Loving Complicated People

Frank Binder III 2010sGenesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7

My dad is a… complicated man. I have used many adjectives over the years to describe my father (my mom would discover more ‘creative’ terms over the years), but ‘complicated’ seems to fit in today’s context. My father is currently on a vacation of sorts. No, he is not at the beach. No, he is not golfing with his friends at a resort. My dad decided to drive from his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, to …Alaska…that’s right. I’m sure you were going to guess that next!

What would compel a man to drive to Alaska? Well, it has always been on his ‘bucket list’ of sorts, perhaps if he ever came up with one. He doesn’t fly, so he drives. He doesn’t stay in hotels, so he sleeps in his truck, usually at Wal-Mart parking lots overnight. He doesn’t really stay to stick around and soak up the scenery or landmarks beyond a few minutes. My dad, Frank Andrew Binder Jr., 69 years on this earth, is on a road trip.

Frank is not the most talkative or sociable of people. He doesn’t seem comfortable in public settings like dinner parties or even church. He’s not one to engage in small talk, or call you on the phone just to ‘check in’. To be honest, he seems more comfortable with his dogs than any other creatures on earth. If it weren’t for Facebook of all things, I wonder if I would know what was going on in his life at all (and that is if one is patient enough to filter through all of the sensationalist political posts). I just saw a picture the other day of him, in his long white hair and beard, wearing a ridiculous hat (I gave this to him as a gag gift a while back), sitting on Santa’s lap in North Pole, Alaska. It could just have easily been him who was being sat upon.19106062_1682478485115158_4858307007541768475_n

But before we come to any conclusions about my father, let me share with you all a few other stories about Frank. My dad has been around since day one. Every baseball game, basketball game, even soccer games which he barely enjoyed or understood; my dad was there, even if I wasn’t ever the best on the field. It was my dad who made sure we all got to church on Sunday morning (note to parents: threats work). It was my dad who first took me camping (waking up in the middle of the night inside a flooded tent) and fishing (my brother managed to hook my ear before casting), and hiking (yes, Cleveland MetroParks count). It was my dad who taught me about the value of hard work (“Look it up in the dictionary!”), of being financially responsible (first job at age 14), and receiving a proper education (yes, I paid for college myself). My dad is living life the best way he knows how. He raised my siblings and I, along with my mom, to the best of his abilities.

So what do we do with people like Frank? What does one say about men who don’t fit as cleanly into society’s categories and norms? On days like this, Father’s Day of all days, how should we truly celebrate men like these in our lives that would be honest, sincere, and reverent, without …LYING? After all, many of our fathers in this world did not quite resemble that of Mr. Cleaver or Andy Griffith, or Mr. Rogers. Some men are just complicated.


I’m willing to guess that my dad is not the only man in this world who is complicated. In fact, I bet there are a few of us here today, both male and female, who would self-identify as ‘complicated’, and certainly have had relationships with complicated men, especially fathers, in our lives. Ask my fiancée, and I’m sure that she would readily describe me as such. Despite what we are brought up believing or see on TV…or even Facebook, many people do not easily fit into society’s roles at times. Many of us are not as attractive as the magazines or movies would lead us to aspire. Many of us do not make as much money as it seems everyone else is making. Many of us are not as religious or church-going as we were taught we should be. Maybe we secretly ask ourselves how others live with such faith. Maybe we are embarrassed by the fact that we don’t understand all of the ins and outs of church life. Maybe we question every now and again the very presence of God at all.

We, as humans, are complicated. Despite our greatest efforts, sometimes we don’t live the lives we assume we need to be leading. Despite our greatest efforts, we don’t turn out the way we thought we, or our parents thought we would as children. Despite our greatest efforts, sometimes our relationship with God and our faithfulness are tested, challenged, and all together confused. If we were to update our relationship status with God on Facebook, perhaps we would go back to the classic ‘it’s complicated’ status.

