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June 17 - The Forgiving Father

Psalm 51:1-2 & 10-12

Luke 15:11-24

 

Today is Father’s Day.  This is the day that our country sets aside to celebrate fatherhood.  The first Father’s Day celebration began in 1910 as a church service in Spokane, Washington.  Each father at church that day received a red rose.  Each person at church that day received a rose to pin on their clothing to honor their father.  They received a red rose for those whose father was living and a white rose if their father was deceased.  Celebrating Father’s Day today rarely involves a church service or the sharing of red and white roses.

 

In many ways, fatherhood has come under attack in the United States.  In the 1950’s and 1960’s the social norm was that fathers were competent and wise people able to rationally solve problems.  Television show entitled, “Father Knows Best,” captured the essence of the social norm in those decades.  Today, pop culture promotes the idea “Father Knows Nothing,” with the cultural icon being Homer Simpson as standing for fathers.  Most television shows and commercials today convey fathers as incapable of caring for the children or unable to deal with the remote control for the television.  That is significant negative messaging to our children about fatherhood who watch on average 3 hours of television per day.

 

In the church environment, fathers are missing.  In every denomination of Christianity, men are the shrinking minority of attendees.  While this is significant, it has profound consequences for the future of the family and faith.  Studies show that if mom and dad attend church regularly, then 33% of their children will attend church regularly as adults.  If mom attends church regularly and dad does not, then only 2% of their children will attend church regularly.  The Bible says to us, “Fathers, don’t make your children angry, but raise them with the kind of teaching and training you learn from the Lord.”  God understands that mothers are very important but as dad goes, so goes the spiritual life of his children.  It is therefore important that we as a church encourage not just the fathers here but the all the men.  Because God calls all men of faith to represent the image of God to all children, whether that child is their child or not.  It is important then that we all have a proper image of a father to represent because we cannot impart to others what we do not have ourselves. 

 

What image of men and fathers then might we think about today that would help all of us understand the image of God, our heavenly father?  What image might help encourage Christian men to fulfil their role of representing God?  I believe listening and exploring a story would be a good approach.  Who better to tell that story about the image of God the father than God’s only son, Jesus.  Unfortunately, many people have mischaracterized Jesus’ primary story about a father and made it about the sons in the story.  How did that happen?  Because in many ways the editors of various Bibles have led us a little astray by adding a title to Jesus story such as, “The Parable of the Lost Son,” or “The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother.”  Such titles shift our focus onto the sons in the story and away from the father who is the central character.  So, I would invite you to turn to Jesus’ story of a father found in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 15, beginning at verse 11.  We will try to keep our attention focused on the father.

 

Jesus began the story this way, “There was a man [there it is the central character] who had two sons [the supporting characters].  The younger son said to the father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’  So he [the father] divided his property between them [he and his younger son].”  Jesus began this fatherly story with a confrontation between the younger son and the father.  The man’s son has made a bit of an outrageous demand.  The younger son demands inheritance from his father, now – even though the father is very much alive.  The man’s own flesh and blood, his boy, wants now what should not be claimed until after the death of his father.  The son is rebelling against the father.  Rebellion among young men and women against their fathers and mothers is nothing new.  It is common to all cultures and families varying only by the degree of rebellion.  Every here rebelled against parental authority in some way even if done in secret.

 

How does the father handle rebellion?  He does so by still being true to his own character.  The father loves the son more than he does possessions, so he gave to the son what the son asked.  The man does not rage against his son.  The man does not disown this family member who looks to disown him.  Jesus reveals the nature of the father; he is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  Through the parable, Jesus is revealing the nature of his father, God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  This is the nature all men must look to imitate.  We must be calm when confronted.  We must be able to be peaceful in our dealings.  We must be able to show self-control and keep our anger in check.  And we must be willing to love the children God has placed in our lives whether the child is ours or not.  That is what we learn about the Father and fatherhood in the opening.

 

Jesus continued the story with two scenes playing at the same time.  In the first scene, Jesus said, “Not long after that [confrontation and property settlement], the younger son got together all he owned and set off to a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.  So he [the young man] went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to the fields to feed pigs.  He [the young man] longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.”  The young man has gone from riches to rags, from plenty to starving, from a family to aloneness.  Things are desperate for this younger son.

