We begin our believing in God the Father Almighty. Father – Almighty: two words, which are fundamental and have a lot to say about who God is and how he relates to us.
Almighty – all powerful, strong, can seem distant even.
Father, on the other hand, is personal, relationship, providing and caring. This morning, I want to focus on why we call God, Father.
And the quick and easy answer is, because Jesus did – it was the main thing Jesus called him. And when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, that was the name he gave them, Our Father who art in Heaven. And when Jesus prayed himself he prayed, Father (in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the cross, and all through his life.)
Before that, in the Old Testament (before Jesus) God/YHWH was called Father only a few times. And in those instances it is identifying God as the father of the people of Israel – not so much an individual relationship, rather proclaiming God’s love and compassion for his people.
When Jesus called God “Father,” though, it was in a far more personal way. He is not just referring to God as the Father but drawing on the divine relationship that existed between them.
For instance anyone could call me mother, but if I were to hear my daughter call me mother in a moment of deep distress, it would mean so much more to me and get my attention in a much different way than when just anyone would refer to me as mother.
Jesus was in the most desperate moment of human history and when He said Father; all of heaven must have stood still at the sound of it.
And considering the place and culture of Jesus’ time, to call God Father was not just personalizing God as had never been done before, but it was radical and shocking in other ways.
This is where the Fatherhood of God goes deeper than “that’s just what Jesus called him.”
You see in those days society was patriarchal, meaning that authority and status and wealth and worth resided with men and through the male/fathers line in the family. And so women relied on men – for security, for a home, for a future. That’s why caring for widows is SO important in scripture. And why if a husband died it was the husband’s brother’s responsibility to marry the widow – to give her a home and keep her in the family. This was society’s way of caring for and keeping women from becoming poor and marginalized.
So the father’s responsibility is to provide – in fact that’s one of the many names for God given in the Bible – One Who Provides (Gen. 22:14). And they provide not just materially – home, food, things – but they also provide care, compassion, security and safety for their families.
And they provide for their future in the form of an inheritance – dowries for the daughters, and land, crops, a business or trade for the sons. So as a patriarchal society, the sons received the inheritance – not the daughters. The daughters get married.
So sons were important. The more daughters in the families, the more dowries to provide (money leaving the family). Even though women are the ones who have the babies, sons were the means through which families grew. It was good to be a son in those days! The inheritance was yours, the family name was yours, the land was yours… and all the honor that goes with all that.
So, to be God’s Son…. WOW! Think of the inheritance when God is your father! If God is your mother…not so much blessing and honor in that. When Jesus calls God Father, he is expressing a personal relationship with God with real implications for his life with the one who had until then been a distant and impersonal God.
And so we also call God, Father, because by doing so we more than proclaim, we enter into this same relationship with God. And not only that, but the relationship becomes even richer when we understand ourselves as the adopted sons of God as well.
Remember the patriarchal society, in which the inheritance flows from father to son… Well, when God declares us to be his sons, we become the beneficiaries of the inheritance of the riches of his Kingdom. While it might make more sense on the surface for me (and all girls) to understand ourselves as daughters of God (boys are the sons….) that makes no sense theologically.
None of this is literal, right? – it’s all theological – so when I understand myself to be an adopted son – the whole relationship goes to a deeper level. ESPECIALLY as a woman who should NOT have access to this inheritance. God says, NO – YOU are mine, and all that I have is yours!
I chose the first hymn we sang today precisely because it says just this. Listen to the words to the 2nd and 3rd verses: (Be Thou My Vision)
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
Let me say a few words about the obvious misunderstanding that to call God Father means that God is MALE. That has never been a claim of the Church, and I have never met anyone who by calling God Father has actually come to believe that he has a gender and it is male. God is neither male nor female.
Though a friend of mine (the Reverend Chris Anderson) who writes Christian joke books has pointed out that there is an Old Testament verse that teaches that God is a woman… Genesis 28:16 states: “Surely the LORD is in this place and I did not know it.” (KJV) (“And stop calling me, Shirley!”) (See also Genesis 1:27/Isaiah 66:13/Proverbs 8/Psalm 131:1-2 & Luke 15:8-10)
But there is a movement in the church (I first encountered it in 1984) to remove Father language from our hymns and prayers, and from our everyday speaking about God and the faith, including the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, out of concern that to call God Father is to make him male. And to make God male creates an obstacle for people who have experienced men in ways that are hurtful and abusive.
In fact the traditional language for the Trinity has been removed from this church’s official documents: our By-Laws and the Mission Statement (which is on the wall in the hallway downstairs above the brochure rack). It’s a beautiful statement, except that it’s replaced the traditional Father, Son, Holy Spirit with three different words to describe them. (But that’s a sermon for a different day – Trinity Sunday, which is in June….)
These theological distinctions may seem technical and far removed from our ordinary lives as Christians, but I think that it matters a lot. Because when we pick our heads up out of the details, we realize that we are talking about God – who is real and who has revealed himself to us in a particular person, Jesus Christ who happened to live in a particular time and place, but who is still with us – who we believe is still present in the church through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Another place where the rubber hits the road, when we call God Father is in our relationship with other Christians in other Churches. Not even a month ago, on January 29th , something significant happened in Austin, Texas, that went unnoticed in the mainstream news channels.
After seven years of talks, an historic agreement was signed between 4 Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church formally recognizing each other’s baptisms. Our own United Church of Christ was one of the four. (Representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Christian Reformed Church in North America, Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ signed the document.)
Before the agreement, the Protestant churches normally accepted Catholic baptisms, but the Catholic Church did not always accept ours, because they questioned the validity of baptisms if they did not use the names of the Trinity.
The document says, “For our baptisms to be mutually recognized, water and the scriptural Trinitarian formula “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28: 19-20) must be used in the baptismal rite.” The agreement also confirms that baptism is the sacramental gateway into the Christian life and that it is to be conferred only once.
One of the Bishops summarized the agreement saying, “This mutual recognition of baptism, is part of our response to Jesus’ prayer that ‘we may all be one,’ ” (Bishop Joe Vásquez of the Catholic Diocese of Austin). Which interestingly is the Bible verse on which the UCC was founded!
When pastors and churches change the language of the Trinity, they are moving away from the unity which Jesus prayed for, and which in the UCC we aspire to. And they are creating future awkward moments when a child baptized using other words, moves to a different town and church as an adult and realizes that their baptism is not recognized outside the congregation where it occurred.
Again, my friend the joke writer has something to say here:
Q. Why is the doctrine of the Trinity important?
A. Those who abandon it begin prayer with the words “To Whom it may concern.” (Luke 11:2, Acts 7:59, Acts 5:3)
Funny, but not entirely true – because there are many ways to address God – and many aspects of his nature that have become like names for him. We’ll look at one next week in the next line of the Creed – Creator (Maker). The Bible gives us an endless supply:
Most High God
God is all these and more. No single word or phrase will describe God entirely; which is why we need music and silence and art and the sacraments and fellowship as his body, to come to know him with the depth that he desires.
God is our adoptive Father, our heavenly Father, and we are his sons. And he loves us with a powerful and almighty love.
That’s the inheritance we have received – now and always.
So let’s stand and declare together the faith in which we stand:
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth,
And in Jesus Christ, His only son, Our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hell. On the third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, From there He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
That, my friends is what Christians get to believe. Amen.