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Home Improvement: Lessons Learned From Two Adoptive Dads

Esther 2:5-11

Today is Father’s Day.

Let’s acknowledge right here at the outset that it is a day filled with mixed feelings. For some, it brings joy. For others, sorrow. Recently I came across a book by John Winoker entitled Fathers. It contains some memoirs from famous persons writing about their fathers. Most everything is positive and filled with feeling. There was a section, however, called “Lost Fathers.” It contained sad, heartbreaking remembrances. For example, there was Carrie Fisher, the daughter of Eddie Fisher, who felt that while her father may have understood music, he certainly didn’t understand anything about being a father. There was Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of Tony Curtis, of whom she said: “He was never a father to me because he was never around.” Perhaps the most painful was Barbra Streisand, who said of her father: “I wish I had a father.” God help us, there are too many fathers who have let their children down by abandonment or by abuse.

David Blankenhorn, in his recent book, Fatherless America, reminds us that in our country today, one third of all children go to sleep each night in fatherless homes. The results are devastating. Seventy percent of juvenile offenders in long-term correctional facilities grew up without a father in the household. The cause of much juvenile crime, promiscuity, drug abuse, and school truancy can be traced to “life without father”.

The point is that the absence of a father is tough on a kid—son or daughter, both are impacted. Now I need to be very quick to state that we have many single mothers in this congregation who are defying the odds and are doing a splendid job of rearing their children without the help of a father. But they are the exception in our society. Simple statistics reveal that the absence of a father is doing widespread harm to the quality of living and the quality of loving in our homes.

To offer a word of hope and help in this matter, I want to take you to a text I have never seen used as a character sketch of a good father. I guess that’s because the man featured in the text is not a normal, traditional father. Instead, he is an adoptive father, a father by choice. His name is Mordecai, and his story is told in the Old Testament Book of Esther—and what a remarkable story it is.

Let me acquaint you now with the cast of characters. First, of course, there is Mordecai. He is the de-facto leader of the Jewish people who were living in captivity in the kingdom of Persia. Next, there is the King of Persia, called in the Bible “Ahasuerus” and called in the history books, “Xerxes”. He was so powerful that he was viewed by his people not only as a king, but also as a god. His word was absolute law. Then there is Haman. He was an assistant and he hated the Jewish people. Consequently, he kept trying to get the king to destroy them. And then there is Hadassah, her Persian name which means “dazzling beauty”. Her Jewish name was Esther, so that’s what we call her. She was Mordecai’s cousin. Apparently, her parents had died, and the Bible says that “Mordecai adopted her as his own daughter.”

Now here’s the story. One day the King of Persia saw this beautiful young woman, Esther, and exercising his supreme power, he took her for his wife. He did not know that she was Jewish. Now Haman had the ear of the king, and he asked the king to purify his kingdom by destroying the Jewish people. The king seemed inclined to follow Haman’s advice. Esther recognized the dire threat to her people and so she sought the council of her beloved adoptive father, Mordecai. Mordecai reminded her of the love he had given her and the faith he had taught her. He said to her: “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” Esther, strengthened by her adoptive father, then did something that was totally against the law. No one could enter the king’s presence without being invited by the king himself. To step into the king’s presence uninvited meant instant death. But Esther went, believing that God had heard the prayer of Mordecai and she stepped into the king’s presence. The king, so admiring of her beauty and so much in love with her, chose to ignore the law. In fact, he was so moved by her courageous act that he said to her: “I will give you half of my kingdom.” Esther replied: “I don’t want half of your kingdom. I want you only to repudiate Haman and to release my people.” The king did what she asked and her people were saved.

It’s a great story filled with a whole raft of messages, but today I want to focus on the lessons we can learn from Mordecai, this adoptive father. He reminds us that there is a big difference between being a father of someone and being a father to someone. To be a father of someone is simply a biological function. It has no significance in and of itself. However, to be a father to someone means to care for them, to love them, to teach them, to provide for them, to be tolerant when intolerance would be easier, to be patient when impatience would be more natural. Mordecai was not the father of Esther but he was a father to Esther—and what a difference that made. And what a difference he made.

First of all, Mordecai was a man of courage, and he passed that courage on to his adoptive daughter.

The world in which Mordecai lived was a frightening, threatening world indeed, but he taught his adopted daughter to face that world not with fear, but with courage. We live in an equally frightening and threatening world. John Leo, in a recent U.S. News and World Report column, pointed out that twins are being born more frequently than ever before. When a third grade teacher mentioned that fact to her class, one of her pupils said: “I guess it’s because little children are afraid to come into this world alone!” Not true, but so truel Children today need to learn courage, not fear, but typically so many dads, directly or indirectly, deliver the message of fear.

