Fathers – St Joseph, evensong 19th March, preached by Mark Ward
Today we celebrate the feast of St Joseph of Nazareth, husband of Mary the mother of Jesus and earthly father to Jesus, natural father to at least 3 more sons and two daughters. His story is confined to the time before, during and after Jesus’ birth and the incident we heard read to us a few moments ago, the day he and Mary lost Jesus, only to find him in the temple, where he answered them, in what we might see as adolescent arrogance “well why didn’t you know where I’d be – her in my father’s house”. I wonder what Joseph thought at that comment?
The passage from Hosea we heard a little earlier is about another Father – Jesus actual father – God, showing his compassion to his errant people.
So then – fathers. We all have or have had one, maybe we knew them, and maybe we didn’t. Whether we did or not they had an impact on our lives either through being there or indeed not being there.
My own father was born way back in 1916, not so far away from the birth of some of the fathers of those of you who are older than me. He was 45 when I was born. Just think back – he was born in the middle of a world war where life was unbelievably different to today. He lived until 2006 and so he saw and fought in another world war, saw the popularisation of the motor car and the telephone, of television, of computers, air travel and even the mobile phone, although he would only ever switch it on when he wanted to use it which made it a useless means of emergency communication if anyone else needed him! He saw many parts of the world in the Navy but he never again travelled outside the UK apart from Southern Ireland when we once took him and my mother on holiday with us.
My father was a joker. He was left-handed and at school his arm was tied behind his back to cure him of his affliction, which of course he didn’t. His left-handedness has resulted in me tying my tie left-handed and playing both cricket and hockey left handed, cricket is simple, hockey less so as they don’t make left-handed sticks, yet I am utterly right-handed. He would rail against his punishment and at least twice was sent to work in the headmaster’s garden which adjoined the village school. On one occasion he was told to plant seeds so he put all the seeds into a pot, gave them a liberal mix and then sowed them in neat rows and awaited the result. On the second occasion he uprooted every carrot and replanted it point up, thus he was no stranger to capital punishment. He left school at 14 fairly uneducated but by no means stupid. He soon learned that taking an empty pop bottle back to the shop earned him the deposit and if he then snuck round to the back yard he could reclaim the bottle and at least once, if not twice more claim the deposit before he was rumbled.
He went to work for the local grocer who had a delivery van which daily travelled around the villages of East Lincolnshire. He learned to drive but didn’t take a test. One day the village policeman asked about the licence and my dad who if nothing else was always completely honest admitted he didn’t have a licence, so the policeman banned him from driving the van until he had taken his test. This resulted in a new daily ritual of dad cycling out of the village to await the arrival of his boss with the van, upon which they would swap, dad would do the rounds and in the evening they would repeat the ritual.
For a while he was also employed in the church to pump the bellows for the organ and discovered that the speed at which you pumped could have an amazing range of effects on the sound which came from it.
Well the war came and went and he returned home. He loved to dance and it wasn’t unusual for him to work at the shop on Saturday morning and then borrow the van to drive to London to dance to one of the famous dance bands of the time and drive straight back in time to ring the bells before the service on Sunday. Being a bit of a jack the lad he had a few girls on the go and eventually the heat got to him and he escaped to Brighton to another Grocer’s shop, White and Wilson of Preston Park, purveyors of fine foods to the gentry of Hove. He was in digs and one day commenting on the dining table being rocky, he suggested to the man of the house he should sort it out. When dad returned home the wife looked at him angrily and suggested dad try to sit at the table. He discovered his knees would not fit. As dad had well known the problem was not with the table but the floor so constant removal of a piece from each leg had little or no effect.
Well my mother, 20 years his junior, much to her own mother’s annoyance followed him south and they were married on 6th June 1960. On a visit to our small bungalow in the small and slightly down at heel suburb of Portslade, my maternal grandmother strongly suggested that dad should remove his muddy wellingtons before entering the house, and in defiance he then proceeded to walk all over the house leaving footprints everywhere he went.
I could go on for hours but I won’t, so let’ skip forward 25 years or so. My parents have moved from the pleasant surrounding s to what I thought, arriving in December, was a flea pit of a northern town called Grantham, which of course it was neither, but it was cold. My grandmother was now living with my parents and my mother was still working. Dad now became the main carer for his mother-in-law. Indeed before she moved in it had been his practice to drive the 15 miles to her house in Sleaford once a week to take her and my great aunt Lily shopping. Lily, never one to waste anything would stand in the supermarket and break off all the bits of veg she considered waste whilst grandma would order cheese by the 2 ounce and bacon again 2 rashers at a time. Dad decided to sit in the car and let them shop alone from that point on as he couldn’t stand the embarrassment of being with them.
But why do I tell you all of this? Well he was like so many other ordinary men a reluctant war hero, heroic just for being there and doing what he was told, he held down jobs which were no great shakes by some standards, shop assistant, delivery driver and finally postman, which could spawn another 3 hours of stories in addition to “when I was in the war”. My dad was nothing special like so many others and neither was Joseph. He did take notice of an angel more than once but otherwise he was a simple man, yet that does not diminish what he achieved because he simply trusted in God. Amen.