Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father God

Sunday, June 15, 2014
Sermon by Katie Mulligan

A diorama of Genesis 1
Scripture Reading: Genesis 1-2:4
Audio of the sermon can be found here: Father God

A quick note: this is not a hardball sermon taking down the assumed masculinity of God. For that you can see, like, the rest of my blog. But today I spoke out of love for the complicated men I love. Happy Father's day to my father, and to the father of my children!

Today is a very complicated day in the life of the church. As I sat down to think through my options for preaching, I was overwhelmed by the choices—sometimes I think we really believe that we
ourselves are God the Creator, and that we can fabricate time out of nothing! And so on this day we pack in Trinity Sunday, Father’s Day, and the entire chapter of Genesis 1, complete with the 7th day of rest (which we rarely take for ourselves)! It is also, in an important sense, the beginning of our church year. After Lent, then Easter, then the Ascension of Jesus to Heaven, then the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the story is complete and told (in one sense), and we begin afresh today with “ordinary time.”

It will be quiet in ordinary time, at least these first few months. Because it is also becoming summer in New Jersey. Schools are out this week or next, businesses have moved to summer hours, people are traveling extensively. For those of us here on the east coast, where seasons drive the daily rhythms of our lives, the summer marks a significant break in a culture of relentless drive and pressure—those of you who come from other places might notice this about the northeast more than those of you who grew up with it. Summer here is like a release valve—like popping the cork off a champagne bottle. For the children it is like all year we have been blowing up the balloon, and then suddenly we let it go fly about whooooshhhhhhhhhhhethbtthbttbtth….

Oh I could go on and on about this seasonal change and what it means for us in the church, but I think a long sermon on resting for the Sabbath might actually put some of you to sleep!

The Trinity, then? Father, Son, Holy Spirit? Did you come here this morning looking for a theological treatise on the interpenetration of the Trinity or the sketchy scriptural merit of the Trinity itself? Did you come hoping for new analogies to help you explain the Trinity to your already stressed out mind? The Trinity is like forms of water—ice, liquid, steam, but all still water. Or nowadays we favor a gender neutral Trinity of Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer—and oh TRUST that messing with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit language causes dissension and complaint in the church! As one grouchy conservative said once, “If we’re going to just pick three things at random and assign them as characteristics of the Trinity, why not just say ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors?’” And why not, indeed? For some the language of the Trinity is as deadly serious as Ro Sham Bo. And for others, less interested in dissecting paradox, the Trinity is a playground game for theologians with extra time on their hands. If you have questions about the Trinity, please do go see Pastor Nina; she is back from Canada this week!

But today is Father’s Day, and my heart settled here as I prepared for preaching. It is a complicated day for so many of us, filled with all the traps of a lifetime of absence and presence. In my social media spaces, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day rival one another for the most volatile conversations, filled with all the love and vitriol we reserve for our most intense pain and joy. My heart settled here, I think, because my relationships with my own father and with the father of my children are complicated, and sometimes painful. And yet I am grateful for their presence in my life, for the way they have shaped me and my children, for the efforts they have put out, and for the obvious love they have for their children.

Robert Dykstra, a seminary professor of mine, writes and speaks about men and masculinity a fair amount. In class one day he said, “If you want to see grown men cry, get them talking about their fathers.” Today’s complicated set of possibilities for preaching reminded me of the complicated set of possibilities for fathers, and so I settled here on Father’s Day.

Did you listen to the entirety of our Genesis reading? In our traditional rendering of God, many of us look to this Creator of all time and matter as the Father God. I’m not here to argue feminism this morning—although I’ll gladly do that over coffee with any interested parties. But I think looking at Genesis 1 with this lens gives us insight into what we expect of fathers (and why they often fall so short of those expectations! And perhaps why God, as Father, falls so short of our expectations!).

On the first day, God made light & darkness, night & day.

On the second day, God built a dome out of nothing to separate the sky from the waters below.

On the third day, God created the oceans and the continents. And also (because channeling all the water didn’t fill the day), God made all the plants & trees too.

On the fourth day, God made the sun and the moon and all the stars. As we are finding out just how many gazillion stars are in the sky, it is no wonder it took God a whole day to do this!

