Father’s Day 2011

Matthew 28:16-20

This week, on the eve of Father’s Day, I am sad to say, we saw true evidence of man’s weaker nature – on display, in Vancouver, for the rest of the world to see. And I say man on purpose, because the pictures prove it was mostly men, and young men, trashing their own city after a hockey game. A hockey game which seems big until you start comparing it to the reckless damage they caused. On one Facebook post, a young guy – foolish enough to openly use his real name – bragged about punching a police officer and flipping cars – “smart” cars, especially, the environmentally friendly ones. In his post, he goes on to brag how he is going to be on the news: he writes one word – history!

But it was one video in particular that struck a chord with many of us. In the video, one man emerges to stand before an angry mob, throwing rocks through windows. He’s a regular looking guy – a regular looking dad kind of guy –  a bit overweight, balding, wearing a Canucks hat. He stands in front of the mob and declares: “This is my city!” and orders them away. The mob pauses as one unit. They aren’t sure what to do. And then one person steps in and punches the guy, and the rest follow. The man eventually falls down, beaten and kicked. This video will go around the world in less than 24 hours. Not a proud advertisement for the Canadian hockey fan—or for the Canadian male, for that matter.

Michael Fry plays a violin adaptation of Luther Vandross' "A dance with my Father"
Michael Fry plays a violin adaptation of Luther Vandross' "A dance with my Father"
And so, this morning, Paul tells us: Put things in order. And we have this horrifying and shameful example of how disorder trumps order so many times. This is an especially nasty one: how could a hockey game rank higher than the life and safety of even one person, let alone thousands? It is a concrete visual example of the power of mobs, especially ones with muscle.

Now Paul certainly understood the power of mobs – even better than we can. He saw what they did to Jesus, and he understood how quickly even otherwise reasonable people can become disordered about what is important. His message to us — Put things in order — is a reminder to keep what matters straight – and we all know that the hardest time to do so is not in the quiet times of life, or on special days like Father’s Day when we can imagine ourselves better, but in the midst of the rabble and swarm and hum of everyday life, let alone the rioting times. That’s when things get out of order.

We are in the midst of the mob all the time, in particular a media culture that tells us the way things should be. We have, over the last two decades, spent a lot time talking about what that culture does to young women, and that’s very important, but we have perhaps paid less attention to what it is doing to young men, who are being pulled back and forth with mixed messages about what is weak and what is strong. That’s just as confusing and in many ways, having two sons, I think boys are still put in a pretty specific box, and it takes a lot of courage to step outside that box. But we want them do this: we want them to put things in order.

Boy, do we ever get that wrong. If anything, we have become the most disorderly of people. (And frankly, if we don’t get it right, how do we expect our children to?) Some traditions die hard – it’s still the salary that matters more than the job’s public good (although a prestigious-sounding title is also good).  It’s still the size of the car and the price of the house that steals our energy. It’s not often you hear a guy brag about the last time he skipped out early from work to pick his kids up at daycare – even though he probably did it happily.

Is that the order Paul is talking about? Not a chance, and we know it. We can take that line in several ways, and in truth, it has a funereal cast to it: as if we should put things in order, set things right, before we die. There’s a lesson there, it’s true: the same lesson that teaches us to settle fights with loved ones quickly, to never leave without a hug, to put the time in to make sure someone knows that we care deeply for them.

But I think Paul was speaking on a larger level for us – and especially to us in these distracting days. Put things in order. Know what is important. Make it count. It sounds like platitudes – but the funny thing about platitudes is that they have an odd way of being true. Everything that Paul says next spilled from that first line: Put things in order. Peace, either finding it and building it or creating it, is ultimately about setting priorities: Does the fight matter more than the relationship? Is the insult or the wrong worth holding on to? And what about agreeing with one another – as Paul urges us?  Does that mean we don’t have opinions, that we go with the mob?  Hardly.  Any disciple of Jesus loved a good debate, and risked greatly in standing up to that aforementioned mob. Paul is saying with this line that we are to agree, ultimately, on what is important, or what things go in which order. There’s certainly some jockeying there: when does community trump individuality, and vice versa? But ultimately, if we rank respect high, we sort it out.

And then Paul does an interesting thing with his last line, and puts his own list in order: the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. Is that by chance? Perhaps. But it’s a pretty good ordering of things. And a pretty good order for all us fathers, as it turns out.

Paul, in his order, puts grace first – the idea that people can be forgiven their wrongs, that we can assume good in others, that justice is possible. Grace is a posture of openness, the kind of knees-bent, arms-open stance that prepares you for whatever comes. Fathering with grace – like mothering, like any relationship – means seeing the event from another’s perspective and not just your own.

Love comes second then because Paul knows there’s no love without grace. We simply cannot love people – not fully – if we are constantly judging them or critiquing them, or counting their mistakes. God represents that deep and full-bodied kind of love to Paul.  But we need the grace of Jesus to get there.

And lastly, Paul lists the communion of the Holy Spirit; that is, the spirit that brings love and grace together in community, in all its definitions. The community in which we are called to practise love and grace with each other, guided by the Holy Spirit. A community, that is, not a mob.

The Toronto Star called the man in the video “One good man in the middle of the madness.” And he makes a fitting example on Father’s Day, someone who bravely stood up against a crowd of others. But as the Star went on to note, there is another man in there who also did something brave: this much younger man, wearing a mask, and an old Canucks jacket, emerged from the mob.  He left the group which he had willingly joined and switched sides.  He stood over the injured man and forced the mob to stop.  The older man had his things in order from the beginning.  He knew where he stood on the day before the night began. But this young man, in the moment, had to change up his order, and that’s a hard thing to do. That’s a lesson I want my sons to learn, and a good one for all of us.  On our best days, we will start out on the right side, on the side of Grace and Love, and the path will be clear. But on some days, we all know, we end up on the wrong side, the disordered side.  And in those moments, as fathers and parents and a community of faith, our role is to empower one another, especially our youth, to cross over, to put things back in order. That young man, while he wore a mask, while he may have broken windows and flipped cars and stupidly sought to be on the news, sorted it out when it counted. And that’s the hope of every father, every parent. The hope for all of us is if we put things in order with grace and love together in community, in all of its definitions.  Amen.

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