Father’s Day 6/17/18 Epiphany, Norfolk

Last night I was having dinner with my niece, Virginia.I mentioned that I needed to get home and get to work on a homily. I also mentioned that it was Father’s Day, and that I’ve only preached on Father’s Day once in my career. I’ve read that old homily once or twice, and it’s pretty bad.

Virginia said, “I wish you would preach on Joseph.” “Joseph?”“Yes. Joseph, Jesus’ father. No one ever says anything about him, and he must have been a wonderful man to stand by Mary in her situation. He’s always been my ideal of a father.” Then she told me a story relating to Anne Donovan, the basketball star and coach who died last week. Virginia and her mother, my sister, were very close friends with Anne. They were big boosters of ODU’s women’s’ basketball. I had met Anne a few times, but didn’t know her very well.

But Virginia told me this story: Anne had Marfan Syndrome.It is a genetic condition that is passed down from one generation to another. It contributes to excessive growth, eye problems, heart problems, and a number of other things. Anne’s father had Marfan Syndrome, and died of a heart attack in his mid 30s, leaving a widow and eight children. All of the children had Marfan Syndrome. Anne’s mother remarried. And Virginia says that Anne’s stepfather was a truly wonderful man, devoted to these 8 kids with all of their health problems, and their mother. And Virginia went on to tell a few family stories that wouldn’t be of interest to us, here.

But, Virginia said that whenever she thinks of Joseph, the Carpenter, she thinks of Anne’s stepfather, and visa versa – truly remarkable fathers who step up to the plate, and do what’s necessary to care for and nurture the family for which they are responsible.

Well, that got me cracking the books last night, reading up on Joseph. And I found some interesting things. Scholars generally refer to Joseph as Jesus’ “foster father”, in respect of the idea of a virgin birth. There is a 2nd century “Book of James” and a 4th century “The History of Joseph the Carpenter” that present Joseph as a widower with children at the time he espoused Mary. They describe her as a 12 year old girl. “The History of  Joseph the Carpenter” describes Joseph’s death at the age of 111, which raises some concerns over the validity of its information.

Most of our information comes from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Mark never mentions Joseph, other than to refer to Jesus as, “son of the carpenter.” The Gospel of John twice describes Jesus as the “son of Joseph.” Both Matthew and Luke are careful to detail Joseph’s genealogy, to show him as a descendant of King David. That was a very important item, even though the virgin birth confuses the genetic link to King David. Most scholars deal with this by saying that Joseph was the “Legal Foster Father”, which supplants bloodline. That’s a great topic for a Doctoral dissertation, if any of you are interested.

Well, how about that betrothal? It would have been by written declaration, and a small gift in the presence of 2 witnesses. It would have been a 1 year commitment, during which time Mary would have been referred to as “wife,” and Joseph would have had all of the responsibilities of a husband. According to Matthew, Joseph is described as a “just man”, meaning that he was a devout servant of God and lived his life according to the law.

Joseph was special. God spoke to him through dreams, as when he is told to flee to Egypt. Joseph and God had a “trusting relationship” no matter what happened. It really is fair to think of Joseph as an ideal father figure. So, when Virginia identifies Anne’s step-father with Jesus’ foster father, it makes some sense.

As most of you know, my father died when I was 4. When I was about 9, my mother remarried. But I never got close to my step father. So I really grew up without a strong father figure. But there were a lot of people in my life who were sort of surrogate father figures, who helped point me in the right direction from time to time, and show me what caring was all about.

I was also an English Major, which meant that I ran into all sorts of “father characters” in literature. There were the Shakespearean fathers, most of whom were on the edge of insanity, and sometimes over the edge, usually driven there by wife, or kids, or both. There were the Victorian fathers – brooding, stern, sullen, pre-occupied. And there was the Nelson Family on TV. Ozzie was a strange father, always soft spoken and smiling, but never went to work or did anything to help around the house. He just sat on a sofa smoking his pipe and handing down wisdom.

And there was Norman Rockwell with his wonderful Saturday Evening Post cartoons. He showed us another side of father. His fathers could be whimsical, humorous, or perhaps irreverent. His father would peek around the living room drapes as his wife and kids marched to church, with a huge smirk on his face that he’d gotten out of going, and had the house to himself for an hour. You could see him praying that the sermon would be very, very long. His fathers found delight and pleasure in little family things that would have exploded the stern Victorian fathers.

What is father like today? It sort of depends on who and where you ask. There are a huge number of single moms today. I’m not sure just where all those fathers are. We’re told that well over ½ of all marriages end in divorce. I guess they also end in “remarriage.” We hear about “baby daddies” and “baby mommies.” It all can get very confusing.

 But we also hear of great families, where the family members have worked it out and gained respect, and admiration, and affection for each other, and for mom and dad.

One of the popular news segments today is to show the surprise return of daddy to the unsuspecting kid in school. The joy of a kid looking up and seeing daddy enter the room, is just beautiful. Sometimes it works, and that’s what we celebrate this morning – this Fathers’ Day.

So, if you’re a father, know that we admire you, respect you, wish you the patience of Job, and thank you for being a special person in the life of your family.




Posted June 20, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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