The prepared text for Sunday’s Father’s Day message at Berkeley Springs Presbyterian Church is below. The sermon builds upon last month’s Mother’s Day message and is also thematically related to next Sunday’s message on Psalm 127. The message for the children by an elder in the church was especially appropriate since Joshua, like George Washington, was a fierce father of his nation. For whatever reason, copying and pasting the text into this editor messes with the outlining. The first point is that God still often re-creates fierce and faithful fathers to spread His kingdom rule. The second point is that God transforms men into fierce and faithful father figures to others to spread His kingdom rule. Everything else said in this sermon builds on those two points. My commentary on the book of Joshua begins with a post you can find here at this link. Unfortunately the YouTube of the service is not available due to a camera malfunction.
Happy Father’s Day to all of the men here and to any who hear this later. After all, Timothy was likely about my age when the Apostle Paul told him, “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father” (1 Tim 5:1). Paul’s letter applies Jesus’ teachings about the church being a family. You may have seen the sermon I prepared for you last month for Mother’s Day when I noted that Jesus didn’t sound like the typical conservative “family values” political candidate. Indeed, I asked forgiveness for the comparison but He sounded more like President Trump’s tweets. Jesus said fiercely divisive and provocative things like “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” and “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” He even said, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” Jesus shows in those stories that the gospel often causes divisions in families but the church becomes your new family. And the apostle Paul realized older brothers in Christ are like father figures to those who are younger. But this is not a new thing; take, for example, Joshua. Not many in his generation were able to enter the Promised Land. Besides Joshua, Caleb, and some Levites, everyone else in their generation perished in the wilderness—thus as the book of Joshua opens God charges Joshua, a type of Jesus, to be a fierce and faithful father figure to the people. The book says:
So the book of Joshua began with YHWH encouraging Joshua to be a fierce and faithful father figure for the nation of Israel. And because it is like an Old Testament version of the Book of Acts, throughout the book you read how Joshua led Israel as a fierce and faithful father figure and how God fulfilled all of the promises He made in these verses. Then near the end of the book Joshua gives a charge to those who would lead Israel after he was gone that was largely the same charge that God gave him at the beginning of the book. Among other things he said, “Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Torah of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand or to the left.” And after that Joshua addresses the people one last time like a father would do to bless His children when he is on his deathbed and he rehearses the story of Israel not only as it had unfolded in the book but even from the time of father Abraham to that present day. As the book says:
- God still often re-creates fierce and faithful fathers to spread His kingdom rule.
- In the New Testament Book of Acts, salvation continued to be by household. Joshua said, “But as for me and my house, we will serve YHWH.” Likewise—to answer the question “what shall we do?”–Peter said in Acts 2, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself” (Acts 2:38-39). And that formula of ‘you and your children’ continues throughout the book. Take, for another example, the Philippian jailer. He asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30-31). And the text tells us they preached to him and to everyone in his household, it says “and he was baptized at once, he and all his family” (Acts 16:32-33). And it states, “And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God” (Acts 16:34). It is because of passages like these that we Presbyterians baptize infants. He believed and therefore his entire household was baptized and saved. To use Joshua’s words, that Gentile jailer by believing and being baptized was basically saying, “But as for me and my house, we will serve YHWH.” And because God was making him into a fierce and faithful father, they baptized his whole household. God doesn’t only save families through fathers—an example of this in Acts is the lady named Lydia who was baptized and her household too. She is an exception insofar as she was a mother but Jesus saved her household.
- And despite the cultural distance between Paul’s day and today, God still often makes men into fierce and faithful fathers to expand His kingdom rule. Let me share with you some statistics that are a few years old but I don’t imagine that they’ve changed much. When a child is the first to connect with a church 3.5% of their families follow. When it is the wife or mother that is the first to connect with a church 22% of their families follow. And when a husband or dad is the first to connect with a church 93% of their families follow. And the way that these men will first connect with a church is most often through the invitation of other men. Another important set of statistics from Europe in 1994—though again I doubt it would be much different for us today—is that if both father and mother attend church then 33 percent of their children will continue to be regular churchgoers as adults and 41 percent will be irregular attendees, but if the father is irregular and the mother is regular then only 3 percent will become regulars themselves and 59 percent will become irregular attendees, and if the father is not a churchgoer and the mother is a regular then only 2 percent of their children will become regular churchgoers and 37 percent will be irregular attendees, and if it is the other way around so the father is a regular and mom isn’t attending then surprisingly the 33 percent attending regularly becomes 38 percent when the mother is irregular and even more surprisingly it becomes 44 percent when the mother doesn’t attend at all. No matter how you look at it, the father’s church attendance has a much bigger impact on the question of if their children will stay in the church than the mother’s. I do not want to put too much stock in stats because God saves those whom we would think least likely–He does not pay much attention to the stats. For example, I know plenty of men who have become faithful Christians because they were led to Christ by their children and have seen many cases where a wife has come to Christ and then shared the gospel with her husband and he eventually responded in faith as well. And this is not a new phenomenon, there are a couple places in the New Testament where it talks about what a wife who has come to Christ should do to win over her husband to Christ. But the statistics do appear to support the point that usually God still makes men into fierce and faithful fathers to spread His kingdom rule. (Nevertheless, know that because Jesus—the new Joshua—is your elder brother, He’s like a fierce and faithful father to you—and thus the church is your new family and in this family He makes men into fathers like Him to their younger brothers.)
and faithful father figures to others to
- When you act as a fierce and faithful father figure to others it takes a lot of courage because you are engaged in a battle. Like Joshua, you have to be strong and very courageous. You have to face your fears and any way that you may be frightened or dismayed and replace those fears with faith – with trust in the one who has promised, “I am with you always,” “I will not leave you or forsake you,” and “For YHWH your God is with you wherever you go.” You aren’t in a battle against flesh and blood – you aren’t fighting against other people like the battles Israel fought in the book of Joshua – we are in a Spiritual battle – we fight the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers over this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. And our sword is the word of God – the living and active Scriptures that are sharper than any two-edged sword and discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart. So God gives you courage and faith and the words to say to let people know that He wants them to totally and unconditionally surrender to Jesus as their Lord. You don’t know who God is drafting into His army so you proclaim this to everyone who will listen. But being a fierce and faithful father figure doesn’t end when others are born again—you’re just getting started. After all, Joshua’s army didn’t have lone rangers—it was an organized fighting force. Likewise, those who believe in Jesus have their names on a unit roster—the roll of a particular church—and ordinarily they and their young children (if they have any) will be marked as present when the roll is called each week.
- But on the Lord’s Day each army unit stops and gathers to rest and reflect because the battle belongs to Jesus. We are surrounded by fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers in arms, heroes in battle, who we can encourage. We stop because our champion, Jesus, already won the decisive battle in the war and we imagine the day when the enemy will fall and the war will be over. We gather together to regain our strength so that when we return to the front lines on Monday our armor is fixed up, our wounds are bound up and healed, and our hearts are renewed. We come to hear God’s battle plan for the week and to receive our orders. He gives us grace for this struggle through the prayers offered, the sacraments seen, and the word preached. Thanks be to God for this, for Jesus being like a father to us, and for transforming ordinary men into fierce and faithful father figures to others. Amen.