Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Ten sermons is not enough. Sundays and Thursdays together from this past Sunday until Holy Week, we will have spent ten of our gatherings focusing on the Lord’s Prayer. And it won’t be enough. Tonight alone, I could easily preach three different sermons on this one small phrase that only opens the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father, who art in heaven.” We’re not even into the actual petitions yet, and already Jesus has given us more than we can handle in one sitting. We could talk tonight about the fact that God is our Father. He’s not just your Father or my Father, but ours, collectively, because of Christ. It has implications on what we’re going to pray, on how we relate to one another, and how we relate to God. Or we could focus on the second part of this intro, seeing that our Father is “in heaven.” This statement, of course isn’t simply a physical description. It’s not that God is in heaven and that means He’s not here on earth. No, pointing out that God is in heaven, means that He is where He’s meant to be, that He’s ruling how He’s supposed to rule, and that He can do whatever He needs to do, regardless of our earthly limitations. As with each petition of this prayer, there will be far too much to think about and far too little time. Ten sermons is just not enough.
So tonight, we’re going to narrow our focus onto just one aspect of this address. When we pray this prayer, and when pray in general, we pray to God as our “Father.” What do you think of when you think about your father? Think back especially to when you were a kid growing up. What did you think of your father when you were a kid? Maybe you wouldn’t have used the word back then, but did you respect him? Was he strong, able to lift even the heaviest of furniture? Was he strict, the lawgiver of the family? Was he stoic, keeping to himself and never showing much emotion? Was he a goofball? Was he short-tempered? Did you love him? Were you afraid of him?
One of the problems we can run into when we talk about God as our Father is that every one of our earthly fathers fell flat. Even the best of parents make mistakes. They say the wrong thing at the wrong time. They get frustrated at that same question over and over again. Every parent, every father has imperfections. So when Jesus comes around and says that God is our Father, it’s very easy for us to transfer our earthly fathers’ faults onto our heavenly Father. We’re tempted to see God as a one-to-one picture of our earthly fathers.
But as Jesus describes God in our Gospel reading tonight, the picture isn’t a direct comparison; it’s a move from the lesser to the greater. God is not just another dad; He is the greatest, best, most perfect Dad you could ever hope for or imagine. “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Your God loves you better than any earthly father has loved his child.
But how is it that God is our Father? Why do we have the honor and privilege to call God “Father”? It’s all because of Jesus. “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Because Jesus took on human form and became one of us in order to free us from our sinfulness, you and I have been made adopted sons of God Himself. Sometimes, we get a little messed up when it comes to adoption. We say things about earthly adoption that don’t line up with our theological understanding of what goes on. The worst one is this: “Do you know who his real parents are?” As if those who adopted him are any less his parents because they are not biologically related. Because you and I have been adopted by God, He is our true Father, not just a stand-in, not as if we really belong to someone else, not as a mentor who we wish was our father. God is our true Father.
He is the One who knows what we need when we need it. He is the One with the open ear to listen to what you have to say. He is the One who speaks to you time and time again, calling you His precious clind. He is the one who disciplines you when you need it so you don’t fall into anything worse. He is the One who raises you, who helps you to grow, who provides for you each and every day of your life. He is the One who all earthly fathers are meant to be models of. He is the One who suffered all so that you might belong to Him and call Him, “our Father.”
There’s a famous story that comes out of the Civil War. Three months after the battle of Gettysburg, The Philadelphia Inquirer put out a story titled, “Whose Father Was He?” Here’s what that article said:
“After the battle of Gettysburg, a Union soldier was found in a secluded spot on the field, where, wounded, he had laid himself down to die. In his hands, tightly clasped, was a picture containing the portraits of three small children, and upon this picture his eyes, set in death, rested. The last object upon which the dying father looked was the image of his children, and as he silently gazed upon them his soul passed away… His last thoughts and prayers are for his family… and now, while his life’s blood is ebbing, he clasps in his hands the image of his children, and, commending them to the God of the fatherless, rests his last lingering look upon them… Of what inestimable value it will be to these children, proving, as it does, that the last thoughts of their dying father was for them, and them only.”
This is our God. A Father who thinks of you in the midst of battle, who longs for you to be home with Him, who wants not just your picture, but your life held in His arms. This is our Father, who sent our Brother, His firstborn Son, Jesus to save us and to teach us to pray. This loving Father invites, welcomes, and encourages you and me as His children to come to Him, to speak to Him, and to ask whatever you need in His name.
So we pray: Dear heavenly Father, You have graciously made us Your children and lovingly invited us to come to You in prayer as children speak to their father. Give us the courage, comfort, and faith to speak the words that You have given us, trusting that you will hear and answer according to Your will. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell