Saturday, June 14, 2014

Father's Day


In His parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus told of an undeserving runaway youth who was welcomed home by a loving father. He had the opposite experience Himself. He was the deserving Son who kept the Law perfectly. Yet at the moment of greatest crisis, His Father turned His back to Him. At noon the sky became dark. The sun was hidden to show us that He who outshines the sun did not care to look upon what was happening. The heavens were dark and empty. For three hours there was no light in the sky, as Jesus' passion slowly wrung the life out of Him. Jesus tried to pray, but there was only darkness for an answer. Heaven was silent. The Innocent One was being punished, and the Just God did nothing to stop it.

As we look at the extended holy family, this evening we want to concentrate on the Patriarch of that family, the Old Man, God the Father. St. Paul tells us in Romans 8 that the Holy Spirit teaches us to call God Abba, which is Hebrew for "father." The name is rare in the Old Testament. Moses and the Prophets hardly ever call God "Father." David, in Psalm 103, tells us, "As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities them that fear Him." He doesn't exactly call God "Father," but he compares His compassion to paternal affection. In the New Testament we have a totally different picture. Jesus called God "Father" regularly, and taught His disciples to pray to "Our Father, who art in heaven." At the Great Commission, Jesus commanded us to baptize people "in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." In Gethsemane He said, "Father, if it is your will, let this pass from me." He frequently spoke of "my heavenly Father," and told us that, "Your heavenly Father feeds the birds, clothes the lilies, gives the Holy Spirit, knows your needs, etc."

What does a father do? He begets children, provides for children, disciplines children, guides and directs children, and blesses them with every conceivable blessing. If human fathers can do this, then certainly God can. Do fathers extend their families? Not necessarily, but they can, either by begetting more children, or by adopting the fatherless. The family patriarch provides order and stability, along with the honor of being called by his name. Our heavenly Father has reached out to adopt us through Jesus, to make us no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints.

Alas, many fathers are not like that at all. They bully, beat up, and berate their children, if they talk to them at all. Some ignore and neglect their families as if they never existed. Some seem to go through life finding new ways to abuse their offspring. Some just walk away from their children and never want to see them again. That is foul, unnatural, a result of sin that has infected men in our world. The godless try to say that men naturally want little to do with their children, but that is a lie. Men who reject their own flesh and blood are subnatural. They have more in common with the evil angels than with birds and trees. Of course, men cannot help being sinful, but we must never confuse what is fallen with what is natural. The father in the parable is completely natural. No one who heard Jesus tell it thought otherwise. And the model of every father is God, the Father Almighty.

Why, then, did the good, loving God so abuse His only-begotten Son? All through this season we have looked at how various people were brought into the holy family. In many cases what looked like abuse at first was really love in action, as with Jesus' own blood relatives. But the Father is more deeply involved than anyone else in extending the holy family. It is His family. It is called by His name. He has the power and the right. Therefore He had to choose between those who deserve His abuse, and the One who deserved all that is good. Here we see what His choice was. The righteous Son was cast out, forsaken. It had to be in order to bring the undeserving children of men into the holy family. Here we see that the same darkness that hid the Father's face, also hides our sins. There is no light in us, but in the dark, there is also no darkness. We made the darkness by our sins. God let its worst evil fall upon Himself. For three hours God told it like it was. And there, in the middle of it all, He was doing something about it.

You and I will never have to ask the question Jesus asked in our text. What happened to Him happened for us. In our Baptism we were united with Him in His death, and brought forth again to stand in the Father's presence. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, and lives within us. We, the prodigals, can look forward to a paternal embrace, while our Elder Brother was forsaken. That is, He was forsaken for a time. Easter morning shows us that God is completely fair and just to the deserving, even as He is merciful and indulgent to the undeserving. Once the work of redemption was complete, the Father stopped abusing the Son, gave Him the keys of the house, the treasures of heaven and earth, and a name that is higher than all. As He gives His unworthy children the Holy Spirit, He gives His righteous Child all authority in heaven and earth. Through Jesus, God the Father is our Father. Through Jesus we are members of the extended holy family.

God would have us appreciate what He has done, both in nature by giving us human fathers, then in the story of salvation by giving us Jesus. He would have us thank Him, visit Him in prayer, attend the sacred rites of his house, study His Word, and learn to perform our duties within the holy family. He would have us remember that we are called by His name, so that we do nothing to bring disgrace upon it. He would have us develop a likeness to our Lord. He would have us respect our human fathers, including our spiritual fathers, the older men in our congregation and community. He would have us love and protect our children, including our spiritual children. He would have us act honorably to our mothers, sisters, and daughters, that we might be blessings to them. He would have us teach one another to love, to worship, and to be honorable. He cast out His Son for a time to extend His Fatherhood to us. He wants us to cast out our sin that we might be His children in truth. AMEN.

~ Reverend Lloyd E. Gross

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