Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Worthy Man (Luke 7:1-10) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A teenage boy had just gotten his driving permit.  He asked his father if they could discuss his use of the family car.  His father took him into his study and said, "I'll make a deal with you. You bring your grades up, study the Bible a little, get your hair cut, and then we'll talk about it."   After about a month, the boy came back and again asked his father if they could discuss his use of the car. The father said, "Son, I've been very proud of you. You have brought your grades up, you've studied the Bible diligently, but you didn't get your hair cut."  The young man replied, "You know, Dad, I've been thinking about that. Samson had long hair, Moses had long hair, Noah had long hair, and even Jesus had long hair."  "True son," his father said, "and everywhere they went, they walked."

A study from Penn State researchers published in the journal Child Development tracked nearly 200 families over a seven year period.  Not surprisingly, the study found that time with mom and dad starts to drop when teenagers hit about the age of 15.  The study noted that, generally speaking, the more time teens spend with their dads, the higher their self-esteem, social competence, and sense of well-being.  Teens with involved fathers "may develop higher general self-worth because their fathers go beyond social expectations to devote undivided attention to them."

Today, we remember and honor and pray not merely for the ideal of fatherhood, but for real flesh and blood fathers.  Fathers who take fatherhood seriously and strive to be the best fathers they can be.   For fathers who treat their wives with love and respect as an example to their children.  We remember single fathers, married fathers, young and old fathers, foster fathers, step fathers and adoptive fathers.   For fathers who make promises and keep them, who stand by and support their families emotionally, spiritually and financially. 

Today we pray for fathers who are separated from their children because of military service or alienated from their children because of problems in the family.  We pray for fathers who are grieving the death of a child, and for fathers who have a passionate desire to pass on spiritual and moral values to their children, and who give, not just material things - but their time, their love, their energy, their knowledge, themselves.  

We also pray for fathers who have come to be called “deadbeat dads,” who do not support their children – emotionally or financially.  We pray for a change of heart, a change of mind, a change of attitude, that they will turn to God in repentance, that they will see the light and by God’s power and grace, mend their ways, and become the father’s God wants them to be and the father’s they are capable of becoming. 

Our story from the Gospel of Luke is about a Roman centurion.  He was a professional soldier, a battle hardened man, in charge of 100 soldiers with over which he had absolute authority.  He was a leader, proven in battle, a strong and tough man, a man’s man, a man not to be trifled with, a man who commanded complete respect and trust.  And yet, the story brings out some surprising antitheses, some interesting contrasts in this man’s make up.  I believe he is an example for Father’s Day.

The Centurion was a strong man with a tender heart.   He cared dearly for his servant; there was a close emotional bond between them.  The servant lay critically ill and the Centurion worried that he was on the verge of death, requests Jesus to heal him.  Some fathers are aloof and uncommunicative.  They are uncomfortable when it comes to expressing their feelings or showing affection.  Setting boundaries with children is of course important, but so is expressing concern and affirmation: complimenting them, encouraging them, praising them, being empathetic and involved in their children’s lives.

In a recent interview with New Jersey rock legend Bruce Springsteen, he said that his broken relationship with his father lives on in his songs.   The songs were a way of talking to his silent and distant father.   Springsteen says:  “My dad was very nonverbal—you couldn't really have a conversation with him.   I had to make my peace with that, but I had to have a conversation with him, because I needed to have one. It ain't the best way to go about it, but that was the only way I could, so I did, and eventually he did respond.”  The past, though, is anything but past.  Bruce Springsteen admitted his yearning for what he calls "Daaaddy!"  “My parents' struggles, it's the subject of my life.  It's the thing that eats at me and always will Those wounds stay with you, and you turn them into a language and a purpose.”

The centurion was a strong man with a tender heart!  Such is the Christ-like mark that is possible for any man, and any father.

Further, the Centurion was authoritative and supremely confident and yet a man of humility.   He sends Jewish elder friends to Jesus to ask him to come and heal his slave.  When Jesus was near his house, the Centurion says: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” Can you believe this?  He acknowledges Jesus’ authority by referring to Jesus as Lord.   The centurion had an unusual attitude toward the Jews.  “I am not worthy to have a Jew enter my house.”

