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God, Our Father

July 10th 2011 by Joel Schultz

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Proper 10A – “God Our Father” – Romans 8:12-17 – July 10, 2011 In 1636, the famous Medieval painter, Rembrandt, drew a small sketch of a well known Bible story – The Prodigal Son. Thirty-two years later, in 1668, Rembrandt returned to this subject mater and created his masterpiece, The Return of the Prodigal Son. (Slide 1 – Prodigal Son) In this painting, Rembrandt creates a sense of stillness. He focuses on presence rather than action. Everyone is stationary and they are all gazing on one central experience – the father, leaning over his son; the son, leaning into his father. These two people, locked in an eternal embrace. It is as if time has stopped and one sees that moment, that eternal moment, when the father acknowledges, claims, receives, blesses ... yes, loves his son. This is a moment of sonship. Of being claimed as somebody’s child and Rembrandt sought to capture that moment and freeze it upon your memory. (Next Slide – black screen)

I begin with that image, because, in our reading from Romans this morning, Paul does something similar. Last week he revealed to us Christ, our Deliverer in Romans 7. Now, he focuses our eyes upon God, our Father. Rescued by Christ from the power of sin, we are brought into the kingdom of God, where we live by the Spirit as children of God. We are children of God. That’s the main point Paul wants to communicate to the church at Rome and to us today. In Christ, God claims you as His son/daughter. God is our Father and we are His children. But what does it mean to be claimed as God’s son? To answer that question, Paul creates a contrast – the contrast between slaves and sons. Paul writes, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’” When I hear these words, my thoughts are turned to the Lord’s Prayer. Perhaps that is what Paul is purposefully doing – asking us to stop and consider those words – “Our Father.” Paul freezes that moment and asks us to consider what it means to be God’s son.

(Next slide – close-up) If you look closely at Rembrandt’s painting, you can see what this looks like. Rembrandt places the son’s head on his father’s bosom and the father uses his hands to draw the son closer to himself. What is strange, however, is that the son looks less like a son and more like slave. His head is shaven, as if he were a prisoner. His eyes are closed as if he were exhausted. He brings all of his slavery there before his father. And the father reaches down and claims this slave as his son. He hovers over him in love. He places his hands upon his body and draws him to himself. The child brings slavery to his father, but the father brings sonship to the child. This child is no longer a slave but a son, not a prisoner but a child of God. (Next slide – black screen)

This is what the apostle Paul is celebrating in our letter from Romans. By nature, our sinful passions consume us and take us far from the kingdom of God. If we live according to the flesh, we will die. Exiled, imprisoned, thrust far from God’s kingdom. God, however, has brought us to life in the death of His Son. God, the Father, sent His Son Jesus Christ out of love for His people. In dying, Jesus took upon Himself the exile of our sin. And, in rising to life, Jesus brings us into the kingdom of His Father. Today, in Jesus, we bring our slavery before God. We confess the ways we have been less than God’s children. The ways we have been enslaved to the experiences and rule of this world. We come again this morning confessing our sins of thought, word, and deed – confessing the things we haven’t done right and the things we have done wrong.

And the good news is that God comes to us in Jesus. He places His hands upon us and draws us near to His heart in love. Today, you are once again claimed by God to be one of His beloved children. As Paul writes, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” The Holy Spirit cries out with your spirit, “Abba, Father.”

The church has a way of reminding us of this moment of our sonship – we pray the Lord’s Prayer together. In fact, on the Sunday you were baptized, the church was gathered around you and prayed the LP on your behalf. And if you do not die suddenly, I or another pastor will visit you on your deathbed and pray the Lord’s Prayer together.

