Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"Our Father"

This is the first sermon in a series on the Lord's Prayer.

“Our Father”
Matthew 6:7-13, Luke 15:11-31
First Sunday in Lent

Lent is the season in which Christians prepare ourselves for the most important week of our year – Holy Week.
Jesus’ death and His resurrection are the central events of Christian faith. And to experience them fully, to really enter into them and “get it” on Easter morning takes some preparation. So the church, from very early on, has set aside this period of six weeks prior to Easter, and done what the church can do to encourage each of us to prepare ourselves by examining our own hearts, by prayer and fasting, and by acts of charity.
This year, I was really convicted by the Words God spoke to Jesus disciples up on the mountain, that we read last Sunday: This is my Son - Listen to Him.
So our worship services for Lent are going to built around Jesus’ words, as they are recorded in the Gospels. We are going to be “red letter Christians” this Lent. “Red Letter Christians” is a reference to how some editions of the Bible have Jesus’ words printed in red ink. Well – we’re going to highlight Jesus’ words and “red ink” them on our hearts this season.
And here’s what I have in mind: The sermons are going to be organized by the prayer Jesus’ taught his disciples to pray – the same one we pray together every Sunday of the year. My hope is that by taking it apart, and looking at each phrase carefully and prayerfully, we will be able to pray those words with the deep meaning and spiritual power Jesus’ meant them to have.
The first phrase is “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name”

Our Father – Jesus invites us to address the Creator of the Universe, the Sovereign over all, the All Knowing, All Powerful God as . . . Father. Jesus invites us to address God using the same relationship that Jesus has with God. Jesus knows God as his Father. God calls Jesus “his beloved Son”. This familial, familiar, close and loving relationship belongs to Jesus. And this is the relationship Jesus came to establish between each one of us and God. Through our relationship to Jesus – through loving and trusting him – we become like him – like children to God. It is a gift of grace that we should be encouraged to call God “Our Father”.