 

Jesus continued with the first scene.  “When he [the young man] came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against you.  I am no longer worth to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’  So, he [the young man] got up and went [began walking back] to his father.”  The young son recognized because of his behavior, he has lost the right to be the son of the man he once called “Father.”  The son also reveals that he understands the nature of his father to be a merciful person because he knows his father will help him.  This is the nature of God, to be merciful.  This is the nature God wants for all men to be merciful and caring.

 

The second scene is subtle.  It deals with the father.  While the son squandered his wealth and the father’s life continued.  In that life, the father held true to his own character and, most importantly, never stopped loving his son.  The father waited and watched, hoping that one day his son to appear upon the horizon.  The father stayed faithful as the absence of his son moves from days into week into months.  This is the character of God.  God is faithful and patient.  He does not cutoff from redemption those who are alive; even those who squander their inheritance, live wildly, live sinfully, live in rebellion.  God wants and waits for them to come to their senses and return to him.  I worked with a man who was unhappy about a decision his son made.  The man told the son that he was no longer part of the family and no longer his son.  The man, now dead, never had contact with his son again.  This is not the example from God.  God is patient and waits for us to come back.  He does not change his character.  He stays unchanged by our hurtful rebellion.  This is one of the points Jesus was making in the second scene.

 

Jesus then brought those two scenes to a close and brought the central character, the father, together again with his youngest son.  “But while he [the young man] was a long way off [from home], his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him.  He [the father] ran to his son, threw his arms around him [his son] and kissed him.”  Jesus painted the picture that one day as the man continued scanning the countryside he saw a figure off in the distance.  He could see it was the silhouette of a young man.  As the man studied the figured, he could see the young man was thin, filthy, poorly clothed, and struggling to walk on bare feet.  The father then realized the young man coming toward him was his youngest son.  In this moment another character trait of the father appeared.  Jesus says, the father was compassionate; meaning the man looked to soothe the situation and is emotionally gentle.  The man, the patient, loving, slow to anger, compassionate father, ran toward his son to greet him.  Before his son could even speak, the father threw his arms around the now slender frame of his son and kissed his son.  At that moment, the father’s joy overflowed.  Jesus’ point is that God is compassionate and is overjoyed whenever we make the choose his righteousness over all other things we could choose.  All of us can now see that whatever faults we may in our life, our compassionate God will forgive, if we turn to him.  For men and fathers, the message is imitating God by being the compassionate person of the house who brings calmness to situations not fear.  We need take on the righteousness of God and make that our guiding principle for life.  We need to lay aside pride and lead the celebration of righteous decisions by our children or any child God has placed in our life.  The reunion of the father and son is more about the behavior of the father than to the son.

 

Jesus then said at verse 22, “The father shouted to his servants, ‘Quick!  Bring the best robe and put it on him [my son].  Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it.  Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’  So, they began to celebrate.”  The son’s rebellion was over and he has been redeemed.  In the father’s joy, he gave his son the best robe - a sign of dignity and honor; he put a ring on his son’s finger - a sign of authority; and placed sandals on his son’s feet - a sign of that his son shall walk with his father forever more.  When we turn to God, God will celebrate and give us dignity, honor, authority, and fellowship.  The charge on all men, all fathers, is to be the guardian of dignity, honor, authority, and fellowship for those God has placed in your path. 

 

Scripture reminds us, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious; slow to anger and abounding in love” (Psalm 116:5), and so we should imitate him with compassion, graciousness, calmness, self-control, and love toward others.  Young men and young women will push the boundaries of life; we know this well.  They will want a life that is seems free of constraints and many will rebel.  But here is the truth.  All fathers and all men who serve in the roles of a father will act following their own spiritual life.  We can only impart what we possess.  If we have little or no relationship with God, that is what we will share with others, particularly our children.  We must ourselves come into relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  In that setting, we will experience the joy of the Lord.  We will have in our spirit the great joy of being chosen and will develop a deep trust that we are precious in God’s eyes.  Once we know this to be true, we are able to recognize the preciousness of others and their unique places in God’s heart.  This is the message of the parable.  This is the hope for us all.  This is the charge placed upon all men as their lead children into the path of God’s righteousness.  Amen and Amen.

