Abba Father Sermon:
Romans 8:15-17 and Heidelberg Catechism Lord's Day 9 Q & A 26
By: Rod Galindo
One autumn morning I was walking down aisle 4 of the grocery store when I saw a man pushing a cart. The man was a little unkempt, his shirt was hanging out and his beard needed a little trimming. He looked like he had not had sleep in days. Sitting in the cart resting her head upon the man's chest was a little girl that could be no older than 3 or 4 years old. She was very well dressed and her hair was done in a long beautiful ponytail. Aisle 4 of the grocery store was filled with a colorful array of blue, green and red boxes all saying things like night time sleep aid and cough suppressants. The little girl would cough every now and then and open her tear soaked eyes. She looked up at the man pushing her cart and said, "I love you dada -cough- I don't feel so good". I pondered on how unique this kind of relationship is. In the world people seem to look out for number one, but here I saw something radically different. There was no selfishness here. Instead the aisle was filled with more than what a little green cough medicine bottle could contain. Despite the coughing and sweat on the child's brow the man looked at her like a priceless treasure. The man did not care how unkempt he was all he cared about was comforting this little girl that was the apple of his eye. No matter how disheveled he might look, no amount of awkwardness could extinguish the intimacy and love between this little girl and her father. As they went towards the registers people didn't notice a sick little girl. Instead everyone was filled with warmth in noticing the love between a father and his daughter. I learned that we too often recognize parents as authority figures and disciplinarians. We don't often think of those intimate moments that their position provides. Although with parenthood comes authority, it is at heart an intimate relationship born out of love. The parent-child relationship is not simply one of position, but one of closeness.
In the letter to the Romans, Paul is writing to a community that struggles with their identity as God's children. Both Gentile-Roman Christians and Jewish Christians love Christ. The Gentile and Jewish Christians walk together in their love for Christ and yet they find themselves conflicted. Christianity is the continuation of a historically Jewish religion. God has moved through the Jewish people and through them gave the world the Jewish Christ. Jesus has come to call the children of God to enter God's kingdom. Jewish Christians now find comfort as God's children to enter into God's kingdom.
The gentile Christian hears the same call as God's children to be enfolded into God's family. The conflict lies in whether God calls people of a particular Jewish identity or whether God's children are of every nation and tribe. Historically both the Jews and Gentiles have had different experiences with God. The Gentiles were once estranged and distant from God and His family. The relationship between gentiles and God was one defined by distance. This distance led the gentiles to see God as distant. A view that led some gentiles to view God the same way children view fathers who are either physically absent or emotionally absent. The distance drove many Gentiles to view God in many ways that were not true. Paul even faced this when preaching on Mars Hill and saw that the Greek Gentile philosophers had a shrine to the unknown God.
The Jews in contrast believed God chose them and loved them, but had experienced some hard disciplining throughout history. In disobeying the LORD, the Jews were once exiled from the promise land. More significantly, to the Jews it felt like they were exiled from the presence of their Heavenly Father. This Jewish history would still be raw in the heart of the Jew. In the Jewish mind, recollections of failing to follow God brought about bitter memories of the consequences of exile. The Jews had learned their lesson. Although the Jewish Christians loved God and they knew God loved them they struggled with their relationship to God. The Jewish Christians revered their Heavenly Father with fear and trembling, but they felt distant in their relationship to God. The Jewish Christian out of reverence for the LORD sought to keep the demands of the law so as to not disobey. They tried to strictly follow the letter of the law, but did not always follow the Holy Spirit that wrote the Law. By following the letter of the law the Jewish Christians sought to define the identity of God's family. To the Jewish Christian, family identity in the family of God was defined by performing the law. They believed the law defined the family of God and who the children of God are. Fall out of line and disobey the Lord and your out of the family. The Jews forgot that the law was set in place to keep their relationship with God. The strict focus on the law now kept Jews from relationship with God. Following rules is not relationship. The cry of the heart is not filled by rules. Like the need to eat when hungry or quench our thirst, the heart cries out for the need of relationship to be filled. The cry of every human heart is for the love and intimacy of the one who created it.
The parent-child relationship is one of the most intimate and special relationships in the life of every person, but I hear many stories about distant or estranged parents with their children. I have heard stories of young people who tell me that they grew up only knowing their mother and never knowing their father. Now those children struggle to understand who God is as a father because they never knew an earthly father. I have talked with women who think God is a tyrant off in the distance. Others think God is divorced from their lives because they relate to God on the basis of their own earthly fathers who were divorced from their families.
