Title: Our Father in Heaven _ The Lord’s Prayer Sermon Series, Week 3
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Good morning. May you experience the outpouring of God’s love as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed at this time.
From today, we’re going to explore the Lord’s Prayer line by line. Let me start with this question. What images of God come to your mind when you start the Lord’s Prayer by saying, “Our Father who art in heaven?” Would you just close your eyes and take along with me ten seconds to listen to your heart? (Pause) Well, I know a variety of images popped into your head. But, out of them, the basic image of God is Immanuel which means God with us as we see in today’s reading. When we say, “Our Father who art in heaven,” we can instantly remember that God was, and is, and will be with us forever. Based on this underlying image, we can recall some other images as well. The Bible provides various images of God. Let’s think about some of them.
The first image of God is obviously a father, especially a father who waits for his prodigal sons all the time as described in Luke 15:11-32. We can return to God and rest in God anytime because God waits for us first. In his book The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen says, “For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life – pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures – and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair. Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by [God]?” The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.” Yes. Because God comes to us first, we can meet God. Because God listens to us first, we can speak to God. The expression “Our Father who art in heaven” reminds us of God who is always ready to interact with us.
Why don’t you recall your physical father? Sometimes we realize later on that our father has loved us because a father, especially a Korean father usually does not express love directly and frequently as a mother does. Perhaps the prodigal son would not have been aware that his father had loved him when he left home. It is after he came back home that he realized that his father had always waited for him and loved him. We experience the same thing in God’s love. God always loves and waits for us. But we do not often feel that love. And all of a sudden, at some point, we realize that God has awaited us and loved us. Here is a story from Erma Bombeck’s book Family – The Ties that Bind … and Gag. “One morning my father didn’t get up and go to work. He went to the hospital and died the next day. I hadn’t thought that much about him before. He was just someone who left and came home and seemed glad to see everyone at night. He opened the jar of pickles when no one else could. He was the only one in the house who wasn’t afraid to go into the basement by himself. He cut himself shaving, but no one kissed it or got excited about it. It was understood when it rained, he got the car and brought it around to the door. When anyone was sick, he went out to get the prescription filled. He took lots of pictures … but he was never in them. Whenever I played house, the mother doll had a lot to do. I never knew what to do with the daddy doll, so I had him say, “I’m going off to work now,” and threw him under the bed. The funeral was in our living room and a lot of people came and brought all kinds of good food and cakes. We had never had so much company before. I went to my room and felt under the bed for the daddy doll. When I found him, I dusted him off and put him on my bed. He never did anything. I didn’t know his leaving would hurt so much.” Even if you cannot sense the love of God from time to time, God is still working for you and looking at you with a big gentle smile. So, when we say, “Our Father who art in heaven,” we can recall the image of a father who always waits with the outstretched arms into which we can run back anytime.
The second image of God is a mother. The Bible shows maternal images of God in several places. For example, in Isaiah 66:13, God says, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.” In Luke 13:34, Jesus also says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, […], how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” We believe that God is full of compassion. But, did you know that “[t]he Hebrew word for compassion is taken from the root word rechem, which means womb?” The compassionate God etymologically has a maternal image. A mother is pregnant for ten months experiencing morning sickness which is often severe. She goes through labor. She in some cases has to have a C-Section. And a maternal bond develops. A mother even takes any risk when her child is in danger. So, we acknowledge that a mother’s love is the most powerful force on earth. “[A] young mother was making her way across the hills of South Wales, carrying her tiny baby in her arms, when she was overtaken by a blinding blizzard. She never reached her destination and when the blizzard had subsided her body was found by searchers beneath a mound of snow. But they discovered that before her death, she had taken off all her outer clothing and wrapped it about her baby. When they unwrapped the child, to their great surprise and joy, they found he was alive and well. She had mounded her body over his and given her life for her child, proving the depths of her mother love.” Yes. God is compassionate and merciful. God’s love is a sacrificial one. So, when we say, “Our Father who art in heaven,” we can also recall the image of a mother who always protects and comforts us with empathy and sympathy.
The third image of God is a sweetheart. The Song of Songs is known as poetry which describes God’s love for us by using erotic imagery. Let me read Song of Songs 2:10: “My beloved spoke and said to me, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.” This image reminds us that God not only loves us but also wants us to love God. God as a lover feels attracted to us, delights in us and wants to please us. No one is excluded from this God’s love because God loves each one of us on earth as we are. God knows our likes and dislikes. But also, God wants us to know God’s likes and dislikes. Here is a joke. “While attending a marriage seminar on communication, Tom and his wife, Grace, listened to the instructor: “It is essential that husbands and wives know each other’s likes and dislikes.” He addressed the men: “Can you name your wife’s favorite flower?” Tom leaned over, touched Grace’s arm gently, and whispered, “It’s Pillsbury, isn’t it?”” Uh-oh. Well, I know my wife’s favorite flower. It’s yellow Freesia. Anyway, God always asks us on a date. As we see in John 15:5, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” So, when we say, “Our Father who art in heaven,” we can also recall the image of a lover who wants to have an intimate relationship with us at all times.
The fourth image of God is a friend. Jesus says in John 15:15, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” What is a friend? When we feel blue, our friends just listen to us and encourage us. Sometimes it is easy for us to tell the secrets to our friends rather than to our parents. Although the world incites us to compete against others, friends are the ones who walk alongside with us. We often do wonderful things with our friends. Here is a beautiful story. Last year, a beautiful scene was witnessed on field day at an elementary school in Busan, South Korea. Five sixth-grade students started to sprint with the starting signal. But suddenly, a student fell down while turning around the corner. Then the student who pulled ahead of the others stopped running and returned to the student who had fallen to see if he was OK. If he kept running, he would have won the race. But he did not because a friend was more important to him. The other students also walked side by side together to the finish line. More surprisingly, the student who could have won pushed the back of the friend who fell to make him pass the finish line first. All who are gathered gave a big round of applause to those five students. And, eventually, the school gave them all a gold medal. Likewise, God always walks side by side with us and encourages us. So, when we say, “Our Father who art in heaven,” we can recall the image of a friend who walks hand in hand with us.
Lastly, the word which holds these images together is “Our.” And this echoes throughout the prayer: give us, forgive us, lead us, and deliver us, which reminds us that God is our God, not just my God. We don’t say, “My Father who art in heaven,” but “Our Father who art in heaven.” So, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are invited to be aware that God loves others as much as God loves me. God is our father who always awaits us, and our mother who comforts us with compassion, and our lover who wants to have a close relationship with us, and our friend who walks along beside us all the time. Amen.
 . Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (New York, NY: Image Books, 1992), 105-6.
 . Erma Bombeck, Family – The Ties that Bind … and Gag! (New York, NY: Fawcett Books, 1988), 2-3.