Friday, August 5, 2016

God is Your Father

Luke 11:1-13

An earnest seminarian recounts an encounter he had with the brilliant Anglican theologian, Frederick Dennison Maurice. He sought out Maurice for counsel about some puzzling intellectual questions that arose from a Bible class he was taking. He had deep respect for the older man’s wisdom and scholarly acumen, but when he presented him with his questions Maurice simply solemnly informed him that God was his Father. Puzzled, the young man said that he humbly hoped that he had no doubts about that, but it wasn’t the question he came to ask! Maurice told him that he had nothing to tell anybody that those words did not signify. 

It is rather easy—especially for the learned—to be quick to pass over the elementary truths of religion eager to get to the, “deeper mysteries,” but we cannot understand the great truths of the Christian faith such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, or Justification apart from first appreciating the basic relation we stand to God as his beloved children. Have we really believed this truth and received it in our heart, in our inmost being?

The Fatherhood of God is the fount from which all the wisdom and blessings of our faith proceeds. It is the first truth that we confess in the Nicene Creed. The one God, the creator of all things visible and invisible is also, “Father Almighty.” It is a conviction based on the very words that Jesus taught us to pray, the prayer that is often called “The Lord’s Prayer,” but is sometimes referred to simply by its opening address, “Our Father.” The story of how Jesus gave his disciples this prayer is related in our Gospel reading. I want to take some time this morning to dwell upon why it is that Jesus taught us to call God, “Our Father” and what it means for us.

 The first thing we need to understand is how unusual it was that Jesus should speak of and address God primarily in this way. The German Scholar Joachim Jeremias has pointed out that in nearly every prayer that Jesus offers in the New Testament, he addresses God as Father. Devout Jews had any number of ways to address God, but ‘Father’ was not one of them. This is an innovation in the history of Jewish piety. 

To be sure in the Old Testament God is occasionally referred to as the father of Israel or the father of a particular individual, and paternal metaphors are used to describe the tenderness he has for his people, but Jesus takes things to a whole new level in addressing God in very direct and personal terms as his Father. This was a scandal to the religious authorities of his day, because in calling God his own father he was making himself equal to God (John 5:18).

It is clear that Jesus is not speaking metaphorically or figuratively but in a quite realistic way. There is a real and unique kinship between himself and the Father. He is the Son of God, the one who had been given authority as his living representative. To know Jesus was to know God because there was a perfect family resemblance between them as Father and Son. 

If Jesus’ direct address to God as his father represents such an unprecedented claim to equality with God, how is it that we can also call God, Father? Jesus is God’s only begotten son, but we are merely his creations. What possible right do we have to claim such intimacy and kinship with God? Why would Jesus teach his disciples to presume such a thing?

The answer is this, while Jesus is God’s Son by nature, we are his children by grace. There is more than one way to be a son isn’t there? Some children are born naturally to their parents, but others—while not biologically related—are chosen. They become children of their father by adoption. Jesus’ relationship to God is unique in being of the same nature as God, but we have been adopted by God and have become his children by grace. Of all the creatures in the world—and who knows maybe even the universe—God chose us to be his children. This was always his plan. Even before he created the world, he predestined us to be his children. He chose you. He delights in you as a father does his own child.

How does God adopt us? When parents adopt a child there is a lengthy process through which the child is legally bound to them, but when God adopted us he did what is impossible for any other parent. He actually imprinted his very nature unto us. You might even say that he grafted his DNA unto us so that we who are not his children by nature were given a real kinship with him, much like you might graft a wild branch unto an olive tree. He did this through sending Jesus Christ to become one of us, to take on human flesh. In him, God joined himself to the human race forever. We are God’s children through union with Christ. Because of Jesus, we can all look to God and address him directly as “Our Father.” 

This means we should have boldness in approaching God in prayer. To illustrate this, Jesus tells a parable about a man in need who comes to his neighbor’s door in the middle of the night. He begs him for help. At first his neighbor is reluctant because he has already put the kids down and has gone to bed for the night, but because of his persistence he gets up and gives the man what he needs. The point isn’t that God is like the reluctant neighbor that needs to be pestered before he consents to help. The point is that even if your grumpy neighbor will help if you ask him long enough, how much more should we expect God to hear us when we call on him and to give us the things that we need, or our “our daily bread.” He is our Father and we can ask him anything. Everything he has is yours! It is his great joy to share it with you.

Because you are his children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4:6-7)

A preacher I once heard put it this way, if anyone else woke you in the middle of the night to ask for a glass of water—maybe even your spouse—you would be pretty irritated and tell them to get it themselves, but if your little child woke you in the night that would be a different story! Who else has the right to ask that of you? We are God’s little children! What father among us would give gasoline to his child when he asked for water? If even sinful and fallible human beings can be good fathers, how much more can God? 

One of the hymns I’ve chosen today describes God as, “OurFather by whose Name all fatherhood is known.” Our earthly fathers might fall short in a number of ways. They sometimes might disappoint us or even hurt us, but God is our father in a much deeper way than any human being could be. He loves us with a perfect and unwavering love.

But he is not our father alone! Because God is our Father, every man is our brother and every woman our sister. Every person we meet—whether they are a believer or not—is a child of God and an object of his love. This is our mission as the church, to preach the Gospel to every person, to take each child of God, even the infants a few weeks old, and claim them as God’s own by baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

On this my last Sunday serving as your priest, I can think of no better truth to give to you. I have nothing to tell you that these words don’t signify, “God is your Father.”