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Sermon text with italics and bold and John 3:16 and v. 20.
What one most deeply loves, one most deeply fears. My wife, Lauretta, is the dearest person I know, and apart from Jesus, the clearest, most incontrovertible evidence of God’s grace to me. At its best, my love for her is like terror in its intensity. Oh, the fear I have of hurting her! Her worth is staggering in its weight.
Then there are my children. On the night our first child was born, I remember washing up to go into the delivery room to accompany Lauretta in his birth. I say “accompany,” the Lamaze teacher said it was to “assist.” But after watching the holy ordeal of childbirth, I decided I could be of no real assistance. As I washed, a terror came over me. This was it. Things were going to change for me for the rest of my life. The fear and joy of who was about to arrive nearly bowled me over. Could I care for him adequately? Could I really be a father? Somehow I had a fear of holding him and dropping him. And then, minutes later, there I stood in the gleaming room holding him, trembling with love and fear. Though less than eight pounds, his worth was staggering in its weight.
Later, when more children came, and they got old enough to wrestle with me, we would play a game we called “Jabba the Butt.” The name came from a large, disgusting evil character in the Star Wars trilogy called Jabba the Hutt. We changed the surname for the sake of humor. I would play Jabba and roar around the room as the kids would shoot their laser guns at me and try to wrestle me to the floor. Sometimes I would get into the role too much and their little imaginations would slip into stark terror. They would feel my great strength and hear my booming voice, and Daddy would be transformed into Jabba. The game would stop, and I would hold them tenderly and remind them that I was their daddy. The juxtaposition of great, overwhelming strength and power with tender love is as hard for a child to hold together as it is for an adult. My love for them was staggering when they coupled it with my power.
Addressing God as Father can become electrifying, if we can put these two together in our minds: combining infinite love and tenderness with infinite holiness and power. It can become the source of our greatest seriousness and our deepest joy, that one of such might can be called Father, and that our Father can be one with such might! He is not like Jabba in evil, but he is in strength. Fear and love go together. To paraphrase Peter Kreeft, the wonder of praying to God as Father can come only when we have learned what seems to be its opposite, that he is the totally Other, the transcendent Creator of time and space, fierce in holiness, awesome in power. If the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, then filial intimacy is its fulfillment.
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