" /> St. Philip's Scotts Valley - Sermon 2010-06-20

Sermon 2010-06-20

Sermon 2010-06-20
Where Do You Begin?

June 20, 2010
Father’s Day

John Gallagher,
Parishioner, St. Philip’s, Scotts Valley CA

[Vicar Mary Blessing gave introductory remarks; parishioner John Gallagher shared the eulogy he wrote for his father’s funeral—March 2010.]

 Jesus called God “Father”—or more precisely “Daddy”—“Abba” the intimate form of address in Aramaic. There are two or 3 Old Testament images of God as Father; but they not personal; they are formal, describing God as Father Creator…Jesus however reveals a deep, intimate love as he calls God “my” Father. Jesus encouraged his disciples to call God “Father” also. For the first time in the evolution of humanity’s sense of who “God” is, Jesus reveals God as a personal loving Father who cares deeply about his children.

  • When teaching his disciples how to pray Jesus encouraged them to go into a closet or quiet place, close the door and “pray to your Father who is unseen” (Matt. 6:6).
  • Jesus tells his disciples to begin their prayer with the petition “Our Father” (Matt. 6:9)
  • Jesus calls upon God as “Abba” when he appeals to God in the Garden of Gethsemane. He cries out as child cries to the one he trusts to save him. (Matt. 26:39)
  • During his final supper with his closest friends Jesus tells them they will follow where he goes. When they ask where he is going he says “to my Father”. When they do not understand how to reach God the Father, Philip says: 'Lord, show us the Father…Jesus answered: 'Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.'" (John 14:6-10)

Many of us have mixed feelings about God as Father—some times because our own fathers were not all they really could have been. Yet I believe that one of the most healing things people can experience as they embrace images of God as a loving father is that they can finally access the truth that God intended things to be as revealed in the life of Jesus Christ. Some of us have had the experience of appropriate Father-love and can get a glimpse of how Jesus revealed God’s Father-love. So how are we all to access a positive experience of “Father-love”? I believe it can be shared through the witnessing of those who have indeed had the grace of God revealed in the love their fathers showed—however simply.

When John Gallagher was working day and night on St. Philip’s kitchen remodel I witnessed a man filled with leadership and determination to complete a worthy project for the benefit of others. I wondered “where does he get this determination”? I watched John juggle his responsibilities as a dad who may have more than many men have--transporting his 3 children where they need to be and to support his wife in her work. All the while John was managing all this he was often interrupted by phone calls from his family in Michigan—his father was dying. (In fact John’s mother had passed away the year before; and not long before that his father-in-law had passed.) Somehow John found the strength to pause in this work on the kitchen and take a call to give support to those far off. At one point he had to stop and say “Pastor Mary I’m going to get this cleaned up and go to Michigan.” And so he did. When John (the youngest of 9) was asked to do the family eulogy I knew he’d find the words but I had no idea until he shared it with me later that he wrote a tribute to his father worthy of sharing beyond his family—he captured universal truths about fatherhood which truly touched my heart. John has graciously agreed to share his eulogy with us today.

[John’s eulogy to his father follows here.]

Where do you begin?  What do you say?

How do I communicate the influence my father had on our family and the world around him?

Jeanne gave me a book a while back by the late Tim Russert.  The book is a follow on to his best seller “Wisdom of our Fathers” and is essentially a collection of letters from sons and daughters about their fathers. As I read these stories there were several that remind me of my father.   His generation was not afraid to do an honest day’s work.  It did not matter if the work was done physically with their hands or if they spent countless hours solving complicated problems.  Many fathers in the book brought the same attitude and commitment to anything they did… it was as simple and clear. Do your best!

As I read the book one story in particular caught my attention.   It is about a father and son out for a walk one Sunday morning.   As they were walking they passed a funeral home in which people were entering in to pay their respects. The father asked the son the time of day and they continued to talk about football.

As they were winding their way back home, once again they were passing the funeral home.  The funeral had ended and people were making their way out to their cars. 

The father turned and asked his son for the time again.

