The Father’s Heart

Well, today is Fathers Day. This can be a tricky day to preach, because some people don’t have Fathers, and some have Fathers but wish they didn’t.

At the end of the Hebrew Bible, which we call the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi could see the difference between what God wanted from Fathers and what Fathers themselves wanted in Malachi’s day. Let us hear the Word of God:

(Malachi 4)

All I really needed was the last two verses, but I just couldn’t resist using all of it. In this short chapter, Malachi shows us two aspects of God, a God who hates pride and evil, but also a God who rewards faithfulness with freedom and happiness. But look at that last prophesy. The prophet Elijah will come, he says, to bring fathers and children together again. Other translations say he will turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children, and the hearts of the children back to the fathers.

That tells us where God wants our hearts to be. It tells us where a Father’s heart should be. It also tells us that human hearts have not always been where they should be. Way back in Deuteronomy, Moses sang of God as the Father of his people. “The Rock, his work is perfect, and all his ways are just, yet his degenerate children have dealt falsely with him. Is he not your Father, who created you, who made and established you?”

Centuries later, Malachi has the same complaint. “Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Then why do we break our promises to each other?”

Throughout the scripture, God is a loving, patient parent trying to direct rebelous children to the Promised Land.

But the worst part is that those rebelous children become parents themselves, and we are less-than-perfect copies of the original.

We have this theory that way back when, families were perfect. I don’t know when in history that was. Moses had to warn the children of Israel not to sacrifice their own children by fire. Apparently, that was a practice among some surrounding tribes.

The books of Kings and Chronicles show the failure of one king after another as each follows the poor example set by his father. A King of Moab sacrificed his own son in the heat of battle just for the shock value. The enemy retreated in disgust.

So there are better and worse parents, and it has always been this way. Fathers and Mothers leave, they die, they go off to war. They work too much, or not enough. We call on Moms and Dads to fill that God-shaped hole in our souls, and even the best of them will fall short.

Jesus proposes a new approach for the soul in search of God. We have a tendency to see this Human-to-God relationship as struggle to reach an awesome power, like an explorer in a blizzard. Jesus proposes that we instead approach God with loving anticipation, like a child running to the embrace of a parent.

As far as we can tell, Jesus himself was not a father in the human sense. His earthly father Joseph was apparently deceased before Jesus started his ministry. We know so little for certain, but we have no indication that Jesus was ever married, or a father. What can this bachelor tell us about a Father’s heart?

You know how the kid in trouble always seems to get the most attention? And isn’t that exactly how a Shepherd should react to a lost sheep?

Isn’t the forgiving Father to be praised for looking for the prodigal son? “If your child asks for bread, do you hand over a stone? Or a serpent, when the child wants a fish? If you,” Jesus said, “being evil, know how to give good things to your children, doesn’t your heavenly father know how to provide for you as well?”

I’ll never forget my orientation sessions with the Seventh Day Adventists. They were doing OK I guess until they got to the part about remaining a family throughout eternity. Now I was a sophomore in college, just out on my own, and when they said, “Wouldn’t you love to live with your father and mother and brother and sister forever, as a family, throughout eternity?” I had to tell them that I did not find that prospect particularly appealing. That, in a nutshell, is why I am not a Mormon.

But Jesus clearly meant for us to see God as not just a parent, but as an all knowing, infinitely loving and perfectly merciful parent. He launched his ministry with the concept that God is our loving Father. In the sermon on the Mount he said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they will see your good works and praise your Father in Heaven.” Jesus did not just declare himself the son of God, but he declared us his followers to be children of God as well.

Now that’s a proud lineage. Jesus was humble, but he took great pride in his father. He was zealous for his Father’s house, and conscientious about saving his Father’s lost sheep.

“I and the Father are One”, Jesus said. What’s this parent God like that Jesus was showing us? Did Jesus threaten us with his big bad pappa? His warnings to the scribes and Pharisees reveal that Jesus knew about the stern face of an angry God. But that is not the face of God as revealed to his children.

