by Pastor Mark D. Ridley, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Elizabeth City, North Carolina
Scripture: Luke 11:9-13
My father was not the most demonstrative dad who ever lived. Hugging didn’t come naturally to him; he wasn’t comfortable with “mushy” expressions of affection.
But I was fortunate. Because even though my dad was a little stiff and reserved, we could all see right through that. He was a softie at heart, and we knew it. When he’d come home from work, he’d settle into that big recliner of his, and when I was four or five I’d climb up there and lie across his chest, and he’d rub my head. I’d go for rides with my parents, and sit between them on the front seat — remember when children were allowed to do that? And my dad would reach down and squeeze my leg. What could feel better than that?
Like I said, I was lucky: there was never a time in my life that I doubted that my father loved me. I know not everyone’s so fortunate. Some people grow up with dads who are distant, or absent, or abusive — some fathers actually don’t love their children. And a lot of other dads do love their kids, but they can’t (or won’t) let on.
That’s always a tragedy: fathers who love their children — love them deeply — but they just can’t say it; they just can’t communicate it to their kids. And the kids grow into adulthood and beyond, without ever knowing, ever realizing how much their fathers really loved them. Sometimes it’s the dad’s fault — he’s too busy, or too macho, or too scared to show his love. But sometimes it’s the kid’s fault — as sons or daughters, we’re too busy; we’re too focused on our own agendas to notice that fatherly love. And sometimes it’s everybody’s fault. Harry Chapin had a song about it: the father who’s too preoccupied to play catch with his son, and the son who grows up to be just like his dad: “When you coming home, son?” / “I don't know when, / But we’ll get together then, Dad. / You know we’ll have a good time then.”
What a tragedy that is: to go through life being loved deeply by your father, but not realizing it, not feeling it, not living in that love! Only one thing’s more tragic. And that’s to go through life being loved deeply by your Heavenly Father, but not realizing it, not feeling it, not living in that love.
Charlie Mackesy has worked with a lot of young people — many of them heroin addicts and gang members. One time he took a big piece of paper and he said, “Here’s this word, ‘God.’ What do you think of it? Tell me what words you associate with that word, and I’ll write ‘em down.”
Well, I can’t repeat the words they used, because you can’t say those words in church. But it was a pretty grim picture: to those kids, God was a phony, a fake, a liar, a nag, a hypocrite, and worse. Then Charlie says, “All right, let’s do another row. If you could design your ideal God — what would you want him to be like, if you could invent God yourself?” And here’s what they said — these are their words: “He’d understand me. Wouldn’t reject me. He’d be funny. Forgiving. Would be into music. Always listen. Would bring Katy Perry around whenever I wanted. Wouldn’t gripe. Wouldn’t quit.”
Charlie looks over the list and says, “There’s a problem here, you know. Because, apart from the stupid ones where you’re just trying to be silly, you’ve got two totally different lists up here. There’s the God you say is the real God, and then there’s the God you wish there was. “Well, what I suggest is that you stop believing in God — that would really be the best thing. Just stop believing in God right now. Because the God you’re believing in — the God you’re disliking so much — he doesn’t exist.” And the kids give a little cheer.
Then Charlie says, “But the God you want, over in this row — that’s is the one that Jesus says is God. See that row? That’s what God is like!” And the kids go, “No, no — can’t be; no way!”
Charlie Mackesy ran into the same thing that Jesus came up against, two thousand years ago — those kids had a totally screwed up picture of God. And so did most of the people in Jesus’ day. To the Pharisees, and the scribes, and most everybody else in those days, God was remote, stern, judging. God loved plagues and floods and hellfire. His idea of a good time was smiting Philistines and stoning homosexuals. He demanded bloody sacrifices; he laid down burdensome laws; he struck people dead without warning; he bossed people around like a dictator. In many ways, the God most people believed in was a monster. Mark Twain wasn’t far wrong when he said that if a human being behaved like the God of the Old Testament, we’d have him institutionalized!
“But, no. No! God’s not like that!” Jesus would say, again and again. “That’s not his nature; God isn’t like that at all. God is a loving Father. God is ‘Abba.’”
That’s what Jesus called God: “Abba.” It was the most intimate name possible. Closer than “Father”; like “Daddy” — not infantile, but that close.
“You’ve got the picture all wrong,” Jesus used to say. “You think God is just waiting for you to step out of line, so he can slap you down. You think God loves to find fault, that he can’t stand to see people having fun. But that’s not God.”
He’d say, “Look, those of you who are fathers yourselves: if your child asks you for a fish, what are you going to do — give him a snake instead? If your child asks you for an egg, are you going to give him a scorpion? Of course not. Fathers provide for their kids; they love giving them what they want. Well, so does God! He’s a loving father. He’s Abba!”
But despite everything that Jesus said, people still cling to their screwed up picture of God — that cold, distant, judgmental God. And I can tell you where that screwed up picture of God comes from: the Bible says it comes from Satan himself. In the Book of Genesis, chapter 3, the first thing Satan does is try to convince Adam and Eve that God’s not who they thought he was. “Why do you think God made that tree off limits for you. It’s not because he cares about you. He did it because he doesn’t want you getting too smart. He’s trying to hold you down; he’s trying to keep you in your place.” And Satan has stuck with that tactic ever since, because it works! Sell people a distorted picture of God. Convince them that God’s a tyrant, or a scold, or a hanging judge. Who’d want to have anything to do with a God like that?
