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Lent Week 2 : Father & Son (an EXILE story)

Consider this: GOD the FATHER. The King. The Divine Masculine.

What comes to mind?

In our social imagination, the Father God is at once a warrior and a poet – an artist and an architect. He’s gentle with his small child, but at the kitchen table, he’s firm: “Sit up straight! Keep your elbows off the table! Show some respect.” He has rough hands and a heavy brow; he smells like cedar wood and leather, like a new book and black coffee.

We can all see the children waiting by the door for the father to get home from work. We imagine the young boy waiting for dad to come watch his hockey game. We imagine the young man waiting for father’s approval: “I’m proud of you, son. You’re a good man.”

If we are to talk about EXILE as a church, it’d be a great shame not to ponder the exile of the son from the father (and the father from the son, perhaps).

There’s an African folktale that goes like this:

A father and son are hunting together. The father catches a rat and the son throws the rat away, thinking it isn’t a very good catch. The father deals the son a blow with an ax and the son, after lying unconscious for a while, wakes up in the middle of the night, slips into his father and mother’s house, takes his clothing and leaves.

The poet Robert Bly often tells this story in men’s circles and asks the men where they felt the blow as the story was being told. Some men comment that they felt it on the left side of their head, or on their back, or right in their belly.

Where did you feel it? Where is the unresolved ‘father wound’? Where is the sorrow – where is the young child, waiting by the door?

Where does the Christ feel it? Where was the Father when the Son was on the cross? Where was the Father when Israel was being carried away into Babylon?

This sermon invites you to explore the father-son metaphor in scripture and to resist the urge to defend the father or despise the father – just observe.

In Exodus 4:20 the LORD calls Israel, “my firstborn son.” In Hosea 11:1 God says, “Out of Egypt I called my Son”. In 2 Sam 7 God promises David that his offspring will be “my son and I will be his Father”. In Jeremiah 31:1 God says, “I am Israel’s father, Ephraim is my firstborn son – is not Ephraim my dear son? Thought I often speak against him, I remember him, and my heart yearns for him.”

Right now, in our culture, bubbling beneath the surface of every interaction is a collective distrust of the Father. Since the industrial revolution when fathers left the home to go work in the factories, and during the Vietnam War when old men lied to young men about the nature of the war, we haven’t trusted men over 40. We are deeply suspicious of all Father figures.

Look at the way fathers are portrayed in the media (and have been for decades): Fred Flinstone, Tim the Toolman, Homer Simpson.

Consider the Disney Masterpiece the Lion King. The entire movie centers around the death of the Father, and the pivotal scene is a young lion, weeping alone, nestled beside his dead father. No one to mentor or raise Simba into adulthood, until the quirky and non-authoritative Timon and Pumbaa step in.

This is our story — we don’t want the Father, we want the peers. Consider the shift in popular media away from the family towards the peers, or the ‘siblings’: Seinfeld, Friends, Grey’s Anatomy, etc. We have brothers and sisters we trust, and Fathers we keep at a distance.

This cultural disenchantment and distrust isn’t unwarranted. Many of us have been abused and wounded by men in authority, and the news is full of such stories, of men we trusted being ‘found out.’ Hollywood producers. Priests. Pastors. Doctors for Olympic athletes. Founders of Christian organizations that we have admired. Even King David became a predator when he thought no one was looking.

Anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer wrote a book in 1964 called The American People. He wrote that for a boy to become a man in the U.S., “only one thing is required: namely, that he reject his father.”

The Father exiles the Son, and the Son exiles the Father – it’s a complex dynamic, and we’re estranged from parts of our self and parts of each other.

Robert Bly puts it like this: the Father Water has sunk below the reach of most wells – we are all thirsting for father water.

Perhaps some folks remain committed to Christ but disenfranchised with Christianity because they accept the Brother, but despise the Father. We are open to the brother, but could do without the ax-wielding Father, the Son-Killing Father, the Father whose Son stands Absorbing the Wrath of the Father —

Are we open to Jesus because we imagine him coming down from Heaven to lift up his shirt and say, “See – the Father wounded me too? He betrayed me too? He stayed safe at home while I went into the war too?”

So what do we do now? Now that we near our 40th birthdays and our kids are getting older – how do we move forward and confront our own Father-Wound?

Read Mark 5:21-43. Notice that Jairus’ daughter is 12 years old, and the bleeding woman had been bleeding for 12 years. Notice that Jesus calls this woman (who is almost certainly older than him), “daughter”.

Let us remember that we believe in ONE God, not THREE. Dr. Greg Boyd recently put it like this: “God is Christlike, and in Him is no unChristlikeness, at all. He is not part of what the Father has to say: Jesus is the one and only word of God. Jesus is the total content of the Father’s revelation to us.”

Consider the text from Isaiah 9 we read every year at Christmas in anticipation of the Messiah:

“For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the Government will be upon his shoulders. He will be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, Prince of Peace, Everlasting Father, and the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.”

Awaken, the father wound in me acknowledges the father wound in you. In Romans 8:15 Paul writes, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves so that you fear again, rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to Sonship – by him you cry, Abba Father.”

The Spirit is yearning for the Father in each of us, and so we come together at the table to yearn together. Don’t exile the part of yourself that is wounded by or distrusting of the Father – lean in.

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