I feel a bit of a fraud standing here before you as I am neither a father nor remember nor ever experienced a father in the traditional sense. That notwithstanding I think I can still stand here this morning and speak about fathers, and, more importantly, family – something which has been in the news a lot and something which Jesus had a lot to talk about, too.
Father’s Day unlike Mothering Sunday, has no sacred origins, it is a purely secular celebration and one that was imported within the last 40 years from the United States. It originates with one Sonora Louise Smart Dodd, of Washington, who inspired by hearing a Mother's Day sermon in 1909 wanted to honour her father, William Smart.
Smart, who was a Civil War veteran, was widowed when his wife died while giving birth to their sixth child, and was left to raise the newborn and his other five children by himself on a rural farm in eastern Washington state.
After Sonora became an adult she realized the selflessness her father had shown in raising his children as a single parent. It was her father that made all the parental sacrifices and was, in the eyes of his daughter, a courageous, selfless, and loving man.
Sonora's father was born in June, so she chose to hold the first Father's Day celebration in Spokane, Washington on the 19th of June, 1910.
President Calvin Coolidge, in 1924, supported the idea of a national Father's Day. Then in 1966 President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation declaring the 3rd Sunday of June as Father's Day. President Richard Nixon signed the law, which finally made it permanent in 1972. Mrs. Dodd died in 1978 at age 96.
So, there we have it, friends: Father’s Day, a day to celebrate fatherhood but also – and I think this is important – different expressions of family: the father who inspired the whole Father’s Day celebration was a single parent! Shock! Horror! (Imagine what the Daily Mail would say). There has been much in the news recently about “Gay Marriage” – how it will somehow destroy marriage, how it will destroy the family forever. There were riots in Paris when the equal marriage and adoption laws were signed by President Hollande and here in Britain various faith-leaders have come out condemning anything other than the mother + father + 2.5 children family unit. One sermon I recently heard tried to suggest that having a single parent family, with no father present, meant that a child was more likely to grow up to commit crime; with poor school results and also be a homosexual. As I sat there, staving off an apoplectic fit, I thought to myself: my mum and grandma raised my brother and I and we’ve turned out just fine. No criminal record, other than a library fine, oh, and by the bye, we’ve both got a Master’s Degree from a redbrick, Russell Group University.
But, as we learned from our Gospel reading, Jesus had a lot to say about family. And, despite all the contemporary talk about “redefining the family”, Jesus redefined it, too.
God in the three Abrahamic religions is usually referred to as Father, the loving parent of his people; and indeed in the Roman and Norse religions the chief God is the “Father of his People”: Jupiter – whose name translates from the Latin as “Loving Father (Juus Pater)”; Odin the All Father. Big. Strong. More-masculine-than-thou. Testosterone personified. And I’m sure some father’s are like that. But most aren’t. We have two examples from the Bible. Just look at Abraham – called to be a father in his dotage. Or even Joseph, the father of Jesus, told by an Angel he was to be the father of Jesus. Family, can be unexpected and often breaks the mould. And, if you think about it, Jesus had two dads and he turned out just fine!
Family was something Jesus was very concerned about and changed the definition of. To him, family was not just blood ties, but the whole of humanity, the universal human family, joined as one, united by the love of God and the love of neighbour.
Jesus also called his family to a higher cause. In the pain of death and in the suffering of the cross, he exhibited a love that knows no bounds. God's love extends across the boundaries that separate families, tribes and nations from each other. In speaking of God's love he called God, Father. In this image he found a powerful new way of speaking of God's compassionate love for all in our universal human family. And he said that we might be one with the Father, even as he was one with him too: filled with the love of God, filled to overflowing.
And as long as someone, somewhere, maintains that love, our family exists, and our family is very good.
As long as one member of the family loves another, our family has not failed, nor will it ever fail, no matter what manner of evil that may have befallen it, no matter what trials and tribulations may yet beset it. And its that love which supports and inspires us as we struggle to make God's love and God's justice real not only for ourselves and for our families, but for all the peoples of the world.
Our Holy Family exists wherever love is shown, no matter the state of your household or the history that you bear. This Holy Family isn’t one where you are defined by your relationship to someone, your job, your class, creed, sex or sexuality, it is one where you are welcome as a part of that family for the person you are and by the love you show. We are together the children of God and all are welcome here.