OUR Father, who art in heaven……
Today is Father’s Day. Growing up in my household, my dad would have expected at least 2 neckties to be wrapped and waiting for him to unwrap. One, of course, to be worn later that morning to church. My dad liked nothing better than to get dressed up in a fresh white shirt with a beautiful tie and an elegant tie tack. Both my parents had grown up poor, so they took great joy in the ability to dress nicely – not expensively but nicely – anytime they left the house. Dad’s special affinity was for ties.
I was blessed to have a father who believed in God as Father and who sought to live a godly life and to serve others. With little formal education, he became a reader, he never stopped learning and being curious. Because he planted his own life firmly in God, I grew up knowing that the word "father" meant good things. Not all are so lucky. For many of our brothers and sisters, the sound of "father" brings fear, points to scars and wounds. We as believers have the power to change some of that for others and to participate in the healing of deep hurts when we love them as God loves us.
I say my father was planted deeply in God’s soil, and that is an apt metaphor. Daddy gardened. Prolifically. As if he and God had a bargain that everything Daddy touched would be strong and flourish. He grew vegetables and flowers, camellias and roses, and thick green grass for the lawn. He nourished a fledging dogwood tree to maturity with a trunk so big I could not come close to getting both arms around it! I saw what the Psalmist means when he writes: flourish like a palm three and …spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon.
Before I was in high school, we bought a balled and burlapped Christmas tree for the living room. It was about 5 feet tall. After the holidays. Daddy planted it on the west side of the house to decorate with lights the next year. He continued to decorate that tree until he ran out of ladders tall enough to string the lights. When he and my mother left that house, that little tree was 40 plus feet tall! I see it even now as a Christmas tree shining by the driveway.
There is much confusion in our society as to what is meant by phrases like: The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree…… We are told in Scripture that we will have an abundant life and we will flourish if we trust God. That we will be protected and upheld by God. That our enemies will perish before us by God’s hand. Yet we find ourselves with drained bank accounts and more bills than we can pay. We have car wrecks, get cancer, suffer hurricanes and fires. Our grandchildren develop illnesses we 2
cannot cure, and our children are caught in the rip tide of drugs or alcohol. We find no abundance, feel no ease, wonder why and how and when it will be over. It feels as if our ROCK has turned into loose gravel.
All of this makes it urgently necessary that we mature in our understanding of the Kingdom of God. Our appearance before the judgment seat of Christ and what that means must be clear to us. We must learn what it is to regard no other person from a human point of view. Without these "roots" under our faith, we will find ourselves without power, without strength, without stability. We will not flourish and bear fruit.
God’s Kingdom is the presence of God. God’s Kingdom includes you the very first moment you begin to love God and desire to serve God. God’s Kingdom is not something you earn or attain by accomplishment or only enter after death. God’s Kingdom IS God’s presence. When St. Paul writes that while we are "at home" in these bodies, we are "away from God", he does not mean that God is not present. St. Paul means that our bodies form a veil of separation from God so that we walk in our faith in God and in God’s presence. That veil is dropped when we become spirits as God is a spirit.
We walk by FAITH, not by SIGHT, NOT because God is playing hide-and-seek, but because we are limited by the very physicality that allows us to see each other. Our faith teaches us that the things of God are REAL and ETERNAL, while the things of the body are temporary and fading. But we must learn to see with more than our eyes.
We are not in God’s presence just when we come here to worship, not just when we actually verbalize a prayer, not just when we FEEL blessed and happy and holy. Nothing about God’s presence is based on our feelings. Hear that. NO THING is based on our feelings. Jesus did not die, enter the grave and rise victorious just so that we could "feel" good. We are in God’s PRESENCE because God conquered evil and death when Jesus was made alive. We did not do this. God did. GOD – true God and very God and eternal God – holds the note on our earthly body and never sells us out, never lets us go, and assures us that we will never be separated from God. Not by time, not by evil, not by death, not by anything at all.
St. Paul writes: For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil. This is not telling us that God has a list of our sins and waits to smack us when we die and appear before Christ. Believing in Jesus Christ wipes out every sin that could be held against us. Jesus places His Body and His Blood between us and sin so that we will be judged righteous. The Kingdom of God is ours now and will be ours forever. 3
Whether we are alive here or alive after our physical death, we are God’s own. We are God’s own.
There is a wonderful scene in Hugh Jackman’s performance as P. T. Barnum in the movie "The Greatest Show." Everything has gone wrong. Barnum has lost all his money, thugs have burned down his theatre, his wife has left him and taken their two daughters. He has nothing. Sitting alone in a bar, deep in self-pity, Barnum is slowly surrounded by the people in his circus – the so-called freaks and oddities who performed for him. They tell Barnum that he cannot give up. The performers have become a family because they have accepted each other as people not freaks. They care about each other and they do not want to return to the life where they are bullied and ridiculed by others.
Now God is not a Circus Ringmaster. But this is one way to understand God’s protection and care for us. We may fall off the high wire. We may find that our new song is not popular. We may be called small-minded and foolish to believe. But with God, we are family. Whatever happens to us, God is in it with us. God suffers our pains, carries our sorrows, collects our very tears to make rainbows and waterfalls. This is our flourishing.
When we are overwhelmed, God is our foundation. When we are at a loss for where to go next, God is our light. When we feel utterly alone and lost, God holds onto us. God is fully present with us even when we feel cold and alone. Especially when we feel cold and alone. We do not live for ourselves based only on ourselves. We live for and in God.
What I always knew about my earthly father was that he had my back, he had my best interests at heart, he would listen to me, he would never let me go. What I know now is that my heavenly Father has my back. Evil has no power over me that I do not give it. God has my best interests at heart. Pain and sorrow and death will come but God will bring me safely home. God will never let me go. God will never tell me that I am not God’s beloved daughter. God will call me back to God’s love and grace every single time I stray.
Growing up, I knew that at the end of every day, my dad would let me curl up in his lap and he would rock me before I went to sleep. That stopped only when I was coming in too late from my dates for him to wait up. Every day I knew that he loved me.
Growing old, I know that at the end of every day, Holy and Eternal God lets me curl up inside God’s love and grace, redeemed by Christ Jesus, sustained by the Holy Spirit, 4
and God gently embraces me before I sleep. And I can never come in too late for God to wait up for me. Amen.