Let me address that one. All of the prophets, from Moses to Malachi to Jesus himself, had stern warnings for evil people. You are NOT evil people. Are you hear to lead someone astray? Are you trying to do damage to someone, and laughing about it? Or, are you regretful of those few sins you still can’t shake, and doing your best not to hurt anyone. That’s most of us, I think.

We aren’t perfect, but we are not evil people. We really are the children of God, and God is a loving parent. All God wants to do this morning is to give you a hug.

You’ve all met my Father, Ray, and my Grandfather, the Reverend Roy. God knows how I love those men! Dad is one of those guys who’ll wash your car when you come home to visit, and fill the tank with gas before you leave. Mom’s always been great in the same way, always eager to help. I know I’ve been truly blessed with my parents.

But if my parents were not alive and kicking, I might admit that I frankly do not feel infinitely blessed in that relationship. Like I said, we use a parent size peg to fill a God sized hole, and something’s still missing. We want our parents to make us feel important, make us smart and successful, feed us well, clean our rooms, put us through college, get us a car and leave us alone! I certainly did.

I see my kids in the congregation this morning. That is such a blast. I have been far less than a perfect parent, and for the most part, I thank God that my children are NOT like I was!

ButI do know a little bit about being a Dad. I know what it’s like to want to provide for your children, when you know what they need. But I do NOT always know what they need.

My daughter Traci is singing a special this morning. I had a copy of the background tape, but I lost it. I spent hours looking for that tape. We drove all over town yesterday looking for another copy. God would do that; he’d gladly drive all over town to find your background tape, just like a parent. But unlike this IMperfect parent, God would never lose the tape to start with.

Does God ever fall down on the job? We might think so. Maybe our Fathers fell down on the job at one time, and now we wonder if having a father is such a good idea. Maybe we CAN see God as a Father – and maybe that doesn’t help us get any closer.

We are imperfect. But God is perfect. We have a narrow view. But God sees everything. We are imperfect Fathers and Mothers, rebelous children, lost sheep. God the Father is not surprised. God does have the patience it takes to raise rebelous children to responsible adulthood, to lead them to the Promised Land.

God is not the imperfect earthly Father we knew. Earthly Moms and Dads may give us a glimpse of God’s glory. They may show great wisdom, or astounishing mercy and sacrifice. But they are Parents. They are not God. And this may come as a shock to some of you. Being a parent myself, I’ve discovered that parents actually do not want you to see them as Gods. It’s too much work, and it’s an impossible standard to live up to.

My relationship with my mother and father took a quantum leap forward when I stopped expecting them to do what only God can do. Dads can wash your car, and Moms can drive you around town, but only God can save your soul. An ordinary parent may teach you to fly, but only God can give you wings.

Throughout the Bible, the name of God is considered sacred. The sacred name of God is so shrouded in mystery that we still don’t know how to say it. But Jesus invites us to use His favorite name for God: Abba. In the Garden Christ cried, Abba, Father. A child’s cry to a parent. Paul said the spirit of adoption in us moves us to cry Abba, Father.

Don’t you want to say it? Don’t you want to say that the very God of the universe is your beloved parent? Pappa? Abba? That’s the spirit in you that wants to cry Abba! You are a child of the Most High God, through Christ your Brother! That IS the gospel! You want to cry Abba, Father! Jesus understands, and he urges us to follow the cry of our souls, to embrace God the Loving Parent.

Knowing you’re a child of God, that you actually have this super-loving, super-resourceful, super-Parent, is like a little leaven … A little leaven enlarges the entire lump of dough. A little sense of your divine Parent enlarges everything in your life. You start to see that we are just passing through this world, and that makes the journey all the more exciting.

So what is the father’s heart? Jesus is our window into the Father’s heart. The God revealed in Christ is not threatening us. That God does not want to see his children fretful or frightened. Jesus showed us God the Father down on one knee, smiling down at His children. “Fear not, little flock,” he says. “It is your father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” That’s a parent at his or her best. That’s a perfect parent.

Listen up, brothers and sisters. Our heavenly Father says rejoice, and fear not. It is his good pleasure to give us the very Kingdom itself. Let us live in the glorious Kingdom our Father has prepared for us.

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

Tropical Sands Christian Church – June 17, 2001

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