Note: This sermon was written and recorded for St. John’s Episcopal Church in Murray, Kentucky. You can see my sermon at the end of the post.
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Good Morning. My name is Ben Cowgill, and I am Mtr. Allison’s Caudill’s fiancée. I just completed my second year of seminary at Sewanee. If you missed it, I was with you all a month ago, and I am glad to be with you all again this morning, albeit in this digital format.
I have to confess that I spent most of this week trying as hard as I could to wrap the biblical texts today into a neat, nice, pleasant Father’s Day sermon. Unfortunately, I could not. The spirit has convicted me, as perhaps it has you in recent days, and everywhere I turned to in reading this text has backed it up: there is no neat, or pretty, or nice sermon that I can offer this morning. Jesus’ words to us are difficult to hear; they are difficult to swallow, and they made many people turn away. Jesus is no stranger to difficult sayings: “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” (John 6:66-67).
Matthew’s gospel is poignant. Where it mentions fathers, it does not mention courage, loyalty, steadfastness, kindness, strength, or any other characteristics we associate with our fathers. Instead, Jesus says:
“For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:35-39)
Christ, the prince of peace, proclaims that he is not here to bring peace, but the sword. Following Christ will turn fathers against Sons and mothers against daughters: conversely, following Christ can turn sons against fathers and daughters against mothers just as quickly. Unless they love Jesus more than them, unless all of the household makes the same sacrifices. There is nothing nice or pretty to be said about this: we can only ignore it, or engage with it. So lets engage it.
Looking at our world today from our corner of the church, I bet we would not have to look far to find family relationships disrupted because of the state of things. In her truest moments, our church stands with Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmad Arbery. Our presiding Bishop has made racial reconciliation a top priority for years, and our diocese has brought about a capital campaign to support two churches in historically black neighborhoods in Louisville. Yet our church has fallen short many more times; we have upheld the status quo more than we have challenged it.
The Gospel calls us to love our neighbor, and in this generation at this time, for the majority of us who are white, that means first listening to those who cry out for justice; educating ourselves. But it concurrently means taking action: whether that is participating in a protest, connecting with our political leaders, or posting on social media. Worst of all, it means speaking to friends and family, those closest to us who sometimes end up with different points of view. No matter how much we educate ourselves on these issues, we can be made to feel small in a second by a dismissive comment or misunderstanding of someone close. I’ve been there. I feel it.
Yet, at the core of Christ’s teaching is Love for our neighbors, all our neighbors. When Jesus was alive, he did not make a diversity list and heal the correct percentage of people in every category: no, he went to those most ostracized and in need of healing. He pursued lepers who were cast out of society, and healed the blind that were on societies margins. He proclaimed the poor as blessed, and said that they would inherit the Kingdom of God. Our Christian duty is to love and serve those who need it the most. Right now, that is the Black Community. Black Lives Matter, and for generations our country has said they do not. In many systematized ways, Black Lives continue to be cast on the margin despite our attempts to make everything pretty, despite our attempts to say that everything is fine now that we have civil rights and have ended slavery. Everything is not fine. There is nothing nice or pretty to be said about this: we can only ignore it, or engage with it.
Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Jesus calls us to engage. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors, and in this case, loving our neighbors puts us squarely on a side in the most divisive political battle in our history as a country. Post about Black Lives Matter, and you may offend relatives or lose friends; but you will also be on the side of love. Having a conversation about loving all our neighbors, including people of color and those on the margins of society, will drive a sword between those who do not share our convictions: that is what Jesus warns about. The road to the cross is a hard road.
Yet there is also promise: “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Christ comes to proclaim the kingdom of God. God cares for the least of these; and the least of these includes us. God’s kingdom has room for the poor, the marginalized, for people of color and white people too. God’s kingdom has room for those who have been anti-racist for decades and have been in countless protests, and those who went to their first march this month. God’s kingdom has room for you too. God’s kingdom includes all that God draws in, even those who stand unrepentant now, even those who do not hold the same beliefs as us.
Because finally, we are not called to convert everyone: the Holy Spirit does that work, with our participation. We are not called to fix our broken world, and frequently find ourselves without the power to do so, even on a small scale. We are called to witness to the coming of God’s Kingdom, that is breaking in even now.
So this Sunday, let us offer gratitude and love towards our fathers. We are meant to honor and respect our parents, and they deserve celebration, though they are imperfect like us. But let us also pray for those who have been separated from their parents, whether by their choice or not. Let us pray for those who have no fathers, and for those whose fathers want nothing to do with them. Let us pray for those fathers who have lost children, and for children who have lost their fathers. Finally, let us not put father and mother before God. Instead, through the love of Christ, let us share that love we have for our families with all our neighbors; with the entire church and the entire human family. That road is a hard road, which will require endurance; it will require repentance, too, when we fall short. The road will not be easy, the cross is not light: but when we give up ourselves to Jesus, we find life.