021 “The Tender Father” Luke 7:1-10
If I were to ask you to tell me the qualities of a good father, chances are we would agree on several things. Whereas we might stress qualities we feel are noble and expected, our children might cite a few that we would put at the bottom of the list. But the true definition of a father is a man who carries photographs where his money used to be. And one of the most important things a father can do for his children is to love their mother. And one thing we know for sure—that the world’s toughest job, being a parent, God gave to amateurs. What I’ve always wanted to know is how come it takes so little time for a child who is afraid of the dark to become a teenager who wants to stay out all night and worry dear old dad to pieces?
I found some interesting facts about Father’s Day. At&T reports that the volume of long-distance calls made on Father’s Day grows faster than the number made on Mother’s Day. The company apologized for the delay in compiling the statistics but explained that the extra billing of calls to fathers slows things down. Most of them were collect. Many fathers have wished they were strong enough to tear a phone book in half—especially if he has a teenage daughter. Its not easy being a father. One man, speaking from his own experience, noted that children go through 4 fascination stages. First they call you Da-Da. Then they call you daddy. As they mature they call you Dad. Finally they call you collect. And after kids leave home, some parents suffer from empty nest syndrome. Other change their locks.
When it comes to identifying traits of a good father, all we must do is turn to Jesus and the gospel lesson today. It is not only what he says but what he does. We are familiar with the setting: Capernaum. Here is where Peter and Andrew, James and John had their fishing business. It is where Zebedee, their father lived, and it’s nearby to countless places in which great events of the New Testament took place. We know the characters in this episode, too. Jesus, of course, is the focus of the story—yet others play important roles. There is a sick slave we know little about, except that his master thought of him tenderly. There is also the centurion, the owner of the slave. A Roman officer, the commander of 100 men who is not a Jew. He was Gentile, and Jews did not associate with Gentiles. Yet this Gentile was different. He was sensitive to Jewish customs, which we can see by the fact that he did not go to Jesus himself but sent a Jewish friend. This centurion, however, had embraced their faith as much as a Gentile could. He even built their synagogue and was known to be a generous man. He belonged to a people who believed in many gods and ate unclean food and did unclean acts. But this Roman was held in high esteem because he wasn’t like the rest. He was a tender commander, and thereby offers himself as a model for all Christians—but in a particular way to a Christian father.
Luke says that when the centurion heard about Jesus, he didn’t hesitate to send for him. His slave was ill, one for whom he had more than an owner’s interest. In many Roman households, slaves were treated as members of the family—within certain limits, of course. Others saw slaves only as tools.
The centurion was careful not to tread on Jesus’ Jewishness. He didn’t approach the Lord himself, he sent someone who knew him who would vouch for him. Jesus didn’t hesitate either. He left immediately for the soldier’s home. The Lord never let Jewish ritual law stand in the way of ministry. But as he neared the house, more friends of the soldier greeted Jesus and said, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself.” They quoted the words of the centurion, who sent them with the message, “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore, I didn’t presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go,” and he goes, and to another “come” and he comes, and to my slaves, “do this,
and does it.”
If tenderhearted, he is nevertheless very much a military commander who gives order and expects them to be carried out. He takes his job seriously and strives to serve his superiors with diligence and pride. But he is also something more. He is a faithful believer. He knows little more about Jesus than that he is an able rabbi with a history of healings and miracles behind him. To the centurion, that was enough. He trusted Jesus. He didn’t let doubt impale opportunity. Jesus responds to the man’s faith and the slave’s grave condition with healing power that left the slave in good health.
How, if today’s dads can learn anything helpful from the centurion, it might be that they too will find themselves to be tender commanders. It is obvious that this tender commander had friends. It is plain that this tender commander practiced generosity. It is evident that he applied what he had learned of faith to life. Here is one who knew how to go to Jesus without hesitation and publicly, and we should all do well to emulate him.
But why should we go to Jesus? Is it merely because he performed miracles? Not at all. There was more than magic in the hands of Jesus. In his words, the people found love. In his actions, they saw compassion. In his death upon the cross and in his resurrection triumph they discovered the promises of the long-awaited Messiah fulfilled. We discover that he comes to heal and to help, to encourage and be a friend, to save and redeem.
