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June 16, 2013 - Matthew 6.5-13

“Abba”

Matthew 6:5-13

June 16, 2013

 

"And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?  6 "Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. 7 "The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. 8 Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. 9 With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:

Our Father in heaven,

Reveal who you are.

10 Set the world right; Do what’s best-as above, so below.

11 Keep us alive with three square meals.

12 Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.

13 Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.

You’re in charge! You can do anything you want! You’re ablaze in beauty!  Yes. Yes. Yes.

  • The Message (p.1754-1755)

 

You can tell a lot about people by listening to them pray.  Some get all “King Jamesy”, while others get all grand and flowery.  For instance, if you hear something like “Deareth God, in whose dominions and realms our lives areth liveth amongst the machinery of your creative inventivity, your humble servants we all, declareth to the far flung fringes of the cosmoseth, we humbly beseecheth thee, bless this our sandwich, and chips, and pickle, and may all the Saints in spiritual congress assent to give blessing to our Diet Coke, in namea patri, et filli, et spiritus sancti, e pluribus unum, haebeas corpus, Amen.”  You know several things about the person praying.  They needed to impress someone.  Who were they trying to impress?

Jesus tells us how to pray, and his teaching is very different from a prayer made with flowery words or showy syntax.  It is simple and rooted in the nature of God’s desired relationship with us.

 

This text is at the very center of the Sermon on the Mount.  Structurally and theologically, this prayer is center stage.

 

Now there are many sermons that can be brought from this text.  Jesus says for us to “Go into your closet…” when we pray and not to be showy about it.  This has profound impact on our culture and the way we Christians live our lives in public.  I think about this often during football season when a player scores and he gets on one knee and lifts his finger to heaven, as if to say, “Me and God worked on that play all day.”  I say “just let the touchdown go, man.”  Ostentatious praying aimed at applause from a human audience is only heard by that audience.  Besides no player in his right mind would blame God for making him fumble on the one yard line, so why would they think God was invested in his touchdown?  The point is this: prayer is serious and should be INTIMATE.

 

Jesus is clear – when we pray, we are praying to an audience of One.  Even when we are praying in church, it is your prayer God is hearing, so make it personal and real.  God wants to hear from you.  And all that stuff that you have trouble putting into words that perhaps only makes it out of you in sighs and tears and groans – that the stuff that God wants to hear.

 

You may have noticed the title of the sermon.  It might seem odd.  The sermon title does not refer to the Swedish super group.  (That group being made up of  Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, not that I am a huge fan or anything.)  Abba is Aramaic for Da-da.  This is not the formal “Father” in Hebrew, as was used in the official synagogue liturgy.  Nor is it the Greek “pater” (pater))).  It is literally an infant’s word, or a baby’s babble – Da-da, Pa-pa, or Ma-ma.  Jesus says that THIS “Abba” is the word we are to use when addressing God, not some formal, multi-syllabic conflagration designed to impress those listening in.

 

The use of this form of Abba is significant because it connotes an intimate relationship between Jesus and God.  Because Jesus is teaching us to pray this way, he is confirming on us that same relationship to God.  We are God’s beloved children who have the distinct privilege to call him “Papa” or “Dada”.  We don’t realize how wonderful that is and we aren’t aware of how much God loves it when we call God by name.

 

When my oldest son Ben was really little, I mean learning to walk little, he and I were home by ourselves.  I was on the couch and he was wobbling along the house.  He found our bed in the bedroom which I could see from where I was sitting.  He was rolling and bouncing and having a grand time.  Then he rolled over, looked me in the eye, stretched out his arms toward me and said “Dada!”  Now he had been talking a little bit at this point, and had said “Dada” before, but this was the first time he had done it with full recognition of who I was.  It was the first time he had used that name while reaching out to me with intention of communicating with me.  Ben named me “Dada” that day.

My heart leapt that day because it was an important connection that we made.  For the first time in his life, Ben had named me as his “Dada.”  He had claimed that relationship for himself.  That has happened with each of my sons at some point and each time my heart is full as a result.

I believe it is the same with God.  Nothing fills God’s heart more than when one of God’s children looks up to God for the first time and says “Abba,” or “Dada.”  There is nothing that God desires more than for us to call him by name.  God’s greatest joy comes from God’s relationship to God’s children.  The thrill of God’s heart is when His child looks to him, reaches out and says “Abba.”

 

Please understand this.  God made it simple in order to make it available to all.  God’s love – God’s obsession – is showing us how much God loves us.  You and I really have no idea how much God loves us.  “Do you believe that the God of Jesus loves you beyond worthiness and unworthiness, beyond fidelity and infidelity, that he loves you in the morning sun and the evening rain, he loves you when your intellect denies it, when your emotions refuse it and when your whole being rejects it?  Do you believe that God loves you without condition or reservation, and loves you this moment as you are and not as you should be?[1]  I hope you do, but if that is a new concept for you, please believe me.  Let that soak in.

