In the summer of 1980 I served as youth intern for the Flint Church of Christ in Decatur, AL. The preaching minister was Charles Stidham, a family friend, and the minister who had baptized my parents in the early 1960s. Charles was a colorful individual who often served up a little humor in his preaching.
On the fourth Sunday in June 1980 (the Sunday after Father’s Day), he stepped behind the pulpit and announced, “Today is the day set aside for honoring fathers, Father’s Day!” Immediately, several members of the audience began to shake their heads –none so vigorous as his wife. We all thought poor Charles had “lost it.” After all, he had children and surely they would have at least given him a call or sent a greeting card the week before. How could he get the date so wrong?
“You mean today is not Father’s Day?” he asked. Several “nos” echoed about in the old, a–framed auditorium. “Well,” he said, “Today, I’m preaching a sermon that doesn’t really honor fathers, anyway.” Then he went on to share a message rebuking fathers for not living up to their vocation. To this day, I am unsure of whether he really misspoke or if he was uniquely introducing a Father’s Day rebuke.
This story is illustrative of my own struggle to preach a relevant message on Father’s Day. On Mother’s Day, I have no trouble –Proverbs 31 and the Virtuous Woman, Great Mothers of the Bible, Mary the Mother of Jesus, or the command to Honor, Obey, and Care for Mothers. Most all of us are brimming with warm stories of the love and nurture of our mothers. However, I wrestle with Father’s Day. As I look back on my preaching schedule over the years, I have, more often than not, just skipped the Father’s Day sermon even when I have preached one for Mother’s Day.
The problem is not material. The Bible is full of stories of good and bad fathers. Of course, there are always messages on God as Father to exalt that relationship and serve as an example to earthly fathers. I don’t think the problem is with my relationship with my earthly father. I have mentioned he was not an affectionate man or expressive in his emotions. Early on I saw him as a bit remote and cold, but growth and maturity –not to mention having my own children –helped me to see how much he really loved us as expressed in his actions, if not his words. I believe I have worked through most of my issues there.
I think the problem, for me anyway, is I have such a great relationship with my mother that it is easier for me to preach on mothers. This may be a gender thing. You know, little girls idolize their daddies while little boys, their mothers. Part of the problem may be societal. Mother’s are portrayed in the various media as kind and nurturing while fathers are often depicted as buffoons, incompetent, or the butt of a joke. A bad mother is almost always seen as the horrifying exception, but the deadbeat dad does not come as a surprise.
Of course, we know that life is a mixed bag and there is enough blame and blessing to go around. However, it is a shame that fathers don’t seem to get the respect that they deserve.
Sunday’s message will be a bit autobiographical for me blending stories of my father, Billy Aaron Gafford, with biblical mandates for fatherhood. I hope you will come and join us for worship.
Oh, and don’t let your father forget that this Sunday is Father’s Day!
Have a Great week! Joey