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The Compassionate Father

A Life Worth Living - Sermon #04 - The Compassionate Father

Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • May 14, 2017 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor

 

Preamble

We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time, 100th or 1000th, we are honored that you are here today. Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search, because you were invited, because you listen to the podcast, or because you already knew the way, we are grateful for the gift that you are. We pray for you before each celebration that you would experience welcome, acceptance, and peace. We also hope that you will find a little bit of space today to have a transformative encounter with the living presence of the loving God during your time with us!

 

Making Space for Renovation - Being Born Again

Let’s visit again the exchange between Nicodemus and Jesus. If you have a Bible or a house Bible, a Bible app on your mobile device, or if you have already committed the entire text to memory, we will start reading in John chapter 3, verse 1 through verse 4. Page 727 in the House Bibles.

 

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” 3Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.” 4“How can anyone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:1-4, pg 979)

 

Jesus was revealing the very God that Nicodemus had spent his entire life serving, but Nicodemus could not see it or understand it. For Nicodemus and us, Jesus wants us to get caught up in the goodness of God that produces joy and invites and welcomes the renovation of our heart by the Spirit of God.

 

Jesus knows that our destiny is tied to and shaped by the condition of our inner life, which is why Jesus goes to great lengths to get us to be born again, so that we may come alive to God. Here’s how he describes it to Nicodemus in John 3:5-8,

 

5Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ ” (John 3:5–7)

 

If the empire succeeds in its goals to keep us anxious, self-centered, constantly consuming, and exhausted, we will miss out on the life that Jesus is offering, life that is joyful and abundant, not just full. This isn’t just some pie-in-the-sky dreamscape, Jesus says it is possible. But first, we have to repent of our partnership and participation in the Empire. Jesus invites us to renounce the idols of the Empire: “success, achievement, acquisition, technology, and militarism.” And he offers us an alternative way forward through sacrifice, love, forgiveness, trust, service, and transformation. But the Empire is pervasive, many of us barely realize that we are being shaped and formed by the idols and goals of the  Empire, which is why, like Nicodemus, we must consent to the Spirit’s renovation, so that we might be born again.

By Trusting the Builder

But in order to agree to a renovation, a painful and often messy experience, full of upheaval, we have to trust the builder. Because it does us no good if we are trying to renovate ourselves. That’s what Nicodemus was trying to do and Jesus said it wasn’t working. Our renovation has to include revising the images of God we have. We have to know and trust the God that Jesus called Father. Because, if we don’t trust God, we won’t try loving our enemies, or neighbors for that matter, as ourselves. We won’t forgive, we will join the Empire and seek revenge. We will lie and call it the truth. We will work ourselves to exhaustion assuming that’s how we acquire treasure. Friends, we need the Holy Spirit to renovate us, to help us be born again.

 

The Compassionate Father

There is a picture of God I want us to consider together this morning, the image if taken from the story of the compassionate Father found in Luke 15. It’s a familiar story, and is the basis for the Rembrandt painting that’s in our church lobby. It’s a story of two sons and a Father. One son prematurely declares his independence, demands his inheritance, and leaves. The other brother says and fulfills his obligations. When we see the story only through the lens of the prodigal son, we can miss the image of the Father that is Jesus is offering.

 

But catch this,

 

20But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)

 

The Father in the story is compassionate, forgiving, and hopeful. He’s hoping that his son, whom the Father has assumed is dead, will return to him again. And when the son returns, the Father lavishes grace, mercy, and forgiveness on this wayward son.

 

A spiritual friend of mine alerted me to something about this story that I had missed when he asked me a simple question, “Would this story be so striking if it had been a mother instead of a father?” That question caught me off guard and I have not been able to look at this story any other way since. Isn’t it funny that we expect mothers to love us this deeply, this fiercely, and this completely. Always welcoming us with open arms. Always hoping for us to live our best lives, and to be our best selves. And isn’t it interesting that this, the picture of a fiercely loving mother, is the image that Jesus uses to describe the Father.

 

Sit with that for a moment...

 

I think it’s important for us to consider that God represents our feminine images as much as our masculine ones. Take for instance one of the names for God, El Shaddai. It is often translated as “Almighty One.” But it can also be translated as the “Big Breasted One” or the “Many Breasted One.” This is an image of God as our provider.

 

Look, I am aware of the irony of the fact that in talking about the Motherhood of God, I’ve started with a story about a Father. I wrestled with how I might avoid that, but decided to stick with it anyway. There is something interesting and emblematic about that ironic tension. It really does highlight the necessity of allowing Yahweh, the Great I AM, to reveal a new picture of the Lord we seek to serve. In a real way, our imaginations also must be born again.

I love this image of God as mother found in Hosea,

 

When Israel was a child, I loved him,

and out of Egypt I called my son.

2But the more they were called,

the more they went away from me.

They sacrificed to the Baals

and they burned incense to images.

3It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,

taking them by the arms;

but they did not realize

it was I who healed them.

4I led them with cords of human kindness,

with ties of love.

To them I was like one who lifts

a little child to the cheek,

and I bent down to feed them. (Hosea 11:3-4)

 

This picture invokes the image of a defenseless child in arms being suckled and care for in the loving arms of a mother.

 

Does your picture of God include a loving mother, who is caring, full of mercy, grace, and forgiveness with her arms open to you in welcome?

 

The Compassionate Father story ends with the older brother and the father outside of the party.

 

28“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ (Luke 15:28–30)

 

The older brother complains that “this son of yours” has squandered everything. The father pleads with the older brother to see his younger brother as he does, his brother was dead and is now alive again. This is an echo of the story of resurrection, this is story of Easter.  This is resurrection life. This is what God does, God brings us back to life again. The compassionate father sees this younger son as he is, someone who is worthy of love,  mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

 

But the older brother isn’t having any of it. I’ve done what I was supposed to do, but you haven’t given me anything.

 

Listen to the compassionate father’s reply,

 

31“ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  ” (Luke 15:31)

 

What did the father say? My son, you are both my children. Then he says, “Everything I have is yours.”

 

Friends, we need an image of God that welcomes the renovation of our heart by the Spirit of God so that we might become the people of God. We need an image of God that welcomes us, loves us, nurtures us, protects, and encourages us to live kingdom-inspired lives. We need the tenderness of compassionate father to consent the renovation that we need. Remember it is,

 

4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? (Romans 2:4)

 

Practical Tip:

Greg Boyd says that,

 

“Your picture of God is the most important thing in your life.” - Greg Boyd, author of The Crucifixion of the Warrior God quoting A.W. Tozer

 

We need to repent of our images of God. We have to invite the Holy Spirit to revised our pictures of God. We need an image of God as a loving, forgiving God. We need the Spirit help to see God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience at work helping us to live risky lives.

 

We need the Holy Spirit to help us trust God more. To trust God right up to the point where we are certain, but as soon as we are certain, we have to realize longer need God.

 

This will allow us to do the right thing not because we fear punishment, but because we are loved. That we will act with kindness not out of fear, but out of love. Remember, we cannot earn God’s love; his love is a gift.

 
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