Needy People Need a Father in Heaven
Despite nobody wanting to be called a "needy person", the focus this time of year in the secular world is on needy people. We're all needy people according to the Lord's Prayer and our Large Catechism. Luther believed that the Lord's Prayer "'contains all our tribulations'" (Peters, Lord's Prayer, 9). We confess in the Large Catechism "In seven successive articlesall the needs are comprehended that continually beset us, each one so great that it should impel us to keep praying about it all our lives" (III, 34). Ten years before this Luther in a sermon referenced the church father, Cyprian's, 252 A.D. Treatise on the Lord's Prayer saying that the petitions are "'seven announcements of our misery and indigence through which a person led to self-recognition may see what a treacherous and miserable life he leads here on earth'" (Peter's, 9).
But we're not needy in the way the world thinks this time of year, or in the way of the cutting remark, "You're so needy." No, the Lord's Prayer exposes our neediness in the way the Church season of Advent addresses. The Lord's Prayer wants to open our eyes not primarily to our human needs, but to the necessity of God with us (Peters, 10, LC, III, 68).
And neither is our need what TV preachers, emergent churches, or contemporary worship have you believe it is. Jesus doesn't teach us to pray at all like them. "In the Lord's Prayer there is not a single petition that asks God to make me a sanctified, devote, and stoutly believing man, not a single petition that asks Him to help me make progress in sanctification'" (Thielicke, Our Heavenly Father, 48). Nor are we pattering on in the Lord's Prayer. Patter's' first definition is "to recite prayersrapidly or mechanically" (merriam-webster.com). Patter' comes from the Latin name for the Lord's Prayer paternoster. It refers to the priest speeding through the mass, so it was only heard as garbled Latin (Browser's Dict., 294). But we're not pattering when we pray the paternoster. According to 4th century Theodotus we're praying as earnestly as men do who sail in old ships (ANF, X, 44).
In the Introduction Jesus invites, urges, entices you to believe that in your great need you have a Father in heaven. That because according to our Large Catechism, our fallen human heart is "so desperately wicked that it always flees from God thinking that He neither wants nor cares for our prayers because we are sinners and have merited nothing but wrath" (LC, III, 10). Yet Jesus says, "You can call God Father." Luther calls father', "a friendly, sweet, intimate, and warm-hearted word" (LW, 42, 22).
More than that it is an amazing word to use of God Almighty. In ancient Judaism, such an intimate term was never used in personal address to God (Kiehl, Passion, 71). Another writer observes the same. Father, let alone "dear Father", "daddy", or "Abba" was not used in Jewish prayers at the time of Jesus. How dare one address the Holy One "with that childish word, with the address of a little child to his dear father" (Peters, 19)?
Dare you? Not so fast. Jesus doesn't just invite us to call God Father' but He reminds us that He is heaven. Now that cuts both ways. God is not mired in the dirt, the dank, the darkness that is this fallen world. He sees everything more clearly than we do. He doesn't just have a static Google Earth view of things; He has real time satellite view of everything. That is a comfort. He knows when, how, where our lives will intersect with Death, Devil, Disease. However, by praying "our Father who art in heaven" Luther says we are also admitting to being wretched and all alone like a child living far from his father (LW, 42, 23).
There is no way we can bridge this gap. As we pray in the Christmas hymn, "Come from on high to me. I cannot rise to Thee." No man, says Jesus in John 3: 13, can ascend into heaven except Himself who came down from heaven by being placed in a virgin's womb. Luther said that it was only "in His skin and on His back" that we too could ascend (Ibid.). After dying in our place, after being risen by the Father as proof that neither the Law nor our sins stand between us and God, Jesus calls us "brothers." Brothers have the same Father. They eat at the same Table. They take baths in the same Water. They hear the same Father's Voice.
This is to be a great comfort, a great answer, to the needs that surround you on earth. Augustine says, "You then who have found a Father in heaven, be loth to cleave to the things on earth" (Sermon on the New Testament, IX.2). Why would you? What fulfillment, what hope, what answer, what comfort can you find in this land that you are only passing through, in this country where you are but a stranger? When the Psalmist's soul is cast down within him, God's answer isn't "hope thou in men", "in doctors", "in government", or "in tomorrow", but "hope thou in God." And Jesus further refines that saying, "Hope thou in God your heavenly Father."
