Click here to listen to this 20-minute message.

This is quite a personal message about my experiences of both human fathers and God our Father. I’ve had three human fathers or father figures, who have not quite satisfied my fatherly needs as a child. In two of them, this was by omissions: with my biological father not being there and with my step father not being emotionally available and responsive. In the third case, with a father figure (not one of my actual fathers), this was by commission: through exploiting and abusing me.

Like many people, I exited my childhood with father-related disappointments and scars.

Becoming a Christian and thinking of God as my ‘Father’ was a big step for me. Luke 11:1-13 provides a remarkable account of Jesus’ experience of God as his Father and as our heavenly Father also. There are three key things we learn from this passage about God as Father, which contrast with my own less-than-ideal experiences of human fatherhood:

  1. While human fathers sometimes leave or abandon us, our heavenly Father, will never leave us. Jesus speaks about his relationship with God as something steadfast and certain. There is no sense that God might disappear. He is eternally “Our Father” (Luke 11:2). Hebrews 13:5 says “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’.” And 1 Corinthians 13:7-8a says, “[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” God is Love and is absolutely steadfastly present with us.
  2. While human fathers sometimes are emotionally disconnected and absent, even though they’re physically there, our heavenly Father is always emotionally engaged and responsive to us. Luke 11:5-10 presents the story of a human friend who might grudgingly provide help because of friendship or even just to get rid of you. Jesus contrasts this friend who is reluctantly and ungraciously helpful with our heavenly Father who is always willing to respond to our needs and to take care of us: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
  3. While human fathers sometimes neglect, abuse, exploit and harm their children, our heavenly Father gives his children only good things. In Luke 11:11-13, Jesus asks incredulously if earthly fathers would, when asked for something good and simple by their children, give them something dangerous, like a snake or scorpion. The implied answer is, “No, of course they would not!” But we know that, in fact, human fathers do sometimes hurt their children. But in stark contrast to them, Jesus says, “how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Holy Spirit is the best thing that Jesus can imagine, and it is the Spirit that he says God gives to anyone who asks for something good.

Many of us have experienced less than perfect fathers. I myself am a far less than perfect father to my own son! (One day he might preach a similar sermon about me.) But in God our Father, we find a perfect father, who is always present, always fully engaged emotionally, always responsive to our needs and giving us only good, never bad. There is healing in this relationship with God our Father.

And this healing can also help us with our own father-wounds to forgive our fathers. Many fathers have done the best that they can with their own limitations and woundedness. Many did not intentionally harm their children. As we experience greater completeness in our relationship with God our father, we can begin to release our human fathers from their own limitations.


Featured image from https://www.watchtheyard.com/list/childrens-books-for-african-american-boys/

Doing mission

Click here to listen to this 23-minute message.

Our Gospel reading for today is Luke 10:1-11, 16-20. It is the story of Jesus sending out 72 of his followers (having previously sent out the 12 disciples at the start of Luke 9) to do missionary work. It’s an important narrative, because it provides insight into Jesus’ teaching and training of his followers in missionary work. In this recording, I do an almost verse-by-verse Bible study of the passage, to tease out what happens, what Jesus says and how Luke conveys Jesus’ teachings to us.

I start by disclosing that I am a useless evangelist. I was trained in and did cold-calling as a university student, while a member of Campus Crusade for Christ. But, being a naturally shy and introverted person, walking up to strangers to share the Gospel with them was the hardest thing in the world for me.

I wrap up with three main points (RAP):

  1. Our Responsibility. We are responsible to be faithful to God, to make God known in the world. But we are not responsible for how people respond to us. Our responsibility is to lay a foundation and prepare the way for Holy Spirit to continue Christ’s work in the life of other people.
  2. Our Attitude. We are invited to enter the lives of others with an attitude of peace – to be calm, quiet, respectful and deferential. And we are invited to accommodate them and their ways, not to impose ourselves on them. Paul writes at length about this in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
  3. Our Presence. We are assured (and reassured) that since Christ dwells in us – has taken up residence in us – wherever we are, Christ is. And wherever Christ is, the Kingdom of God is (since Christ is King of the Kingdom of God). Thus, merely being among people who do not know God brings the Kingdom of God near to them. This, ultimately, is what Jesus emphasises to his followers (Luke 10:8-11):

“When you enter a town and are welcomed, … tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you. But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say … be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.”

Whether we realise or intend it or not, the truth is that we are always Christ’s ambassadors. We are always revealing Christ to the world. We are always preparing the way for Christ’s coming. We are always doing mission. But we could be doing mission in a way that better aligns with Jesus’ teaching on mission and that does indeed prepare the way for him.

2019.07.07_Mosaic of Jesus Christ in Florence Baptistry

Featured image is a 13th century mosaic of Jesus Christ from the ceiling of the Baptistry across from the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore) in Florence. https://www.flickr.com/photos/bbmaui/719415433/