Sermon for Father’s Day, June 19, 2016
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Galatians 3:23-4:7
Sermon Theme: “Whose Tender Care”
(Sources: Anderson’s Cycle C Preaching Workbook; original ideas; Emphasis Online Commentaries and Illustrations: Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 26, Part 3, May 22 – August 21, 2016, Series C; Harper’s Bible Dictionary; Online Quotes and Jokes about Father’s Day; The Lutheran Hymnal; Lutheran Worship)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Lucille Ball, shortly before her death in 1989, was interviewed by Merv Griffith. During that interview, he said to her, “Lucy, you’ve lived a long time on this earth and you are a wise person. What has happened to our country? What’s wrong with our children? Why are our families falling apart? What’s missing?”
Lucy answered without hesitation, “Papa’s missing. Things are falling apart because Papa is gone. If Papa were here, he could fix it.”
What has happened to the role of father in American families? Interestingly, that interview took place the first full year of my serving here at St. Paul Lutheran Church in 1989; it is eerie how appropriate Lucille Ball’s statement still is in 2016!
There is an ancient, anonymous aphorism which goes like this, “God is the Father Who is always at home.”
The First Chapter of Genesis tells us that God created light on the FIRST day; the waters divided by the firmament on the SECOND day; dry land separated from the seas on the THIRD day; sun moon and stars on the FOURTH day; fish and birds on the FIFTH day; and the lower land animals and us humans the higher ones on the SIXTH day before He took the first Sabbath on the SEVENTH.
Of all those creations, God gave cognition to only one of them, — me, you, us, people, even put us over the lower land animals. He didn’t give cognitive ability to the waters, the mountains, the trees, the lower animals, — no, just us, mankind. And that involved a problem. How is He going to explain Himself to us in ways the human mind can grasp? He doesn’t have to worry about the trees and the birds because they have total incognizance.
How He has presented Himself to us is very reassuring, comforting, and uplifting. The very concept of God is a family. Even God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are a family. God wants us to perceive Him as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Such conceptualization is very appropriate for Father’s Day.
God created us in His Image. What is His Image? Who are we? Who is He? — the two questions go together.
The Lutheran Hymnal, originally published in 1941, was meticulously committed to the truth and imagery of the Bible in all its hymns. Lutheran Worship, first published in 1982, has changed some of the imagery in some of the hymns in a way that is significant.
For example, in the hymn, “My Soul, Now Bless Thy Maker,” in The Lutheran Hymnal (the old red book), we sing these words in verse 3, “For as a tender father hath pity on his children here, He in His arms will gather all who are His in child-like fear.” In 1982, Lutheran Worship (the blue book) changed the words, so that we sing, “For as a loving mother has pity on her children here, God in His arms will gather all those who Him like children fear.”
This imagery change is very disturbing to me. In the red hymnal version, God is shown as a tender father who has pity on his children; in the blue book version, God is shown like a loving mother who has pity on her children. The crucial point is depicting God as a tender father rather than a loving mother. The concept of God as a tender father is of upmost importance, — I think that’s an important way God wants us to see Him, — it’s the way He is shown in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. What more tender father can you find anywhere?!
Apparently others in Synod were bothered, too, because in our newest hymnal, Lutheran Service Book, the words have been changed back to “tender father.”
Luther Vandross so beautifully captures this concept of the tender father, when he describes his own father in these words: “My father would lift me high and dance with my mother and me and then spin me around till I fell asleep. Then up the stairs he would carry me and I knew for sure I was loved.” Earthly fathers should not be afraid to be tender, and they should always be there for the child.
Our Sermon Text, from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, clearly shows us this way of conceptualizing God. The text talks about the roles of a SLAVE, an HEIR, a GUARDIAN, and a FATHER.
In Paul’s day, slavery was still commonly practiced throughout the empire, just as it was when some of your great grandparents first came to America (my great grandparents came to Texas about five years after slavery was abolished). If you were a slave, you were owned, — you had no rights, no privileges, and, only if you were lucky enough to be owned by a kind-hearted master, no tender loving care.
In Paul’s day, under Roman law, an heir had all the wonderful rights and privileges of being his father’s child, whether adopted or biological. Roman law provided all the same rights and privileges to the adopted child that the biological child had. It’s still that way in America today.
A “guardian” and a “father” are not the same thing. A child under the age 18 is a minor. If a minor has no living parents, if the parents cannot be found, or if the parents are unwilling to care for their child, the child needs a guardian. A guardian must be at least 18 years of age, of sound mind, with no criminal record, and in a position to care for the minor.
The guardian is legally required to look after the child, making sure it is fed, clothed, etc., until the child turns 18, at which point the guardianship ends. A father, in contrast, is all those things we are trying to describe and explain in this sermon, and the relationship never ends.
The Law of God was the GUARDIAN of God’s people until Christ came. The Law was put in place as “guardian” so that God’s people might grow in healthy and safe circumstances until Jesus Christ came to care for us personally. The guardianship ended on Easter Sunday.
The problem is the Guardian, that is the Law, enslaves even its own children. The sinful world is dangerous, and we need something to keep us safe; we also need something to protect us from our youthful foolishness. Yet the Law is also oppressive. Although God’s Law is not unjust and evil as are some of man’s laws, in one way it can be even more oppressive.
All of the demands of God’s Law are legitimate, but they are never-ending, always condemning, and finally crushing. Our Guardian, God’s Law, can cause rebellion, it can cause pride, it can cause despair. When we take God’s Law to heart, we see our sin, and our guilt may crush us.
Thus God’s Law enslaves, makes slaves out of, its own children.
In our sermon text, Paul’s speaks to that problem. He says, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law. Imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
Through Christ, we went from being slaves with a guardian to becoming adopted children with a father, — the Heavenly Father, — thus, an adopted heir receiving all the rights and privileges given natural children. You see, God’s son took our place as a slave under the Law. He became a child, one with us and subject to the very same Law that had enslaved us. He kept the Law in our place, fulfilling it fully, — something we could never do.
Christ took our place in receiving punishment. He atoned for all our rebellion against the Law when He went to the cross. Christ has therefore put us into His own place – sonship, that is, as child and heir of the Father.
Paul concludes in our text, “God has sent the Spirit of the Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
“Abba, Father,” is a Hebrew expression that would be the equivalent of saying “dearest Daddy” in English. If through Christ, our Heavenly Father is so tender and loving we are led to call Him, “Abba Father,” then it is truly important to see the “as a tender father” aspect in any concept of God.
As the older version of the hymn says, “For as a tender father hath pity on his children here, He in His arms will gather all who are His in child-like fear.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.