June 4 - Lord's Prayer & Lord's Supper

1 Chronicles 29:10-13

Matthew 6:5-13

           

The Christian music group, Casting Crowns, wrote and recorded a song entitled, “What If His People Prayed.”  The song challenges the listeners to seek God's guidance, instruction, and will for their lives.  In part, the lyrics say:

What if His people prayed, And those who bear His name
Would humbly seek His face, And turn from their own way

 

And what would happen if we prayed, For those raised up to lead the way
Then maybe kids in school could pray, And unborn children see light of day

 

What if the life that we pursue, Came from a hunger for the truth
What if the family turned to Jesus, Stopped asking Oprah what to do

 

He said that they would hear, His promise has been made
He'll answer loud and clear, If only we would pray

 

The song writer is challenging the listeners to look for all that the best of the kingdom of God through the power of prayer.  It is a challenge to stop faithfully tuning into television talk show hosts and instead faithfully turn their face toward God in prayer.

Prayer is as old as humanity because prayer involves humanity looking to listen and speak with God.  In the first pages of the book of Genesis, the book of beginnings, we can read that God spoke with Adam and Eve laying all of paradise before them.  We find God communicating his promises of love to the man and woman and the boundaries that they must live within.  This communication between God and humanity is prayer.  Because prayer is an expectation that God is.  Prayer is an expectation that God is able.  Prayer is an expectation that God is more able than we are.  Prayer, listening and speaking with God, is the means through which we will find the one thing in life God wants us to have.  I believe the one thing in life God wants us to have is peace. 

This word peace comes to us from the Hebrew word, Shalom.  In receiving Shalom we have completeness, safety, soundness, welfare, health, prosperity, quiet, tranquility, contentment, and friendship with other humans and above all friendship with God.  Shalom is an important word as an expression of total peace.  This, I believe, is at the center of God’s desire for each person’s life.  Yet we cannot receive the peace God offers if we do not listen to him and do not speak with him.

Some years ago, I received an email with a question about listening to God.  This person said, “Pastor, I recall you sharing in a sermon that you had come to a critical point in your life where you needed to make a decision and that you listened to God.”  They continued, “I've been praying a lot about a decision I need to make.  I have been talking to God, but how do I know how to listen to God?”  In my reply, I said, “Some people find answers to their prayers in Scripture.  I have found this to be true for me with regards to the character of my life; much less so when I am trying to decide what to do in a specific situation.  My experience has been that when I need to hear God in a specific set of circumstances, I need to be alone. This is what Jesus taught.  (Mark 1:35 - Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.)  For me, a walk on the beach or through the woods or in a large park help me.  When I am in that setting, I try to keep my prayer as simple as possible, "God give me peace about this decision.  Help me to make the decision that You want me to make."  I then talk to Him about the options and what worries me about each one. I ask Him to bring to my mind anything I have missed or am discounting.  I try to take my time, a couple of hours or so just walking, talking, reflecting, listening.  After I talk the matter over with Him, I look for that sense of peace about accepting and declining each option.  Where I find a prodding toward one option coupled with peace about that option, then I conclude God is answered my prayer.  I cannot claim I often hear God's voice as an audible voice; it is more often a sense of His presence.  I do remember one time when I was feeling particularly alone God answer my prayer with the words "I have not forgotten you."  It was the most powerful moment in my life.  When I had to decide between multiple jobs and living locations, I talked to God on the beach.  When I was done, I recall such a peace over what I was to do.  I had to disappoint some people who wanted me to choose a particular option, but I was not upset in doing so because I knew I had spent time with God asking to grant me peace.” 

Shalom.  A completeness in God and confidence in our life decisions does not come about by accident.  It comes from prayer, listening and speaking with God.  One time, a young man named Cain, spoke with God with an offering of some grain.  Cain’s offering was skimpy and given without any love.  God spoke with Cain.  He said, “Cain, why are you angry? Why does your face look sad?You know that if you do what is right, I will accept you. But if you don’t, sin is ready to attack you. That sin will want to control you, but you must control it.”  This is prayer.  Listening to God and speaking with him.  We know how the story turned out.  Cain only spoke with God, he did not listen.  Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”[e] So they went to the field. Then Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”  Clearly, the idea of shalom was missing from Cain.  Why?  Because he only spoke with God and did not listen.

