By Paul Koch –
Well here it is. Months of planning and work behind the scenes and today you get to let it all show, for today is Father’s Day. Today the restaurants are all booked up and the last minute details come together as we finally tell our dads how much we love them. Well okay, perhaps the restaurants aren’t booked and the plans aren’t that extravagant, but most dads that I know are fine with it. We know full well that as days of celebration, Father’s Day is a far cry from Mother’s Day. We know that it wasn’t even an established national holiday until Nixon signed it into law in 1977, some 60 years after Mothers’ Day.
However, the first recorded celebration of Fathers’ Day is a story worth retelling. In Fairmont West Virginia all the way back on 1908, a day was set aside to focus on the gift of Fathers. It came in the wake of the greatest mining disaster in the history of the United States. An explosion at the Fairmont Coal Company in nearby Monongah damaged the ventilation systems along with the railcars and support timbers on the mines. The inability to clear the mines of toxic gas quickly turned the rescue effort into a recovery effort. All in all, 362 men died in those mines leaving 250 women widows and over 1000 children fatherless. That first Father’s Day was an attempt to honor their memory, to weep and mourn and give thanks for the gift of Fatherhood.
Now this sort of somber beginning to Father’s Day gives it a remorseful and longing flavor. And I think that is fitting. For deep within us all is a longing for one of the most powerful forces known to man, a good father. A good father establishes our identity, provides what is needed. He is there to protect, to guide, and to love. Those who have good fathers know the treasure that they have and fear losing it. And those who don’t have a good father or any father at all long for that which they have missed in their life. Like a distant echo, there is this faint remnant of what ought to be there but they can’t find. And I have never met a man yet who, if he has children, doesn’t want to be a good father. Not that all are good, not that all meet even their own expectations, but somehow they still measure themselves to a standard of a good father.
This longing for a good father is taken up by St. Paul as we continue through his letter to the Galatians. He has chastised them for their wayward ways; their desire is to take up the law again as a measure of their faithfulness and base of their salvation. He has done the work again of killing and bringing forth new life as they are emptied of their own work and filled with the life and gifts of Christ himself. He has made the bold declaration that you have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer you who lives but Christ who lives in you. This new life then changes your identity; you are not what you were before. You are the sons of God and your Father is truly a good father.
Sons of God, that’s a delightful title to have. Now you may want the title to be children of God, or at least sons and daughters of God. But a son of God is a very particular title, a title that encompasses the young and old, men and women, Jew and Gentile alike. When the Lord sends Moses back to Egypt to demand that Pharaoh let his people go He says to Moses, “You shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, let my son go that he may serve me.” Israel is God’s son, the whole nation, young and old male and female they are his son. They are heirs of his blessings and protected and loved by God. It was their identity, it gave meaning and purpose to their existence.
But then thousands of years later Jesus of Nazareth stands in waters of the Jordan River to be baptized by John in order to fulfill all righteousness. There the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world repents for sins that are not his own. He repents for the sins he will bear to the cross, for your sins. As he is washed in them the heavens open up and the eternal Father declares, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” God’s son Israel had wandered away from their good Father. They had turned their back on the gracious Father who loved them and called them by name. But then in those waters leading ultimately to the cross of Calvary and the empty tomb is the good Son, the faithful son, the Son that wouldn’t reject the blessings of the Father, the Son that would endure the punishment others had earned so that his Father might have mercy on them.
And so as Israel’s identity was found in the love of their Father and Christ’s identity is found in his perfect service of the Father, so you are now called the sons of God. You are the inheritors of the blessings and mercy secured by the true and eternal Son of God. You are those chosen and set apart to be his children. You have received the adoption as sons. And so Paul says, “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” Our longing for a good father is made complete in our adoption into the eternal family of God.
Now it is important to note that this new identity as the sons of God comes by adoption. Adoption doesn’t work by our effort or will. Adoption isn’t a product of our best PR campaign. Adoption is completely the work of another. It is an external Word that declares something about who we are. In other words, God didn’t just get stuck with you, it’s not that he wasn’t without options as far as children go. And it’s not that you did something at the right time and in the right way to earn your adoption. And so, the sonship first given to Israel and then perfected in the love of Christ is now freely given to you.
The law according to Paul was our guardian before the gift of faith in Christ. The law was overseeing our comings and goings until we were declared to be heirs of the kingdom of God, free in the love of our Father. In the waters of holy baptism, you die, your sins are exposed and your shame is revealed. But you are not left for dead. For you rise from those waters filled with new life, with new breath with a new identity. You are the sons of God. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
This adoption into the household of faith is a transformative thing. You may live out your days struggling and wondering who you really are, you may have doubts about how to plan for your future or confused about what the best career path is. You might be fearful about retirement and what it means for the next stage of life. You might be near the bedside of someone you love but you know they won’t be around much longer. And what you will need more than anything else, what you must have to endure and to press on is a father, a good father. One who will protect and guide and comfort and forgive you.
And that Father you have. His own Spirit resides within you crying out to him. Crying out in times of joy and sadness, in times of confusion and hope. Crying out to a Father who will not forsake you, not abandon you, not leave you in darkness. Rather he speaks a ceaseless Word to his sons. He speaks a word to the men and women of his family, to the young and old, the Jews and Gentiles. It is the same Word that all earthly fathers need to hear and the same Word they long to speak. It is simple Word, but a powerful Word. It is the Word of our good Father who says to you, “I forgive you, I love you, you are mine today and forevermore.”