I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Father's Day Sermon (Parenthood)

Here is yesterday's sermon. Attendance was light (thanks tothe weather and various Father's Day activities) and I was asked to post this so folks could take a look if they wished...

Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot
Eliot Church, Natick

Christopher De Vink wrote
We do not ask questions when our children need us. We just do what we must.
And (in a sense) he is right
(Except, of course, when our children need us to ask questions)

However, we do have expectations
We do have hopes and dreams for them
We try to equip them for a world that is sometimes life-giving
And sometimes hostile
We act, both as nurturer
A loving secure presence
And instructor, a guide,
Pointing out the way of the just and the righteous
And trying to walk in that way ourselves

If your heirs take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.

In this passage from Kings
That we read this morning
We see that, in some ways, parenthood
Is pretty much the way it has always been
David seems to have only one major goal
On his deathbed
And that is to pass on to his son Solomon
A sense of the importance of their shared tradition
Of what is right and what is wrong

In this way he is a lot like parents today
He even, like many of us
Takes refuge in religion and in scripture
In this case, he is referring to the requirements
Of the Book of Deuteronomy

When we dream of the future
That we would like for our children
Many of us first think, not of specific careers
Or achievements, but that they be happy and they be good
That is, that they are content with the lot they have received
And that they contribute positively
To human progress

But teaching ethics is hard to do
There are, after all, many challenges that greet
All of us when it comes to leading the moral life
And this holds true for our kids
As much as for anyone else

The Reverend Gordon McKeeman over forty years ago
Tried to name the causes of the erosion of morality
First, he attributed it to the breakdown
Even among church people
Of the structure that meant so much to David and Solomon
A loss of the old faith in the face of the lessons of science
This he didn’t see as necessarily bad
As long as it was accompanied by a change in the basis
For moral action

Of course, this isn’t necessarily an original thought
And his other three culprits are all familiar ones, too
The depersonalization of society,
The loss of a sense of guilt and understanding of sin
And the increasing power of the motive toward personal profit

McKeeman listed these causes back in 1963
And there have been many books and sermons
(too many to count)
On these subjects both before and since
But they are truly the challenges that face us
When we try to teach
Try to pass on what we see
As the true and honest path through life

Albert Schweitzer wrote that
Ethics is nothing other than the reverence for life
It is a simple concept
But one that seems so hard to grasp for so many

Of course, life isn’t the way it used to be
And in certain cases we have had to say goodbye
To a simpler, more honest, better age
But, in other ways society has grown and developed
It has improved in some places
As it has declined in others
And we as parents,
Remembering as we do, days gone by
(Even the parents of young children)
Sometimes miss the significance of our changing world

Henry Ward Beecher, said
In his support for the work of Charles Darwin
That There are many points in which the theology of the past did well enough for the past, but does not any more answer the reasonable questions and the moral considerations that are brought to bear upon it in our day.
Where some saw a weakening of the glue
That held together our communities
Beecher saw an opportunity
To use the insights of science and technology
To deepen our understanding of God
And of our right relationship with the world

After all, there is a reason for the adaptability
Of our democratic faith
And it is that tradition, morality and ethics
While they stay the same at their core
Change, too,
To suit the changes of our world and our people
Who could have predicted during Beecher’s time
The impact of the internet, cell phones
And even the relatively low-tech
Interstate highway system?

As parents, we need sometimes not to teach but to learn
To listen to our children and grandchildren
Who are trying to adapt to an environment
That we cannot fully understand
(as much as we would like to)

This makes our job harder, actually
Because we also try to keep them safe
At some point, for each of us
Our children will do something that we do not approve of
And it is left to us to decide the correct action to take
There is a very good chance
That in their explorations they will need a guiding hand
But, from time to time
They must lead us
Or as De Vink writes
[Our children] will do just fine on their own [if we] Just set them free.

This brings us to that other Bible reading this morning
The one from Luke
Now every year [Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.

Here we have an example of
When the new world meets the old
Joseph and Mary were afraid for their son
They knew that he is still young
(Though twelve year olds
Would be expected to be much more mature then)
they were worried, just as we would be
But Jesus was alright
He was in the temple, learning from the teachers
And the prophets
About the new way
Jesus, in fact, is surprised by their concern.
Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?

Mary and Joseph were confused
Jesus was self-assured
So can it be for all of us, sometimes

Parents must walk a path between two extremes
Even David, who sounded so definite
In his death-bed speech to his son
Left him some wiggle room
When he later said
Act, therefore, according to your own wisdom

And so we, too, try to set out the rules
And leave room for interpretation
Walter Bruggemann, a Bible scholar
When reflecting on the tensions
That existed for David and Solomon wrote:
The issue of conditionality and unconditionality is an interesting one…Some children are nurtured in an environment of ready affirmation that is experienced as unconditionality; that nurture can result in either joyous self-acceptance or in an exaggerated sense of self-importance. Some children are raised in the context of endless moral insistence and implied disapproval; that can result in either a robust sense of duty or in a deep notion of failure and inadequacy. And so it is important to maintain the tension between the two accents.

What Bruggemann doesn’t tell us
But from experience, we know
Is that this tension is one that parents live with
For their entire lives
Because, both as parents and as children
We know that kids always need their Moms and Dads
Whether they are two or eighty-two
And that, just like David and Solomon
That relationship weakens very little
With distance or even with death

When our parents are gone
We still keep them in our hearts
And in our actions
The very way we talk and think

So today, on Father’s Day
When our thoughts turn to family
Let us pray that we are able
To walk the paths of righteousness
For the sake of our children
For the sake of our parents