“Rethinking Fatherhood, Faith & Forgiveness”
Matthew 9:9-26 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United Church ~ June 21, 2020
I’ve been a Dad for 20 years now. Wow…where does the time go! And as I’m confronted by this morning’s curious text, I am starting to wonder if I’ve been fathering wrong the whole time. When my kids were little, I used to challenge their inquisitive minds by telling them how I went to ‘Dad school’. When they didn’t get their way, I would say ‘Sorry…but I can’t do this or that, that’s not how they teach us in Dad school.’ When I might have messed up, I would say ‘Sorry…but they never covered that in Dad school!’ Eventually they caught on. But in all truth, when we prepare for this joy and responsibility, we are given lots of advice, cards with wise sayings, DVD’s, perhaps even some books. All to better equip the new father in his new role. But I’m starting to wonder if I got it all wrong! And whether you are a father, or a mother, or a person who lives in community around others, we ALL have a direct influence on other’s lives. So, these ponderings I offer are for all of us. We all have an influence on the lives of little ones around us. And we are taught to raise our children to be their best selves; to have confidence; to grow wings and fly; to celebrate the unique blessing we each are. Do these motivational platitudes of parenting sound familiar? As a father, I have sought to offer the best leadership I can in raising my children. And on Father’s Day, we look forward to enjoying the fruits of our labours: time with our children, a special meal together, lovingly crafted cards, gifts of soap on a rope, silly neck ties, and the like. And as I ponder the ninth chapter of Matthew, I wonder if I have been getting it wrong the whole time. I wonder if I am worthy of these celebrations my children offer me today. So, let’s talk about fatherhood, faith and forgiveness.
In the text, Jesus challenges the prescriptive way of being that was prominent among the leaders of the religious community. To those who believed in such a formulaic way of success, Jesus challenges this way of thinking. Do this, and that, and you will be a success. Fall in line with these prescriptions, and you will be made perfect. For the Pharisees, the religious leaders who upheld the Jewish law, they preached a strict observance to the tenets of the Law that led to one’s moral perfection…their righteousness. There was a strict formula that one was to follow in order to be found in God’s favour…to be righteous with God. Jesus challenges this prescriptive way of being. He challenges it with grace. The text reports him saying: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners.” This amazing sense of grace that Jesus introduces here is a direct alternative to the prescriptive requirements of old. Jesus’ desire is not a prescribed form of sacrifice. Offer these sacrifices in such and such a way, and you will be holy. Instead of a desire for sacrifice, Jesus’ desire is for mercy; His desire is for the sinner…the one who has gone astray. Scholars view this 9th chapter as Matthew’s parallel to the familiar one in Luke 15. It lays out the grace extended to the lost, to the lonely and to the sinner. To read through this chapter in Luke’s gospel, we encounter the parables of the lost who are relentlessly sought after. The lost coin ~ where the woman tirelessly sweeps her home searching. The lost sheep ~ where the shepherd will move mountains to ensure the safety of that 100th. The lost son ~ where the loving father will throw a party when he finally comes home. I’m wondering if this text is calling us to balance our leadership of lifting up others to meet their potential by also helping shine light on those areas where we are broken, where we are hurting, and (to use that churchy word we prefer to avoid) where we are led by sin. I am wondering if this text is calling us to allow God’s light to shine into those pains that we all have and allow God’s healing light, God’s amazing grace to bless us one and all.
In the text, Jesus would proclaim: “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick”. Here, Jesus is echoing some of the common proverbs of the day. The Greeks believed that the philosophers were the physicians of the soul. Here, Jesus shows his role in offering healing from our sickness. Theologians would pick this up later in history… St. Augustine and later on, Saint John Chrysostom rephrase it saying: “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints” And this role of the church would echo through church history to today. Reminding us of the gift and responsibility we collectively hold as the church. “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints” is call and a challenge for us to truly fling open the doors of our heart and be a place of mercy…to be a place where the sinner is truly welcomed home.
Liberation theologian Gustavo Guttierez first put forth the concept of ‘God’s preferential option for the poor.’ In his theology, he challenges our privileged places of comfort and contentment, by arguing that God’s location is among the poor…God’s preference is among the poor…God’s amazing grace is found among the poor. This text demonstrates such practice in Jesus’ calling a shady tax collector, in Jesus healing a hemorrhaging woman and raising a girl from the dead. All three actions made him unclean and unrighteous by the previous standards. Yet Jesus was found among outcast; Jesus was found among those named unclean. God’s preferential option for the poor was demonstrated in these three parts of the story. And I think what this calls us to is an inner evaluation of where we find ourselves to be poor. How often do we let our human confidence, our personal achievements, our sense of arrogance get in the way? When Jesus said: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners” he was inviting us to examine those ways in which we are poor. Where are we in need of mercy? Where are we the broken? Where are we the sinner?
I should confess that I did something a little ‘crazy’ this morning. The prescribed text by the Revised Common Lectionary did not include the middle section that where Jesus lifts up the wisdom of not sowing new cloth into an old garment, or putting new wine into old wineskins, or not celebrating when the bridegroom is among us. I included these four verses because they lift up the call of us to not do things in the ways of old. As Jesus brings in the new kingdom; as the bridegroom sets the table for its arrival, he is bringing in this new way of embracing our brokenness…of welcoming our faults…of touching our sin and meeting us right there. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners.” This, of course, is a very different way of looking at life. It is the direct opposite of saying ‘be your best self’ / you can do anything! It calls us to embrace and love our worst selves too. It is about being vulnerable in our weakness. It is a radically different way of being a parent, of being a friend, of being a spouse, of being a human. I wonder what parts of our being have been ‘swept under the rug’, neglected, and hidden from the light? I wonder what parts could truly benefit from God’s grace? The surprising hero and heroine in the story were the leader of the synagogue and the young woman suffering from hemorrhages. In their weakness they went to Jesus knowing that he would welcome them, heal them, free them. The leader of the synagogue, in all his power, KNELT before Jesus. I wonder what areas of our being yearns to receive God’s shining light? One example of our action in this area has been with the work with our Indigenous brothers and sisters as we devote this Sunday as “The Indigenous Day of Prayer”. While this Sunday remembers the 5th anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, we recall this morning’s observance in the church going all the way back to 1971, almost 5 decades. This is an example that we cannot be a whole people without acknowledging the sins of our past. We must allow God’s mercy to be found as we shine light upon past sins, as we find healing, and as we move in ways of reconciliation and hope.
There has been a lot happening over in the past two weeks with the Black Lives Matter movement. Last Sunday the United Church held prayer vigil on YouTube that thousands have now viewed. You can view it as well if you wish to join your hearts and concerns with racial discrimination. This too is a call for us to examine those areas where we are broken, lacking and failing other members of our community. It is a call to deeply listen to the sins of exclusion, the sins of hatred, the sins of violence against brother and sister of colour. And as we do so, we humbly hear Jesus’ words: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners.” And we await his healing light.
Today is also the first day of summer: summer solstice. The day with the greatest amount of light to be found. How perfectly timed is that? That as we acknowledge our faults and our failings, our sin and our brokenness that somehow God’s light will graciously shine into them. Somehow this amazing grace which God offers will be meet us, and heal us, and make us a little more whole. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners.” Thank God for that!