“The Family of God”
(From Galatians 3: 23-29)
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Christian songwriters Bill and Gloria Gaither, who wrote one of our favorite Hymns, “Because He Lives,” also wrote a wonderful song about how we Christians are part of a marvelous family–“The Family of God.” This Hymn became the brainchild of the Gaithers as the result of a tragic event that occurred within their home church. One of the members was very badly burned in a chemical fire that broke out at his workplace. The extent of his injuries was so severe that the doctors did not expect him to live through the night. The news of this tragic situation spread quickly through the church community, and prayer warriors were at the ready to offer prayers to God for the man’s healing and recovery. The church was opened, and many of the folks spent all night there praying together, against earthly odds, for a positive outcome.
The man lived through the first night, and so, he was given a chance at survival by his medical staff. The church members rejoiced over the good news, and they committed to assist with the many needs that this man and his family would experience in the days ahead. As they drove home from the church that day, the Gaithers were in awe of the living witness of the love of God in Christ the church members had made to this family, and also to them. For, a spark of the Spirit came to them, and they realized that these church folks would do the same thing for them if they ever had a need that required a rallying community response. Even though their schedule did not always allow them to participate in all of the activities that comprised the life of their church community, The Gaithers now understood more fully that they had a community upon which they could always rely. They were humbled and gratified by the realization that their church was not just people of faith who worshipped together, they were a part of a truly loving and caring family-the family of God!
Back home, inspired by his recent experiences, Bill sat at the piano forming a new refrain. Gloria heard it, and she added the flow of her creative juices to develop what is the now familiar Hymn, “The Family of God.” It states:
You will notice we say “brother and sister” ’round here, It’s because we’re a family and these are so near; When one has a heartache, we all share the tears, And rejoice in each victory in this family so dear. Refrain: I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God-I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood! Joint heirs with Jesus s we travel this sod, for I’m part of the family, the family of God.
This Hymn, and in particular its mention of our being joint heirs with Jesus in this life, I find to be appropriate to our celebration today of the fathers and male models that have played an important role in our own lives and those of our families. It is not an accident that the family unit supplies the metaphorical foundation for our understanding of our eternal relationship to and with God and one another in the “kindom” of God. The family unit, its relationships and how it operates, has historically been of great importance in Jewish culture. Specifically, the issue of having heirs to inherit the land and accumulated generational wealth of a family was of concern to a people who were living in an agrarian society. The concept of earthly family inheritance formed a strong foundation for one of the most familiar of Jesus’ parables about God and God’s kingdom found in scripture–“The Parable of the Prodigal Son”.
This parable’s storyline begins when a younger son approaches his father to ask for his share of the inheritance of family wealth that will fall to him ahead of the rightful time. This brash request on the part of the younger son would have been understood by hearers of this parable as rude and disloyal to the Jewish family value system. Yet, although it was a highly abnormal and disrespectful request, the father granted this son his portion of the future inheritance. As the story reveals, the son immediately left home for a far way country, where he squandered his inheritance in “loose-living” until he became in state of want. He was forced to work a job feeding pigs in order to feed himself. The scriptures tell us that the pigs he fed were eating better than he could afford to live. Broken and humbled by his experiences, the younger son determined to back home to his father’s house, not as a son, but as a servant; for he knew that his father’s servants were treated better than he was now being treated. So he set off for home.
When the younger son was still a great distance away from his home, his father saw him coming down the road and recognized him. Overjoyed, the father asked his servants to prepare a feast to celebrate his son’s return. When he reached his father, the younger son tried to say his rehearsed speech: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I a no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired servants”, but his father would hear none of it. Instead, although his son had squandered his share of the family inheritance and made a sinful mess of his life, his father welcomed him home and treated him royally, forgiving and forgetting all but the unconditional love he felt for his son. That love, friends, is representative of the unconditional love and forgiveness God has prepared for us, and for all believers. As the Apostle Paul reminded the Galatian Church in our lesson today, “Before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” We are all joint heirs with Jesus in the extended family of God. Like the sinful prodigal son in Jesus’ parable, we do not have to earn, in fact cannot earn, our place in God’s family; God’s grace toward us is a marvelous gift of God’s unending and unconditional love.
It is not often that our human relationships, even those within close and loving families, mirror the quintessential essence of the divine and forgiving unconditional love of God for us. Last week at our Annual Conference Session, Reverend Bill Liming requested a privilege of the floor to speak to the assembly of pastors and laity gathered for our Conference. Bill’s son Ethan was the young man that was beaten to death in fight that broke out at the “I Promise” High School in Akron just days before our Conference. Bill spoke to thank the folks gathered, his “family of God”, for their prayers and words of sympathy and support. He then honored Ethan’s memory by telling us, not about the horrific events surrounding Ethan’s death, but about the kind of young man Ethan had been. Ethan was a peacemaker, a lover of God saved by God’s grace through faith, and a young man who took seriously his mission to offer that same grace and love to others. Bill shared about how Ethan befriended a troubled young man walking down the wrong path, and folded him into the love of the Liming family. What was missing from Bill’s speech was any sense of anger, any harsh words of frustration about the nature of the tragic circumstances that surrounded Ethan’s death. Those details would not honor the legacy of the young man Ethan was in his life, and they would not be Ethan’s chosen focal point. And so, Bill simply shared about Ethan’s love of life and grace-filled approach to living God’s “kindom” as a family of “joint heirs with Jesus” right here on a basketball court in Akron, Ohio. Fathers are often teachers and role models for their sons, daughters, and families-Ethan proved himself a quick learner of Bill’s lessons on God’s love. Ethan’s life now stands as a model of living God’s love toward others as one family of God. What a fitting tribute was paid to a short life so well lived, and to the dedication of a loving father to his son’s legacy. What a powerful life lesson for us all to receive about truly being the family of God, even in times of great adversity and deep pain, on this blessed Father’s Day. Amen.
Let us now honor Father’s today with a prayer:
A Father’s Day Prayer
(By Rev. Chuck Currie)
We give our thanks, Creator God, for the fathers in our lives. Fatherhood does not come with a manual, and reality teaches us that some fathers excel while others fail. We ask for Your blessings for them all – and forgiveness where it is needed.
This Father’s Day we remember the many sacrifices fathers make for their children and families, and the ways – both big and small – they lift children to achieve dreams thought beyond reach.
So too, we remember all those who have helped fill the void when fathers pass early or are absent – grandfathers and uncles, brothers and cousins, teachers, pastors and coaches – and the women of our families.
For those who are fathers, we ask for wisdom and humility in the face of the task of parenting. Give them the strength to do well by their children and by You.
Heavenly God bless all earthly fathers today and every day. Their influence as teachers and role models should never be underestimated.
In Your Holy name, O God, we pray. Amen.