I've noticed that whenever despair, hopelessness, doubt or another worrying sin sets in, at the root of it is my being God, wishing I was God, or thinking I can be God. Have you ever given a child too much responsibility for his age? You don't do it to be mean. You may do it in a time of special need or you may do it to show him he can't be the dad. If the child thinks he knows the way home, let him tell you which way to turn till he is lost. If he thinks he is can drive, put him in driver's seat; let him see that he can't see over the steering wheel or reach the pedals.
So, when we're getting too big for our britches, our heavenly Father shows us that we can't be omnipotent, omnipresence, or omniscient by giving us the wheel. I end up hopeless because what I was hoping to steer towards I don't, can't. I think I should take the wheel when I can't see the point of suffering, sickness, or sadness, but when I do I can't reach the pedals, and so get nowhere. When we try to be God, may God in His mercy show us we are like a circuit that overloads; we're in a sci-fi movie where the puny human mind is blown by the consciousness of the alien.
We can be like God in goodness, justness, holiness, and love, but we can't be like God at all in omnipotence, omnipresent, omniscience, or eternalness. And praying this prayer, we admit we're not. We're not the Dad ever. Even earthly fathers, are never the heavenly Father. This isn't tag-team wrestling. The heavenly Father never taps out, and says, "You take it from here." When we don't know which way to turn, can't see above the steering wheel of life, or reach the pedals in a situation, we are being driven in our great need to the heavenly Father who can and does.
You don't just get to turn the wheel over to your heavenly Father, but to your Daddy. That's a vernacular translation of the Aramaic "Abba" that the Holy Spirit causes you to cry out constantly. The Holy Spirit which you received at Baptism; the Holy Spirit which is breathed into you in Absolution; the Holy Spirit which you eat and drink in the Body and Blood of Christ never ceases to cry "Daddy, Daddy."
And your "Daddy" unlike the one in Wayne Newton's song, never walks too fast. Your Daddy is more like the one Bobby Goldsboro sang of. His greatest delight is in watching His sons, and daughters, grow. Think that's too much? I don't think it's enough. I think in Christ, in His holiness, in His perfection, in His brotherliness, you're God's favorite.
An elementary teacher known for having great relationships with all her kids was asked her secret. She said that early in the school year she found an opportunity to whisper in the ear of each of her students, "You know, you're my favorite." Think, "Now that's gotta be too much?" A 1929 Lutheran commentary on the Small Catechism says, "'The one praying may say not only: My prayer is acceptable to God, but further: I am acceptable to God'" (Peters, 19, fn. 107).
It's only in believing this truth that "He is our true Father and that we are His true children," that we may the permission word may with all boldness and confidence ask God as dear children ask their dear father. By tenderly inviting us, by urging us to pray to "our heavenly Father", Jesus is inviting us, urging us to think of a divine relationship in terms of a human relationship. But don't go wrong here. I have noticed that many of the TV shows and movies I watch are essentially about what we colloquially call "Daddy Issues." It could be my choices; it could be I notice such things more. Shows like "Alias", "Superman", "Grey's Anatomy", "Homeland" and more have "Daddy Issues" at the center.
Christ Jesus, your brother, has resolved, removed, redeemed any Daddy Issues you and I have with our heavenly Father. They don't exist. They can't exist in Christ. So, your TV references are to be "The Courtship of Eddies Father", "My Three Sons", and "The Walton's." These, of course, aren't perfect fathers either, but they are loving fathers, they are dear fathers, they are true fathers whom their children approach "with all boldness and confidence."
Clothed in the righteousness of Christ, having your robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb, when the Father looks at you He sees Jesus, so there is nothing so big or so small that you cannot ask. It's the Devil or your own sinful nature that whispers, "You can't ask that." O yes you can. Be like blind Bartimaeus. The more they tell you to shut-up the more you speak-up, shout-out, pray-forth your great need.
What's to keep you from being spoiled by your Daddy? I mean if you can ask for anything and everything, what's to stop you for asking what would be harmful? Well, we can only call on God as Father in Jesus' name. So, we never ask or want anything that would take us away from or set us against Jesus' name. And second, Jesus didn't teach us to pray "My Father" but "Our Father." When we get to the last 4 petitions, we are praying for our daily bread, our daily forgiveness, our not being led into temptation, our being delivered from evil. In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus lifts our eyes off self to the wide world around us. "It's me, it's me, it's me O Lord" standing in the need of prayer, but it's for us, for us, for us O Lord that we pray.
Yes, tis the season of needy people. Here's wishing, here's praying that you and I be one of the neediest. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Vespers I (20171129); Lord's Prayer, Introduction