The ability and desire to have communication with their creator is a uniquely human trait.  I know some scholars like to advocate that human beings are just one more animal occupying the space called earth.  These scholars say we humans evolved from apes or yes, even lobsters.  Yes, we fit our own scientific definition of an animal, but we are very different from the balance of the animal kingdom.  Among the things that make humans unique is our mental powers to analyze circumstances and our development of language controlling abstract thoughts.  We are using both unique abilities this very moment.  We humans record our history and make art in all of its rich forms.  We humans have a sense of morality, declaring somethings right, other things wrong, some good and others evil.  We humans see sacredness of life and so we bury our dead.  But foremost, we humans seek our Creator for worship, praise, to listen, and speak.  Communication, prayer, with our Creator, makes us unique.  Prayer, listening to God and speaking with him, is essential to our very existence as human beings.  In our Old Testament reading today, we heard David being very human.  He said,

“Praise be to you, Lord, the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting.  11 Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours.  Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.  12 Wealth and honor(Q) come from you; you are the ruler(R) of all things.  In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.  13 Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.

            Now I do not wish to be flippant here but such artistry, worship, sacredness, and morality is beyond the abilities of a horse, ape, or lobster.  We have David’s words from history and can listen to them because we are made in the image of God.  Therefore, to thrive and have shalom, we must listen and speak with God.

  One day, Jesus’ disciples came to him and asked, “Lord, would you teach us to pray?”  The disciples could see that Jesus spoke and listened to God and that Jesus, despite all that people said about him, had shalom, or peace.  The disciples knew that they did not have such peace even in the presence of Christ because they did not know how to listen and speak.  Jesus said to them, when you pray, do not babble on and on as though the number of words you speak matters.  Jesus said, when you pray do so in private , without the distraction of others and so that you can listen.  Then, pray in this manner:  “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”  Give honor to God who is the Creator of heaven and earth.  Place yourself in front of him.  Make it clear you want to speak and listen to him.  We are saying, “Thank you, Father, for the gift of your peace; the only true peace.”

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  We are saying, “Remind me, because I forget so easily, that the kingdom that matters is not built upon the things of this earth.  Righteousness, peace, and joy are of heaven and that without following your will, I will not find peace in living here on earth.”

“11 Give us today our daily bread.”  We are saying, “God calm my heart.  When I start worrying over little things such as what to eat today, take those thoughts from me.  Help me keep my priorities in order.  Remind me of the peace you give each day in caring about my body’s needs.”

“12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”  We are saying, “Lord forgive those times when I did not listen to you and follow your ways but I did things my way, for my purposes, and for my reasons.  Restore peace to me.  And Lord, move me, challenge me to forgive other people who hurt me as they too did things their way, for their purposes, and for their reasons.  Empower me to restore peace with them.”

“13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”  We are saying, “Lord, lead me away from those things that would distract my peace with you and with others.  Let me not be tested by situations that anger me or situations that upset me for those come from Satan who looks to scatter your people.”

Taken altogether we call these words the Lord’s Prayer.  It is a prayer of shalom; completeness, safety, soundness, welfare, health, prosperity, quiet, tranquility, contentment, and friendship with other humans and above all friendship with God.  It is fitting that we speak of the Lord’s Prayer today because Jesus turned the Lord’s Prayer into an experience we can share through the communion feast or the Lord’s Supper.  While among his disciples, just before his arrest, Jesus took the daily bread and he offered thanks to God, “Our praise to You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”  Hallowed by thy name.  Jesus then took the blessing of the whole bread and broke it so that each piece carried the blessing of wholeness.  He gave it to his disciples and said, “This is my body which is given for you. Take and eat.”  Jesus the bread of heaven now on earth proclaimed the kingdom of God was among them on earth as it was in heaven.  After supper, Jesus took the cup and again he offered thanks to God, “Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.”  Jesus then took the blessing of the cup and told his disciples to drink from the common cup that each would receive the blessing of peace.  Jesus said, “This cup is a new covenant in my blood poured out for the forgiveness of sin.”  Forgive us our sin, O Lord.  Jesus said later, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  Lead us in the right path and away from evil.

The Lord’s Prayer gives us a model to following in our prayer of listening and speaking with God.  The Lord’s Supper gives us a model of God’s answer to prayer.  In prayer, Jesus led us to find the peace that surpasses all understanding by being united to God and one another.  At the table, Jesus led us to experience the peace of salvation, unity with God, and the peace of fellowship, unity with one another.  The Lord’s Prayer and the Lord’s Supper are signs of peace God wants each of us to have.  Come, let us receive shalom from God as we pray together and prepare to share the Lord’s Supper.

 

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