Rev. George Miller
2 Corinthians 13:1-13
June 19, 2011
I have a confession to share with you, not something I tell many people: 21 years ago I tried to break into modeling.
This was at a time when big hair, blue eyes and the preppy look were in style and people kept telling me I should try my luck.
So I went to a modeling agency in NYC, got pictures taken, went to one or two casting calls, did some work for MTV and basically lost interest.
The truth is that to be successful in the entertainment world you really have to want it, more then anything else, so much so that you devote all your time going to auditions, waiting for call backs and facing rejection.
The head of the modeling agency I visited was named Cheyenne, a regal, former model who was truthfully blunt.
She told me that because my face was blotchy I would need cover-up. I was to always address her with a “Yes maam” or “No ma’am.” And my handshake was to always be firm and friendly.
Basically, she taught me the things any good father should teach his son, well, except perhaps about the cover-up.
After 1990 I never pursued modeling again, but Ms. Cheyenne’s tough love stayed with me and has come in handy when seeking a job, greeting people, or living in the South.
Ms. Cheyenne also influenced how I watch talent shows. For example, some people will say Simon Cowell from “American Idol” is too tough and demanding.
I disagree. I think he knows what it’s like out there, what it takes to excel in his field. When someone does their best, and gets it right, Simon is right there to lavish them with praise.
When they haven’t put in the work necessary, Simon’s critiques may seem harsh, but the road to excellence isn’t always paved by sugar-coated comments.
Sometimes tough love is needed.
I talk about tough love because today is Father’s Day, a day to celebrate the men in our lives who have influenced who we are: dads, grandpas, uncles, teachers, mentors, church elders.
And this is an important thing to do, because Lord knows being a man, and being a father is not always easy.
It requires a delicate mix of watching over but letting go, guiding but not controlling, laying down the law but not abusing the law.
Knowing when to say no even though saying yes would make you more popular.
Sometimes being a father is about knowing how to show tough love; not allowing children to get by with poor manners, sloppy work or bad decisions, when you know they are capable of so much more.
Is it any wonder why some men have run away from the responsibility of being a father? Or why so many kids are missing this anchor in their life?
And when boys don’t have a father to walk with them and teach them how to be a better man…well then how they can walk and teach their sons?
In today’s reading, Paul is also having some issues that are similar to being a father.
See, Paul has been responsible for starting various congregations throughout the land. In many ways he has fathered them.
He helped give them life; he saw them take their first steps. He set boundaries and guided them with rules. He instructed them through the stages of maturing.
Some of the members were like babies to the faith, needing extra attention. Others were growing up and becoming faithfully mature.
Like a good father, Paul tried his best to model to them what it looked like to live a Christian life. He hoped that by emulating him, they would emulate Christ.
He reminded them of how much they were loved. He reminded them of how they were accountable for their actions. He helped to give them roots and to give them wings.
When the time was right he stepped away from each congregation, so they could grow on their own.
Some church families thrived under Paul’s fathering; others, not so well. The Corinthian church was one of them.
It was a congregation that Paul had loved deeply, but a congregation that was having a multitude of issues. Sin had crept in, breaking down the sense of community.
Two of the members were butting heads. Some questioned his teaching; others disliked his personality, while others challenged his authority.
And like most fathers, Paul did not appreciate anyone in his household challenging his authority.
So Paul, like any good father, tries his best to deal with the events without making himself the issue or the message.
He focuses them on Communion. He repeats the Christian story. He reminds them about forgiveness.
However, when none of that seems to work, Paul breaks down and says “If you don’t stop misbehaving right now, I’m going to pull this car over and….”
…Well, he doesn’t really say that, but you can hear the frustration in his letter. There’s a frankness to his words in which he tries to nudge them towards improvement.
Here’s an abridged take on the passage that we just heard read: “This is the third time I am coming to you…I warned those….that if I come again I will not be lenient.”
Can you hear the exasperation in his words, that sense of “These kids are acting up again!” But instead of unleashing a can of whoop-butt on them, Paul tries to find a way to speak to them through the lens of faith:
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith…Don’t you realize Christ is in you?”
This is a way of saying “Hey-I raised you better then this.”
Paul brings the elders into the discussion: “We pray to God that you may not do anything wrong…and that you may become perfect.”
Which is Paul’s way of saying “We can’t control what you do, but we’ve done the best job in raising you. Let’s see you make the right choices.”
To ensure that no one thinks Paul has gone soft, he says “I write these things, so that when I come, I may not have to be severe in using the authority that God has given me for building up and not tearing down.”
In other words, Paul is saying “I gave you life and I can take it away, but I would rather see you succeed.”
To ensure that Paul has not gotten too hard, he finishes his letter with an ode to family love: “Brothers and sisters…agree with one another, live in peace, and greet each other with a holy kiss.”
Paul succeeds in doing such a difficult balancing act of being tough and stern yet being lovingly focused and affirming.
How could he demonstrate tough love so well to the Corinthian church?
Because this wasn’t about ego; this wasn’t about popularity points.
This was about Paul wanting what was best for the church. He knew they had something unique to offer the world: the news that in Jesus Christ we have experienced the loving actions of God, we are the recipients of grace, and death and sin have lost their sting.
Paul does not want these messages to be lost or blotted out. He doesn’t want this home to be ruined by a few siblings who are fussing and fighting.
He wants the family of God to live and to thrive and to experience healthy lives.
To do so, he knows that sometimes the line has to be drawn and sometimes he has to show tough love. Not to punish or to hurt. But to protect and to bless.
Not to destroy or annihilate. But to build and create.
The same way, if we were fortunate, the men in our lives did for us.
Because when a man forgets about popularity points and is willing to do what is right, they have done their family a favor.
When a man does this, the result can be children who are able to grow, to embrace the gifts they have been given and the things they have been taught.
When a man does this, he allows children to go out into the world with respect, and greet one another in a manner that says “I matter and so do you.”
When a man does this, his children can run and dance, to stand tall and proud; knowing that they can live their lives to the fullest in the way that God wants them to be lived.
We do not know if Paul’s letter had the desired affect or if the Corinthian church ever got their act together.
But this letter touched someone, because they saved it and shared it, and nearly 2,000 years later we’re still talking about it.
We can learn from Paul’s letter a few things: if you are a parent, a grandparent, an uncle, mentor or elder, don’t confuse what you think is being nice with what is right.
Try to live the ways you want your children and grandchildren to live.
And if you are fortunate enough to have a father who is still alive, who did right by you, find a way to tell them thanks for what they have done…and to forgive them for whatever they may have done wrong.
Happy Father’s Day to all the men out there; regardless if you have a family of your own or your family is the church, you are all Fathers today.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you…and with us.
Amen and amen.