A father was trying to read the evening paper after a rough day at work. He kept being interrupted by his children. One child came and asked for money for an ice cream cone, and his father gently reached into his pocket and gave him the necessary coins. Another child arrived in tears. Her leg was hurt, and she wanted her daddy to kiss the hurt away. An older son came with an algebra problem, and they eventually arrived at the right answer. Finally, the last and youngest of them burst into the room looking for good ole dad. The father said cynically, “what do you want?” the youngster said, “Oh daddy, I don’t want anything. I just want to sit on your lap.”
Father’s Day was always a special day for me. Since the time I can remember, I would plan for weeks how I could do something for dad on his day. As a child, it was some handcrafted thing-a-ma-jig and as I grew older it was some mysterious thing that emerged from the oven not at all like I had planned. No matter how bad it was, Dad always loved it because he loved me. There is not a day go by but that I don’t think of my father. Father’s Day is still a special day for me because I can remember how good life was when dad was in it. He always had time to fix what was broken, (be it my bicycle or my heart), to help me with those nasty math problems or take me fishing with he and grandpa so I could catch the bait. I remember as a teenager thinking dad was as dumb as box of rocks. He was pretty much silent through those years because he found you can’t tell a teenager much of anything. Except, he learned other skills, like “The Look.” But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how wise he had become and how much he had learned!
The father of five children had won a toy at a raffle. He called his kids together to ask which one should have the present. “Who is most obedient,” he asked. “Who never talks back to mother?” “Who does everything she says?” Five small voices in unison answered. “You play with it daddy.”
As I was preparing today’s lesson, I tried to think how Jesus felt about his earthy father and their relationship, also about his heavenly Father and their relationship. All I had to do was look at the gospel of Luke when Jesus was teaching his disciples as if they were children. “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for a fish, would give a snake instead? Or if your child asks for an egg, will you give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” You…who are evil? What does that mean? We hope that Jesus meant that earthly fathers are enmeshed in a world that is often evil and ungodly. Earthy fathers, he seems to have been saying, are severely limited by their nature.
While camping in a national park, Bob struck up a conversation with Ray, who was shaving in the campground restroom. Bob asked Ray what he did for a living. Ray replied, “I’m a juvenile rehabilitation counselor.” After a little pause, Bob said, “Yep, I’m a parent too.”
Even when you got those letters from the kids at summer camp, you tried your best to meet their needs. I’ve always wondered what you would have said if you sent one of them a letter. Hi! I’m fine. Our home is fine. The food is okay, and I like my wife. Yesterday we went on a trip to the golf course. The pro is nice and let me ride in the golf cart. I fed it some gasoline. Can I have a golf cart when you get home? Today we have a competition at work to see who could make the fastest voice mail or text message. I came in last. But your mother won the spending contest. Please send me a care package. Love, Dad.
Jesus was talking with his disciples saying, …”do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will wear…if God clothes the grass of the field, how much more will he clothe you, you of little faith. And don’t strive for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and don’t worry. For it is the world that strives after these things, and your Father knows you need them. Instead, strive for His kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” I don’t think Jesus was trying to alienate his followers from their earthly fathers, but trying to set for them an example of what a father should be.
You see the answer lies in the Hebrew concept of the Father. The father being the dominant figure in his child’s life and the one who passed on the blessing. Its no different today. Children try their very best to have their father’s approval for a job well done in school, on the baseball field, washing the car, or just cutting the grass.
Children also try their very best for their dad’s attention. A research study showed a dichotomy of how much time fathers think they spend with their children and how much time they actually share. Fathers were asked to estimate how much time they spent playing and interacting with their small children. Estimates averaged from 15 to 20 minutes a day. Microphones were attached to the fathers and the results were astounding. “The average dad-child time was 37 seconds a day.” Maybe that’s why a cartoonist drew the characterization of a young boy standing next to his father’s recliner. The father was engrossed in the sports page, while the impatient boy pounded the leather of his baseball glove. Finally, the energetic little guy said, “Play with me or trade me.” You do realize that children of couch potatoes can be affectionately called “tater-tots.”
Jesus knew the state of the world, the way things really are. He knew that human fathers can only do their best and sometimes it isn’t enough. He knew that no earthly father could love enough and give enough to suffice for all our needs, at every moment of our lives. Only the heavenly Father is equal to this.
For Jesus to have called our God our heavenly Father was a pretty radical statement.
