A sermon preached by Nikolaj Christensen on 21 June 2020
Happy Father’s Day, to all you fathers and all you who dearly wish you were fathers, and to all you grandfathers and great-grandfathers, and you fun uncles and makers of dad jokes. My thoughts go out to those of you who have had to live with an imperfect or absent father – whether that was your own father or perhaps the father of your children, or even yourself. And happy Father’s Day, I hope, somehow, to those of you who have lost a father or a child.
Jesus, perhaps, did not quite have Father’s Day in mind when he spoke those words we just heard: ‘I have come to set a man against his father,’ and ‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me’. But these challenging words do make an important point: our earthly relations, however good – or bad – are just a shadow of the One whom Jesus constantly refers to, particularly in Matthew’s account, as ‘your Father’, ‘my Father’, ‘our Father’, the ‘heavenly Father’ – God.
As Jesus says here: ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father.’
But where is this attentive Father now, in the midst of a global pandemic? On top of that, where is this loving God for those five young people in America whose father was strangled last month by a policeman? Or those who lost loved ones in the awful stabbing rampage in Reading last night?
We often point to Jesus on the cross as the ultimate picture of God’s solidarity with a suffering world. That is absolutely right. And where is the Father then? As heartbroken as he was to see his Son rejected and crucified, to hear him cry ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ – so heartbroken is he by all human suffering, or in fact by all suffering, animal or human: ‘not one [sparrow] will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted.’
The Father holds all things in his hands, even when they break. And as Jesus says elsewhere: ‘not a hair of your head will perish’. The Father longs to give us new and eternal life as his children. Then even death can hold no fear for us.
This evening we would have had our Confirmation service, which we have obviously had to postpone, though perhaps we’ll find some other way to mark the step that our young people in particular have taken in preparing for this. A couple of weeks ago in our Zoom confirmation class, we looked at the passage from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans that we heard from earlier, on baptism. Let me just focus on a couple of phrases: ‘if we have been united with [Christ] in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his’.
Whatever suffering we are living through, we have given up on the idea of finding complete happiness and fulfilment in this brief life. We have been united with Jesus on the cross, through baptism and through attempting to live differently in the world. The Father will unite us with him in his new life as well. As St Paul writes: ‘we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life’.
We too might walk in the confidence that we are headed for fulness of life in our Father’s house.