So I’m not blogging about the referendum- I’m not blogging about how you should vote, about how I’m voting. I’m not writing about what the EU has or hasn’t done for us. I’ve voted, and I’ve talked with people about voting. And to be honest, I’m scared. I’m scared about what the debate has shown us about ourselves, about where we go from here and how we’ll journey. I genuinely don’t know whether I’m more scared about a victory for Leave or Remain, because I don’t think either will get the 65%+ that they need to claim a substantive platform to go forward (that is my made up number, by the way…). Anyway, this isn’t a post about the referendum, so I’ll shut up now…
Instead, this, from last Sunday, with credit to Karl Martin for getting me thinking about sonship and for the five A’s of a father…
We were reflecting on a passage from Galatians chapter 3 and Luke chapter 7, and here’s what I said (also available for audio here)
What has God done for us? Whilst not wanting to go into Monty Python territory, it’s a question that is worth asking, and is one that we need consider. What response can we give, what response will we accept as being true? Its all very well to say ‘He’s done everything for us’, but what does that mean? Whether we believe in 7 day creation or God as the purposeful hand behind the Big Bang, Christians have always upheld the belief that all of creation is, because of God… and so while we might blame him for suffering we also have him to thank for beauty and joy. But if you’ve only ever lived in a beautiful place, in an orderly society, its hard to recognise and appreciate what upholds those things you value. ‘He gave us freedom- salvation from our own sins and life…’ But do we recognise that we’re free? Do we know what it means and are we aware of what captivity looks like… we can, maybe identify with some of the things that keep people captive- addictions and ways of behaving, but we find it harder to see those things in our own lives- the beam and the speck of dust. Ask yourself this- what would stop me calling myself a Christian? What gets in the way of me praying/coming to church/sharing my faith? For some of those questions, for some of us there may be good, valid reasons, but for many of us the answers may include ‘fear, habits, hobbies, disagreement about how we worship or a particular doctrine’… we are all very capable of locking ourselves up, of chaining ourselves to things that mean we cannot come close to God, that we cannot appreciate what he’s done for us. Before Jesus came, proclaiming freedom, and died on the cross to pay the price for sin, the people of God were limited- were held by the law, those commands of God which had been developed and grown into something overwhelming but that still pointed towards the Messiah- to Christ… and he gave us freedom. And he broadened the boundaries of God’s people- there is no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free, no male nor female, you are all one in Christ… all are Abraham’s seed- heirs of the promise.
What does this mean then? The promise of God to Abraham was that he would be blessed by God, and that his people- his heirs would be as a nation a blessing to the world. And so all who call themselves Christians are included in this promise. The origins of Islam lie in the story of Abraham, that Abraham’s older son Ishmael is understood as being the forefather of those people… but in the freedom that Christ brings its possible for the children of the one to become heirs of the promise made to the other. The gentiles- those who were not of the people of Israel, could also come within the promise, could be called heirs… could be called Sons of God through faith in Jesus. We can change our family, and become part of God’s family.
He is our Father, and we are his Sons. For a first century Jew to hear that God is Father would be mindblowing- God is Lord God almighty, mighty to save, creator and sustainer, Lord of hosts… God is ‘Father’?
Father- trustworthy, strong, present. Not any of those other things that we may carry in our hearts from our own earthly fathers- not absent, authoritative, ambitious, abusive or ambivalent… he’s not just father… he’s Abba- daddy. He loves us, he’s with us, he holds us when we cry, he stands waiting for us to turn up and when we do he doesn’t hold back his love. He is Father to us all. Today, some of us have families who make a big deal of Father’s day, many not so much- my own Dad will probably be surprised when I ring him later, but today we all have one Father that we can say thank you to, that we can spend time with.
And he calls us his Sons- which for around 50% of us is a bit odd. But he does. And to get to grips with that idea- which isn’t an exclusive or a sexist concept, we need to think ourselves into the head of Paul’s hearers in Galatia and the Christians of the 1st century AD. We can call God Father- so far so crazy, but not just that, we are heirs of God. We aren’t servants, stewards, friends or disciples, we aren’t worshippers or believers… and if anyone ever suggests to you that all religions are essentially the same, here’s the thing- God calls us his Sons and himself our Father.
To be a son means a place right close to the father, to be a son means to have a role and a responsibility now and in the future. To be a son means to have confidence in our place. In the society Paul was writing to there was such a vast difference between how sons and daughters were treated and in places he addressed that, as Jesus did in how he responded to women and children, but here Paul is explaining what our relationship to God is like- they would understand the father-son relationship… There is, in that relationship all sorts of things- love and trust and hope and responsibility and closeness etc… its all there without needing to be unpacked… so we’re all sons… I’m a Son, you’re a son… and if you’re thinking this is just far too patriarchal, we’re also the bride of Christ… but that’s for another day.
Closeness. As sons, or if you’re still coming to terms with that, maybe I’ll just say ‘children’ of God, we’re invited into this unique relationship with God. We don’t have to stand off at a distance, we can come close- and God, Father, loves it when we do- to sit with him, to listen to him, to bring him our worries and hopes, to ask his advice… and when we’ve come to that place, most of us know, that if we’re able to switch off the phone and diary that tells what else we’re meant to be doing, that it’s a place we want to stay in… but here’s the thing. When God speaks into my heart ‘Andy, I love you, I’m so pleased you’re here spending time with me, now its time to go out into the world, to the places and people that we both care about and share that love with my other children who don’t know that I’m their father… but come back soon, anytime’. That coming close to be sent out is the mark of our sonship- out of relationship with the Father we are sent to the world.