"Call no one your father on earth..."
Jesus said, “Call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father- the one who is in heaven.” Now that puts a new twist on Father’s Day, doesn’t it? In our house, we used to celebrate the day by allowing me, the father of the family, to do anything I want, or if I chose, don’t have to do anything at all. But all that has changed.
But leave it up to Jesus to mess with our beloved tradition. He just swoops in and takes all the glory away from me, without even asking what I think, or how it might make me feel. Instead he treats me like, well…like family.
Yep, Father’s Day will never be the same, and perhaps that’s the good news. Whether or not we love, or hate, or have never known our earthly father, we can say we have a Divine Dad who, through the Spirit of Love, claims us as his children.
No matter who we are, or what we’ve done, we belong to the Father who patiently gathers us, and cares for us, like a shepherd gathers and cares for the sheep. With this comes some responsibility around our holy house. Some dishwashing and taking out of the trash...some getting rid of the things in our life we don’t need.
As God’s beloved children we no longer only belong to this world, but we belong, first and foremost to God’s world where there is one Father, who is God, and one teacher who is Jesus, who challenges us to set aside the ways of the world to become something new. In other words, we have to change. Believe me, I know how hard that is to hear, muchless do.
But it’s not really that scary. Over the last 162 years, this church has both grown and evolved because of the bold choices and changes its members have made. Interestingly, our church was founded around the same time Charles Darwin argued those species who adapt quickly to change are the ones that will continue to exist.
Children of God are no different. As the world evolves, we can no longer afford to sit and watch. We must be the catalyst of change. We must be Christians, not complacent, if we want our church to survive.
These are muscles we do not often exercise. Like I said last week, change makes us uncomfortable, nervous, and vulnerable. But it also wakes us up, snaps us out of our dream state, and returns our focus on God.
Jesus said, “Call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father- the one who is in heaven.” Thank you Jesus. My father’s day will never be the same.
For example, just a few days ago, I celebrated the two-year anniversary of my ordination, which ironically was on Father’s Day. In looking back I was humbled by the many ways my life has changed since then: No longer do I get to do whatever I want, or refuse to do anything at all. Instead, I do what the Father has called me to do. That change led to another, which of course was a change of address. Here, in a land with four distinct seasons, I discovered change is natural, inevitable, and happens whether we want it to or not. The weather in Michigan is a perfect example. It changes every five minutes.
Another big change in our life occurred on August 28, 2012 when Kathleen’s father died. When we lose our parent, or someone close to us, it seems like life will never be the same again. And it won’t. There is nothing we can do to bring that person back. Life has changed. Through the pain and heartache, we discover a new sense of calling and purpose; one without him, but inspired by him in so many new ways.
If your father was absent from your life because of death, or a divorce, or a court order, or an addiction, or any number of reasons, then Father’s Day can be a painful reminder of the brokenness life.
You so desperately want to change from where you are, that you are willing go to some unhealthy places to seek out something new and different. Some changes make us; others break us.
Jesus knows this, and understands our pain, our fears, and he heals our wounds and restores our souls by setting our eyes on the one who saves and redeems us in love. God the Father.
For those who don’t have a great relationship with your earthly father, giving God this prominent title can evoke emotional connotations of authority, power, and control. And as result it pushes you further away from God. But Jesus, the divine Son of God, seeks to change the way we think, and the way we act, and does so by changing the dynamic of our relationship with the Father; especially in the way we communicate.
When Jesus prays to God, he begins by saying, “Abba, Father.” The word ‘Abba,’ a tender term of endearment used by a child toward their own father. In modern terms, we might translate it as “Daddy.” The origin of the word literally comes from the mouths of babes, in that it’s a combination of simple sounds a baby first makes, like da-da, or pa-pa. Think about it, Jesus is telling us the very first word we speak is praise to God, the Father. As such, every word must be spoken as if God is present; like every day is Father’s Day.
Choosing to describe God so intimately, Henri Nouwen reminds us that "Jesus changes our understanding of our relationship with God." No longer seen as a distant authoritarian in some far away heaven, God becomes an intimate part of us, as we become a part of him…heirs to his love.
Therefore, calling God Abba, Father is not so much about naming God but everything to do with claiming God as the source of who we are. Nouwen says it’s about “entering into the same intimate, fearless, trusting, and empowering relationship with God that Jesus had. It’s a cry from the heart, a prayer welling up from our innermost being” (1).
Take the words of St. Paul, who writes, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God… And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” If we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…in his glory” (2). As heirs, adopted into a heavenly family, we also inherit the divine qualities of our ‘Abba, Father.’ And so Paul warns us “not to be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind” (3).
Change will either break us; or make us. But either way, it’s inevitable. It’s hard to say, and it’s hard to hear. But we get through it because the love of our Father remains constant. Therefore, our alliance is to him. God is our Father, our Abba, our Savior. And we are God’s beloved.
So what does this mean for us today? Return to the 23rd Psalm: we must become the shepherds that feed the hungry, restores the souls of the broken, offers comfort to those who are afraid, and sets a table for our enemies and offers them a feast worthy of a king. Take over the Father’s business as it were.
And so as we face the changes that are bound to happen, inside and outside our church, we do so with our eyes fixed on our father. We must regard each other as brothers and sisters; taking our cue from Jesus who said, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Now take a moment to imagine how the world would change if everybody believed this and acted accordingly.
May all praise be to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
(1) Nouwen, Henri J. M. Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith (p. 175-177). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
(2) Romans 8:14-17 (NRSV)
(3) Romans 12:2 (NRSV)
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”