God the Father Almighty

Sermon Date: 
11 Sep 2011
Bible Base: 
Romans 8 : 14-17, Luke 15: 11-32

David Jeans

The next Narnia book to be filmed is called the Silver Chair. It’s one of my favourites. In the Silver Chair the children are called by Aslan to go into an underground world beneath Narnia to rescue a Prince of Narnia held captive by a witch. At one point in the story they are imprisoned by the witch who puts a spell on them. When they talk about the sun, she says they only imagine something called the sun, because they have seen lamps and want something better. When they talk about Aslan something similar happens:-
(The spell is broken by one of them saying “Suppose p 156 ...Narnia p 157)
One of the critiques of religion is that our ideas about God are just a projection of human desires. We long for a perfect father to make up for our experience of imperfect fathers; we long for a perfect ruler in charge of the world to make up for the all too imperfect rulers that we experience. So we make up an Almighty Father to believe in.
Even as Christians we can project our experience of the world into our understanding of God. When we call God ‘Father’ inevitably our experience of fathers colours what that means for us. For those with harsh or abusive fathers that can be very difficult and painful. When we call God ‘Almighty’ we can read into that our experience of dictators and powerful people and we can turn God into a puppet master or a chess player moving us around like pawns and being prepared to sacrifice us.
Actually what we need to do is the reverse. We need to allow the reality of God as Father to set the standard for earthly fathers; and we need to allow the reality of God as ‘Almighty’ to set the standard for earthly wielders of power.
Let’s begin with thinking about God as Father.
The parable of the prodigal son is really about 3 characters. The prodigal younger son, the dutiful (but resentful) older son, and the father - often described as the waiting father or the forgiving father.
This father is a remarkable father who challenges the characteristics of fatherhood in Jesus’ day. He has been insulted by a son who in asking for his inheritance is treating his father as if he were dead. But when the son returns notice three things.
Firstly, the father spots him when he is still far off. Why? Because he is looking for him; he is waiting for him; not a day goes by when he isn’t longing for his lost son to return home.
Secondly, the father runs to meet him. The NT scholar Kenneth Bailey has written much about this parable from his experience of living in the Middle East. He tells of an Arab Christian village which rejected a prospective minister because he walked too quickly. Respected elders in the Middle East walk slowly, emphasising their dignity. This father doesn’t care about his own dignity. He rejoices at his lost son’s return and runs to meet him. (In Lebanon when Bailey lived there no one who had left their home village to better themselves would dare to return if they had failed. They would be too ashamed, and afraid of the jeering welcome they would receive.) This father risks his own humiliation by running to meet his lost son. (And later in the story he stoops just as far in going outside to persuade the older son to come in. Older sons would be expected to help the father host this celebration – instead he quarrels with his father in front of his guests – hugely insulting in that culture. But this father is not worried about his own reputation. His concern is for the well-being of his children.
Thirdly, this father sets no conditions. The son wants to work for his father to pay off his debts. This father just embraces him and welcomes him back as a son.
The parable of the prodigal son shows us a Father God who longs for his children to come home. A Father God who does not stand on his dignity but welcomes his children back home. The great 20th century theologian Karl Barth spoke about God the Father sending his Son Jesus Christ into the far country to bring God’s children home – an idea reflected in that lovely prayer we use after communion – ‘when we were still far off you met us in your son and brought us home’.
Viv and I went to London on Viv’s birthday to see ‘Les Miserables’. In the show the main character Jean Valjean sings a prayer to God to rescue a young man called Marius. The words include these:-
God on high, Hear my prayer, In my need, You have always been there
He is young, He's afraid, Let him rest Heaven blessed.
Bring him home

Bring him peace, Bring him joy, He is young, He is only a boy
You can take, You can give, Let him be, Let him live
If I die, let me die
Let him live, Bring him home.

It’s a wonderful song and a wonderful climax to the story of the triumph of grace in the life of Jean Valjean.
But actually, while it’s right to plead in prayer with God to bring people home, that desire is already there in the heart of God. The message of the cross and the message of the gospel is much more like the story told by Ernest Hemingway in one of his short stories.