Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 11:1-13
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
24 July 2022
As Christians, we often refer to ourselves as a family of faith. And we use terms that we ordinarily reserve for family members. We call one sisters and brothers. We are children of God, and the head of our family is our heavenly Father. These days, you may also hear God referred to as mother. We use these family terms to express the personal, intimate nature of the relationship we enjoy with God and with one another. We Christians do not think of God as some distant, aloof deity but as a loving and caring God.
In today’s Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus, surrounded by his disciples, reflects on what it means to call God “Our Father.” He presents two brief parables, both using the example of a father-child relationship. We read: “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Jesus employs the element of absurdity to convey his message. What father in his right mind would give a deadly snake to a child who asks for fish, or a scorpion instead of an egg? The parables point out that it is in the nature of fatherhood to provide for the needs of his children – in this case, food and nourishment.
Jesus uses the analogy of a caring human father to explain how we, too, can turn to God with our needs and wishes. God will listen and answer our prayers and supplications. Just as a father loves and provides for his child, God, our heavenly Father, loves and provides for us.
While this message may seem straightforward to us, Jesus’ original audience – his disciples – would have been surprised by this kind of portrait of fatherhood. A father’s love for a child is universal, but as in other ancient societies, first-century Jews viewed the father as primarily an authority figure, the head of the household, someone with absolute power over his family. The father was the one who gave orders and imposed discipline, and the role of the rest of the family – the wife and the children – was to obey without question. In contrast to this stern traditional image of fatherhood, Jesus emphasizes the loving and caring side, and uses it to explain the nature of God’s relationship to us.
Today, most of us no longer subscribe to a harsh, authoritarian view of fatherhood as we have in the past. I am going to date myself here, but my generation is the product of TV shows like “Leave It to Beaver” – reruns, of course – or “The Brady Bunch,” in which the father is warm and loving, wise and understanding, even all knowing - remember the show "Father Knows Best"? But we know that the fathers in these shows are idealizations created by Hollywood. They are fictional characters. How many Ward Cleaver’s and Mike Brady’s do you actually know? Sadly, these days, we even hear tragic stories of parents who abuse their children. Some of you may remember the disturbing news story from a few years ago of the parents in California who kept their thirteen children chained and padlocked to a bed, depriving them of food and other necessities. In spite of the idealization of parenthood and family life in our society, reality does not always match the expectations.
When Jesus draws the analogy between a human father and our heavenly Father in his parables, he recognizes the limits and problems in the comparison. Thus, he explains that while God is like a human father, God goes beyond a human father. We read: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Jesus reveals that God our heavenly Father is far more loving and generous than a human father can ever be. And the reason for that is God gives us a gift that far surpasses any human gift – the gift of the Holy Spirit.
What is this gift of the Holy Spirit? Scripture teaches us that the Holy Spirit is nothing less than God’s own presence dwelling in us. Thus, as our heavenly Father, God gives us, his children, his own spirit to fill our hearts and minds. Because the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we are never alone. God is always with us, whether we are aware of this reality or not. In describing this divine presence in our lives, the Apostle Paul declares that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19). Just as God dwelt in the Holy of Holies in the temple that King Solomon built, God now resides in us, blessing and sanctifying our lives. In the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Comforter (John 16:7). When we experience times of trial or need, the Holy Spirit is there, helping us and giving us comfort and strength. Because of the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit, we never have to face the challenges and problems in our lives alone. God is with us always. And when we are so overwhelmed that we cannot even find the words to pray, we are told that the Holy Spirit prays for us with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26-27). God understands our needs even without our asking.
One of the most difficult aspects of the parent-child relationship is experiencing the various moments and stages of separation. Looking back on my own life, I think of how difficult it was to leave my parents to go off to summer camp for the first time or to go off to college far away. Part of the painful process of growing up is to realize that we can’t live with our parents forever. And later in our lives, we have to confront the reality of aging and death that will separate our parents from us.
In our heavenly Father, we have no such worries of separation. God's presence in our lives is eternal. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God dwells in us now. And in the life to come, we will reunite with our beloved family and friends who have gone before us, we will join our brothers and sisters in the faith, and we will live forever in our heavenly Father’s kingdom. Amen.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!