The Cat’s in the Cradle

Jesus knew that when seeds were planted in fertile soil, they produce a crop thirty, sixty, even a hundred times as much as was planted! That is why He always had time for children. Dads should as well.

The Cat’s in the Cradle ~ June 17, 2018 ~ Father’s Day ~ Luke 18:15-17

We are in the gospel of Luke this morning. Luke, I am your father! No. Not that Luke. Will you join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the Word of God? Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see; our ears that we may hear; our minds that we may understand; and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

This is a story from Luke 18 that probably is familiar to most of you.

One day some parents brought their little children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But when the disciples saw this, they scolded the parents for bothering him. Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

Now this may seem to be a fairly straightforward and innocent story at first, but I promise you, there is more to it than meets the eye. Writing this message for Father’s Day, I gotta say, when I think of Father’s Day, often times I think of an experience I had up north when I was pastor in the church in Maine. We happen to be a member of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches. So was the church up in Maine. And the grand pooba, or the executive secretary they called him, of the NACCC visited us one year up in Maine, and he was invited to preach. His name was Tom Richard.

Now Tom was about yay big, and he was born and raised on the island of Nantucket, which is an island thirty miles off the coast of Cape Cod. It’s only about 200 square miles, has about 10,000 people on it. I do not remember what Tom preached about, but I do remember this: he told us he was one of twenty-two children. Same mother, same father. One multiple birth. Twenty-two kids! Can you imagine that poor woman for the first 25-30 years of her marriage was pregnant! The first word that comes to your mind, probably the first one that came to mine – WHY??? I don’t know, they’re on an island! Probably not a whole heck of a lot to do.

One of the reasons for large families, or one of the motivations for having a large family, at one time it was very practical: free labor. Especially in an agrarian society, like in Jesus’ day.

The Cat's in the Cradle Working in the fields

In Jesus’ day, if you were hungry you didn’t just, you know, hop on the pony and go over to Stop N Shop and pick something up. You needed to grow what you ate, or there needed to be a farmer in town that grew enough for his family and extra to sell to you so you could survive. Well, the larger that a farm gets, the more help you need. If you have to pay workers, it gets expensive. So the best way to have a larger farm, is to have more farm workers, and kids are free. So that was one reason, early on, to have a large family.

In Jesus’ day, there was another one. You see, unfortunately in the first century, the life expectancy was about twenty-five years. So twenty-five years old, you were already an old man. Now, the infant mortality rate was in excess of 30%. That means almost one third of all the children born died before their first year.

So here’s the picture behind what we read: there’s a bunch of children coming to see Jesus. The disciples are telling them to stay away, because on one hand, until you could contribute to the household, you really were simply just another mouth to feed. In fact, as a father, I really was hesitant to get too attached to you, because there was a good chance you wouldn’t make it past your first year. Having more children upped your chances of survival.

But that was not unusual for the disciples. That was the attitude of a first century man.

The Cat's in the Cradle Working with dad

You are only valued based upon what you could bring to the table, what you could produce, what you could do. As far as children goes, boys were valued when they could work. Girls were valued because, well first they could bring dowries with them when they got married, along with a husband, so now I have a son-in-law who can work, and they can have boys who can work.

It was all about what you could bring to the table. I mention this because these ladies, these mothers, these moms were not coming to Jesus just because. That’s not like, you know, Santa Claus or Easter Bunny at the mall.

The Cat's in the Cradle Santa

Oh, here’s… yup, that’s me, I’m the little one. That’s my older brother, 1965. Gosh I was cute. I don’t know what happened. It wasn’t like Santa Claus comes to the mall and you bring the kids. “Oh, Jesus is here! Let’s bring the kids and sit em on the knee and tell em what they want!” That’s not why they were bringing their children to Jesus. They had heard, they knew, perhaps some of them had seen Jesus perform miracles. Healed people who were thought unable to be healed, beyond hope, and they were hoping that he would bless their children, so they might make it past year one. Because if you made it past your first year of life, your life expectancy actually doubled. Now you might live to your late fifties! If they survived into their teens, there’s a chance you could expect six decades of life. If you survived into your teens, you were also help on the farm.

So pushing kids away – I mean, the disciples were turning mothers away because they felt like any first century man felt – children simply were not valued. Sadly, that attitude, this relationship between fathers and children, endured for centuries. Child labor has existed since before the start of civilized society. Early history shows that children were used to pick berries and do small maintenance in nomadic tribes as they traveled around, and once people started settling in one spot, children were obviously used to help on the farm. Child labor expanded during the industrial revolution, because a child was able to work in smaller places that adults couldn’t access. Because of their size, children were chimney sweeps, they were small so they were able to get behind the textile machines and do whatever needed to be done, they could help with the ponies in the coalmines.

The Cat's in the Cradle Chimney Sweep   The Cat's in the Cradle Textile machines   The Cat's in the Cradle Coal mines

It was dangerous, and children often lost their lives. But they were seen only as valuable when they could work.

