The Unexpected Kingdom

By Paul Koch

I have noticed over the years that the people who seem to care the least about a day set aside to acknowledge fatherhood are, in fact, fathers. The men who are honored on this day don’t tend to think all that much about it. When someone asks a father what he is going to do on Father’s Day, he usually hasn’t given it much thought and probably doesn’t really expect anything in particular. Sure, your family may have a certain tradition that is carried out every year but that is not usually some great expectation that a father desires for himself but is something that has worn in by time and habit. Father’s Day is a difficult day of sorts. It is one that we are expected to observe yet no one is really sure what we are supposed to do with it. It is a day that is all about fathers but turns out to be as complicated as the men it honors.

See, to be a dad is a powerful thing. Far more powerful than I ever thought when we had our first child. A father can be the source of incredible strength, stability and encouragement. A father can also be a force of doubt and fear and heartache. And, in fact, a father can and often will be all of these at the same time. For though a father longs to be a sure and constant rock of immovable presence in the lives of his children the reality is that he is a shifting and organic creature that learns and makes mistakes and struggles and worries and fails over and again. There are good fathers and bad fathers. There are fathers that try and fail and fathers that just give up. But there is no ignoring them, no ignoring the power that is felt in our lives because of our fathers. They have left their mark.

Of course, society has a way of dictating to fathers just what they are supposed to be, how they are supposed to act. Is a father a man who goes to war to protect his own? Is he one who makes sure his kids want for nothing, taking them to every practice and recital known to man? Is a father one who grinds away at work, leaving early and staying late to do what is necessary to provide? Is a father a man who enforces the law, keeping the kids in line, or is he that guy that is fun and spontaneous? Is a father a spiritual creature; does he gift his children with a conviction of faith beyond what is seen? Is he a man that hopes in something more?

My dad wasn’t what I would call a big churchy kind of guy. He didn’t sit the family down to devotionals or study the catechism with us or anything like that. In fact, my brothers and I would all probably agree that our dad was a man who worked: he worked hard. Beginning Sunday afternoons and not stopping until Friday afternoon, he worked. When it came to our faith he did two things. One, he brought his family to church. Every Sunday, whether we wanted to go or not, we were here. There wasn’t much discussion about it, no consideration for how busy or tired you were or what your friends were doing. You went to church. We didn’t have discussion on the sermons or even much about what we learned in Sunday School. In fact, I think they would leave us at Sunday School and go off to breakfast without us. The second thing he did was say grace as the family sat down to dinner together. Nothing fancy, it was just the old common table prayer, recited just as he had done with his parents. Looking back, it doesn’t look like much. It could have been better, deeper, more applicable to my life. It seemed a bit shallow compared to the gifts of our Lord.

See, the gifts that we gather around in church, the reason that we come together, are the very gifts that establish the active reign of the kingdom of God. Think about that for a moment. When Jesus first shows up he says, “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” The kingdom of God, His rule, His dominion over all things comes with our Lord Jesus Christ. What we are doing as we gather together, whether we come in joy on this Father’s Day to give thanks or we come with heavy hearts longing for more, we come to receive from our Lord the gifts of the kingdom. These gifts are the very means of eternal life, the tools that our Lord uses to deliver salvation to a world that is bound in sin and death. But we have to be honest, it doesn’t really look all that great. It doesn’t look like a kingdom of God. It looks rather weak and unimportant and lame.

I had a conversation just this past week with a young man who is really searching for meaning and confidence in his faith. He goes to a church that is very entertaining; there is mood music and emotional pleas that set the atmosphere just right for an experience with the Divine. For quite a while he had really felt like he was part of the kingdom of God but lately it all seems so fake. He learned more than he should about the little cliques and subgroups that plot against each other. He finds their harsh judgment and self-righteousness too much to handle. He says that he has plateaued in his faith and isn’t sure what to do next.

What he is experiencing is what we all experience. It is the doubt that comes when the kingdom of God looks so messed up. When we go expecting power and glory and majesty or perhaps even some sort of utopian community and we are met with what looks like failure and weakness. We then might figure it is time to look somewhere else. That there is no strength and hope in the Kingdom of God and so what we are doing is pointless. Or perhaps you might even think that the greatness of the Kingdom of God, the strength and the power and the reputation of the kingdom, rests upon your own contribution to it. Many go this way, assuring themselves that they are the source of the greatness of the Kingdom.

But listen to how our Lord describes His Kingdom. He says, “it is like a man scattering seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows: he knows not how.” In other words, the Kingdom grows because God himself grows His Kingdom. He alone is the one doing the work. He makes it what it is. Again, He describes the Kingdom saying, “It is like a mustard seed, which when sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” He is describing for us that when we see as small and perhaps insignificant by His guidance and work will grow to be something mighty and glorious. God never ceases to work in His Kingdom and what we may view as weak and even foolish is quite often His divine strength and wisdom.

His ways are not our ways and thank the Lord they are not. For His ways provide for us the gifts and the means that we need to endure, to press on through this passing shadow as we await the promise of eternal life. God is at work through His Word and Sacrament. He is at work through the preaching and teaching, through the washing of Baptism and the feeding of the Lord’s Supper. He is at work through your care and concern, through your love and forgiveness for each other, through your humble and faithful offerings. He is still at work.

My dad, as I said, wasn’t a bible-thumbing guy. From the outside, perhaps he didn’t look like much of a spiritual leader. But I remember one Sunday sitting next to him in the pew and he opened that old red hymnal and showed me where you find the propers for the day, the collect and the introit that the pastor prayed. I think about that often. A hard-working father, a man sitting with his son in church. It may not have looked like much. Yet through the good and the bad, the highlights and the lowlights, God was still at work. Teaching me about love and how to care and protect. Teaching me either by example of what to do or what to avoid and what it means to have a Father in heaven. A Father who would never cease to forgive, a Father who welcomes me as he welcomes you into His kingdom.