By Paul Koch –
Today is Father’s Day. To be sure, it is not as significant as Mother’s Day, at least in its cultural impact. Father’s Day wasn’t established as a permanent holiday until it was signed into law by president Nixon in 1972, 58 years after the establishment of Mother’s Day. Father’s Day has had a bit of catching up to do since then. But it is typically a fun day, filled with all the usual dad inspired stereotypes. Ties, BBQ aprons, or little gadgets to waste time on are the normal gifts. No doubt, some will go out to eat at Dad’s favorite restaurant, and some will have their favorite meals cooked at home. It is a time to celebrate dads, to give thanks for their hard and often unappreciated work. Father’s Day honors what is the absolute best about being a man. To be a provider and protector of a family, to preside in the lives of others brings out the absolute best part of manhood. In my opinion, it is what men are built for, what we are designed by our Creator to do.
And yet it is precisely in this vocation of Fatherhood that a man will often experience his greatest struggle, his greatest failure, his greatest regret and sadness. I was there when each of my five children were born. Every time, I couldn’t help but break down in tears. I had been to the ultrasound appointments. I had seen the blurry little images. I had heard a heartbeat from inside my wife that was not her own. There was magic and wonder in it all, but to see my child for the first time was overwhelming. The first time I held that little life in my arms I resolved deep within myself to do whatever was necessary so that her life might be a good one. I wanted him not just to survive in this world but to thrive in it, to rise above. I longed for them to be strong, intelligent, and wise beyond their years. I wanted them to grow into people of such character that they others would find in them an example worthy to emulate. I would defend them and destroy any who sought to bring them harm. I would lead by example and by my words. I would show them what it meant to be both forgiving and compassionate on the one hand and unwavering and resilient on the other.
Such a trust given to me, such a charge that entitled me to be called a father, was worthy of all my time and energy. Nothing else mattered—until other things mattered. So many other things pulled me away from fulfilling my vocation as a father. They were not important things until I made them so. Old hobbies, selfish interests, personal quests for my own fulfillment. No longer did I read to them at night like I used to do, or sing them those old songs after I tucked them in. Things grew more distant as my interactions were mostly composed of abrupt instructions and expressions of disappointment over unkept rooms or another broken appliance in the home. It seems to me that a father doesn’t have many allies in this world as he drifts far from his dreams. What gets all the attention, what gets all the notice, what seems to be commonplace are the fathers who have failed, who are broken. Fathers like me, like you and like your fathers.
Now in opposition to all this, in opposition to a world that seems comfortable in the broken, a world that expects it and encourages it, is the working of our God. Not just any old god, not just our source of identity or the focus of our devotion but a dynamic and powerful God that works in surprising ways. A God that fights through all the noise and distractions of our lives to seek and save and restore his children. A God that comes as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As the old creed confesses, “God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.” In such a God there is hope for the broken fathers and for the fatherless and for you.
And hope is what we need. We have a crisis in our age. I used to think it was just me reading into things my own preconceived notions. Things were bad, I thought, but not that bad. Tough these days, I’m not so sure. They just might be worse than I thought. There is a crisis that is rooted in fatherhood. More and more there are connections being made relating everything from violent offenders to sexual promiscuity to depression and suicide rates to role of a father. It turns out that the presence of a father impacts crucial parts of a person’s development. It impacts how you understand your own worth and what you must do for security and where you ground your identity. Such things aren’t fixed by a desire to fix them. They aren’t changed by simply pointing out the problem. There must be fathers. There must be those who will take up the banner, who will stand in that role where others have failed, who will keep pressing on for the sake of the rest of us.
If our hope rests in a Triune God, a God who is at work for you then it is from him or through his work that we ought to search for our hope. In John chapter 8, we find our Lord embroiled in a discussion with enemies who oppose him. What they don’t realize, what they refuse to believe is that in this confrontation they are standing against the working of God. They ask our Lord, “Are we not right in saying that you’re a Samarian and have a demon?” Now, that’s not a nice thing to say. But Jesus comes back and says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51). This seems to prove their point. After all, Abraham is dead. Is he saying that he is greater than their father Abraham? Well, yes. Jesus answers them, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’” (8:54). What Jesus is saying is that what he is doing is not his own work, but what the Father has sent him to do, what your God has sent him to do. The Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the confession of a God at work to save you.
He is greater than Abraham, for Abraham longed to see the fulfillment of the promises of God. In fact, by faith he saw God keep his Word over and over again, especially through the birth of his own son. And the culmination of that Word, the great unveiling of that work was when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Before Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob there was God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A Father who so loves the world that he gives his only begotten Son to suffer, die, and rise so that you might have life, hope, and assurance. A Son that is received and celebrated by not by your strength, reason, or temporal power but by faith. Faith that is nourished and created by the Spirit of God in the first place. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at work for you to find you, to awaken you, to love you, to forgive you, to save you.
Now this Spirit comes to you. He comes through the proclamation of the Word of God. He comes through the gifts of Holy Baptism, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. He comes to the fatherless and the failed fathers. He comes to the broken and the hurting. He comes to all those who wish that they had done better, those who failed in love and protection and compassion. And he turns your attention toward one thing, and one thing only, the faithful Son of the Father. The Son who bore your sin, who paid your penalty, who endured your rejection so that he might save your soul. And this faithful Son as he rises from the dead declares your salvation before his Father’s throne, naming you as one whose name is now written in the book of life.
God at work on this Father’s Day is good news for us all. For those who have been without a father, who have longed for that absent voice of compassion and strength in their lives, there is good news. Christ is the Word of the Father for you. And that Word lives on. It may not be found in your earthly father, but it still speaks. It speaks through others, through men who love you and women who care for you. And for those of you who are fathers, who have failed in their task, this Word speaks to you as well, calling you again to rise up finding assurance and strength in his promises and to be his love once again. To open your mouths and proclaim his mercies again. For all those who know fathers who have failed and who need help, this Word speaks through you to forgive and comfort and guide them again. This Word is no small thing. It is the very power of salvation, the working of a Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.