Sermon Series: Heidelberg Catechism

Got the Father

July 20, 2017 - July 23, 2017

Acts 17:16-34

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Elizabeth Shen O'Connor

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Some of the first things we learn as infants and toddlers are the people in our lives. I remember clearly telling my son and daughter “I’m your mommy!” over and over again when they were first born. Now, Lu tells everyone she meets: “My mommy! My mommy!” I can’t remember but I have to think it was overwhelming being born and experiencing the world for the first time. Breathing. Looking. Touching. Tasting. Cold. Hot. Comfortable. Uncomfortable. All the senses alert. It’s our parents who engage us the most in those early months and years. And so they become the familiar, dependable constant in our lives, or at least should. Please know too that anyone who pours their life into a child’s is counted among these. Grandparent, aunt, uncle, care provider, any of these can take on a parental role in a child’s life. You see, our world is small when we are first born. And yet the people in it loom large. Who is there when I wake up? Who puts me to bed? Who responds to my cries? Who changes my diapers? And so it’s not unusual that they are the people we want to know the most about, spend the most time with, the ones we cling to when everything else around us is shaky. The awareness that we belong to someone is an important emotional milestone in our development. 

 

The same is true for faith. In fact, there’s a story of Paul that describes a people who almost know God – almost, but not quite. And in their not quite knowing God, they miss out on the blessings of an ultimate father for them.

 

[READ Acts 17:16-34]

 

Our Heidelberg question and answer for today begins with the big picture of who God is to us: “…the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth with all that is in them, who also upholds and governs them by his eternal counsel and providence, is for the sake of Christ his Son my God and my Father” God is high above us and yet right with us, in the most personal way possible, as family. He upholds the universe and yet cares about our very little lives. He directs our lives in a way that is true to how he created us – with abilities and wills and spirits – and yet engages us at every level to bring us to our God-given potential. Even more, the Heidelberg ends by saying God can do so because he is almighty and desires to do so because he is faithful

 

 

 

When we call God our father, then, we affirm first that God has the power to care for us. When Paul goes into his proclamation, he speaks about God as the one who “gives life and breath and everything else,” the one by whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:25b,27). There’s not one thing that we have – from our first breath to our last, from our health to our daily necessities, from our motivation to our purpose – that God does not give us. Even more, for any circumstance of our lives, God’s constant provision is possible because he is the one who “made the world and everything in it…” (Acts 17:24).

 

Promises are empty and meaningless if there is no substance behind them. Unfortunately, we likely have examples of this in our own lives. Products that boast amazing results and minimally deliver. Friends who say one thing and do another. Promises – to be believed, to be real for us and so to make impact in our lives – must have the backing of strong evidence or experience. Many of the Psalmists’ words demonstrate this very point. The reason that the psalmists even cry out for God to act is because they know he’s proved able in the past. Their past experiences with God allowed them to put their weight on his ability to intervene in their trials and suffering.

 

 

 

Even more, the God who gives us all we need does so with great purpose. As Paul explains it, God orders human life so that we would be inspired to seek out the God who created us (Acts 17:27). God created us with the ability to act freely, to act of our own power. Yet, at the same time, God is ceaselessly at work within us – moving us, inspiring us to choose to act in ways that reflect his will, a will that ultimately desires our good, a will that wants us to know him as father. God’s power is such that nothing, no aspect of our lives is independent of him.

 

God is an able father. And God is a faithful father. And so when we call God our father, we also affirm that God wants to care for us. One of Paul’s primary challenges in evangelizing the Athenians was explaining to them that the God who made and cared for them wasn’t some distant deity. Many believed that if there was a God, he was more like an absentee father than anything else. The fact of a God who engaged actively in human affairs would have been illogical, even irreverent. Yet Paul is unashamed in his description of the biblical character of God. Tim mentioned last week that God is consistently described as faithful between the Old and New Testaments. Matthew has Jesus describe God in this way: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26)We are of great value to God. God wants to take care of us. We are precious to him.

