Saturday, July 27, 2013

Our Father

Sermon on Luke 11:1-13
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
July 28, 2013 (Tenth Sunday after Pentecost)
“With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.” Think about that. We get to call the creator of the universe “Dad.” What a wonderful gift! What a marvelous blessing! See what manner of love the Father has given us, that we should be called the sons of God! And this is exactly what we are as those whom He created and, more importantly, redeemed for the new creation. We have that close a relationship with Him who is more powerful and important than any celebrity or politician. We get to talk to God Himself. We ought to be rejoicing at the top of our lungs that we have this great blessing!

Well, that’s the way you would think that people would react. We’ve seen the reality, though, not only around us but even within our own hearts. Calling God “Dad” isn’t nearly so popular an idea as you’d think. After all, to call someone your father means that he has some measure of authority over you. And that’s not something we like to admit about anyone, even our physical fathers. Rebelliousness is part of our fallen condition, and it shows itself in all sorts of ways. Teenagers (or even younger children) doing anything and everything but what their parents tell them to do or wish for them to do. People choosing to disobey the Commandment against stealing, or even murder, because they don’t like the fact that someone else has something they don’t. And, perhaps the most direct of all rebelliousness, the shaking of the fist at God Himself by the atheist who claims that God doesn’t exist. If you really listen to most atheists, their “proof” on the subject isn’t really philosophically coherent, by the way. First, it is logically impossible to prove that anything doesn’t exist, to say nothing of the Creator Himself. Second, to deny that the amazing order and clear design built into creation came into being by random chance is to say that order and meaning themselves don’t exist. And if that is true, then, well, there is no such thing as reality, and complete psychological breakdown is the only possibility at that point, if you’re consistent. Third, and most importantly as we talk about our text today, the “proof” that most atheists tend to put forward is along the lines that they don’t happen to like the way this or that group of Christians describes Him (often their target is the Roman Church, since it is, after all, the biggest group of Christians out there), and then proceeds to say that, well, if God did exist, then He’d conform to my ideas of what goodness and justice are, and since He doesn’t conform to my ideas, well, that means He isn’t there at all. Which proves nothing other than that the atheist in question would like to tell God how to behave, despite the fact that he, a finite, mortal human, is attempting to give orders to a being of infinite intelligence and power, and then ordering Him not to exist if He doesn’t conform to that human’s preconceived notions about what a Supreme Being ought to say and do.

 Sounds absurd, right? Well, there again, that’s where we all are by nature. We want to have the power. We want to have the control. We want to order God around, rather than the other way around. See, we’re following this or that set of Biblical principles for our lives! Why isn’t God blessing us more? Is He even really listening? And I’m not just talking about those followers of the popular religious authors and mega-church preachers who have it going pretty well and selfishly want to be richer and more popular and more successful, either. The same problem applies when what we want God to do is very serious and dear to us. The prayer, not just that we would have a healthier and more fulfilling marriage, but that our mother or father or husband or wife or children might not die, especially when they are gravely ill. The prayer not just that He would give us a better job or a more fulfilling career, but that He would grant us a job at all, especially if we’ve spent thousands and thousands of dollars on an education that, especially in today’s economy, gets us nowhere. It’s very easy under those circumstances to give up on God and just run away from Him, pretending that if we run far enough or hide deep enough we won’t have to face the reality that our good, loving, and infinitely powerful God didn’t agree with us on what is the best thing for our life. “You’re not my real father! You don’t really love me!”

 And yet. “With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.” A man would have to be really terrible father to give his children a snake or a scorpion instead of food and drink, clothing and shoes, house and home, and so on. And, yes, there are such human fathers out there. But that’s not the sort of Father we have in heaven. Yes, what He gives us does seem like a snake or a scorpion at times. But sometimes it’s simply a matter of our heavenly Father knowing better than we do what is best for us at a given point in time. It’s not wise to give children everything they want, because what they want isn’t always good for them. Even when their desires and wants seem very important and even necessary to them at the moment. So it is with our heavenly father. He knows better than we do what will turn out for the best both for us and for His kingdom.

 So, what Jesus is saying here, is not that the Creator of heaven and earth is our slave, to be ordered around and commanded to provide us with everything we think we need, nor that He is uncaring and callous, turning a blind eye and making arbitrary decisions about who will suffer and who will have success, who will flourish and who will fail. What He is saying is that He is our Father. And that means He will hear us when we call to Him. Even when he must deny his children’s requests, a good father will still listen to them and share their sorrow that he can’t always give them what they want. Our Father watched His Son die on the cross. This wasn’t some arbitrary, callous decision on His part, as if He were just so mad at us that He came home and kicked Jesus around in our place (and, yes, there are people who say that, too). Watching Jesus die on the cross was no easier than when a parent watches their own children die. But it was precisely by dying as both God and Man that Jesus became the first-fruits of the new creation. It’s precisely because He didn’t give Jesus what He prayed for in Gethsemane that our prayers reach Him at all, because they come to Him through Jesus who died for us and even now intercedes for us. And that means that while He can’t give us what we want all the time (because giving someone what they want isn’t fatherly love, it’s blind servitude), He can and does promise to give us what we truly need. And most especially, for the sake of Christ’s death on the cross, He promises to us eternity with Him, where all our needs will be met, and all of our desires will match exactly with His gifts, and we will live forever with Him, our heavenly Father. Amen.
+Soli Deo Gloria+

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