John 14v1-14 The Fifth Sunday of Easter 10 May 2020
Being in the garden during the current ‘lockdown’, I pondered the well known poem
The kiss of the sun for pardon
the song of the birds for mirth,
one is nearer to God’s heart in a garden,
than anywhere else on earth.
I have often regarded this verse as a ‘let out’ reason for not going to church! Now that our churches are required to be locked and we cannot enter our Church building, we are perhaps spending more time in the garden, listening to the birds singing, watching the grass growing, I have been thinking about this poem again, in particular where is God’s heart?
God’s heart radiates love. We read in John 3:16 ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’. In the marriage Service I always read the introductory verse from 1 John 4:16 ‘God is love, and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them’.
I pondered this in relation to today’s Gospel reading, a passage often read at Funeral Services, whose theme is that ‘Jesus is the Way to the Father’. Jesus said to him (Thomas) ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ (v6); and ‘Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me’. (v11). Indeed the name ‘Father’ is mentioned 13 times in these 14 verses.
When we affirm our belief in the Christian faith by saying the Nicene Creed at the Eucharist, we begin by saying ‘We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.’ In the Baptism Service the question is put ‘Do you believe and trust in God the Father’, to which we all respond ‘I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth’.
Which brings me back to thinking of our gardens and God’s creation. We think of the hills, the South Downs, the sea, sunrise, sunset, the stars, the seasons, the wildlife etc and we say with the Psalmist. “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth. You have set your glory above the heavens…..When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established…..” (Psalm 8:1-3). The Psalmist points us first to consider the glory of God’s creation. Perhaps we can picture the psalmist, probably David the shepherd, writing this Psalm as he tended his flocks of sheep near Bethlehem, and as he slept under the stars he looked at the grandeur of creation and recognised it as God’s handiwork.
Many people BELIEVE in a god who is a force and somehow is the source of creation, yet don’t see him as a person whom they can TRUST. They could not say “I believe and trust in him.” But God has a heart which radiates love. Christianity starts with God our Father who so loved that he gave his only Son, who died on the cross and rose again for us.….. That is our starting point. In him we believe and trust.
There are of course three senses in which the Bible talks of God as Father. The first is in the very general sense that God is the Father of all that he has created. God is Father of all in a creation sense but not a redemption sense. Jesus said ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’
The second is in the unique sense in which scripture talks of God as being the Father of Jesus. This is a relationship constantly referred to in scripture. In today’s reading Jesus said “If you know me, you will know my Father also …”.(v7); ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father’ (v9); ‘Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me’ (v11).
But the third sense in which God is our Father is that God is the Father of those who believe and trust in his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the Father of Christians, who accept Jesus as Saviour, who obey him as Lord, who in trust have responded to his love. As Christians we are adopted into the family of God and he becomes our Father, we are his children. Christians are sons and daughters of God.
In the culture of the day, adoption was very difficult. A father had absolute rights over his children for life, he could even sell them as slaves if he wanted to. But when the step of adoption was finally and legally completed, the adopted person lost all rights to their old family and gained all the privileges of the new family, the person became the child of the new father. St Paul explains that this is what God has done for us (eg Ephesians 1:5; Galatians 4:4-7). Once we were slaves to sin – Jesus said of the unbelieving Jews “you are from your father, the devil” (John 8:44-45). But now, as Christians, God has adopted us into his family, we are his children, he is our Father. When the early Christians realised this tremendous truth, they took those words of Jesus which he cried out at Gethsemane and made them their own “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6).
The Psalmist saw the might and majesty of God’s creation and asked the question ‘what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour.” (Psalm 8:4-5) The wonder is that midst all the greatness of his creation, God our Father is not only mindful of us, but he also knows us, and he cares for us, and his heart of love reaches out to us – eternally. That is why he truly is our heavenly Father. He created us and loves us so much that he sent his only Son Jesus to die for us. God truly is our loving heavenly Father.
Having said that, for some people today that is a hard truth to understand, and we need to be aware of it. For example, there are an increasing number of children, who have a father who either they do not know (perhaps a marriage has broken), or a father whom they do not respect (perhaps they have been abused by their father). And therefore there is no love between the father and them. Many people of my generation never knew our fathers – they were killed in the war. For people like this the idea of God being a loving heavenly Father can be a difficult one to grasp. This is because they may take the experience of their own earthly father and say “if God is my Father I am better off without him” or “is God really as remote as my father whom I never knew?” Not everybody has a picture of father, from their human experience, as one provoking the ideas of love, security, stability, warmth.
Our problem can be that we can project our view of a human father on to a spiritual scale, complete with all those aspects of our human father that we have loved or missed or wanted or resented. That may be a natural way of thinking, but it is a wrong analogy. Our heavenly Father simply does not have the imperfections that every human father has. And that is something which the early Christians realised and that is why they cried out “Abba! Father!”
God wants us to know that he is our Father, that he loves us, that he cares for us, that he saves us, that he has prepared a place in heaven for us, that he can help us at the point of our need and so on. But at the very centre of our relationship must be our trust of him and obedience to him, as it was between Jesus and his Father. Perhaps we can ponder this as we pray the prayer that Jesus taught us:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Some years ago the idea went round that God was dead. I assure you that God, who raised Jesus from the dead, is very much alive and has a heart of love.
Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!