What makes a good father? Some might say being present in your child’s life, coaching baseball, attending recitals, or reading at bedtime. Others focus on being a provider or teaching character. I think most of us would say showing love, not just in words but actions. On this Father’s Day, I would like to say thank you to all you gentlemen who did these things and countless others to be wonderful fathers to your children. Thank you for your sleepless nights, your courage and commitment, your time and treasure. Of course, you have been rewarded in joy, pride, as well as frustration and hope. The investment you made into creating and nurturing your kids is one of the most valuable contributions you can make in life. Thank you for all you do!!!
Before I read the passage, I noted it starts with therefore, so let’s consider the context. Paul is speaking about Abraham, you know Father Abraham who is the father of all nations (4:17). How appropriate on this Father’s Day. Specifically, the faith of Abraham being reckoned as righteousness. Paul writes, “Hoping against hope, (Abraham) believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations’” (4:18). Remember God promised he would have children even though he and his barren wife were up in years. Taking a prominent figure in the Old Testament, he is bringing him forward to help us understand our life with God now that we have Jesus. Abraham is an inclusive figure, father to Jews and Gentiles alike because his faith started before he was circumcised and then remained. Through Abraham we know that it is by faith that we are saved and not the law.
There’s a Spanish story of a father and son who had become estranged. The son ran away, and the father set off to find him. He searched for months to no avail. Finally, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. The ad read:
Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father.
On Saturday 800 Pacos showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers. (Bits & Pieces, October 15, 1992, p. 13)
Forgiveness and love. No matter what kind of father we have, or what kind of father you are, I think forgiveness and love are desired by us all, especially from our fathers. I would say that is even more true, when it comes to our heavenly father. We want to know that God loves and forgives us, no matter what.
God’s love is expressed in different ways in the Hebrew Scriptures and reality of Christ in the New Testament. Over and over again in the Old Testament, we hear “I am the Lord your God, I brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of slavery.” The Exodus becomes the defining moment in God bringing the people together. God saving them from slavery. Of course, God had already established the covenantal relationship with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But I think that is why Paul goes back to Abraham when making his case for God’s love. God has proven to be powerful, dedicated and providing for all of their needs. God is a provider for the children of Israel. God has provided water from a rock, quail in abundance and manna every day to care for the people. God called Moses to teach and lead this young nation. That is what God means when he says to Moses, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (4). Then God asks them to obey the covenant with the promise of being his treasured peoples. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it is like a father today saying I have put a roof over your head and the clothes on your back, and you will follow my rules. God created a relationship with expectations. Then a vision is cast for what will come, a hope for the children of God to be priestly kingdom and a holy nation. Today a father might cast a vision by saying you will get your college education, I hope you will take over the family business.
God loved the people of Israel, the expression of that love just took a covenantal approach. You need to follow my rules and then all will be good. Keep my laws and you will be my people. When Moses asked the people to do as God required, they replied, “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.”
As a parent, I came to learn that I could have all the rules I wanted, but unless my relationship with my children was based on communication and respect, those rules were useless. Especially as my boys got older. Just as my parenting style changed over time, I think God’s did too. The rules are still there, the laws that help to lead people still work, but a closer and more honest relationship emerged through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God wanted a deeper relationship with you, based on communication and respect, love and grace. That relationship came into being through Jesus Christ.
So God sent Jesus into the world. God sent his only Son so that we could know love and forgiveness in ways not known before. First through grace- a completely new idea. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we can know the fullness of God’s love and forgiveness even when we do not deserve it. That is grace. Knowing God could punish us for the things we have done wrong, but we stand in the light of God’s glory instead. Our heavenly father also teaches us through life experiences- the trials and hardships that lead to suffering help us to find endurance. Don’t you feel stronger on the other side of a hardship, knowing that God was with you and you persevered. Thomas Edison once said, “Genius is 2% inspiration and 98 % perspiration.” Edison worked 18 hour days and practiced Herculean patience. Once he recognized the value of an idea, Edison stayed with the process until he discovered its secret. His alkaline storage battery became a reality after 10,000 (sic) failed experiments! (Today In The Word, June, 1988, p.35). Hard times shape our character and the person we become. This chain reaction of suffering, endurance, character and hope only works when we live in God’s love, when we remain faithful. When you cling to faith in Jesus Christ then you abide in hope- the hope that does not disappoint.
But maybe you say I have been disappointed. Disappointed by my father who was not there for me, disappointed by my own self-doubt, questioning my self-worth, disappointed when a loved one was taken from me and I am supposed to persevere in faith. Even in those dark valleys, we have hope because we have our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus came to heal our weakness, our brokenness and to show us God’s love. “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” We do not have to prove our love for God, only our faith. So even if you mess things up, or fall short, Jesus has already saved you. God has proven his love for YOU through Jesus dying on the cross to free you from the bondage of sin. God proves his love for you not by requiring perfection, but through healing and abundance.
The first football player’s name I ever knew was Bart Star. My older brother David loved him. During the season Super Bowl I, the great Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr had a little incentive scheme going with his oldest son. For every perfect paper Bart Junior brought home from school, Starr gave him ten cents. After a particularly rough game against St. Louis, in which Starr felt he had performed poorly, he returned home weary and battered, late at night after a long plane ride. But he couldn’t help feeling better when he reached his bedroom. There attached to his pillow was a note: “Dear Dad, I thought you played a great game. Love, Bart.” Taped to the note were two dimes.
Proven Love abundantly more love than his performance deserves, grace-filled love shared in close relationship, love that comes when we least expect it. God gives you two dimes too. “God’s love has been poured into your hearts through the Holy Spirit” and the gift of Jesus Christ.
God’s love is proven, God’s love is real, God’s love is yours through Jesus Christ. Amen.