Psalm 121; Matthew 6
February 25 2018
Today I am beginning a series on the Lord’s prayer, a prayer without equal in all the world. We begin with where Jesus began, “Our Father.” We are so accustomed to hearing that address that we miss the remarkable contribution Jesus gave us to shape our thinking about God. In the Old Testament you only hear that word “Father God” whispered seven times. But Jesus took that word and put it on our tongues, so in the New Testament you find it 275 times.
Jesus gave us this image so that when we think of God, we don’t think of a Being who is remote, aloof and disinterested. No, Jesus said, God is like a good father, close and real and personal. In that simple human word “Father” we find gathered up all the yearnings of our hearts, all the hopes of our years. In that word “Father” is the key to unlock the mysteries of our faith.
What’s a Father like? like? We could answer that in a lot of ways. At the time of death, I ask families to come to my office, and I always ask, “Tell me, what was your Dad like?” Oh, there are so many answers, and as the children began to describe their dad, there is always a tear or two. We could spend all morning talking together about the characteristics of a good Father, but I want to pick out just three characteristics of a good Father. I do so not to pick characteristics at random or out of the air, but because these were characteristics of the God we see revealed in Jesus Christ.
First, a good Father is patient. I remember trying to teach my son how to hit a baseball. He must have been about six or seven. I bought him a small bat, and tossed him a tennis ball on the front lawn. I would throw a slow lob, and he would swing and miss. Toss, swing, and miss. Toss, swing, and miss. Over and over again, until the day arrived when he would get a piece of the tennis ball, and then came another day after that when he could hit that tennis ball all the way across the street.
I must have lobbed a thousand tennis balls his way before he could make contact on a regular basis.
This is what we parents do. We patiently and tirelessly work with our children until they get it right.
And our most important work isn’t just getting them to hit a baseball, but teaching them good manners and social graces. Teaching them to say “yes sir” and “no sir” and to look people in the eye when they shake hands. And the most important lessons, teaching them values and faith and self-control.
There was father in the grocery store shopping and he had his three year old in the baby carrier part of the shopping cart. The kid was just a brat. He would reach out from the cart and grab something off the shelf sending it tumbling on the floor. And the Father said, “Kevin, control yourself.” The kid started screaming at the top of his lungs, and the Father said, “Kevin, stay calm.” Then the little urchin picked up a bottle of coke in the shopping cart and threw it on the floor, and it broke open and spewed out everywhere.” And the Father said, “Kevin, you have to restrain yourself.”
Oh the patience of being a parent, and oh, the patience of God. How patient God has been with me, and you too, I suspect. I don’t know why God doesn’t give up on us. We’re always falling back into our old self-defeating habits. But God sticks with us. It’s almost as if God says to us, “I will keep tossing you the ball until you get it right.” God doesn’t give up on us. God holds us even when we are hardly worth the holding, loves us when we are hardly worth the loving.
The patience of God.
What s a good father like? Patient and then provident.
A father is also provident. We don’t use that word much. It means one who looks out for our future needs. It is the root of the word “providence.” When we speak of the providence of God, we mean that God will guide us and stand with us, come what may.
I would like to tell you a little about my own dad. Jim Swicegood was a good man and a good father who died at 53, far too young. He worked during the day as an insurance agent, and in the evening he refereed baseball and basketball games to put food on the table. I never quite understood why he worked so hard until I became a father, and then suddenly I realized what he was doing. He had to work hard to pay for our mortgage, to buy our food, and to give me the things I needed to live. He wanted me to go to college. He had only completed the eighth grade. In a very real and tangible way, he lived and worked for my future.
Jesus talks about his heavenly Father in the same way. In his sermon on the mount he tells us that not a sparrow falls to the ground without his heavenly Father’s knowledge. And then he says, “Are you not of more value than many sparrows.”
God’s providence. We don’t always see it, especially when we are stuck in the muck and mire of life. God’s providence is never known in prospect, only in retrospect. Only in looking back can we see God’s providence at all our important turns of the road.
I know that there is someone here today worried about something, a health issue, a job issue, a family issue. I pass on to you the words passed on to me this week: “When we worry about the future, we must remember that we will meet God there.”
God’s patience, God’s providence, and last, God’s faithfulness. A father is faithful. My dad was faithful to me, to my mom, to my sister, to our community, to our church.
We know that God has been faithful to us in the past, and everything we have experienced suggests that God will be faithful to us in a future not yet seen. It may be that all that can be promised at the moment is that God will provide enough resources for us to make it through just for one more day. But that is enough. As the Psalmist frames it, “The Lord will guard our life; the Lord never slumbers, never sleeps.”
I have an app on my smart phone called “Flight Aware.” Flight Aware allows you to track any flight in this country. All you need, really, is the airline and the flight number, and if the flight is airborne, you can follow it.
Most of you know that our son, Jeremy, is a first officer with American Airlines. I like to follow his flights when I can. When he goes on a trip he sends us his schedule. So, for example, I will activate flight aware, type in the airline–“American”–and the flight number. And then “presto” the map comes alive and there is a little plane making its way across the country.
I can see where he is–over Kansas–or on his way to New York City. I can see the weather on the map, his flight speed, his altitude. It’s great to be able to keep up with him. I just wish I had an app like this when my kids were teenagers, because then I could know where they really were–and not where they told me they would be!
The other day he was flying from San Francisco back to his home base in Charlotte. I watched the plane just after it took off, and during the day would look at the app and see where he was. It was a six hour flight so I had other things to do and could only watch him from time to time. But I did watch the plane as it approached Charlotte and landed safely. It always makes my little heart happy when he’s safely back home. I didn’t know it at the time, but he told me last weekend that he, not the captain, was flying that particular leg.
You know, it’s been for us. Even when we aren’t aware, unseen eyes from on high are watching over us, caring for us, concerned about us. And those eyes have been following us since the day we were born, and will watch over us until that day when we arrive safely home.