Why? ...because God, in these moments, comes and claims you as His child. In baptism, as you are brought into the kingdom, the church offers you the Lord’s Prayer. This is your prayer, your language to use to speak to God your Father. As you depart this world in the moment of death, the church gathers again to testify that you are God’s child. These are your words. God has given them to you as His child. Because you are in Christ, you can call God your Father and nothing, not even death, can take that away from you. Later in this service, we will pray the Lord’s prayer. I’d like you to think about that moment. This is not just a repetition of a prayer that we say every week – something to say without paying attention. This is the working of the Spirit – even now, in our midst. God is reaching out and placing His hands upon you, drawing you close to his bosom, and the Holy Spirit is testifying with our spirit that we are children of God. From baptism to the grave and every moment in between, we cry out “Abba, Father” and rejoice that we are children of God.

When Jesus taught us to pray to God, our Father, He also taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come.” Paul’s words in our text remind us of this petition, as he writes, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17). Heirs of God.

What does it mean to be heirs of God? Consider a moment in the history of Israel. Moses stood before God on the mountain. Israel had sinned against God, aroused God’s anger, and God had threatened to destroy His people. Moses interceded for them and God listened to Moses and did not destroy them. God then says that they can have the promised land, the vineyards, the olive groves, the fields for barley and wheat, the pastures for cattle and sheep, the cities and the open spaces, all of the land flowing with milk and honey. They can have it. All of it. They just will have it without Him. God will not go with them into the Promised Land.

Moses, however, knows that without God, they have nothing. So, Moses comes before God and prays, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here” (Ex. 33:15). Moses will not have the kingdom without the presence of God.

If you listen to Paul’s words, notice how he focuses upon our relationship to God rather than things in this world. We are heirs, he says. Heirs of God. Not just heirs of a kingdom. We are heirs of God. God Himself has promised to go with us. He has called us together as His people and sent us forth to live in this land. Our lives will look different than those of the people around us. We will bless and not curse. We will be content with the calling into which God has called us. We will rise and labor for the good of others. We will draw near to one another in the household of God. Such lifestyles will not indulge in all the pleasures that America has to offer. Such people will not climb the corporate ladder, doing everything they can to get ahead to the detriment of faith and family. No, we will be content with what God gives us knowing that, in His kingdom, His presence is enough.

(Next Slide – close-up) If you look at Rembrandt’s painting of the prodigal son, you will notice that he has frozen the story just at the moment before the son receives all of the tangible gifts from his father. The son does not have a robe placed over his shoulders, he does not have his father’s ring on his finger, and he does not have good shoes on his feet. Instead, one foot is bare and worn from suffering in this world. But what the son does have is his father. In the presence of his father, he is led to trust that he will not want anything else.

So, too, our Lord has called us to live as His people in faith. When Jesus spoke to His disciples, He encouraged them to take up their cross and follow Him. Life in this world will not be easy. It will not be filled with the best that this world has to offer. But it will be filled with God’s love.

Notice how Paul closes this section of the text. He writes, “we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17). Paul calls to mind the suffering of Christ; we follow His way in this world, suffering with Christ, knowing that ultimately we will be joined to Him in glory at the revelation of God’s kingdom. We are heirs with Christ. Children of God. I mentioned earlier that 32 years had passed between the first and last times Rembrandt worked with the prodigal son. Much happened in Rembrandt’s life during those 32 years: He lost his wife, his wealth, three of his four children, and his reputation. He then lost his last and only surviving son. “In the world, you will have tribulation,” our Lord says, “but take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). After losing all that our world would say gives life meaning, Rembrandt chose to focus upon the one thing that Jesus gives that this world cannot take away – the Spirit of adoption. (Next slide – black screen)

God, the Father, claims you as His child. Jesus makes us children of His heavenly Father. We bring our slavery to sin before God and in Jesus we are forgiven. Our fears are silenced and our future is secure. We are made children of God – children and heirs – heirs of a new world and a new kingdom to be revealed when Jesus returns, but more importantly, heirs of God Himself. The apostle Paul paints the picture for you this morning in his letter to the Romans: God the Father claims all of you as His children. He loves you, forgives you, embraces you, and claims you as His people, because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus His Son. Amen.

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