I want us to be thinking about this as we get into today’s scripture reading, the story of Abraham and Sarah (previously Abram and Sarai), and the three visitors. As lives and relationships go, Abraham was one of the first to claim such a complicated status. Abraham was also on a road trip of sorts as he was called by God to settle a new land. Relationships got confusing as he and Sarah resided in Egypt for a time, only to call one another brother and sister, much to the distress of Pharaoh. And let us not forget the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar! All of this wild and complicated living leads us to today’s reading in chapter 18, as Abraham and Sarah are visited by three men whom they do not know.


We read in the opening verse of chapter 18 that God appears to Abraham once again!


Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7

In some ways this is simply a story of how someone, Isaac, received his name. Sarah’s son, Isaac, is so named because of Sarah laughing at the notion of having a child so late in life after years of infertility. But is there something more for us to learn from in today’s reading?

The Good News today is this: God moves within our very complicated lives to reveal the Kingdom. Yes, even US, the people who never quite figured out the ‘easy track’ of life. Even us, the men and women who don’t look the way the photos on Instagram look, or act the way the TV stars act, or speak like the newscasters…God moves within our lives to bring about the Kingdom. In fact, the Bible is filled with story after story of God moving within the lives of very complicated people (murderers, adulterers, prostitutes, those with illness or disease, tax collectors…the list goes on and on) to reveal the Kingdom in most amazing ways. It’s almost as if God chooses people who do not have it all together, who do not fit easily into society’s categories, who are complicated, to share such Good News.

The question is this: when we come across God moving in our lives like that of the three visitors coming across Abraham, how will we respond? Will we be open to seeing God’s presence in such a mystery? Will we be willing to open our lives to the stranger and outcast as Jesus did? Will we be open to the Spirit moving within this world as Peter and Paul?


Friends, believe this. Despite all of our imperfections, shortcomings, or discomfort with life itself, God loves you. God claims you as children of a creator who says at our baptisms the very words Jesus heard, ‘This is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’

We worship a God who embraces the outsider, the reject, the peculiar. We worship a God who calls the loner, who embraces the prodigal, who forgives the sinner.

Sisters and brothers, today we celebrate that God moves within even our very complicated lives, and may not always offer fame, looks, or smarts, but instead offers grace, love, and salvation, time and time again.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.



  1. I can related to your father in a big way I drove to Alaska in 1995 and before I returned decided to buy land and live there. Of course my children thought I was getting senile but did nothing but support my decision. After 20 years in Alaska and 14 of those living by myself in a remote wilderness cabin I have returned to civilization. I am glad for their support because it allowed me to live in a land that wherever you turned you could see the handiwork of God.


  2. Jeff, you’ve given me a way to describe my father, complicated. Thank you. I’ve loved him and he’s always loved me, but issues like alcoholism has caused some upheaval in our family. My mother was a binge drinker so weekends and holidays were rough. I could write a book ……grew up very quickly. But the one thing I knew then and know now that he’s no longer with me, was that he always loved me in the best way he could manage. World War II did a number on him. I think PTSD was the cause of the alcoholism. He found it difficult to understand how God could love him after he blatantly broke one of the commandments and killed someone (the enemy). He was the baby of the family, so was very spoiled by his mother and two sisters. His dad was a tough cookie………..staunch Methodist who had a KKK robe, though he never joined. He was very prejudiced which was confusing to my dad…..how can you preach love one another, yet hate those of a different color. So, I’ve tried to understand him and feel that I now do understand hm better, just wish he were still alive for me to tell him this. He was a smart man, but had difficulty keeping his checkbook balanced, of keeping up with the passage of time. He reminds me a lot of my son who has a non verbal learning disability. Dad was first and foremost a farmer, then later in life became the Chief Deputy in the county PVA office in Kentucky. He was well loved in the community, there were over 400 visitors at the visitation prior to his funeral. He knew no stranger, yet, if you did something to make him mad, it took him a long time to get over it. So, yes, complicated is a good way to describe him. Thank you.


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