Sermon Text: Like Father, Like Son
Happy Fathers' Day to all dads everywhere! Today I'm feeling very grateful for my dad. I'm fortunate that he's still around. And it was a blessing to grow up with such a good dad.
Now, my dad was one of my high school teachers. For some kids, that would be less than ideal. But not for me. He was my high school band director, and I loved band. He also taught music theory and jazz history and led the jazz band. I was in all of that, which means that every day of my four high school years, I had my father for two periods each day. And I'm grateful for that. Even if things between us were rocky at home, we got along just fine in the school music room.
As I think about my dad's influence on me, I am so grateful for something you might not expect. My dad has always been funny. He didn't take himself too seriously, and he made people laugh. I think I share that trait.
One of my early boyhood memories comes from the early 1960s. Now, this was the time of the Cold War. Fidel Castro was the leader in communist Cuba. We knew him as the guy with the army fatigues, the cigar, and the big beard. Nikita Kruschev was the leader of Soviet Russia. We knew him as the little fat guy who once pounded his shoe on a desk at the United Nations during a speech.
Well, my dad and mom decided to crash a formal dinner party some friends were attending. Dad put on his army fatigues and had a fake beard and cigar. He was Fidel Castro. My mom wore one of Dad's suits with a big pillow under the jacket to make her look fat, and she wore a bald cap. She was Nikita Kruschev. Seeing my parents dress up like this as a prank on some friends made a powerful impression on me as a little boy. Maybe you now realize where I get some of my eccentricities.
My dad and mom also liked to host parties at our house. For one of these parties, everyone was supposed to come dressed as a song (remember, my dad was the music teacher). So one guy came wearing a barrel and carrying a fireplace poker. He was the "Beer Barrel Polka." Another guy came with a vendor's tray of candy, and he was the Sammy Davis Jr. song "Candyman." One lady came with all the buttons on her clothes done the wrong way, her belly button showing, and her hair all messed up. There was a song at the time called "She's Come Undone." A guy came in a giant cardboard whiskey bottle, "Beethoven's Fifth."
But my dad is a jazz pianist, and he knows about every song there is -- and he had the best costume. He was in regular clothes, but had a sign around his neck on a ribbon. The sign said, "Just Married." Everyone thought he was Mendelssohn's "Wedding March," but they were wrong.
By the end of the evening, all the other costumes and songs had been identified. But not Dad's.
Everyone wanted to know what song he was. He smiled and said, "Well, there's an old Duke Ellington tune. It's called Tonight I Shall Sleep With a Smile on My Face." We all gave him first prize.
Back in the late 1980s, I was serving as the assistant rector in a church just outside Chicago. We had a church Halloween party. Paula and I won a prize for our costume. I wore this very robe, with the hood up (this thing is old!). I had a skull mask and a toy scythe. Paula wore one of my suits with a pillow under the jacket to make her look fat, and she had a mustache painted on, and wore a derby hat. She carried a briefcase with big letters on the side: I.R.S. We were together. We were "Death and Taxes." And we won first prize. (And after the party, Paula went to pick our 8-year old son up from Cub Scouts -- she stayed in costume, and, let me tell you, it made our son feel like I felt when my mom showed up dressed as Kruschev!)
Costumes are fun. And costumes bring a little mental change in people wearing them, and in the people who see the costumes. For example, the first time you put on a special robe and do something in church as a reader, or chalice-bearer, or acolyte, or deacon, or priest, you feel different. And people look at you differently. I know that when I wear my clergy collar out in public, people look at me differently than when I wear jeans and a t-shirt. And I feel different, too.
The costumes we wear do make a difference. The apostle Paul wrote that when we get baptized, we get clothed in Christ, or we "put on" Christ. We put on a costume, if you will, to make us look a little like Christ. We dress up as Christ. It can seem fake or hypocritical, but it can also change us.
It slowly transforms us more fully into Christ's image. We become who we at first pretend to be. As my friends in AA say, we "fake it til we make it." In other words, if we act as if we are compassionate, or brave, or kind or generous, we will slowly become more compassionate, brave, kind, and generous.
We have been baptized into Christ. We have been united with Christ. We have been clothed with Christ. In a way, it's a costume like the ones my dad and I have worn. But it also can become more and more real. Our costumes can become part of who we really are.
I like to think I resemble my dad in his humor, his talent, his smarts. Happy Fathers' Day, Dad!
And I like to think all of us will resemble Christ more and more, as we live into our baptisms.
So let's fake it until we make it!