 

No one accepts you like God.  In spite of all our failures and flaws, Jesus loves us and God forgives us.  When I was 16, I did something really stupid and ended up in jail.  On November 16, 1983, a Wednesday, I had to call my father at work from jail and ask him to come pick me up because I had been arrested.  I promise you that conversation did not begin with me saying “Most gracious earthly father…” it began with “Daddy?”  Our best prayers begin that way - with a complete lack of pretense.

My father knew I was a broken kid and scared to death.  He knew any lecture he might give at that moment was not needed.  He knew that what I needed at that moment was to be taken care of and to be reassured that everything was going to be OK, if I just followed his lead.  I did and it was.  Everything was OK.  That moment was pivotal for me in my life’s ultimate direction, and my father’s (and mother’s) love was key.  We of course had a long talk about this failure of mine, and for the next year, my father guided me back along the path I needed to be walking.  And to my father’s everlasting credit, he has never brought it up again.  But as much as my father loves me, my Heavenly Father loves me infinitely more.

 

God is your Abba, your Dada.  Nobody loves you like God.  God will never leave you nor forsake you.  Even when you “know” that God isn’t there, God really is.  Even when you are convinced that God is not present, God is.  Even when you are persuaded by your situation that God could not possibly love you and probably doesn’t exist, God is right there with you, present and accounted for; it’s just that your situation is bigger than you are by yourself.  God is right there with you, especially when you don’t know it.

 

I have to say this next part.  I didn’t write this sermon with Father’s Day in mind.  This came out of the scripture – not the Hallmark holiday that just happens to fall on today.  It’s true that it doesn’t hurt.  But I never want any of us to confuse Father’s Day as a religious holiday – and here is why.  The most important thing today is that today is The Lord’s Day.  Father’s Day is a cultural celebration of our Fathers.  That’s OK.  But today is the Lord’s Day and our Father in heaven deserves more love and attention than our earthly Fathers.

Don’t get me wrong – if you have a father still with you and he has been a good father – then celebrate him and thank him and let him fall asleep in the recliner today while watching golf on television.  But it also needs to be said that our earthly fathers – including myself as a father – fall far short of our heavenly father.  Some fathers are completely unworthy of being called father.  Some earthly fathers are abusive and cruel and make it hard for some people to call God “Father” because of how terrible they were to their children.  God is not like those men.  God is the perfect Father and loves you perfectly.  If your father on this earth was not all he should have been – know this: God is all the father you could wish for.  He will always be there for you and will always welcome you home.

 

I have a friend.  We were on the soccer team together in High School.  He was born with a congenital birth defect that gave him very short arms and just six fingers.  I remember being astounded the first time I saw him tie his soccer cleats – with his teeth.

He tells the story of how when he was very little his mother used to bathe him and dress him every day.  But before he started school in the first grade, he had to learn to dress himself.  So one day instead of dressing him, his mother laid out his clothes on his bed and told him “You have to learn to get yourself dressed.”

“I can’t dress myself, Mama,” He said.

“You have to learn, so, put on your clothes and come out when you are done,” his mother said, and closed the door.

Well, the little man pitched a fit.  He screamed and he cried and he screamed and he cried.  “You don’t love me anymore!  I hate you!  Mama, help me!  Mama, don’t leave me!”  Finally, he got tired of yelling and slowly put his clothes on as best as he could.  About an hour later he came out of his room.

It wasn’t until years later that he learned that the whole time; his mother was in the next room crying.

Now if you think that his mother was being hard on him, that’s OK because it is exactly what he needed.  He is now one of the men I admire most.  He does whatever he wants to, he teaches middle school, goes to my home church with his wife and son, and his favorite pastime is golf.

I think there are many times in our lives when we feel God has left us to our own devices.  We struggle and it is a hard thing.  We yell at God “Where are you!  I need you!”  But sometimes our struggle is what we need the most.  Of course, the whole time our Heavenly Father is not far away.  He is right there with us, knowing that some things we have to come through, but he will never abandon us.

 

Jesus instructs us to pray to our Abba.  Jesus is telling us we are never closer to God than when we find our place in his arms, like the infant child we are, reaching up for him calling him by name – “Abba.”  If you want to grow closer to God, don’t try so much to learn bigger words or read deeper theology – those things are good, but not the key.  The key to knowing God and becoming closer to God is to become more settled into that relationship of child and parent.  Truthfully, you will never say anything so eloquent in all of your life than when you reach for your God and call God by name – “Abba.”

 

[1] Brennan Manning