On the fifth day, God made all the things that swarm the seas and the skies. Sea monsters and chickens, ALL THE THINGS!

On the sixth day, God made all the livestock and wild things that creep on the ground—lions and tigers and bears, oh my! And goats. And snakes. ALL THE THINGS!

And then, apparently because God had extra time on his hands that sixth day, God made humans, and gave them dominion over all creation. And what a disaster THAT has turned out to be! There are days when I think God should have called it quittin’ time early that sixth day. Perhaps THAT is today’s lesson—that when you are tempted at two o’clock on Friday afternoon to start on that complicated project, maybe leave it til Monday. Perhaps we might learn from God when to leave well enough alone!

Rainer Maria Rilke, a poet and storyteller, penned a children’s story about the making of humans by the hands of God. I’ll share a little bit of it with you…
Well, you see, as long as only things were being made, God did not need to look down on the earth continually. Nothing could happen there. The wind was, indeed, already moving among the mountains, which were so like the clouds it had long known, but it still shunned the trees with a certain mistrust. And that was quite right with God. Things he had fashioned so to speak in his sleep, and only when he came to the animals did the work begin to interest him; he bent over it and only seldom raised his broad brows to cast a glance down at the earth. He forgot it completely when he began to create man. I don’t know at which complicated part of the body he had arrived at, when there was a rush of wings about him. An angel hurried by, singing: ‘Thou who seest all….’ 

God started. He had caused that angel to sin, for it was a lie he had just sung. Quickly God-the-Father peered down. And sure enough, something had already happened that was hardly to be remedied. A little bird was fluttering hither and yon over the earth, as though it were frightened, and God was in no position to help it home, for he had not seen out of which forest the poor creature had come. He grew very vexed and said: ‘The birds are to sit still where I put them.’ But then he remembered that at the request of the angels…
…And that is what God's hands have been trying to do ever since, but whatever they start, they can only begin. Without God there is no perfection. And so at last they tired of it. Now they are on their knees all day long, doing penance--at least so it is said. To us, however, it appears as though God were resting, because he is very angry with his hands.  It is still the seventh day.
Oh the seventh day! I picture it (don’t you?) with God sitting in his man cave—a converted garage, a basement workshop, a barca lounger and a flat screen TV. A Beer in hand? (and the feminist in me insists—why is this called a man cave, instead of a personal refuge? Surely women have their need for these spaces!!). Perhaps a study full of books (like mine). But I picture God at rest. In much the same way I occasionally saw my own father at rest (and even less often at play).

My own father is a complicated man. And I am a complicated daughter. As I grew up I thought of him as a man of few words (as his father was before him). But as I have grown older, I realize he is a man with an excess of words seeking longingly for an audience. He is a software engineer, and he is known for long, elegant code that leaves lesser men behind in the dust. He is a bit of a rocket scientist, my dad. My dad can either become an expert at everything, or make you believe that he is. But I see sometimes, in quiet moments, how this world has worn him down. And it is in those moments that I love him the more fiercely. Because I too have been worn down in this life, and he goes before me to show me how one keeps getting up every day and making the best of what is before you.

I see in my own father a terrible restlessness that matches my own: a desire to know and be known that can never be satiated. If there is to be a reconciliation between us, it will come through that restlessness, I think. I see it in my son—the apple falls next to the tree, as we say.

As I watch my father, I am reminded of all the impossible expectations we put upon a man to become the father his father wasn’t—to become the father no man has ever achieved, in fact. And many of our fathers are long gone (or never present) in our lives. We are shaped not just by presence, but by absence—in the same way we are shaped by God’s alternating presence and absence. For better or worse, we none of us are who we are without the father’s we have had or been.

And I’d like to remind us today that there are limitations and difficulties with even the concept of God the Father, and so we humans, well we muddle through the best we can with what we have.

Whoever you are, whatever your father is to you today, whoever it is you call father, however you are a father to others, I wish you a Happy Fathers Day. And I wish you a day of rest from your labors, that you might know that what you have made of this life so far is enough. You are enough. Anything that comes in the future is just icing on the cake.


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