This Sunday our Samoan Youth are taking the service at St Johns. It is also ‘Father’s Day’ which is an important celebration particularly in the Samoan Community, and we will be marking that with photos of fathers and words of appreciation.
We have often heard that God is like a father, in fact Jesus himself encourages this when he teaches us to pray, ‘Our Father in heaven . . .’.
However when we look closer at the biblical texts we discover that this notion is more nuanced than we first see. For example, Jesus tells that memorable story of the Father in the prodigal son, teaching us that God is like this father, not just any father.
When we read from the prophet Hosea we are given a very tender picture of God as a father: “When Israel was a child, I loved him and out of Egypt I called my son. . .” Take the opportunity to read Hosea Chapter 11:1-9 – it’s one of my favourite passages in the Bible, partly because it gives a very human picture of God, but also because it shows how God refuses to act in the heat of anger . . For I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst and will not come in wrath.”
In these passages we see what God looks for in every father, and that is further developed in our readings today. In the story of the Exodus Moses is shown as a leader who has come to be known as the father of his community, a man who has grown through his failures to become dogged in his determination to set his people free. We see his persistence, his courage and wisdom in the way he deals with Pharaoh. However, he is not just driven by a vision of justice for his people. On the contrary, he allows himself to be guided by God who turned his life around and steeled him for this task. In the account of the first Passover Meal, God gives a gift to his people that has formed their identity as year after year they remember and celebrate over good food and wine, what God has done and continues to do to lead us all to freedom. In a similar way God’s presence in Holy Communion sustains us in faith.
Our gospel tells the story of the Shepherd who searches for the sheep that has wandered off and got lost, and so gives us another image of God. In Exodus we learn that God has heard the cries of his people and sends Moses to attend to their need not with an arm around the shoulder but as a powerful advocate for justice. In the story of the lost sheep the shepherd goes to great lengths to search out and find the wanderer, which shows both compassion and resolute commitment to the safety of his flock. We are familiar with shepherds in the Bible, but it is a far cry from sheep farming today in Australia, dealing with hundreds, even thousands of sheep. Any Shepherd we encounter in the Bible would most likely know his sheep, and they know his smell and the sound of his voice. There is a closer and more intimate relationship between the sheep and the shepherd, but in the Bible not all shepherds were attentive to their sheep, as the book of Ezekiel makes clear (Read Ezekiel 34 to find out). So God is not just like any shepherd, God is like this shepherd, the Good Shepherd Jesus claims to be (John 10).
All these images of God have a lot to say about how we live and act in our world. We are called to live out the inclusive and generous hospitality God offers to all. In many ways at St John’s we embody that as a very multi-cultural community.
This gospel will always challenge those who misuse their power and authority, whether it be racism, sexism or any other ‘ism’, and hold before us what it means to be made in God’s image and be members of the Body of Christ, so that we grow into God’s likeness as a people of reconciliation.