 

 

 

God is an able father. God is a faithful father. Robert W. Wall says: “God is transcendent, yet personal, vastly superior to some detached deity that consigns humankind to the vicissitudes of fortune. God is not some provincial deity, the God of a few; nor is God unmoved and unconcerned about the struggles of real people in particular places. God is truly worthy of worship.” 

 

That means God becomes the ultimate parent figure for us. Raising a child is a great responsibility. It’s demanding and takes great courage. Any parent – especially a new one – knows that pressure to raise a child up right. I remember bringing our son home from the hospital. He was so small and fragile and I was terrified that I would drop him. There are times now when I interact with my children and wonder what they’re learning (good and bad) from me. It’s beyond me why God would ever trust me with two human beings. I mean, we haven’t even made it to the teenage years yet!

 

 

 

And yet as real as my worry is, in truth, as a believer I have something else, someone else who takes what I offer and completes it. As a parent – as a human being – I am limited in my ability to influence my children to behave in the way I want them to behave (shocker, right?), live in the way I want them to live, make the choices I would want them to make. Yet, God the father responds to them with even greater ability and determination, well beyond my own measure.

 

Now, for those whose own parents were absentee or abusive or failed on any number of fronts, it can be challenging to connect to God the father. But if this is your circumstance, I would gently urge you not to miss an opportunity for blessing. Where we human beings are limited, God is limitless. God can never be measured against the limitations of human beings. Rather, human beings must be measured against our unfailing Father God. It is to God that we look for our absolute care.

 

And so, God wants to be part of our lives. More, God wants to influence and empower us to live our lives to the full. God works ceaselessly to realize that God-given potential in us – though not in any coercive way. Remember before when I talked about God creating us to act freely? That gift was given with intention and purpose. I believe God deeply wants us to choose him and his good. Gladly. Willingly. Sure, we will stumble in that gift of freedom. God may very well have to “turn to good” our poor choices. But God never stops engaging us toward that end. And he’s always working for that moment of delight when we choose him over every other distraction in the world.

 

 

 

I know for myself that when my children choose to share their toys rather than fight over them, or hug a friend who’s sad, it fills me with delight. Those are the precious moments of parenthood. I also know that at some point, when they grow up, make their way in the world, make choices for themselves, that’s when James and I will have to sit back and trust the values and instruction we’ve offered them. Trust God’s continuing care of them even more. I suspect like many parents our deepest desire is that they will choose God and God’s good in their lives – not because they feel they have to, not because mom and dad would want them to, but because they want to.

 

How much more, then, does God desire that of us, delight over that in us?  For God, it’s not about us obeying him out of fear or obligation, but rather it’s about us gladly, willingly living in a way that pleases him. It’s about seeking the pleasure of our Father in Heaven.

 

In knowing God in this way, then, we begin to honor and reverence him as our ultimate father. Mary Oliver wrote: “Attention is the beginning of devotion.”  Our attention to the God who never sleeps nor slumbers, ever watchful over us, caring vigilantly for us, stirs us to child-like devotion.

 

 

 

To conclude, I want to offer you a re-envisioned Psalm 23. Though it uses the image of the shepherd, the 23rd Psalm, captures so well this understanding of God as our care provider. Here is one that leans a little more into the image of God as parent to us.

 

God is my strong and faithful father.

He stays with me day and night

and gives me everything I need.

He invites me to walk with him in his lush creation.

To refresh myself in its beauty.

His guidance is true. He raises me up right.

And even when the thunder peals

and I pull my blanket over my head,

he sits on my bedside, rubbing my back.

Saying: “No thunder will harm you.

I created it. It is to remind you of my strength.

And how nothing you do can make me leave you.”

And when the day ends, he calls me to the dinner table.

He has me take my seat,

next to my brother who annoys me

and my sister who steals my toys.

No matter, my mouth waters at the food he’s cooked up.

Whenever I fall down, he picks me up

and puts a band aid on my boo-boo and holds me close.

And he always has a good supply of milk in the fridge

for whenever I am thirsty.

My father has a place for me in his home,

a room always ready.

To contact Elizabeth Shen O'Connor about this sermon, please email or write to: Brunswick Presbyterian Church, 42 White Church Lane, Troy, NY 12180