His son replied that about 20 minutes had passed since the last time he had asked. 

That sounds about right, the father began to say… 

You live your life and if you are really lucky you will get to enjoy your children and grand children.  Hopefully you are a good and caring person, thoughtful of others and stay out of trouble.  In the back of your mind you should know that your entire life will be summed up in about 20 minutes. 

Where do you begin?  What do you say? 

Do I talk about the boy who grew up in a blue collar town in Pennsylvania during the great depression?  Should I go over his love of music and his talents for drawing?  Do I talk about the man who left everything behind and went off to serve his country?    How can I express our feelings about him as a brother, husband, father, mentor and friend? 

Where do you begin?  What do you say?

As a parent it is your job to provide for your family, to encourage your children, guide them when you can and to be there when they fall.  At times you need to be stern and other times you just need to be present.  Along the way you hope that you instill a core set of values.   As I look around at my brothers and sisters, his grand children and great grand children I have to believe that each and every one of us have benefited by the way he went about living his life. 

Should I tell you how much he loved our mother?  Do I need to say that he believed the children she gave him were the greatest gifts a man could ever receive?  Do I need to say that every day since my mother’s passing he said a prayer for her and dwelled in her memory? 

Where do you begin?  What do you say?

Should I tell you that my dad was a huge sports fan? Most afternoons and evenings you could find him in his chair, book in hand, a cold beer on the table, some pretzels or Cheez-It’s and football or golf on the TV.   

Should I tell you that he loved the outdoors and about the many adventures we had growing up?

I could tell you about taking the boat out on Saturday mornings.  I could say something about our summer vacations in places like Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Big Sur, Sequoia National Park and the 12 acres of property he so loved deep in the woods of Northern Michigan.   I could tell you about the legendary church picnics at the lake where he roasted some 300 ears of corn on his home-made corn roasting grill. 

Where do I begin?  What do I say? 

Would it be a surprise if I told you he loved the holidays?  He would shine when the house was full, the smell of food in the air and the anticipation of desert.  I could tell you he was never a fan of cake but he loved his pie.  Apple, Cherry, Lemon Meringue, Rhubarb, Pumpkin and by far his favorite Mincemeat.

Where do I begin?  What do I say? 

Should I tell you he was good at trivial pursuit?  Hopefully you were on his team because otherwise you lost.  He could have cleaned up on The Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy.

It is one thing to be smart but it does you no good if you cannot apply the things you have learned.  I can tell you my father taught us to think on our own, to listen to what others had to say, form our own opinions and to use common sense. 

Where do I begin?  What do I say?

Over the last year I have watched my son Ian as he worked on earning his Arrow of Light badge in order to transition from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts.  Two day after my father passed away I attended the ceremony as Ian was awarded this rank and was accepted into the neighborhood Boy Scout troop.

As part of the ceremony each of the boys have recite the scout oath.

Watching Ian recite the scout oath I could not help but think about my dad and the rules he followed as he lived his life.

On my honor I will do my best 
to do my duty to God and my country 
and to obey the Scout Law; 
to help other people at all times; 
to keep myself physically strong, 
mentally awake, and morally straight.

40 words make up a scout’s oath however they apply to much more than scouting.  He lived these words when he entered into the service of his country, and again when he took his vows of marriage, he repeated words like these as he baptized each and every one of his children.  I can say he knew the meaning of honor, duty, God, family and country.   

Since the funeral I have learned two things about my dad that he had never shared with any of his children.

He rarely talked about World War II, however during his year and half of active duty he earned four bronze stars for acts of heroism.  I have no idea what he did or why he was awarded these medals.

My father was a navigator on a bomber plane that flew out of Italy.  In the last year of his life the priest from the church would visit to give him communion and to take confession.  Multiple times he asked for forgiveness for his part in the destruction and death that resulted from his missions over Germany.

On September 10, 2010, My father and mother will be interned with honors at the National Cemetery in Howell Michigan. 

Where do you begin to describe the life of my Father?  What can I possibly say in 20 minutes that we do not already know?