Sermon given on Fathers Day 2018. This is again loosely connected to the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window (Leawod, KS) that has woven the sermons together since January 6, 2018. There is one more planned before stepping away from the pulpit for a time of renewal.
The calendar and all the media remind us that today is Father’s Day. Certainly one might consider that this is an appropriate day to focus on the father figures that fill the scriptures, but in the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window, the inclusion of five men connects The Church to Father’s Day by looking at how The Church continues to adapt especially through the fathers of the evolving church.
This Father’s Day, I ask whether or not you can identify the father-theologian figure of your own faith. What we believe today is the final product of all the influences that shape and continue to shape your spiritual journey—just like your earthly father influenced your own life whether genetically, physically, mentally, emotionally, or even professionally.
As a Methodist, you might automatically assume that your theological father was simply John Wesley, but that really is not as simple as you may realize. Why even John Wesley struggled to understand his own theological foundation—remember, he reported that he was afraid he did not have salvation until his Aldersgate experience.
Teaching students Greek and Latin roots, the definition of theology boils down to just two elements: theo meaning God, and ology meaning study of. Simply theology is the study of God; but that places theology at a distance from our daily world. Theology in our real life experience is much broader and applies to each individual differently. One’s personal theology is a philosophy or mindset, as explained on Bible.org, theology is “. . . a belief system that is built upon intellectually and emotionally held commitments concerning God and man.” Even those definitions really do not fully develop what theology is. The article concludes with this statement:
In short, theology is a set of intellectual and emotional commitments, justified or not, about God and man which dictate ones beliefs and actions. Neither the word itself is irrelevant, nor the concepts which it seeks to articulate. It is the first pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. [Accessed on June 12, 2018 at https://bible.org/article/what-theology%5D
Maybe you do not think it is important to know your theology. I think it is. In fact, the artist must have understood that Pope John XXIII (#10), Martin Luther (#26), John Wesley (#8), C.S. Lewis (#28) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (#16) each contributed to the continued growth of The Church or they would not have added.
To begin identifying who is the father of your personal theology, one begins with the Old Testament, but even there, the list is tremendous as many characters could be identified as a theologian. I argue that all those who are listed as prophets would be considered theologians, not to mention other leaders such as David.
David became a king, he was a political leader, but God chose him for his faithfulness. The psalms he wrote reflect his theology, and two verses specifically connect God as a father figure:
In Psalm 2, David is speaking on the occasion of his coronation as God’s chosen king of Israel. He begins the psalm with an explanation of the battling nations and establishes his relationship with God, especially in verse 7.
1 Why are the nations so angry?
Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
2 The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
the rulers plot together
against the Lord
and against his anointed one.
3 “Let us break their chains,” they cry,
“and free ourselves from slavery to God.”
4 But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
The Lord scoffs at them.
5 Then in anger he rebukes them,
terrifying them with his fierce fury.
6 For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne
in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.”
The king [David] proclaims the Lord’s decree:
“The Lord said to me, ‘You are my son.
Today I have become your Father.
David’s relationship with God continued to grow during the trials and tribulations of his reign. Some of the psalms are filled with pain and anguish, questions, and even anger, but throughout the prayers and songs, David’s relationship to God is described as that of a son to his father. The confidence in God’s reach is outlined in Psalm 68:
5 Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—
this is God, whose dwelling is holy.
6 God places the lonely in families;
he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.
But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
Psalms 89:26is a psalm written by Ethan, the Ezrahite, explaining the relationship of King David to God and the promises that God had promised to make David and his descendants reign forever. He writes:
And he [King David] will call out to me [God], “You are my Father,
My God, and the Rock of my salvation.’
The relationship pictured through the words of Psalms is the relationship of a father to a son. David’s theology is clearly based on that premise.
Today is Father’s Day, developed to honor our earthly parent like we honor our mothers in May. I was surprised to learn that Father’s Day was not made a holiday until 1972 even though Mother’s Day officially became a holiday in 1914. Wikipedia summarizes Father’s Day:
Father’s Day is a celebration honoring fathers and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society. The tradition was said to be started from a memorial service held for a large group of men who died in a mining accident in Monongah, West Virginia in 1909. It was first proposed by Sonora Dodd of Spokane, Washington in 1909. It is currently celebrated in the United States annually on the third Sunday in June. [Accessed on June 14, 2018.]
Understanding the purpose of Father’s Day supports making today a good time to consider who your personal theologian is, especially since so much of the scripture and even church curriculum is based on a father-like relationship with God.
The Church that began developing after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection grew as disciples began sharing the good news. These disciples were the first Christian theologians and identified their relationship with God as that of son to a father.
The gospel according to John also continues to develop this idea. John shares the story of the woman at the well and reports that Jesus said:
“But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.”
