Columnist Armstrong Williams writes of a summer day down south when his father sent him to buy wire and fencing for the farm. At sixteen, Williams liked nothing better than a chance to drive the Chevy pickup.
But this time, he was in no hurry. His father told him he’d have to ask for credit. Sixteen is a proud age for a young black man, Williams explained. “The ugly shadow of racism was still a fact.” [In many places it still is!] “I’d seen my friends ask for credit and then stand, head down, while a patronizing store owner questioned whether they were ‘good for it.’ I knew black youths like me who were watched like thieves by the store clerk each time they went into a grocery.”
At the General Store, Buck Davis stood behind the register, talking to a middle-aged farmer. When Williams brought his purchases to the register, he said softly, “I need to put this on credit.” The farmer gave Williams a cynical look. But Buck didn’t blink. “Sure,” he said easily, “Your Daddy is always good for it.” He turned to the farmer he was talking with and said, “This here is one of James Williams’ sons.” The farmer nodded in a neighborly way.
Williams later remarked, “I was filled with pride. James Williams’ son…That day I discovered that a good name could bestow a capital of good will of immense value.” He went on to observe, “We children – eight brothers and two sisters – could enjoy that good name, unearned, unless and until we did something to lose it. Compromising it would hurt not only the transgressor but also those we loved and those who loved us.”
When you and I came to faith through the gospel in word and sacrament, God adopted us as His sons and daughters. He gave us the family name, the family honor, all unearned because of what Christ did for us by His perfect life, His atoning death and His triumphant resurrection. Now we belong to Christ. We bear His name – “Christian.” What people think of our Father, what they think about our Father’s word –whether He is “good for it,” is often influenced by what they see in us who bear that name.
On this Father’s day, it is good to remember we bear the names of our earthly fathers, and as Christians, the name of our heavenly Father. It matters that we bring honor to both!
How did Luther put it in the Catechism? “God’s name is kept holy when His word is taught in its truth and purity and we as children of God live holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven. But whoever teaches and lives contrary to God’s word dishonors God’s name among us. Keep us from doing this, dear Father in heaven.”
On the peaks and in the valleys, the question will be asked us: “What did you say your name was?”