Aboriginal Day of Prayer, June 20, 2021
St. Martin North Vancouver
“The Glory of a Father”
“No hope? Look up into the stars or down into a baby’s face and tell me there is no hope…”
- Ann Weems
When my firstborn child was still very small, only a couple of weeks old, we took her with us to Sunday service at Christ Church Cathedral. Jim Cruikshank, then bishop of Cariboo, was visiting. He preached that morning. I don’t remember the text, only that he was encouraging truth and reconciliation with First Nations Peoples as his diocese struggled with the revelations of abuse at St. George’s residential school in Lytton. His formal apology in 1993 had led the Anglican Church into the difficult path of admitting and seeking to understand what we now know as systemic racism towards indigenous peoples. After the service he spent a few minutes with my husband and myself, in spite of looking worn and fragile from the strain. He picked up my baby, held her close in his arms, and blessed her. He reached out to her grasping hand, and she wrapped her tiny fingers around one of his. Then he said something I will never forget: “How can anyone look on such a beautiful child and not believe there is a God?”
This week, as I have been reflecting on all the events that have led to our gathering this morning, I am reminded again of how difficult it is to imagine God as the Father of all. Today is the wider society’s celebration of dads, when greeting cards hold up an ideal that few can maintain. Today is also the Sunday that the Anglican Church of Canada designates as the Indigenous Day of Prayer. We remember the strength and resilience of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. We mourn for the fathers who never had their children come home from residential schools and we repent for the Church which has failed in its parental responsibilities. And lastly, we give thanks for the men that we know who have acted as fathers in our lives, especially for those whose worlds have changed so much in the last year and a half of pandemic. To be a fatherly relationship is complicated at any time, as those of you who have had children or known your own father can attest. To think of God as Father is problematic when our trust has been damaged.
There are people who have told me that they really struggle with saying the Lord’s prayer. Jesus told his disciples to address God as “Abba”. “Our Father” is a rather formal translation for a word in the Aramean that is closer to the intimacy of “our daddy”. Jesus wanted his followers to know their Creator as he did, as a loving son with his father right from the beginning of time. Because he was so closely aligned to God’s will, the glory of God shone out through him, full of grace and truth. Those around him were invited to this same relationship as his brothers and sisters: children of one God. But if you have not had a loving daddy in your life, or if you have known and loved someone as a father and then had him taken away from you through distance or death, that changes your perception. The ability to see God as a good and loving Father can be limited by both culture and experience. God is not necessarily the father that you grew up with.
What the good news proclaims is that we can look to the son to see what the father is like. We sin against God when we are stuck making Him in our own image, rather than holding up Jesus to reveal the image of God. God is healing and forgiving, wise and caring, strong and self-giving because that is what we know of Jesus. But whenever people have twisted away from these truths, the picture of God gets twisted too, and the power of the gospel is diminished. The one who comes across as judgmental, jealous, distant, and exclusive is not really God but an idol which we humans have made. That construction gets used to control and punish those who don’t think the way we do. In order to reject that stern, Old Testament-style deity, however, we have to do the hard work of intimacy.
Because being a good father is hard work. During this pandemic, many parents have found themselves working from home out of necessity. Within four walls, the balance of doing expected computer work or taking part in videoconferences is further complicated by other household members. From the parent who has been “zoom-bombed” by their toddler, to the juggling of home-schooling and chores and keeping children active and mentally stimulated, it’s been a tough year. For dads who had previously escaped to their workplaces and left the majority of housework and childcare to others, it has also been an eye-opener. One of the good things that has come out of this experience is the documented increase in the sharing of household responsibilities. So cheers to the fathers who have invested in more family responsibilities and have reaped the benefits of closer relationships with their children. The trial and error of burnt macaroni and soggy diapers and clothes shrunk in the wash have been worth it! Thanks also for resisting the stereotype of the helpless or distant male, which does not reflect the human capacity to learn and give.
Thankfully, when we get it wrong God does not give up on us. Love has flesh and dwells among us. The Word of truth is sent to reconcile us every time God’s love is reflected in our relationships. So we look to how Jesus loved and acted with his family and his friends and his followers as a model for how fathers can really be. Like father, like son. Jesus wasn’t a dad himself, but he shone a light on how to be a father and how God is a Father to us all. Everyone the Creator has given for us to hold and to cherish is a gift to see He exists.
This is community work: to heal and share a true picture of God. Together we need to fight against stereotypes and historical wrongs and one culture imposing its image on another. The battle is not done until every child knows the love that is present to raise and encourage them to fullness of life. That will be glory! We cannot heal alone. This is why Jesus taught us to pray “our father”, not “my father”. The hope is that we will see Jesus reflected in each other’s eyes and hands, and learn anew what God our Father is like. Today, faith communities pray for all that is wrong with our world and give thanks for all that is right in our relationships. Let us turn again to the One who has created and cares for all living things, and the Word of truth that has revealed the glory of a Father’s love. Amen.