Interestingly enough – I was surprised to learn this – it wasn’t the United States that first addressed this. It was the kingdom of Prussia. Prussia, which is modern day Germany, Poland, Lithuania and parts of Russia. Prussia was the first nation to pass laws restricting child labor in factories and setting the number of hours that a child could work. In our country, the United States, it wasn’t until 1904, the beginning of the 20th century, that some individual states began to get pressured to pass some laws keeping children in school and out of the labor market. At least until a specified age, which was twelve, fourteen or sixteen, depending on which state you lived in. So you had to at least go to the sixth grade. But Congress, the United States Congress did not pass the Fair Labor Standards Act until 1938! That’s the year my dad was born! So my point is, children were not valued as anything other than free labor until very recently. Eighty years ago!

Men, on the other hand, were designed to work. That’s just the way it is. Right from the beginning, in Genesis 2. After God creates Adam it says in verse 15:

The Lord God placed the man in the garden of Eden…

Why?

… to tend and watch over it.

So God created men to work. Period. From the beginning. Even after we get kicked out of the garden for eating from the tree, it’s very clear, we are still to work, but it’s gonna get tough. God says in chapter 3, verse 17 to the man:

“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”

So we still are gonna work, but now all of a sudden it’s going to be difficult. The ground is cursed, you’re going to have to struggle, you’re gonna scratch a living from it, there’ll be all sorts of barriers between you and your goal, thorns and thistles will grow up… by the sweat of your brow, it’s gonna be difficult. But that’s the way God made us. Men work, that’s just who we are.

The Cat's in the Cradle work 1   The Cat's in the Cradle work 2   The Cat's in the Cradle work 3   The Cat's in the Cradle work 4

That’s how God designed us. If physically able, we want to work. It’s often how we define ourselves. I mean, usually, when a woman meets another woman and they start a conversation, it runs the gamut from “Gee, are you married?” “Do you have any children?” But when a guy meets another guy, what’s the very first question we ask? “What do you do?” “I don’t know what you do.” And unfortunately, how you answer that question will make me jump to a conclusion about you. But that’s what we want to know. “What do you do?”

Men want to work. If they can’t, they often struggle with self-worth.

The Cat's in the Cradle want a job

They feel like they’re not fulfilling something. It’s internal. I mean, how many men do you know – I know plenty from the Post Office – that die right after they retire? Because they feel like they have no purpose for living anymore! I mean, I got up for work every single day, I took a shower, I shaved, I ate my breakfast, I went off to work, I knew exactly what I was gonna do for this amount of time, I was gonna accomplish something, and then I was gonna come home. There was purpose in my life. Then after they retire, they have nothing to do, they felt lost.

Ladies, if you have an able-bodied man – and I mean able-bodied, there are reasons, physical reasons, limitations why some people aren’t able to work, but – if you have an able-bodied man who is just content sitting around, living off of you; or if you have a friend or a daughter that you love who has someone who’s just content to sit around and live off of them, you don’t have a man.

The Cat's in the Cradle spongebob

You have a sponge. Don’t settle for a sponge. Tell your daughter not to settle for a sponge. That is not how God designed us. God designed men to work, provide for their families.

Now, the reason I bring all this up is because in some cases, this desire, this drive to work can consume a guy to the point where he can begin to neglect his family, his wife, his son, his daughters. I said back on Mother’s Day, “A mother’s influence can have far-reaching consequences.” The same goes for fathers. A father’s influence can have far-reaching consequences. If you’re not as old as me, you might not remember how well this was put into song back in 1974, but I wanna play with you a song by Harry Chapin that really encapsulates the influence that fathers can have on their children. It’s called “Cat’s in the Cradle.”

A child arrived just the other day,
He came to the world in the usual way.
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay.
He learned to walk while I was away.
And he was talking ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew
He’d say, “I’m gonna be like you, Dad.
You know I’m gonna be like you.”
 
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little Boy Blue and the man in the moon.
“When you coming home, Dad?” “I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then.
You know we’ll have a good time then.”
 
My son turned ten just the other day
He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let’s play.
Can you teach me to throw?” I said, “Not today.
I got a lot to do.” He said, “That’s OK.”
And then he walked away, but his smile never dimmed.
It said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah.
You know I’m gonna be like him.”
 
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little Boy Blue and the man in the moon.
“When you coming home, Dad?” “I don’t know when.
But we’ll get together then.
You know we’ll have a good time then.”
 
Well he came from college just the other day,
So much like a man I just had to say,
“Son I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?”
He shook his head, and he said with a smile
“What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys,
See you later, can I have them please?”
 
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little Boy Blue and the man in the moon.
“When you coming home, Son?” “I don’t know when.
But we’ll get together then, Dad.
You know we’ll have a good time then.”
 
I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away.
I called him up just the other day.
I said, “I’d like to see you, if you don’t mind.”
He said, “I’d love to Dad, if I could find the time.
You see, my new job’s a hassle and the kids have the flu,
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad.
It’s been sure nice talking to you.”
And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me.
 
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon.
Little Boy Blue and the man in the moon.
“When you coming home, Son?” “I don’t know when.
But we’ll get together then, Dad.
You know we’ll have a good time then.”

