Preaching: Isaiah 63:16-64:12
This text gives you the opportunity to talk about God as a Parent, particularly by addressing the Fatherhood of God. It will not be hard to find the contemporary significance of this theme. We are hearing many voices, long silenced, and now arising from those who have suffered the pain of abuse or neglect in their personal relationships with their fathers. Some are finding the courage to seek their own father's face in a hope for healing. The impending holiday season may place that status of these relationships squarely at the center of one's concern. It may be difficult for many in your congregation to think of God as "Father" since relationships between children and fathers are reservoirs of both pain and grace. It would also be well to acknowledge that the images of this text reflect the patriarchal order of its day and to find some way of balancing the presentation by including other images of divine parenting. Jeremiah 1:4-10 is but one example.
What does it mean to call God our Father? What difference does it make for the supplicant to identify and claim the Fatherhood of God? Like many of your listeners, the speaker in this text feels abandoned by the "fathers" of tradition, Abraham and Israel. They neither know or acknowledge the supplicant. You could use this point to show the uniqueness of the fatherhood of God. God is the one who listens, acknowledges, and knows. God is a confidant, not afraid of or threatened by the complaints arising out of our "hardened" hearts. It is controversial to make this claim because it indicates that God is not bound by a patriarchal tradition. God is "Father" because God is "Redeemer." What gives hope here is the possibility of discovering the present reality of this God and how such a God might become dramatically evident to us. You may have a story to share of how God "came down" (v.3b) to shake up your world or that of someone you know.
I have a close friend who recently lost a niece in a tragic accident. Called home to help her brother put together the pieces of his shattered life, my friend was up in the attic of her brother's house. Her task was difficult. She was there to identify and gather up all of the things that had belonged to her niece and decide what was to be done with them. While she was rummaging through the attic, she recognized an old roll-top desk that once sat, locked up, in her childhood home. It had belonged to her father who had died when she and her brother were very young. When their mother had died, her brother had taken the desk out of the home and stored it in his attic. To her knowledge, the old desk had never been opened since their father's death.
They arranged to have a locksmith come to open the old desk, and what they found inside was remarkable. There were all the letters their father had ever written to their mother during their courtship and life together. Apparently at his untimely death, their grieving mother had closed up that part of her memory and locked it away. They also found pictures of their father that they had never seen. Immediately they began to see how they bore his likeness in their own features and then in their own souls. His writings revealed that he struggled with the same kind of issues they were facing. He too had lost a child in her youth. Here was the record of his own joys and disappointments, his concern for their mother, and most significantly, his deep love for his children. Slowly, and not without some degree of pain, the personality of their father became powerfully evident to them. He was no longer a distant figure who had been locked away in memory. In a definitive way, he had become a present reality in their lives. They felt acknowledged, known, and claimed at a time when the loss of a loved one had left them feeling desolate and abandoned.
In that epiphanal moment when my friend encountered the personhood of her father, she experienced being a child once again. Our text moves us from the emphasis upon God as Father to us as children. God is the potter, we are the clay. God creates us as well as redeems us and thus we bear God's image. It is possible to open now the "locked desks" of our own lives wherein lie the hidden evidence of our own struggles, our own sense of sin, our own frustrations in seeking God, and our own concern for our loved ones. To do so honors the One who is our Loving Parent.
Richard F. Ward
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