Note: This sermon will follow the hymn, “This Is Our Father’s World,” on Father’s Day, June 19, 2011.
. . . but is this our Father’s church?
This is my Father’s world.
O let me ne’er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world:
why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring?
God reigns; let the earth be glad.
Singing this hymn certainly warms me up. I like singing about the beauty of this earth and all the good things around us. The melody is so familiar that it is easy for me to sing. When it is over, I feel good. Warm all over like when you smell bread baking or you bite into the warm chocolate chip cookie as soon as you can pick it up off the cookie sheet.
The mood of this hymn carries us out into the world with open hearts, with confidence that we live in a world guided by a loving Father. But look back at the words of that last verse. Have you paid attention to it?
Sitting at Annual Conference, I started thinking about today’s sermon and I was trying to put together the holiday Fathers’ Day into a perspective which made sense for our church when very few of us are parenting on a daily basis. I felt like it was rather inappropriate to preach about being a father when the needs in our congregation were beyond that phase in our lives—primarily.
Attending conferences is sometimes seen as a waste of time, but for me it is a time for generating ideas. To open my personal box, so to speak, and consider what is outside of that box. The ideas presented from other Methodists, both locally or globally, can penetrate my own mental framework and surprise me with an entirely different picture or pull up a thought that has been simmering but could not come to a rolling boil.
The metaphors and the analogies can keep developing, but the point is that sitting at the table, looking ahead a couple of weeks, I suddenly got it:
This is my Father’s world, but is it my Father’s Church?
Look around us and consider that question for a moment or two. First, look at your surroundings and ask that question in terms of your biological father. Is this world the same world your dad lived in? Is this the same church that your dad attended—or at least similar since our society has become so mobile that your dad’s church may not be the exact same church building? Then ask yourself is the church the same as it was a generation or two generations ago?
Maybe we should pause and just discuss the answers that pop up in your mind. The answers can provide a deeper insight into why our church is what it is. The answers might reveal the positives, but the likelihood is that the answers reveal the very root of the negatives in our church today.
No one wants to turn our upbeat feelings of worship into a dreadful march into reality of 2011, but we must be honest—that is what our dad’s taught us. Today, I suggest you write down some of your immediate responses to the question: Is this my Father’s church? There is space on the bulletin for your answers; but once you have written it down, do not throw it away.
Each one of us needs to review those responses over the course of the next week or so. We need to take an honest, close examination of our answers and then place them alongside the real world’s community and ask three more questions:
- What can we, our church, do to reach out to others in our community despite our ages and our size?
- What can we identify within our community—local or global—as an outreach for our Heavenly Father’s children?
- How can we continue serving as parents (figuratively) even though our biological children are grown up and on their own?
These are the three questions that I wrote down on a handout while sitting at the conference. We were in that final session which is a pep rally for the upcoming year’s focus–Serve 2011; and the 2012 conference focus is announced—The Call.
The energy is electrifying in the session room. There is a sense of uneasiness as the delegates clean up their spaces, the speakers are enthusiastic, and the youth fill the room. I look around the room and the question keeps circling in and out of my thoughts: This is my Father’s world, but is it my Father’s church?
Maybe I need to phrase the question into two different ones to understand my thinking better:
- This is my dad Harvey’s world, but is the church the same as my dad’s church?
- This is God’s world, but is the church still God’s church or not?
Today’s world is not the same world of my biological dad nor of his dad’s. The church was established when the Apostles gathered, Jesus ascended into heaven, and they rallied together to continue His work in their earthly world.
Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday. Pentecost Sunday reminds us that the Holy Spirit descended upon the first leaders of the church to empower them with all they needed to continue Jesus’ work. The questions that the earliest church fathers dealt with were not simple and lead to the first conference in Jerusalem, which is recorded in Acts 15. The conference may not have looked like the one we just attended, but the purpose was to manage the conflict in the church and to provide the leaders direction.
During the next few weeks, the question must be asked, reviewed, and answered for today: This is my Heavenly Father’s world, but is it my Heavenly Father’s church?
Dear Heavenly Father,
Let us remember that you have been, you are, and you will always be our father. Open our personal boxes and let us look at what our earthly fathers have taught us, but let us open your scripture to see what you tell us to do today. Help us to keep Your Church based on Your Grace. –Amen