Our Father Psalm 103:8-14
Today is the National Holiday we call Father’s Day. How Father’s day became a national holiday is interesting. On 5 July, 1908, a West Virginia church sponsored the nation’s first event explicitly in honor of fathers. The next year a woman in Spokane Washington tried to establish a holiday for fathers equivalent to Mother’s Day. She was one of six children raised by a widower and she wanted to honor him and other fathers. In 1910, Washington State celebrated the nations’ first statewide Father’s Day on June 19th. During the 1920’s and ‘30’s, there were movements to scrap both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and replace them with Parent’s Day. That did not catch on. It is interesting that Father’s Day did not become an official national holiday until 1972 when President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making Father’s Day a National Holiday. Father’s Day is quite a celebration and Americans spend more than $1 billion each year on gifts for fathers.
As I was reflecting on preaching for Father’s day, I recognized that most of the men in the chapel are fathers but have moved on to the stage of being grandfathers. Instead of focusing on our earthly fathers, I am going to focus on our Heavenly Father.
In the history of the various religions, seeing the divine as Father is unique to Christianity. The Ancient Hebrews did recognize God as Father but it was not the recognition of God as a personal Father. They saw God as the Father of Israel, not as a personal Father. One writer notes that, “The first Jewish rabbi to call God ‘Father’ directly was Jesus of Nazareth. His calling God as Father was a radical departure from tradition.” In the Gospels Jesus calls God Father more than 60 times. The word Jesus used that we translate Father is Abba. It is not a formal term but an intimate family term. Jewish children call their father’s Abba. When I was waiting in the immigration and entry line at Ben-Gurion International Airport, I was startled when I heard a little boy of perhaps 8 years call out, “Abba, Abba!” He was calling for his father and used the same word that Jesus tells us to address the Lord God.
There is a false notion that every human is a child of God. It’s as though one has no choice in the matter and at birth becomes a child of God. As one studies the New Testament it is clear that one becomes a child of God when one acknowledges Christ Jesus as their Lord and Savior. It comes when one confesses one’s sin and seeks forgiveness in Christ Jesus. It’s not automatic. Paul writes: “He [God] destined us for adoption as his children through Christ Jesus, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved [Jesus] (Ephesians 1:5).” If you have not accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord and Savior and seek to be obedient to his commands, you are not a child of God. When you accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, God adopts you into his family and you become one of his children. We are adopted into God’s family and being a child of God comes when one receives adoption into God’s family.
Dale Riffle moved to West Virginia with his Vietnamese Pot Bellied pig and he founded a refuge for that special breed of pig. People discover that they aren’t the cute little pets they expected. And Mr. Ruffle decided to get into the pig rescue business. He has around 200 pigs on his farm and they are literally in hog heaven. All they have to do is enjoy life and they have no fear of the butcher. Mr. Riffle commented, “I think we’re all put on earth for some reason, and I guess pigs are my lot in life.” It’s amazing someone would have a heart to rescue dirty, nasty pigs.
However, it is even more amazing that the Lord God is in love with insignificant, sinful, openly rebellious and often indifferent people. I’ve often been surprised that God has not given up on me. I have often been surprised that he has not given up on all humanity. We humans have a nastier record than pigs. We are into rebellion against God and against all authority. One only has to ponder the events of the past weeks to recognize human depravity. Instead of zapping us and ending the human problem, God wants to adopt us into his family and he wants us to call him Father. The Lord is quite different from us. Whereas we hold grudges and seek revenge, the Lord is in the forgiveness business.
There are many characteristics of the Lord God and in Psalm 103:8-14 we read about several of those important characteristics. The Psalmist writes: The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him. For he knows how we were made; he remembers we are dust. The Lord God has many remarkable characteristics. In the face of the sinfulness of humans, the Lord God is amazingly tolerant. He is merciful and gracious. We humans tend in the direction of seeking revenge when we are wronged. If the Lord God were like us, we’d long ago been eliminated from the earth. While there are exceptions, humans are fast to become angry. Yet the Lord God is very slow to anger. God abounds in steadfast love while we get caught up in anger and hate.
One of the key characteristics of the Lord God is forgiveness. The Psalmist tells us that he does not deal with us according to our sins nor repay us according to our iniquities. God’s plans don’t include revenge. He does not try to “get even.” His position to those who revere him is love, not anger and revenge. When it comes to forgiveness, God will forgive our sins when we seek his forgiveness. He knows we will screw up so don’t hold back from confessing your sin and receiving his forgiveness. And when God forgives, he forgives completely. The Psalmist tells us that as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us. God has a short memory when it comes to confessed sin. One writer said that “God has a short fuse, short memory, a thick skin and a big heart.” Imagine if God kept a record of our sin? Imagine if he said, “I stop forgiving after fifty. Sorry but your punch card is all punched out.” God knows what we are and what we are made of and he is full of mercy and grace.
The characteristics I have talked about are key characteristics of the Father, of Abba. Jesus reveals to us that for Christians who seek to be faithful and obey his commands the Lord God is properly addressed as Father or Abba. Ancient rabbis often taught their disciples a special prayer that they were to offer to God. Matthew reports that Jesus taught them a simple prayer. Pray then in this way: our Father in heaven hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And for give us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” How are we to address the Lord God? We are to address him with the same name that a small child addresses his or her father: Abba or Father or Papa or Daddy. God is not up there somewhere distant and aloof. He is present with you regardless of whether you recognize it or not. Have you had the experience of feeling that God is not present or is completely distant from you? I have had that hard experience. However, when you have that experience know that God is right there with you regardless of your feelings of abandonment. He has not abandoned you and will never abandon you. He has adopted you into his family and is your loving Father.
Jesus teaches us what God is like and he tells us to call the Lord God, King of the Universe, Father. One of his parables that we are all familiar with clearly teaches us about the Father heart of God. Most of us were taught to call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It is better titled, “The Parable of the Loving Father.” It’s a simple story of a father and his foolish son. The son demands his inheritance now. He does not want to wait for the father to die. The father divides his property among his two sons. The youngest son who demanded his inheritance leaves town with the father’s money and blows everything on riotous living. He’s about to starve to death and decides to go back home and ask his father’s forgiveness. Even before he gets to the village his father sees him and goes running to him. The father restores him to the family. What the father did goes against the customs of his village. He runs and no dignified elder would run. He restores his son to the family. The custom of the time would have the young men of the village come out to meet him and beat him. Jesus is telling us that the Lord God is like that loving father. He is merciful and forgiving, not one to condemn and seek revenge. Jesus reveals that there is a God in heaven who cares about you and he is called Father.
Father God, Abba, is not a pushover. He is not one we are to manipulate. Being a part of God’s family means we are under his care and authority. While Father God is loving, merciful, and forgiving, he also has expectations that we obey his commands and live as he calls us to live. The Psalmist said that the Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever.” Did you hear that? God will not keep his anger forever. If we get caught up in willful disobedience and rebellion and do not repent of it, one day we will face judgment. One day God will call us to account. Being a member of his family has responsibilities as being a member of one’s human family has responsibilities. In my family, willful disobedience to the rules of the family would lead to punishment. May you be faithful to your loving Father and reap the rewards of due an adopted son or daughter of the Lord.