Message from Rev. Thornley
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
The story is told of a father who had five children. He came home from work one day with a special toy. “Who do you think should get this toy?” he asked. “Who is the most obedient? Who never talks back to mom and does everything she tells you to do?” There was a brief pause and then in unison they said, “You play with toy daddy.”
Did you know that “Father’s Day” was actually started by a woman? Her name was Mrs John Bruce Dodd of Spokane, Washington, USA. She had been one of six children, the only girl among five brothers. The idea came while she was sitting in church at a “Mother’s Day” service and she remembered the time her mother died. It was very sad – they were very little at the time. That night one of the little brothers wanted his mother and rushed out of the door toward the cemetery. Her father rushed out after him and gathering him up in his arms carried him home. Mrs Dodd goes on to say, “From that moment he became both mother and father to us.” He did all in his power to give them a good home. He saw them educated and gave them a Christian upbringing. Through her church she wanted to honour him and somehow it just grew into Father’s Day which is now celebrated around the world.
I remember a similar situation in 1977 when I was a first year probationer minister at Virginia in the Orange Free State – now simply the Free State. This beautiful young mother died of a tumour on the brain and left behind two beautiful young girls aged two and five. The only time I saw the husband cry was when he picked up a handful of sand, sprinkled it into the grave and said, “Goodbye my love.” He became both father and mother to his little girls.
This made me reflect again upon the Great God whom we worship. God whom Jesus taught us to call Father. This was His favourite term for God and appears some 65 times in the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – and more than 100 times in the Gospel of John. Jesus spoke Aramaic and three times in the New Testament the word ABBA is kept – Mark 14:36, Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6. It is a very intimate word and brings one into a very close relationship with God.
Some have suggested that it may be translated as “Daddy” but the preference is Father retaining God’s dignity. Modern Hebrew today uses the word Abba as an intimate reference to father (daddy or papa). I remember when Beryl and I were at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, we saw a little girl sitting on a large suitcase. Just then a man wearing a black frock coat, a black hat and displaying “payot” – the curly sideburns worn by orthodox Jewish men came by and the little girl raised her hands and called out to him “abba abba.” In the intimacy of that moment we could probably read that as daddy, daddy.
In Greek, Abba is always translated as “Pater” meaning Father. On the West Coast there is a village called Paternoster – Our Father. The teaching of God as Father is revealed mainly through Jesus. For the first time we see God as Father of the believer and not just the obscure Father of the nation of Israel as recorded in the Old Testament. Jesus was bringing something new. There is no evidence in the Old Testament that anyone ever addressed God directly as Abba – Father.
Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans 8:15-16 “All who are lead by the Spirit of God are ‘sons’ of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear – but you have received the “Spirit of Sonship” when we cry Abba – Father.” In Galatians 3:28 we read “There is neither Jew nor gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ.”
So the word “sons” is not necessarily male but includes all. Our adoption into the family of God comes through Jesus alone.
John 1:12 “But all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”
Through that we have the privilege of addressing God as Abba – Father.
We began with the story of a man who became father and mother to his children. In scripture we find God displaying certain motherly traits. In Isaiah 66 when He promises to restore Jerusalem we read in verse 13 “As a mother comforts her children so will I comfort you and will be comforted over Jerusalem.” In Isaiah 49:15 God is compared to a nursing mother. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget I will not forget you.”
Then in Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!
So there is a motherly side to God but He is never addressed as “mother.” There is an element found in several denominations who are pressing for an emphasis on the motherhood of God. Their argument is that Jesus was speaking from an ancient patriarchal society and because of that Jesus calls God, Father. We must remember that God is genderless.
John 4:24 – “God is spirit and his worshippers must worship him in spirit and in truth.” This means God transcends all human form, He is invisible, but His beloved Son is the exact likeness of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. The metaphor Father was not an invention of the church but was given to us by Jesus Himself.
I close with this story. At dinner one evening Tommy misbehaved. His Father, always a strict disciplinarian, reprimanded him saying, “Tommy, if you do not behave you will be sent to your room!” Tommy did not listen and was ordered to his room. As he went he heard his father’s last words: “And there’ll be no more food for you tonight!” Later in bed, Tommy thought of his behaviour and it began to bother him. He was hungry, felt alone and alienated and began to cry. Then he heard footsteps coming closer to his room. The door opened and in came his father carrying some food. Closing the door he said, “I love you son and I have come to spend the night with you.” God in so many different ways does this for us.
May God bless you all on this Father’s Day.
Rev. Ralph Thornley