The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity| October 1, 2017| Ephesians 3:14-15
“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.”
If Jesus Christ is Lord, how is it that he has a Father? “Jesus is Lord” means Jesus is God. How can God, who is eternal, have a Father? This is a wonderful mystery that we Christians confess. We confess it in the Nicene Creed,
[I believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
We confess that God is Triune: one God, one divine substance, yet three distinct persons, each person being fully God. God is not inferior to anyone. None of the three persons of the Godhead are inferior to any other person of the Godhead. The Son is begotten of the Father. He is begotten of the Father in eternity. In time the Father sends him into this world. He who received his divine nature from the Father in eternity received his human nature from the Virgin Mary in time. Since Mary is Jesus’ mother, she is called and most certainly is the mother of God.
When God invites us into this mystery of who he is of himself he brings us out of the folly of human reasoning into the light of eternal truth. Since the eternal Son of the eternal Father has become our dear brother, offering up to his Father his obedience in place of our sin and sacrificing himself on the cross as the payment to God to satisfy the demands of divine justice, we know God as our dear Father. For Christ’s sake, he is our Father.
He is not our mother. The church is our mother. She receives her identify from him who gave up his life for her and has washed her clean in Holy Baptism. She has received the treasures of God’s grace. It is to the church that we go for baptism, to be born from above. It is to the church that we go for the preaching of the gospel, to sustain us in our Christian faith. It is to the church that we go to find our Savior Jesus, and his body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of all our sins. Christ gave his gospel and sacraments to the church. This makes her our mother. Just as the Virgin Mary was the God-bearer who carried God in the flesh within her body, so the church is the God-bearer, who has the pure gospel and sacraments of Christ that give us the right to call God, Father.
God is our Father. The church is our mother. Fathers and mothers are not the same. Families are headed up by fathers. St. Paul writes,
I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.
Paul is making a play on words here to drive home an important truth. He writes in Greek. The words for father and family are very similar. The apostle is making the point that the Fatherhood of God is the basis for the fatherhood of human fathers. Just as our heavenly Father rules over this world for the benefit of his children, just so the human father rules over his family for their benefit.
The rule of the father is called patriarchy. The Bible teaches patriarchy as a positive good. Today in America patriarchy is condemned as a social evil. It is considered sexist. The word of God teaches us that the father is to govern his own family. The family is the foundation of any civilized culture. It is indispensable. It is not just social convention. God established the family with the father as the head in creation at the beginning of time. Just as God is Father from eternity – for there never was a time when God the Father was not the Father of his only begotten Son – just so God established human fatherhood as his way of ruling over his children here on earth.
God also established the church and the ministry of the church. He calls pastors to preach and teach God’s word publicly and to administer the sacraments of Christ. They do this as servants of Christ and servants of Christ’s church. God rules over us by his word.
God also established the civil authorities to keep order in this world. The Bible doesn’t say what kind of a government we must have or how it must be chosen, but God’s word does teach us that the government is established by God and those who serve in it are servants of God.
But of all the arrangements God has established for us to help us live the lives he has called us to live here on earth, none is more sacred and none is more important than the family. The family is what God says it is. When he formed Adam out of the dust of the ground and made Eve from one of Adam’s ribs and blessed them, telling them to be fruitful, he established the family.
God made the father the head of the family. In the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses for Israel, God said that he was a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children. The sins of the father become the sins of the children because the children imitate the head of the family. The father teaches his children by what he does. When God gave the Commandments a second time in Deuteronomy, he said to the fathers, “You shall teach them diligently to your children.” In Luther’s Small Catechism, each of the six chief parts is introduced with the words, “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.” The father doesn’t make himself the head of the home. Neither does his wife. Neither do the children. God does.
The family has been declining in recent years. People no longer believe what God teaches about fatherhood. They no longer join the fatherhood of our earthly fathers to the Fatherhood of God. They treat the family as a human arrangement, claiming that there is no right or wrong way to arrange things. Once the father is dispensable, he will be dispensed with. That is what has happened.
Patriarchy has been under attack in our country for a long time. It is attacked by people devoted to an antichristian social and political philosophy that views God’s institution of fatherhood as sexist, exploitative, abusive, and harmful to women and children. There is no denying that there are abusive fathers. This is no more an argument against patriarchy than the fact that there are abusive pastors is an argument against the ministry of the word or the fact that there are corrupt politicians is an argument for anarchy. There have always been fathers who have abused their authority and refused to do what God commands. They leave their wives and children suffering under abuse and neglect. But the abuse of a good thing doesn’t make it a bad thing. The abuse is what is bad.
Patriarchy is good. God is our Father and that is what makes us his children. As his children, everything in his household is ours. The Father, through the Spirit, strengthens us. He puts Christ in our hearts. Having Christ we understand love that is beyond understanding, for who can plumb the depth or reach the height or measure the width and length of God’s love? Genuine Christian patriarchy derives from the love of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Having Christ we are filled with the fullness of God.
Fathers are God’s representatives to their families, and to the world. God gives to fathers the sacred task of teaching his holy word to his children. God gives this to mothers also. People tend to think that since the mother usually attends more closely to the needs of children when they are very young than does the father, this must also mean that it is the mother who should provide the religious instruction for the children. Of course, she should! They are her children. It is her duty to teach God’s word to them. A Christian mother who loves her children will surely tell them about the love of Jesus.
But the father is the head of the home. This gives to him the duty to teach God’s word to his children from the time they are born and for the rest of his life. I became a father on September 25, 1976 and I will remain a father until I die and until then God will not take away from me my duty as my children’s father to teach them God’s word.
What do we fathers do when we fail as fathers? What do we do when our children grow up and don’t go to church, don’t confess the faith, and give no indication that they are still Christians? Well-meaning friends might assure us that we did all we could do and children must live their own lives and we shouldn’t blame ourselves for what happened long ago. Well-meaning friends have all kinds of bad advice to give.
Listen to Christ instead. He is the only begotten Son of the Father. He knows and loves the Father from eternity. He reveals the Father’s love most perfectly. He says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Fathers, repent. Repent of your sins. Repent of your failures to be the father God called you to be. Admit your sin to God. Believe that God forgives you for Jesus’ sake. Repentance has two parts: sorrow over our sins and faith that God forgives us all our sins because Jesus took them all away on the cross.
You can never succeed as a father until you lay your failures on Christ and watch him bear them away to the cross, suffer, and die for them. When you are forgiven, you can do what God calls you to do. Every day is a new life to live. With forgiveness of sins comes life.
The widow from Nain who had lost both her husband and her son is a particularly pathetic spectacle. The combined power and compassion of Christ in raising her son from the dead provides us with more than an emotional lift. It is proof – irrefutable proof from God’s only begotten Son – that he has power over death. If he has power over death he has power over sin. He who takes away our sin and takes away our death and fills us with the love of God does not leave us to wallow in our failures. He lifts us up out of them and establishes us in the vocation to which we are called.
The Fatherhood of God is not some dreary, outdated, moralistic, masonic notion that we can sweep into the dustbin of the past. It is the eternal truth that gives true meaning and value to what Christian fathers are called to do. We are called to teach our children the word of God, to love them as children of God, to love their mothers in imitation of Christ’s love for his bride, and to pray for them. The love of our heavenly Father is too high for us to attain by anything we do. But what we can do is teach this love to our children and pray that God will keep them in or recall them to the faith instilled in their hearts when they were baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.