I want to tell you about one of these stories. I talked to a dear woman in the Lord named Margaret. She started telling me about how she came to have faith in God. Margaret was my professor in college. She told me about growing up on a farm during the 60's and 70's and what life was like. She told me about how she would look back in her life and recognized how she loved waking up early in the morning to help her father feed the horses and chickens. She said after they finished the morning chores they would have some breakfast with hot cocoa. She told me that even now after many years of her Father going to the Lord how much she still loved him. Margaret continued to tell me, "every morning I looked forward to having breakfast with my dad. I made breakfast for him. After the morning chores my dad would sit in the exact same spot at the breakfast table. His head would disappear behind the front page of the newspaper. Although I loved my father I always felt the tension of feeling and being distant from him." Then Margaret's voice began to crack as tears ran down her face and she continued, "The only time I ever had a chance to spend with my father was those mornings on the farm. I would like to think that my dad loved those mornings as much as I did. Those were really the only moments throughout the day when I saw him and spent time with him. Any other times I spent with him always felt like the newspaper was still in between us. I felt distant from him. The only times we talked was when I was grounded for doing something bad or when he ordered me to clean the horses stables." Margaret wiped her tears and said, "I feel like I was never really close with my father. For years I thought that not talking or not saying I love you was normal. I simply was not raised to say it. To tell you the truth I couldn't even imagine God saying I love you. For many years I imagined my relationship with God as Him being with me, but when I looked at Him He was always behind a newspaper. I never felt close to God. God existed, but relationally we were distant." People of God many times we know God is out there, but we see Him as Distant, unreachable. We know and remember God is holy and awesome in power. We come to church service and sing hymns about how great God is, but we don't often feel or know how close He is to us. We know God is Lord, but we struggle to have that intimate relationship with Him as our Father.
There is hope in knowing God is our Father. In seeing all the problems the Jewish and Gentile Christians have with their views of God and of one another in relationship to God, Paul says something that is radical. Listen to the audacity of Paul's claim in the letter to the Romans, "you received the Spirit of sonship.g" Paul is saying this to all the Christians whether Jew or gentile, male or female. All of you who are here in Christ, no matter what your background, no matter where you come from or who you earthly father is, whether you followed all the rules like a faithful son or broke all the rules like a prodigal son, you are all sons and daughters of God. We hear the voice of God saying, "Far or distant I am your Father and that will never change. When alone or in trouble you are my son and you are my daughter. With all your baggage I am here for you. You are my child."
Listen again to what Paul then claims, "and through the Spirit we cry, “Abba,h Father.” 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 " Imagine a Jewish Christian named Joshua hearing this and feeling the weight of the law being taken off their shoulders. He realizes then that relationship with God is not dependent on the law, but is a gift by grace through faith. If relationship with God is a gift then people of all kinds who are called by the same Heavenly Father may receive the gift of being a child of God. A Gentile would hear the same words of Paul and hear God calling them to a familial relationship. Both Gentile and Jew are called to an intimate relationship with God. Gentile and Jew are reconciled to their Heavenly Father by the blood of Christ. The blood of Christ is the price of adoption. Neither the Jew nor the Gentile needed to look at God as an authoritarian father that they were afraid of or as a distant Father they did not know. Apart from the blood of Jesus there is no other sacrifice or circumcision, no spilt blood that can make people the family of God. There is no work we can do, no law we can keep, it doesn't even matter which cultural background we have only God makes us family.
Some people in the Roman Church ask, "Did you hear what Paul called the Father? Paul said Abba Father" in those words, people hear the voice of Christ saying Abba Father. The same intimate words that Christ uses to talk to His Father become our words. Jesus is the Son of God and through that relationship we have been made the children of God. This relationship is not like today's adoption where it is a legal document that makes it a legal matter on paper. Instead we enjoy all the same benefits of being full-fledged sons and daughters in relationship with God as our Abba Father. Paul explains this saying in verse 17, "Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."  Those of us who are in Christ have died in Him and will be born again in new life.
In the death of Christ we are given a new life and in that new life we are given a new family. Christ binds us together to one another, we are the family of God. If through Christ our death was conquered then now we can live in the new life that Christ gives, in the new family that God gives. This new life is not the kind of life that is offered by any lifestyle or family that this world offers. The new life we receive in Jesus is the life of being a part of a special family that can cry out to God saying, Abba Father. Salvation is not simply our freedom from death and condemnation. Our salvation is more. God has adopted us and is making us into His family. God is saying to His Church I am your Dada. We affirm theological ideas and biblical concepts, but the goal of salvation history has always been the to bring us back into a father child relationship. Through God the Holy Spirit we are being born again… God is giving us new life… God is making us into a family… God tells us we are His Children… God is Immanuel God with us… God moves in us with the Spirit of Adoption and we cry out to Abba Father not out of fear, but out of love, not out of obligation, but out of desire. God is establishing a very intimate relationship with us. The great God of the universe, the creator of all things, the one who set the stars in the sky and knows them all by name, comes and says to you and me, "I am your Abba."
