Father’s Day is the most difficult day of the year for millions of people who will be coming to church. Let’s remember that as we prepare our sermons for this delicate day. Not everyone wants to hear the command and admonition to honor and obey his or her father. Their dads weren’t the best in the world. We will have a wide range of listeners: There are some who don’t know their fathers; there are some who know their fathers far too well—in the biblical sense of the word. That’s the real world, and that’s why some folks silently decide not to attend church on this day. Father’s Day can be an extremely emotional day for your listeners. They’ll never tell you why they avoided church. They’ll never tell anyone…
There are some family secrets and sexual shortcomings that have been tucked away for no one to discover. Remember the steamy story of David and Bathsheba, which soon was followed by the incomprehensible incest of Amnon and Tamar in 2 Samuel 11—13? This is must-reading and reviewing for Father’s Day. Brother Absalom did his best to keep it all a secret, while Tamar remained a devastated woman for the rest of her days. Take note there are Absaloms and there are Tamars who will be hearing you preach today—some who try to hide sin and some who try to hide sadness. As students of God’s Word, we should be the least surprised at family dysfunction and sexual deception of all types.
I don’t want to burst your balloon or rain on your parade. Yes, this is the one day to honor our fathers, as well as single mothers who have juggled both roles. However, this fatherhood concept is also one of the biggest obstacles some face as they endeavor to live the Christian life. It’s definitely not a time of joy for many as they remember humiliation or intimidation, not celebration. Be mindful of the huge multitude of memories and emotions that suddenly are stirred up today! Some have been physically abandoned, psychologically wounded or sexually violated. It’s not the same as Christmas. For some, it’s the most terrible day of the year. A lot of listeners would prefer to fast-forward this day because it reopens wounds they tried to heal and restores memories they tried to erase.
Honoring a father who has done some dishonorable things is not the easiest thing for someone to do. Some end up leaving church with a ton of false guilt as they’re beat up for not honoring their fathers. Father’s Day is the one day of the year some people dread more than all the others, just wanting it to end, and not because they are less spiritual. Maybe it’s all because their fathers were too physical.
It’s one of the fastest and surest ways for fathers to provoke their children to anger that can last for a lifetime. Might it be possible that our sermons can do the same, as this anger easily erupts again?
Cathy was molested by her father for 10 years. Her dad would quote the Bible verse, emphasizing that she should obey and honor her father. She was so young and didn’t know what to say or do. So, she did what daddy said. He would whisper in her ear that this is what daddies and daughters do when they love each other. When she finally asked him why he treated her as a wife instead of a daughter, he told her that she wanted it. He blamed her. Cathy’s father went to his grave without apologizing to her, and she now lives a life of anger and confusion. Anyone who does anything that reminds her of her father instantly brings back such rage that has been repressed her entire life. She has been in and out of relationships and jobs. When I asked Cathy to entertain the idea of a heavenly Father, she was not interested in the least. When I told her He wanted to come into her life, she only had memories of her dad doing the same. She was physically and emotionally repulsed by the idea of trusting her body and future to anyone now. When I shared with Cathy that God wanted to use her, she said she feels quite used up already!
Todd had the opposite dilemma with his dad, who hardly ever showed him any kind of affection. Religious and rigid were the words he used to describe his dad. He does not remember a father who physically hugged him or verbally praised him. He remembers a family picnic when his uncle hugged him. It felt so amazing to this little boy who had never ever experienced the embrace of any man. It turned out that his uncle had ulterior sexual motives for hugging this little boy. This continued for years, and he was heartbroken when his uncle moved away. Todd began looking for that same feeling that came from his uncle’s hug. Same-sex attraction became his lifestyle, and his father disapproved of and disowned him. He misses his dad; he blames his dad; he wanted his dad. Any Todds in your church?
Fred doesn’t like Father’s Day because it reminds him of the child he never had, because of the abortion. He and his girlfriend got caught up in the casual sex culture. When she told him she was pregnant, he completely freaked out and went into panic mode. He never will forget driving her to the abortion clinic. He always will wonder what how his little one might have looked. He grieves. He has flashbacks and nightmares now. Fred knows he is a father, but no one else at church knows. (After hearing his preacher scream against abortion so forcefully one day, he knew he never could confess this in church, so he has kept very quiet.) Instead, he volunteers to help in the church nursery to try to prove to God how sorry he is for choosing to abort. Father’s Day completely unravels Fred. He tries to smile, but he feels so guilty.
Jim’s father would show him the porn he used to watch. They did this throughout his teen years. He wanted his boy to become a real man, he said. His mother left home and got tired of the addiction and the affairs. She wanted nothing to do with her husband any longer. Unfortunately for Jim, what he truly remembers most about his dad are the adult magazines and videos. He is still single and has had the hardest time dating since he has seen so many naked women, thanks to his dad. Happy Father’s Day?
Sally was so young when she watched her dad beat up her mom when he would come home drunk. She vowed she never would endure what her mom did. Ask her why she has chosen women rather than men now. Everyone at church thinks she is busy with her career, but she’s not interested in men. Father’s Day is not easy for Sally. She remembers her mother crying a lot every night when she went to bed. That’s what she remembers the most, and she doesn’t like to tell anyone lest she starts crying herself.
We are not male-bashing. We are not witch-hunting. We are heart-healing instead. Ministry, not controversy, is our goal on this and every Sunday. God’s Word speaks to every kind of situation and sadness. He is the God of all grace, and He sympathizes with our feelings of being so weak and wounded, even by our families. God heals the brokenhearted, as well as broken families. There are lots of them who will be attending church on this day. What a golden opportunity to show the community we are not as careless and clueless when it comes to sex as people think we are! Speak softly and tenderly as you mention these unmentionables. There’s a lot of painful pasts and silent suffering going on in churches, sometimes especially on Father’s Day. People are filled with such bittersweet emotions amid absolute outrage at God as people try to reconcile why their heavenly Father allowed these terrible things to happen with their earthly fathers. They wonder why God did not protect them from all that happened. They have questions which will be answered only in heaven, but they need a fresh word from God now.
I hope you preach in such an approachable and invitational way that people will feel safe to share their family secrets with you. Lower your voice and let them know you understand their pain today. I hope you encourage some to confess and allow others to grieve, publicly or privately. I hope you wisely and not glibly speak about eventual forgiveness during your sermon. Let people know you understand the falleness of earthly fathers and passionately point them to our perfect heavenly Father who only gives good gifts and who does no wrong. Finally, they can have a Dad who is really a good One!
That’s the message we have for people who hurt on Father’s Day.
Remember Cathy at the beginning of our story?
After telling me more of her molestation from her father, she abruptly ended our conversation by telling me she needed to stop. She was getting upset by talking about it, although it was 40 years later. Of course, I agreed, but I asked if she was going to be OK after I left. She assured me she would be and told me she was going to the basement. I asked her why she might be going to the basement (because I feared for her safety at this point). She told me that her therapist told her to set up a punching bag down there. She invited me downstairs to see her punching bag. So, I did. There it was…She looked at me, right in the eyes, and told me that her therapist told her to start punching that bag as hard as she possibly could whenever those thoughts of her father suddenly overwhelmed her.
She would get so exhausted from hitting her punching bag (and earthly father) for what he had done to her. Sometimes, she would grab onto it and hold on and just start sobbing, asking her dad why he didn’t love her. Cathy had done this for years but never got an answer. She still punches away to this day.
Let’s preach the same message Jesus did and set some captives free on this Father’s Day.