Father’s Day is a day with conflicting emotions. Not all fathers are perfect. Not all fathers are bad. And we know relationships of all kinds—parent and child, couples, siblings, neighbors, friends—all have ups and downs. We human beings are a complicated bunch. And it’s not something new.
My maternal grandmother was “born out of wedlock”—her mother, my great-grandmother, was not married when my grandma Myrtle was born. And my grandmother never knew who her father was. Great-grandmother Amanda Byers never told anyone—not a single person. She raised my grandmother all on her own. It’s pretty amazing to think about the determination that took. Maybe that’s why my grandmother, Myrtle, was one of the kindest and most non-judgmental persons I’ve ever known. She had 11 children of her own and a whole bunch of us grandkids.
My paternal grandparents divorced because my grandfather had an affair. It was the late sixties and divorce wasn’t as socially accepted. It was a long time before I knew the woman was black. And in the sixties interracial relationships weren’t accepted too well either. Why tell you all that today? Because it taught me to understand that relationships are not always neat and tidy. My grandfather married the woman who we came to realize he loved very much. And she loved him. Ozzie and Harriett or the Cleavers have never been the typical family. Modern Family is probably more like families of every time and place. Human relationships are complicated.
The Bible is a book about human relationships. And many of those relationships were dysfunctional and conflicted. Family life is challenging. No wonder reality shows are so popular—Survivor, Super Nanny, and Wife Swap likely have some biblical counterparts. We find ourselves in the pages of scripture and we find God. The history of God is as complicated as the history of humanity and we can’t barely scratch the surface of that history in the time we have today.
I take the Bible seriously but not literally. That is not original—it comes from a theologian named Karl Barth. It has helped me when trying to deal with the messy stuff of life—my own and my family, but also the lives of others. In the United Church of Christ we say that there is more light and truth to break forth from God’s word, that the Bible is a living document.
The shorthand for that is God is still speaking. I am grateful for the United Church of Christ and our mission and vision of hospitality. I am grateful for the witness of scripture that is filled with reminders of God’s love for all people.
Over the last two days the Illinois Conference, our Conference of UCC churches, gathered to celebrate our ministry and mission. It was good to hear about the work being done throughout the UCC in Illinois. It was good to know to share in worship. It was good to remember that we are not alone in the work we do here at St. John of welcoming people and teaching about a God who is inclusive. It was good to be reminded that the UCC is needed in the world today to continue the work of God. Just as the prophets of old were appointed, we too are appointed this day to bring more light and truth into the world.
Scripture is full of stories of human relationships and how those who were part of the stories saw themselves in relationship to God. The prophets were sometimes strange. The families were families like us. Think of brothers like Jacob and Esau, Cain and Able. Think of Abraham and Sarah and Mary and Joseph. Then remember these words from Jeremiah about how God knows us.
4Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
5“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
6Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”
7But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you,
8Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”
9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
God has drawn the circle of human life wide and no one is excluded. No family relationship, no situation is unfamiliar to God. God knows us and asks us to draw the circle wider still.