Jesus drops this F-bomb a whopping 156 times!
When our kids were little, one of our favorite bedtime books was, “Guess How Much I Love You.”
It’s a lovely tale about a baby rabbit who stretches his arms as wide as he can and tells his daddy he loves him…this much! His father, who has longer arms, stretches his out even wider and says that he loves his son even more.
Next the baby rabbit, standing on his tippy-toes, raises his arms up high and again tells his daddy he loves him this much. And again, the taller father raises his arms up and says he loves his son even more.
Then the baby bunny hops as high as he can. And you can guess what the father did next; he jumped higher.
The little bunny finally looks up into the heavens and he tells his dad he loves him all the way to the moon. And his father takes in the moment, letting the joy sink deep into his heart before he replies, “I love you right up to the moon—and back.”
As both a father and a son, I have shared tender moments like this hundreds, if not thousands of times. I know how lucky I am, and I count my blessings with every hug and every kiss still I get. Each one, a gift from my father who art in heaven.
Father’s Day can be difficult for many reasons. For some, it’s a sad reminder that you can’t just pick up the phone and say, “Hey dad, what ya doin?” For other’s it’s a painful reminder of a not so good childhood, perhaps a father who was emotionally absent or physically abusive. And then there are those who never knew their real dad, but spent a lifetime trying to find a surrogate.
Maybe you are a dad, carrying around the weight of regret from past mistakes. And now you are sitting by yourself; wondering when or if your kids are going to stop by or call. This list can go on and on.
So you can understand why it’s difficult to preach on Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. But Jesus calls God “Father.” And whether we want to or not, we eventually will have to address the subject.
If you had, or have, positive male role model in your life, then Jesus’ depiction can sound warm and natural. But if you’ve had a serious, negative experience with your father or with any man, then the masculine overtones in the Bible might cause you to cringe. When Jesus referred to God as His Father, he certainly upset many of His religious contemporaries.
What does it mean to call God Father? Is God a man? Or some ancient Middle Eastern patriarch?
In John’s gospel alone, Jesus drops this F-bomb a whopping 156 times. In three of those incidences, Jesus calls God “Abba.” Each time he does so, he is inviting us to not only see God in a different light, but to see ourselves differently as well.
To a young Arabic boy, Abba is an affectionate name that basically means, “Daddy.” In using this word, Jesus is depicting God as a tender and compassionate parent. The word evokes a sense of trust, and confidence, and sense of belonging “close to the Father’s heart.”
When Jesus calls God “Abba,” he is reminding us of where our real home is. And who we really are: the beloved children of God. And this is the good news. Long before we were knitted in our mother’s womb, we belong to God and God belongs to us. But that’s not all.
As a Father who longs to gather his children together, God came to be with us because every child matters to God.
Jesus is our reminder that our Father hears the cries of his children and rushes to earth—in person, in body, in flesh—because one child is lost and alone, and because one child is hurting from abuse, and because one child who is in need is one child God will not ignore. There is nothing God won’t do to bring us back, close to his heart where we belong.
This idea comes to life in another children’s classic, “Finding Nemo.” A wonderful story about a young clown fish, named Nemo, who is taken from the ocean and the length his father, Marlin, will go to find him and bring his son safely home.
If you’ve seen the movie, then you know Marlin is an overly-protective single dad who panics and frets over every little thing. But when Nemo is scooped up Marlin doesn’t think twice to chase after the speedboat that has his son. Lost in the dark, vast ocean Marlin meets a friendly but forgetful fish named Dory.
Together the two will travel great distances; encountering sharks, dodging jellyfish, and hooking rides with turtles along the way. In spite of all his fears and neuroses, Marlin keeps his eye on the objective…Find Nemo! And in the end, it pays off. The two are reunited. And because of the experience the two become the fish they were destined to be.
While there are real limitations to how far humans can go to save someone they love, when we set our eyes on Jesus, the Word made flesh, we are reminded of the true lengths our Abba will go for you and me. We matter to God.
This is not some fish tale or happy bedtime story, although it makes me sleep better knowing I am loved and cared for. This is the good news. God so loved us that he gave us his Son to reclaim us, redeem us and return us “to the Father’s heart.”
Through Jesus we are given God’s name and inherit God’s pure love. And together we all become one with God, sharing one spirit and one life together. Thus we are called to be faithful and loving fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters to one another. As children of God, we become part of the family business, so to speak.
So whatever the emotions you are feeling today, remember this. You matter to God because you are a part of his own heart. Whenever there is sadness, or pain, or fear, or injustice…the love of the Father is always here…in us…from me to you…and to the moon and back.
Let us pray:
Abba, Father…you have claimed us, redeemed us, and welcomed us…all because you love us. Send us out into the world to love others in all the ways your Son has taught us. Amen.
Manning, Brennan, and John Blase. Dear Abba: Morning and Evening Prayer. Bonafire Books, 2010.
Nouwen, Henri J. Bread For the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith. New York: HarperCollins, 2009.
Spangler, Ann. faithgateway.com. faithgateway.com/god-abba-father/#.WUSrASMrK-w (accessed June 15, 2017).
Wittmer, Mike. ourdailyjourney.org. www.ourdailyjourney.org/2017/01/02 (accessed June 15, 2017).
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.”