But there are lots of things that stand in the way of our being able to use that address as gracefully as it was offered. The most obvious obstacle is that when we say “Father” most of us think of some earthly father. We start with our experience and try to extrapolate UP to God. Some of us may have been blessed with an earthly father whose love and discipline over the years we think helps us understand God as Father. The problem is that we just see God as our Dad. And, sorry. Not big enough. Others of us have had experiences with an earthly father-figure that make it more difficult to hear or say that word with love and trust. If all we know is an absent father or a thoughtlessly cruel one – then our experience doesn’t help us come into relationship with God. Whether our own fathers were good, bad or indifferent – they were all limited and imperfect – which makes them not like Jesus’ father.
So if we are going to understand and pray “Our Father” with Jesus, then we need to listen to him describe what “Father” means.
And of course, Jesus does teach us about “father” and give us a vivid picture of what God as Father means. Perhaps the most memorable of these teachings is found in the Gospel of Luke. Luke has recorded about 35 references to the word “father” in his gospel. And well over a third of those occur in one story, – what we call the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Biblical scholars suggest is more aptly title, the Parable of the Prodigal Father – for Prodigal means Lavish, Free Spending, Excessively Generous.
Let’s turn to that story – Luke 15: 11-31, and pay special attention to the character, the actions and the emotions of the father in the story. (Read Story)
Clearly, this father is how Jesus knows God the Father. What kind of a father is this?
Then Jesus said, There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me. So he divided his property between them.”
A Father who suffers his children’s decisions. (not strict. James Dobson would not approve of this father, who let his son make a foolish, damaging choice.) The younger son insults his father by asking for his inheritance. Jewish literature advises fathers not to give away substantial parts of their property while they are living. The youngest son’s share would have been one third. Big cut and difficult to recover from when the worst case scenario develops. But this is a father who risks too much, who allows too much, who doesn’t stand in the way of the child’s freedom, even their when they freely choose to do the wrong thing.
(During Lent, in our prayer times, we may become aware of poor choices that we have made. Of ways in which we have insulted God, or caused God loss. We may even come to understand some of our decisions as taking what God has given us and running away to someplace far from our spiritual home with God. If we listen to Jesus, we may “come to ourselves” even as the youngest son does. But that’s about the son. Let’s keep our attention focused on the father.)
Vs. 17ff: “But when he came to himself, the son said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!
Jesus describes a father who is not stingy, but generous with those around him. The father’s hired hands are given more than enough. They have bread to spare. It is being away from the Father that has resulted in the child’s hunger.
I will get up and go to my father,
The Father is someone who is approachable, even by his bad children. The wayward son knows that, no matter what he has done, the Father is someone who he can go to.
I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.
This is a father who persists in loving and looking for the errant child. Too see the son, the Father had to be looking down the road where the child disappeared, squinting into the distance at the sight of a figure, bringing it into focus until he recognized, even from a great distance, the distinctive gait of his dear child. The way we walk. God knows our distinctive way of moving through the world, and is THRILLED when we move in his direction.
Then the son said to him, “Father I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the Father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe – the best one – and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calk and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for his son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found? And they began to celebrate.
This Father is forgiving. He reestablishes the relationship – with the clothes and shoes and jewelry. He doesn’t want a slave. He wants a child. Even a child who has been bad. Even a child who has made poor choices. Even a child who is broke, raggedy, barefoot and smelling of pigs. He celebrates the return. He celebrates the restoration. He rejoices.
Then the older brother became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.
This Father cares about sibling relationships, too. The older brother is a real stinker. His whole response is “talking back” – disrespecting of the father, but in a really whiny, passive aggressive way:
“Listen! (again that word! Again the idea that listening is an act of will. We can choose to listen to God, or we can listen to the angry voices, inside and outside ourselves, that seek to justify themselves and their bad behavior.) “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you,
That statement that is just flat out not true. A son did not work like a slave. A son – especially when only one son is left at home – works alongside the Father, learning to manage and make decisions. To say, “I’ve worked like a slave” is just a slap in the father’s face. And again, just like with the younger son, the father lets the insult go by, un remarked upon. The father doesn’t defend his dignity against injury by these snot-nosed kids. Because he knows that these little barbs don’t mean anything about him. They only reveal the self-centeredness, the puffed up anger, the lack of self awareness, of the older son.
Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. With a brief reminder of the child’s real status, the father sweeps aside the whiny complaint. He doesn’t ask “Oh honey! How can you feel that way? After all I’ve done for you!?” He doesn’t reinforce the whiny kid’s self-centeredness, or counter with his own.
“But!” He says, “we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and has been found.”
But this is a God to whom it matters that relationships between us also be characterized by forgiveness and love and joy. The older son, when he talks about the younger, calls him “This son of yours”: “This son of yours, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, The older brother tries to blot our his relationship with the younger. Not MY brother, but YOUR SON. And he puts as bad a spin on current events as he can think of: The kid hasn’t just lost your property – he’s devoured it with prostitutes.
The Father doesn’t let the older brother get away with denying his relationship with the younger. He says, “This brother of YOURS” You and this other one are members of the same family. You belong together. That’s inescapable. This is the significance of praying “Our” Father. In order to be his children, we must be in relationship with one another.
We live in a culture of “me, me, me”. Yet praying the Lord’s Prayer is a reminder that we are created to be in community. God built into our DNA dependence on others, and desire to be with other people. God the Father has made us to live with and pray with our brothers and sisters. When we say “Our Father in heaven” we begin with one another in our hearts and in our souls as we address our heavenly Father.
And we address a Father who Has to celebrate. We HAD to celebrate and rejoice. It is God’s very nature to celebrate and rejoice when we, his children, return to him. God Loves his children. And God loves a party. Wants all his children at the party of life, for this father is the life of the party.
This week – as you pray the Lord’s Prayer – and I hope that you set aside a few quiet minutes to thoughtfully offer Jesus’ prayer to God each day. This week, as you say, “Our Father” picture the Father Jesus’ tells about in this story.
A God who lets his children make mistakes
A God who never gives up on us, no matter what
A God who forgives and restores us
A God who wants to restore our relationships to each other.
A God who celebrates and rejoices over our return.
Listen: Jesus says, “When you pray, say, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”

1 comment:

Kansan said...

I've probably said this before, but I can't help it--That just HAD to be one of your best sermons ever. Enjoyed reading it and being reminded of all the good points and new ideas! What a great start to the series!!!
Now, let's hope Illinois weather doesn't make shut-ins of us this Sunday! I can't wait to hear "Part 2"!