Jesus also talked to the Pharisees about his relationship with God. They were trying to disprove his authority, but Jesus defined it:
17 But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” 18 So the Jewish leaders tried all the harder to find a way to kill him. For he not only broke the Sabbath, he called God his Father, thereby making himself equal with God.
19 So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. In fact, the Father will show him how to do even greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished. 21 For just as the Father gives life to those he raises from the dead, so the Son gives life to anyone he wants. 22 In addition, the Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge, 23 so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son is certainly not honoring the Father who sent him.
Explaining his relationship to God as that a son to his father should have made the Pharisees clearly understand Jesus’ message, but accepting the truth defies what we as humans understand. Theologians have and continue to explain the relationship humans have with God. The Church lives and grows because theologians continue to find ways to share understanding of this relationship. They are the fathers of our own faith. The fact that the COR’s stained glass window artist chose just a few shows how God’s story continues despite all the human challenges.
Today’s Catholic church continues to be fathered by the Pope. Pope Francis demonstrates a more inclusive church today that is adapting to cultural shifts while preserving the New Testament foundation: Love one another as you want to be loved.
The COR window does include Pope John XXIII (#10 in the window) identified as “. . . one of the most popular popes of all time (reigned 1958–63), who inaugurated a new era in the history of the Roman Catholic Church by his openness to change [Accessed on June14, 2018 at https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-John-XXIII]
The popes are theologians, but The Church did not remain Catholic, and other theologians have lead to major reforms, especially Martin Luther (#26), a practicing priest who became upset about the methods The Church, now known as the Catholic Church/denomination, used to absolve one of their sins.
Luther publically posted on the church door the 95 concerns he had with The Church. The action is accredited with the establishing of the Protestant branch of The Church. His actions lead to The Church continuing in different forms of leadership. Luther was a theologian who saw no separation between God and any individual person, there was no need for a priest to act as a mediator for salvation.
Luther lived in the 1500’s, and John Wesley (#8) was one who continued the reformation process about 200 years later. We are familiar with his story as Methodists, but do we understand his theological base? In our denomination, God teaches us to love one another through service. We are one family with God as our father and all others as our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Do you really know your theological father? Do you know that God is your father? The centuries that separate us from Jesus’ human experience can separate us from God, too. This Father’s Day we honor the fathers of our earthly life, but The Church can also use this as an opportunity to remember the theologians of the church.
The Church continues to grow and to reform thanks to the men and women who have sought to understand and to act on that understanding of their relationship with God. Each of us has a responsibility to do the same, to read scripture, to remain in conversation with other believers, and to live faithfully the best way that we can.
Two other images in the window are known theologians who continue the work of the earliest disciples. Both are 20thcentury figures that some may not even realize are listed among the theologians who continue to strengthen the work of The Church, regardless of the denomination: C. S. Lewis (#28) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (#16).
- S. Lewis is an author who wrote the children’s fantasy books in the The Chronicles of Narnia series as well as over 30 other books that share his apologetic theology of God:
- I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
- You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.
- Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.
- Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.
- God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
Admittedly I do not know the actual work of Lewis, but I am eager to learn more. He tried hard not to be a believer, but life taught him that he has a father-son relationship with God. His written work reportedly teaches readers of all ages the reality of God, creator, and parent.
Bonhoeffer may be familiar to us, especially in relation to World War II. His life ended by execution at the hand of the Nazi Regime. A Lutheran pastor in Germany, he was also a social activist. His theological work was to live one’s Christian faith actively in the secular world. His political resistance to the Nazi Regime modeled his theology:
- God’s truth judges created things out of love, and Satan’s truth judges them out of envy and hatred.
- The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.
- Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.
- We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.
The list of theologians simply includes these individuals mentioned today, but the list continues to grow. God depends on the father-child relationship we have with him. The Church is the result of his faithful children working together to continue God’s work. The Church is a living reflection of God’s children working to strengthen the father-children relationship throughout humanity’s time.
Today, Father’s Day 2018, as God’s children we have a responsibility to know our theological fathers and to remain faithful to our heavenly Father. The Church grows because the theologians have studied scripture, have led others to know God personally, and have served one another in love in an unending list of ways.
You are asked to know God, just like you want to know your own biological dad. How do you do it? You study scripture, you join in Christian conversation, and you live your faith out loud demonstrating the value of God in your life. You are to model your theology in ways that others may be transformed, too.
Happy Fathers Day, God,
We are so blessed by the gift
of life you have given each of us
of your Son, Jesus Christ;
and of your Holy Spirit within us.
Thank you, too, for all those who wrote scriptures,
Who read scripture,
Who took the time to explain your love,
Who risked living their faith out loud.
Guide us in our own work to learn more of your love.
To share your story with those unknown;’
And to serve one another in love, too.
May we be your hands and feet for others
May we know your love within our own hearts.
May we grow The Church as others have.
In the name of you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost,
Amen, Lord, Amen.