Our collect this morning lifts up the household of the one holy catholic and apostolic img_0889.jpgChurch. And does so this year on Father’s Day. Traditionally, a father was understood to be the primary householder of a family, the one whose job it was to sustain and secure the household. Around the time of the Industrial Revolution, though, things began to change when fathers left the fields for the factory or the office, over time sharing the role of householder with women.

Like the house itself, households often stand in need of reconstruction or repair. Historically, they always have. It beats demolition.

Recently, I heard a radio segment about property development in Atlanta, a discussion about how the city is losing its architectural heritage to demolition. For decades now, whole streets of houses have been leveled for new development. Apparently, when property developers assess the value of property today, they don’t look initially at what’s already there. Instead they look at where the land is, whether it’s worth more at ground zero absent the sagging structure of an old house.

In high-rent areas this means demolition is on the way, marking the sudden teardown of storied places. Freud would’ve called this an Oedipal turn: the sons destroying the work of their fathers. I just call it thankless: a great big No! said over what is. In the answering words of a good prayer, For all that has been, Thank you. For all that is yet to come, Yes! [1] 

Among the many reasons for Father’s Day is the need to give thanks for the work of generations, for inherited traditions still with us, not fixed, mind you, but moving over time in directions that sometimes surprise us. Fathers, some say, draw the lines for us, and mothers come behind and have the grace to smudge them. Lines need softening. Traditions need to be re-imagined for the sake of generations.

The household is the primary location for Love’s joys and failures: birth, work, marriage —  now and then, divorce — for everyone death, then birth and work again, and so it goes through generations. You leave home to grow, yet carry with you the memory of an earlier household: where you sat at the table, who blessed the food, whose hand you held. So it is with the Church, which also rests through Christ on the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel. In short, on the God of generations.

Today Abraham and Sarah discover in their old age there will be a son: Isaac, whose name means laughter. By the giggle of his name, God means you to know every child is an occasion for joy. By the giggle of his birth to old parents, God calls you, no matter how old you are, to foster the work of generations, each generation building on the foundations of another, extending the household of God in ways that may find you laughing or scowling.

Join the joyful, if you can, not the scornful. It’s what Abraham and Sarah did. They found a way to say yes, and live into life’s surprises.

The Book of Genesis is a story of generations. Through it, we hold on to the ancient household of Abraham and Sarah. From the beginning of Christianity, there were some who thought the revelation of Jesus had little use for the God of their fathers and mothers. They believed it best to start over and throw out the old stories, hopes, and traditions. They believed in demolition.

An early second-century believer named Marcion led the hope of this teardown. He believed the God of the Old Testament was evil, a creator god who’d made an evil world. And believing this, Marcion had no use for the scriptures of the Old Testament, and felt the Church should reject any reliance on them. The Church, however, decided his demolition project was a bad idea. Heretical, even.

And here’s the thing: the Hebrew Scriptures house the prayers and traditions that formed the life of Jesus and still form your understanding of Jesus as the Messiah. Even embracing Jesus, you rely on the God of Abraham and Sarah.

The Jewish imagination in conversation with God gives you holy words to approach, or wrestle with, God. In English those words come to you as Glory, the Kingdom of God, Shepherd of souls; as Praise and Hallelujah, as Repent and Redeem, as Messiah, Apocalypse, Amen. Even the word Christ precedes the birth of Jesus. (Christ isn’t a Christian last name. It’s Greek for anointed. In Hebrew it means Messiah.)

The Jerusalem Temple was demolished in the near wake of our Lord’s death and resurrection. Its destruction was disorienting for all Jews, including those who followed Jesus. Absent their temple, they all had to rework their traditions, first and foremost the ground-zero question of where to locate the household of God. Those who rejected Jesus as the messiah drew closer to the Synagogue and the study of scripture. And those who confessed Jesus as Messiah eventually embraced not the household of the Synagogue but the household of the Church.

Today Jews and Christians both lay claim to the holy words of Second Temple Judaism. Jesus himself aims us today to his risen life through the weight of the Torah, through the Law and the Prophets, through the proverbs and the psalms, through the Song of Songs, the cry of Lamentation, and the Book of Job. We hear this today in our readings when Jesus sends his disciples first and foremost to his people: to the Jews.

Jesus calls them the lost sheep of Israel, but he knows them as part of his own household. Only later at the very end of Matthew’s Gospel does Jesus as Risen Christ send the disciples to the Gentiles. This tells you you’re sent as an apostle with the blessing of ancient traditions, with the stories of ancient fathers and mothers, into a world bound to re-imagine those traditions and stories for the sake of generations.

The temptation of the teardown exists not only in the Church but in our own households. A man leaves home and swears he’ll never go back, and one day will be nothing like his father. A woman quits her job and swears her next one will be nothing like it. A family leaves a parish in anger and swears, We’re done, we’re done, we’re done with the old place.

The good news is this: religious and household traditions are surprisingly resilient. A deeper calling than the teardown is to look in the mirror and see the face of generations forming your own face, your own life. A deeper calling bids you name the love of your father and your mother in whatever love you have to give the world.

For all that has been, Thank you. For all that is yet to come, Yes! [1]

________________________

  1. Dag Hammarskjöld

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