As you may know Jackie is unfortunately unwell at the moment. She had already prepared her sermon for last Sunday so we are taking this opportunity to publish it here.
Reading: Luke 11: 1-13
“He said to them, When you pray, say: Father”
Parenthood. Not easy, and quite often we are almost hated by our offspring because we put limits on their behaviour or seem to counter everything they want to do. Then there are the decisions they make that they blame on your advice. That’s after disturbing our sleep for years, and costing us an arm and a leg to clothe, feed, entertain and provide for. Who’d be a parent? And of course, there are parents who don’t care for their children, who see them as a burden, who make their lives a misery either through negligence, through weakness, through their own deliberate fault. So for some, father is a scary word.
And yet, Jesus asks us to call God Father. This is actually quite radical. It is unique. The Israelites couldn’t even bring themselves to use the word God, but referred to God as The Name. To call God Father was a revolutionary step. Jesus gives us permission to address God as he addresses God: Abba, Father. It is, in the words of Malcolm Guite:
“As though I stood with (him) in (his) position,
As though (his) Father were my Father too,
As though I found his ‘welcome home’ in you.“
We are invited to stand with Christ, and use Jesus’ words. To acknowledge ourselves as children of God, alongside the Son of God, by the Son of God. The whole prayer is a radical reworking of who we think we are, who God is and what the world is like. God is our Father, not just my Father, or your Father, but our Father. We are in relationship with God, we are God’s children.
This does not put us in the position of a human child, dependent on the whims of a human father. God is our Father, and God is love. Hence the comparisons in the following parables: God is not human, God is God, and so God will not act as we act: God will answer us, care for us, love us. Just as a human parent will not give bad things to their children – well most of them – God will give us good things: the gift of grace, of belonging to the family of God, of the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us. A role in building God’s kingdom on earth. Thy kingdom come.
Because it has come: the kingdom of God has come near in the person of the Son of God, our brother, Jesus. His life shows what the kingdom should be, how our Father sees our world. It is stated in the reading Jesus uses in the Synagogue to begin his Mission and ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour“. This is the world our Father wants for all God’s children. A world in which God’s ways become real and God’s will become cherished and obeyed. A world in which the humble and meek are exalted, where poverty is challenged, where equity, mercy and compassion reign. A world in which, as Bishop Curry said in the sermon at Meghan and Harry’s wedding: “love is the way, and there is no poverty, no hungry children, there is justice and righteousness and room for all people“.
Because this is what it means to be invited to use the words: Our Father. It is an invitation to be part of God’s plan, to walk with Jesus to bring God’s kingdom on earth, to improve the lot of those forgotten an overlooked by society. To be partners in bringing the radical love of God.
So let us pray to Our Father that love may be the way in this world, and that all God’s children may feel the power of that love in their lives through us, in union with Christ and the Holy Spirit.
I end with full version of Malcolm Guite’s poem on the words: Our Father:
I heard him call you his beloved son
And saw his Spirit lighten like a dove,
I thought his words must be for you alone,
Knowing myself unworthy of his love.
You pray in close communion with your Father,
So close you say the two of you are one,
I feel myself to be receding further,
Fallen away and outcast and alone.
And so I come and ask you how to pray,
Seeking a distant supplicant’s petition,
Only to find you give your words away,
As though I stood with you in your position,
As though your Father were my Father too,
As though I found his ‘welcome home’ in you.
Rev Jackie Sellin, Assistant Chaplain