Think about it—the God who created the world and cast the nebulae into space, the God who heard the prayers of the first man and woman on earth and who seeds the intricacies of the future, the God whose majesty is seen from the highest mountain and inhabits the depths of the darkest oceans, the God who led the Hebrews out of Egypt and spoke when Jesus was baptized to say, “This is my Son” in such tender words. This is our Father.
To think that this Father is the one we are privileged to live in an attitude of intimacy and relationship that is enough to stagger the mind. We pray it: Our Father: it is a confession, praise, triumph, and is overwhelming good news! The same God of the universe is the God our father’s call Father.
The real test of this thinking came, of course, on the cross. If Jesus was ever going to doubt the Father’s care and presence and love, it was there. As he saw death looming ahead of him, he went to the Garden to pray. Only this time he cried, “Father, if it be thy will, let this cup pass from me.” Father. The one who cared for him beyond any earthly father. The one in whose power he lived. The one who altered history, could alter it now. But he didn’t. The soldiers came and crucified him. Where was his father now? If he was ever going to renounce this Father it was now. But he didn’t. “Father, he prayed, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.” And finally, as died, he said, “Father, into your hands I give my spirit.” A father to be trusted in death as much as in life. A father beyond all fathers. A father who would always be there, forever and ever, world without end.
A man and his young son were climbing a mountain. They came to a place where the climbing became difficult and dangerous. The father stopped to think about what he should do next and which way to go. He heard his boy behind him say, “Choose the good path, Dad; I’m right behind you.” We don’t have to worry when we can’t see the road and panic sets in. He knows the way.
A young father-to-be was pacing back and forth, wring his hands in the hospital corridor while his wife was in labor. He was tied up in knots of fear and anxiety, and beads of sweat dropping from his brow revealed the agony of his suffering. Finally, at 4 am a nurse popped out a door and said, “Well, sir, you have a little girl.” He dropped his hands, became limp, and said, “Oh, how I thank God it’s a girl. She’ll never have to go through the awful agony I’ve had tonight!”
Its not easy being a father. Its not easy pretending the present you love most is soap-on-a-rope. But what an example Jesus gives you by his tender relationship with His father. The scriptures are full of stories of men who loved their children, their families, their wives, their God. Its no per chance that they are there for us to learn from. You may wonder why such a big fuss about Father’s Day. You’ve just been doing your job as fathers do. But its not a job for a quitter or wimp. We honor you today, Dads, because you have tenderly loved us and will not desert us and will keep doing what you do best. Loving God, loving us and tenderly following in the Master’s footsteps. Whether you think so or not, you have been given a mighty task, few instructions but strong hearts and the courage to place your hand in His. Some will say behind every great man is his mother. But I say behind every great man is God. Happy Father’s Day.
Closing Prayer: Gracious God, we don’t think of it often, this truth that we are creatures fashioned in your image. Sometimes that image is hard to discern. Thank you Father for your grace that enables us to become more of what we were made to be. We come to confess that it is our sins that mar your image in us. We are grateful that you do not deal with us as we deserve. Forgive us Lord, our pride and self-righteousness. Forgive our waste of energy and time. Forgive us when we neglect those who need us. Today you have spoken clearly to us. Revealed to us some truth that will enable us to be fortified in doing your will. We don’t ask for some future vision of what we are to do, nor for strength for tomorrow. Just for today, Lord bless us that we might serve you better. Here in this holy place we pray for one another. You know our hearts. You already know what we need. But you bid us to ask. We ask for blessings for those who are anxious and troubled that they may know peace. For those who are ill we pray for your gift of wholeness and health. For the lonely and neglected we ask for your great presence. We also pray for all the those whose hearts are broken having gone through the loss of a dear one. We give ourselves to being channels through which you may move, that others may come to know you. Now in these moments of worship we have left, let us encounter the Holy Spirit and through him experience your presence, your blessings and truth. In Christ’s name we pray the prayer he taught us, Our Father…
June 27, 2021 “When Drudgery Becomes Joy” 1 Sam. 16:1-13, John 9:1-33
July 4, 2021 “Freedom” Josh. 1:3-9, Luke 15:11-24
July 11, 2021 “Happiness is…” 2 Sam. 12b-19, Ephesians 1:3-14
July 18, 2021 “By Grace” Num. 21:4-9, Ephesians 2:1-10
July 25, 2021 “Partnership With Christ” Num. 13:21-33, John 6:1-21