“But God’s not like that,” Jesus kept on saying. “He cares about you. He loves you — just the way you are.” Jesus tried every way he could think of to get that message out. But I think the best way he ever found was one particular story that he told: the story of a father and his runaway son.
Our friend Charlie Mackesy is an artist, and he’s put that story to canvas. Here’s Charlie’s version. I love this image. And behind the figures, Charlie’s written: “This is the story of the prodigal son. It should really be called the running father — who waited every day for his boy to return, the boy who had rejected him so badly. And finally, when he saw him from a long way off, his father ran to him and hugged him and kissed him.”
That’s what God is like. Whether you’re a runaway son or a runaway daughter, there’s a father who’s waiting for you. No matter what you’ve done or how far you’ve wandered, he’s waiting; he watching at the window for you — he’s ready to come running to meet you.
It’s such a tragedy when people don’t know that — when they hold back, when they shrink from the one who loves them the most. They think he’d be shocked if they told him what their lives were like; they think he’d reject them, or maybe he’s rejected them already. But they’re so wrong. You can’t shock God — he’s seen it all, and he still loves you just as much as the day you were born. You can hurt God, because he loves you, and love is always vulnerable. You can hurt him, but you can’t shock him, and you can’t make him stop loving you, and waiting for you.
It’s such a tragedy when someone lives their whole life not knowing how much they were loved. What a waste!
But, sometimes, love catches up with a person. Sometimes a person at last comes to realize just how totally loved they really are. And when that finally happens, it’s powerful. To know that you’re loved, and to fall into the loving arms of God — there’s nothing in the world more beautiful than that.
I want you to see how love finally caught up with a guy named Jim — Jim Ignatowski, from an old TV show, called Taxi. Jim’s kind of a “prodigal” himself — all the drinking and the drugging have left Jim pretty well burned out. He hasn’t seen his family in years — he assumes they’ve written him off. But then Jim’s father dies, and the lawyers deliver a trunk of his dad’s to Jim’s apartment. [VIDEO] I heard a story about a priest who visits people in a hospice unit. There was a guy in one of the beds who was always guarded by his wife, who’d say, “Go away, priest!” And he said, “Fair enough,” and avoided the room.
But one particular time he was standing out in the hall, talking to a nurse. And the guy in the room grabbed his wife’s arm and said, “Can I just talk with the priest for a second?” She said, “Are you sure?”
And he said, “Yeah,” so she told the priest to go in, and she left. So the priest went up to him and said, “Are you OK?”
And the man said, “Yeah . . . . I just . . . . I want to ask you a question.”
The man said, “How do you pray?”
And the priest said, “Well, you see this chair here, next to your bed?”
“Yeah. The recliner.”
He said, “All you do is imagine that Jesus is sitting there in the recliner, waiting for you to say something. And then, you just talk.”
“Yeah. With him sitting there, you just talk, and listen.”
“I don’t think he’d want to hear what I’d have to say . . . .”
“If you could talk to him, what would you say?”
“For one thing, I’d like to say ‘I’m sorry.’”
“OK. You can tell him you’re sorry.”
“And I’d say, ‘I’m terrified.’”
“That’s all right; you can tell him you’re terrified. You can tell him anything.”
“. . . Thanks.”
“Remember, you’re talking to someone who loves you, deeply.”
After a pause, the man said, “You mean, that’s it? All my life, . . . I wish I’d known that; I wish I’d known earlier.”
About two weeks later, the priest got a call from the man’s daughter. “I want to thank you for talking with my dad. He passed away, you know. But he told me what you talked about.
“It’s strange — I’ve thought about it a lot. Because when they found his body in the morning, he was out of the bed, and he was lying across the recliner, with his arms around the back of the chair . . . .”
Do you realize how deeply God loves you? Do you feel it? Do you live in that love?
Pushy in Prayer by Edward F. Markquart
So these are the four Biblical facts about prayer: Jesus was a person of devout prayer; Jesus wanted his disciples to be people of devout prayer; we are to pray with perseverance and persistence, with bugging and bothersome qualities; and pray is effective and changes not only us but the heart and mind of God.
Exploring a Life of Prayer by Jane E. Vennard
Prayer is our response to God's loving call. In this reflection I will invite you into activities to help you affirm and learn from these experiences of prayer. We will explore what keeps us from responding when deep in our hearts we long to be in relationship with God. I will encourage you to try different forms of prayer to discover which ones fit you best.
God’s Generous Response to Boldness in Prayer by John MacArthur
But our God is absolutely available, absolutely approachable, gracious, merciful, compassionate, kind and you can go into His presence boldly and ask for whatever you want. You can go into His presence any time and not interrupt Him. In fact, He desires you to do that.
Sermons and Bible Commentary/Analysis for the 2nd sunday after Shunoyo
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