Margaret wanted to continue to tell me her story of faith. Margaret told me about how when she was in her 30's she and her husband were still not able to conceive a child. She came to find out that she could not have children. She was struck with the terrible pain of desiring to have children, but not being able to have any. Margaret is barren. Margaret told me that she and her husband John debated whether they should adopt. They were torn about adoption because they argued saying, "how can any other child ever see us as their parents. She would not be our own child. How can any other child be really ours". Margaret and John struggled and thought that at best all they could hope for was to adopt a child and be like a big brother and big sister to them because that would be better than nothing. They thought that an adopted child would never fully accept them as father and mother. They thought that the best reason for adoption wasn't their bareness, but that they could adopt a less fortunate child to try to give them the best life possible and in that way contribute something good in the world. They decided to adopt a girl from China because they thought that the Chinese don't value little girls, instead little girls are either aborted or cast aside. So they began the adoption process and months of paperwork and negotiations past by. Finally the day came to go to pick up the little girl and they had to fly out to China. As they flew to China they were nervous and had doubts fly through their minds. When they landed and looked at their Chinese surroundings they were overwhelmed and filled with fear. They said things like, "what if this doesn't work out? How is a little girl who looks nothing like us ever going to be able to feel comfortable with us? How can a girl from such a different culture ever accept us? Deep inside the questions Margaret asked out loud were a little different, but similar "how will I be able to care for and accept a girl that is so different from me? So distant from me? From such a different culture than mine." They were being driven to the agency and minutes seemed like days. After trembling in a waiting room for a while a woman from the adoption agency walked through a door with a little girl in her arms. Although afraid, Margaret and John stood up and the little girl was put in Margaret's arms. In cradling the little baby girl in her arms, the little girl held on to one of Margaret's fingers, something changed. From that moment on Margaret said that this little girl could not be anything other than her daughter. They named the little girl Zoey thinking this is the beginning of a new life. Margaret explained to me that she and her husband were not Christians at the time they held Zoey in their arms, but that day something changed. In caring for a child, protecting a child, seeing a child grow Margaret explained that her views of parenthood changed. She saw how different her husband was as a father in comparison from her own father. She thought all fathers were the same, but her husband talked to Zoey all the time and always heard him say "I love you". Margaret's heart was being healed. Margaret explained to me that she started to view parenthood differently and started viewing God differently. She and her husband believed there was a God, but he always seemed distant, but now He seemed closer. God was working in them through the intimacy of relationship Margaret explained. Margaret and John came to Christ as a process. They started viewing God as their parent, their father, and their Abba. Margaret told me that because God brought Zoey, "new life" to them they were able to come to new life in Christ. Margaret and her family have a relationship with their Abba Father. Margaret and her family are all today a part of a special family. God works through the intimacy of relationship. God creates family. Adoption is not just this legal status we have as if it were simply something on a legal document. Adoption is that intimacy of relationship with God. The same way Margaret felt the intimacy and connection with Zoey when she first held her, we have an even greater intimacy and connection with God. God is our parent, our father, our Abba. God holds us and says, "you are my son and you are my daughter". Earthly fathers don't define God as Father, but God the Father is the model that all earthly fathers and mother are to model themselves after. God fills our hearts with His love. God heals the wounds in our hearts because he is our father. The desire in our hearts cannot be satisfied by anything in this world, but to those who hear God's fatherly voice calling out to them he says, "I love you. I am your Abba Father".
People of God, God is our creator and almighty God. Listen to the tender intimacy that the Heidelberg Catechism says in Lord's Day 9 Q & A 26
Q. What do you believe when you say,
"I believe in God, the Father almighty creator of heaven and earth"?
A. That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth and everything in them,^1 who still upholds and rules them by his eternal counsel and providence,^2 is my God and Father because of Christ his Son.^3 I trust him so much that I do not doubt he will provide whatever I need for body and soul,^4 and he will turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this sad world.^5 He is able to do this because he is almighty God;^6 he desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.^7
When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray to God Jesus told them to pray what we now call the Lord's prayer. As God's children let us pray to our God and Father who listens to us by praying the Lord's Prayer, Pray with me,
"Our Father who art in Heaven Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever, Amen.
^1 Gen. 1 & 2; Ex. 20:11; Ps. 33:6; Isa. 44:24; Acts 4:24; 14:15
^2 Ps. 104; Matt. 6:30; 10:29; Eph. 1:11
^3 John 1:12-13; Rom. 8:15-16; Gal. 4:4-7; Eph. 1:5
^4 Ps. 55:22; Matt. 6:25-26; Luke 12:22-31
^5 Rom. 8:28
^6 Gen. 18:14; Rom. 8:31-39
^7 Matt. 7:9-11
g Or adoption
h Aramaic for Father
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996 (electronic ed.) (Ro 8:15–17). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.