I keep thinking about a boy named Al who lived with his family in London. His father was in the import business and was fairly well-off financially. However, he was tough and demanding on his son, and he used fear as a constant weapon. One example. Al’s father was good friends with the Chief of Police. One day, Al had not done well enough something that his father had asked him to do. His father said: “Al, take this envelope down to the Chief of Police.” The envelope was sealed and Al obediently carried it down to the police station and gave it to the chief. Little Al then said: “My father told me I was to wait for your response.” The chief opened the envelope, read the note, and said to the little boy: “Follow me.” He took the little boy back to a jail cell, pushed him in, slammed the door, locked it, and said: “This is what we do to bad boys.” And then he walked away. Little Al was terrified. He screamed and he screamed and he screamed. Later in his life he would say: “I couldn’t have been there for more than 15 minutes, but it seemed like an eternity.” His father, wanting to teach him a lesson, had sown in him the seeds of fear. One could argue that Al never got over that fear. One could argue that he never forgot those screams. In fact, he would spend his life battling against inner torment and he would become known as “the master of the involuntary scream”. Perhaps he brought a scream or two out of you. His name? Al—Alfred—Hitchcock. His father taught him to fear, and he never got over it.

Contrast Al’s experience with Michael’s. Michael’s mother was devastated when a teacher told her that her son had been tested and his IQ was near the level of being retarded. The teacher was impatient and unwilling to listen when the mother began to tell the things Michael could do well. So Michael’s mother made a decision on the spot. She resolved never to tell her son, never to let him be afraid. She and Michael’s father then supported and encouraged and affirmed their son. Today, Dr. Michael Elmore is a prominent gastroenterologist, and he jokes about it all saying: “My parents never told me I couldn’t be a doctor until after I graduated from medical school!”

Mordecai taught his adopted daughter courage. It’s something we all need to learn.

Also, Mordecai was a man of faith and he passed that faith on to his adoptive daughter.

When you read through the Book of Esther—and I hope you will; you can do it in about 15 minutes—you begin to see that the secret of Mordecai’s strength, power, and leadership was his active practice of the faith. You also see the same faith practices exemplified in Esther’s life.

There is a powerful message there for all dads. We ought to be practicing the faith. If you’re bringing your children to Sunday School and dropping them off while you go have coffee and read the morning paper, then you need to wake up and smell the coffee yourself. If you’re more concerned about their playing soccer than you are about them being in Sunday School and being there with them, then you need to recognize that you’re just playing games yourself. We need to be practicing the faith and we need to be sharing that faith with our children.

Every so often I run into someone who says: “We chose not to raise our children in the church because we wanted them to make up their own minds about religion.” How stupid! You can’t raise children in a neutral environment. They learn what the world is all about from the environment in which they are raised. Keep them away from the church and they will learn from everything else except the church. They will learn from television, videos, and movies, from shopping malls, playgrounds and the streets. To raise a child in the church is to at least give them a choice, an option. The time will come when they will make up their own mind, so if they are going to reject the Christian faith, at least they ought to know what they are rejecting. We ought to be practicing our faith and sharing it with our children. Their future depends on it.

Fred Craddock tells of a couple who drove up to the church every Sunday and let their daughter out to go to Sunday School while they went off to have brunch together. They were an upwardly mobile young couple, and in an effort to move up the social ladder, they began to entertain on Saturday nights. One Saturday night, after a lot of drinking, the party got rather noisy. Their daughter was awakened and came down the stairs. Someone noticed her, and when they did, the party guests fell silent. The little girl noticed that they had been eating and drinking, and she asked a very simple question: “Has anyone said the blessing?” They didn’t even know how to respond so she said: “I’ll say it.” They bowed their heads uncomfortably and she prayed: “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food. Amen. Now y’all have a good time.” With that she ran up the stairs to bed. Need I tell you that that party was over! In two minutes all of the guests had bolted for the doors. The next day, Sunday morning, Fred Craddock looked out at the congregation. There sat the little girl. He had seen her around the church, but he didn’t know the couple with her. When the invitation was given, the couple came forward and asked to join the church. They told Craddock what had happened the night before, and they said: “As we picked up the napkins and the half sandwiches and the empty glasses and the spilled peanuts and began to take them to the kitchen, we both looked at each other and said:

‘Where are we headed in this family?’ Dr. Craddock, we decided to come home to the Lord. This is the place to begin.”

Mordecai taught his adopted daughter faith. It’s a lesson we all need to learn.

Well…

There is one more lesson we need to learn. I titled this sermon “Lessons Learned From Two Adoptive Dads.” We learned two lessons from one adoptive dad, Mordecai. The other lesson we learn from a second adoptive dad. We meet him in a story told by Karl Stegall. It’s the story of two little boys who were enrolled in first grade. The first day of class, the teacher asked the two brothers about their birthday. The first boy said: “I was born January 1, 1984.” The second boy said: “I was born on April 4, 1984.” The teacher was understandably curious—two brothers born three months apart. She said: “How can it be that you were born three months apart?” One of the brothers replied: “One of us is adopted.” The teacher then asked: “And which one of you is adopted?” One of the boys said: “I asked my dad that question one day, and he leaned down and kissed us both and said: ‘I forgot which one.'” Do you have any idea what that dad’s love did for those two boys? Noted child psychologist Uri Bronfenbrenner has written that what a child needs more than government or social programs is “the irrational emotional attachment of fiercely loving parents”.

So Dad, be a man of courage. Be a man of faith. Most of all, be a man of love. You may be in the kingdom for just such a time as this…

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