A Sermon by Ray Trygstad
At Wesley United Methodist Church, Naperville, Illinois, June 19, 2016.
Download as a PDF.
Promises. Everybody makes promises. We make promises to ourselves, often on New Years Day: “This year, I’m gonna lose 40 pounds.” “This year, I’m gonna not watch so much TV.” And some people get a little ridiculous: “I will not bore my boss by with the same excuse for taking days off. I will think of some more excuses.” or “I will find out why the correspondence course on “Mail Fraud” that I purchased never showed up.” Comedian Pete Holmes has the best formula for resolutions: “Forgot to make resolutions? Just write out everything you did last night and at the beginning add the word ‘stop.’” Simple, easy promises that all too often people do not take very seriously.
Fathers make promises. The promise of a parent is far more serious than a resolution. After church today, John and Lynn and I are heading up to the Warrenville Community Center to help present “Mary Poppins: The Broadway Musical.” Most folks probably think this show is about Mary Poppins, but actually it’s not. It’s about George Banks, the father of the family living at 17 Cherry Tree Lane. It’s about unfulfilled and even unexpressed promises of a father to his family, and Mary Poppins freeing George to be a full father to his children. Every Dad makes promises, and today on Father’s Day we thank our fathers for following through on those promises: the promise of love, a home, a family, and a launchpad to allow us to leave that home and family to make it in the world.
God our father also makes promises, and our Epistle today explains the fulfillment of promise: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” What is the promise? That the Messiah, God’s own Son, would free us from adherence to the law as a means of salvation. This is God’s launchpad for us, allowing us to leave home and make it in the world.
Heirs according to the promise. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary tells us that an heir is someone who “one who receives or is entitled to receive some endowment or quality from a parent or predecessor.” We are the heirs because God is our Father. Presbyterian theologian R.C. Sproul tells us that until Jesus used the term, God was never referred to as “Father” in Judaism. Dr. Sproul tells us that “A few years ago, a German scholar was doing research in New Testament literature and discovered that in the entire history of Judaism—in all existing books of the Old Testament and all existing books of extrabiblical Jewish writings dating from the beginning of Judaism until the tenth century A.D. in Italy—there is not a single reference of a Jewish person addressing God directly in the first person as Father.” But Jesus changed all this. He not only addressed God as Father, but told his followers that we should do this as well. God acknowledged that his creation of humanity made him our Father, co-equal with his Son as his children, and as heirs to his promise.
God’s covenant originally was with his chosen people, the people of Israel, but in St. Paul’s letter to the Christians in Galatia, he makes to very clear that all are his children, for “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female…” We recognize this at Wesley with our welcoming statement: “God, as known to us in Jesus Christ, welcomes all. So do we. All people of any race, ethnic identity, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, economic status, or life situation are welcome here.” Because God is our Father, we are heirs, and just like a loving father, He loves all of us. Love is a remarkable commodity, because as every parent knows, it is one of the only things you can’t run out of. Everything else we need to make a household run—milk and butter and gas for the car, and the money to pay for it all—is finite, but love is limitless. There is never a reason to parcel or ration love.
Today in our society there is a lot of hate. As hate is the reverse side of love, it also seems to be without capacity or limits as well. Hate is manifestly evident in treating people that God has made as somehow less than others, in telling them, for example, that even thought God created them as gay that “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” It is the Law that tells us this, but the Epistle lesson tells us that “…the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” All means all. Everyone. No exceptions.
Hate results in terrible consequences, like the deaths in Orlando last week. Hate saps us, it tires us, it drags us down. And while I cannot imagine a single positive outcome from hate, an awful lot of people sure seem to spend a lot of time and energy on hate. Some folks hate all liberals because they want to come into their homes and take their AR-15 assault rifles. Some folks hate the National Rifle Association, because they want terrorists to be able to buy AR-15 assault rifles. Some folks hate anyone different than themselves: not their race, not their religion, not their gender, not their gender preference, not their nationality. And other people just hate bigots. Demagogues play off of our hate, and can even lead people blinded by their hate to make choices that they otherwise would never make.
As people of God, as heirs to the promise, as brothers and sisters who have been told that we all are equal, neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, there is no room for hate. And the only correct answer, the only real antidote to hate…is love. We need to love as a parent. As a father—and I know pretty much every father shares this experience—there are days where you may not like your child very much. But you still love them. Let’s face it, all of us are pretty unlovable sometimes, and God loves us anyway. SO I know it’s a stretch, but as His heirs, God expects us to love with the same disregard for the likeability of those who are subjects of our love. We can’t do this on our own—we have to draw on God’s infinite store of love to strengthen us and allow us to love as He would have us. The only cure for hate is love.
In the words of the popular hymn, “With God as our Father, brothers all are we. Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony.” So let us all walk with each other as brothers and sisters, together as heirs to the promise, and go forth as our Father would have us, to love. Amen.