From the conquest of Jerusalem, by the Roman General Pompey in 63 B.C., the Jews had lost their independence and Judea was incorporated into the Roman Republic.  The Jews were a conquered people and subject to Caesar and the power of Rome.   And this Roman Centurion with the power of an empire behind him says he is unworthy to have Jesus enter his home.  He respectfully requests Jesus to heal his slave; he doesn’t order Jesus.  He turns to Jesus for help.

Humility, asking for help, admitting that one needs help, acknowledging one’s limitations, is a big pill for some men to swallow.     Being self-reliant, in control, in charge; showing others you are decisive and assertive is the norm for most men.  Pride is a major obstacle.  I have seen marriages flounder or sometimes end up in divorce, because the husband lacks the humility to recognize that a problem exists and that the marriage and the family are in trouble and need help.  “There’s no problem” or “I can handle it.”  But alone, he can’t.

Recognizing one’s own weaknesses as well as one’s strengths, admitting times of being unsure or confused, confessing that you are a sinner in need of forgiveness, having the strength to say “I’m sorry”, or “I was wrong,” or “I need help” or “We need guidance for our family or our marriage - are all signs of humility.    Such is the Christ-like mark that is possible for any man, and any father.

The Centurion also was a man of faith who respected the faith of others.  Here was a Gentile Roman soldier, loyal to Caesar who worshipped Caesar as a god, sending Jewish elders to a Jewish Rabbi.  What an incredible gesture of respect and honor.  What an example of faith.  The Jewish elders give the Centurion an enthusiastic endorsement:  “Jesus, he is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, he built us our synagogue.”   He was a man of faith who respected the faith of others.   He trusted Jesus.  He had complete confidence in Jesus.  He clearly saw Jesus as far more than a Jewish rabbi: “Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”  Jesus says, “I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”     

The Bible recognizes that fathers too are sinners in need of grace.  Being a father takes time, it is a role that must be learned, it is a maturing process.  It is humbling, challenging rewarding and a great opportunity.   Ephesians 6:4 says: “Fathers, Do not provoke your children, instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”     
How do we bring them up in the Lord?   Fathers, pray for and with them.   There are many examples in scripture of fathers praying on behalf of their children.  Jairus prayed that Jesus would heal his daughter.   King David prayed: “Lord, give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, requirements and decree.”   Abraham prayed for his son Isaac.

Pray for their protection, their strength, their faith, their needs, and their character.  Ask God to help them be good, strong, responsible, to lead productive lives, and to glorify God in all they do.  When a man prays for his children he creates a bond that becomes stronger with each day. 

How? Fathers, give them a sense of identity.    There are family traditions and values; there is a rich heritage in your family that you can pass on to your children.  We are a family with a history and heritage and stories to tell.  Tell the stories.  We are a family where Christ is the center that worships God and prays and reads the Bible.  We are patriotic family and love our country.   We are a family that enjoys adventures together.  We are a family that discusses politics.  We are a family where learning is important.  We are a family which challenges one another and is accountable to one another and yet is always ready to forgive.   Identity is essential.

How?  Fathers, give them responsibility.  Children need to know that you trust them to handle things.  It is instilling in them a sense of competence.  If we give them responsibility when they are young, they will handle it better when they are older.  Teaching our children responsibility takes patience.  Most fathers, myself included, need a lot more work in the patience department.   You have to let go of the reins and let them try.  It is giving them freedom to succeed or fail, both of which provide important lessons in life.  

As I reflect upon being a father and the years Nancy and I spent in raising our sons Matt and Eric, and now in subsequent years of interacting with them as adults, I realize fatherhood is an adventure and a gift of grace, even with its challenges and uncertainties and the trials of adolescence.  Being a father brings meaning and purpose, gratitude, joy and pride, in the best sense of that word, to one’s life. 

The centurion sent Jesus a message: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but say the word, and let my servant be healed.”  I personally believe that Jesus on that day and the others on that day felt that this Centurion was a worthy man. 

Jesus declared to the crowd:  “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”  And the good news is that when we follow Jesus and embody such qualities in our lives, Jesus will find us worthy as well.     Happy Father’s Day.   Amen! 

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