 

It’s a tough song to hear, but it does point out the fact that, just like moms, fathers have influence and far-reaching consequences on our sons and daughters. Yes, God designed men to work; but being a father, if you wanna do it right, is work. It’s the hardest job you’ll ever have. Look, anyone who has the parts that still work can provide the necessary biological material to become a father.

The Cat's in the Cradle dad1   The Cat's in the Cradle dad2   The Cat's in the Cradle dad3

The Cat's in the Cradle dad4   The Cat's in the Cradle dad5

That’s not tough. That’s the fun part. That’s not hard to do. However, it takes someone special, someone willing to do the work, to be a dad. Or a grandfather. One of the reasons I’m so passionate about wanting to become a grandfather is because look, on days like this, you get all these wonderful well wishes from friends and family and children. I can’t help but at least think about all the ways in which I messed up, all the mistakes that I made. If I only had a chance to do it again. That’s what being a grandpa’s about. You get two bites of the apple! You get a chance to do it again. And you have an opportunity to tell your son or your daughter, “Don’t make the same mistakes.” So the message is not just for dads who are currently dads. You’re always a dad, I don’t care how old you are, or how old your children are.

Now, Jesus, as he frequently does, breaks down the barriers and turns conventional understanding on its head and says, “Shoo children away? Absolutely not!

The Cat's in the Cradle jesus and children

Let them come to me! Children are very important!” I cannot emphasize how radical of a position this was in first century thought! Nobody thought of kids that way! Jesus did. No one treated kids that way! Jesus did. I mean, think about it. What kind of future do you want? What kind of future would you like to see? We are raising the architects who will build our future. And fathers, if we, like Jesus, show them that we love them, that we value them because of who they are – not because of what they can do, not because of what they can produce – they’ll grow up to be just like you. “Your boy will be just like you.”

I mean, even Jesus needed time alone with his father. We read in the Scriptures all the time how he needed to go off and spend some time with God. That’s what we need to do. We need to spend some time with our children, not just buy them stuff. We need to go to that baseball game or that softball game; we need to shoot hoops with them in the driveway; we need to sit down among all those stuffed animals and have that little tea party; we need to attend that field hockey game, even though I have no clue what’s going on! They won’t care. You were there. Why do moms love homemade cards?

The Cat's in the Cradle homemade card

Is it because they’re beautiful? Come on, let’s be honest. They really aren’t. It’s because of what they represent. What does that represent? That represents time. That represents effort. A child sat down, took the time and created that, because you were worth spending some time on. It took time to make that. It’s the same with buying stuff. I mean, it’s great to get your kids stuff, but you know, nowadays you just go over to the laptop, right? Or even on your cell phone and click click click, Amazon, two days later it’s on your front porch. It’s awesome, I love it. I hear it’s even easier with that Alexa girl. “Alexa, would you buy me…” I don’t know how that all works, sounds pretty awesome. But do we think kids don’t know that? Do you think they haven’t figured out that click click click and you give them something? How much effort does that take? They know the difference between click click and taking time out of your crazy schedule to spend it with them. As I said, Jesus needed time with his father. He didn’t want his father to give him anything, he wasn’t looking to turn any water into wine, or feed 5000, he just wanted to spend time with his father. Jesus knew that when fathers do that, it creates fertile soil; and when seeds are planted in fertile soil, they produce a harvest thirty, sixty, even a hundred times as much as been planted. That is why unlike everyone else in the first century, Jesus always had time, always made time for children. Fathers should as well.

One of the things about our current culture that just makes my blood boil is how many households there are without fathers in them. That is so wrong, to walk away from this woman, and your child, and abandon them. I’m sorry, there is a special place in hell for men who do that. They are still your children. Look, I understand relationships don’t work out, I understand that even marriages don’t work out. You have a moral, you have a legal, you have a financial responsibility. That is your child. I don’t have much to say about men who walk away. But if you are one of them, God took that to the cross. You can repent of that sin. You can be forgiven. And you can make it right, starting today.

Yes, God designed men to work. But there is no more satisfying or meaningful work than being a father.

The Cat's in the Cradle dad and baby

All those – I don’t even call them men – all those cowards who abandon their children… they don’t know what they’re missing. God bless you guys, you men that I saw standing up here, who stayed, who loved, who encouraged, who cared and made time for your children. Happy Father’s Day to you. And to all the children out there (we’re all children), I plead with you, please. Please do not wait for the funeral to tell your father, or that man who was a father in your life, what he meant to you, how much you appreciated him. Don’t wait for the funeral. He doesn’t need another tie. He needs some popcorn. Or, here’s a kick – make him a card. I don’t care how old you are. Wouldn’t that be awesome? Make him a card, if he’s still living. Write in it how you feel. Call him. I called my dad yesterday, I’ll call him again today. Not text, call! Not an email, speak to that person who was the father figure in your life. Tell him you grew up just like him. “Your boy is just him.” And you praise God for it every single day. Would you stand and pray with me?

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