Rev. Frank Logue
Many great stories share a common plot device. You can find it in ancient literature, in the classics taught in school and in such modern epics as Star Wars.
Here is the basic storyline. The main character is more than people first realize. He or she has greater depth, more insight, strength of character and all around goodness than others realize.
During the course of the story you learn that they were adopted. Their parents were not their real parents. The real parents are well known people who loved them and for reasons beyond their control they could not care for them. By the end of the story, everyone realizes who the person is and recognizes the greatness hidden within them.
This is definitely the story of the modern hero Luke Skywalker who enters the story as a farm-boy who dreams of taking part in the greater battles going on in the Star Wars. He will come to realize that he is the princess twin brother, about the time he discovers he is the evil Lord Darth Vaders son.
This discovery of a secret identity is also the basic story in the ancient tale of Oedipus, which plays itself out with tragic consequences. You will find variations on the theme in fairytales like Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, particularly in their written forms. The King Arthur legend also has this central element of the boy Arthur not knowing that he is the heir to the throne of England until he is the only one who can seemingly miraculously pull the sword from the stone.
Why is this such an enduring story? Do we want to feel we were been adopted away from better parents? Or is it that we know that we might be something more than everyone else sees? I think that is the real essence of it. We want stories where the under appreciated person rises to impossible challenges to be the hero. Perhaps it is because at times we are all the under appreciated person who knows that we are more than everyone else can see and appreciate. Thats why we cheer for the under dog who was secretly the true leader all along.
There is a bit of hidden identity in the Gospels. Jesus story is perhaps not so different from this basic storyline. After all, Jesus was nearly put to death by the jealous King Herod at his birth and his family had to flee to Egypt to avoid the insecure monarchs wrath. Then, when they did return to Israel, Mary and Joseph raised Jesus as a carpenters son in the backwater town of Nazareth where few know his real identity as the Son of God. For the first thirty years of his life, Jesus was more than he seemed, growing to manhood in the care of his Mom and stepdad.
Think about the appeal of this story. Now, I dont mean to slight your real parents. But wouldnt it have been cool to find out that you are really the child of the king and queen of some distant kingdom. You are really the princess or prince waiting the right time for your return.
Thats the story found in the reading from Romans we have for today. The difference is that in Pauls letter to the Romans, you find out that it is all true. You are the hero of the story. Paul tells us, reminds us really, that the Holy Spirit bears witness with the spirit of each of us telling us that we are children of God. Not only are you a child of God, you are an heirthe one who will inherit the whole shebang. You are the heir to the kingdom of God, a joint heir with Jesus the Christ. It is the ultimate secret identity discovery and the amazing thing is its all true about you.
Paul says that you can call out to God saying, Abba, Father. The meaning of this really hit home for me when Victoria, Griffin, and I were on a hiking trip in Israel. I remember being startled by hearing a little boy call out to his Dad across a park. Abba, he said. His Dad did not seem to notice at first and then the boy called out louder, Abba! His Dad picked him up and held him.
The word Abba is now as it was when Paul wrote a loving term. To translate his phrase further into todays language, you can cry out to God saying Daddy, or Papa, or whatever you would say to a loving father. Thats how close you are to God.
Of course, the father imagery can get all mixed up. There are good reasons why the Bible refers to God as Father, but that use of language is not without its flaws. After all, if we call God a father, it works better if our own fathers were around when we grew up. But for many people they dont know their father, or their dad is distant. For others, they know their father all too well and he is physically or emotionally abusive. And then calling God a father may also seem to slight women. If God is a father, then where does that leave women.
I think it is helpful to sort a few of these issues out. First, God is not a father, rather God is like a father. Father is a metaphor to help us understand our relationship with God. We have to give God the benefit of the doubt and say no matter how good your father was, God is better. God is the perfect father. And no matter how bad your father was, that doesnt mean that speaking of God as a father is an all bad idea.
Paul shows us one good reason why the Bible takes the risk and describes God as father in spite of all the bad fathers that must have existed at the time. The role of fathers in ancient Israel helps us understand something about God, without limiting God. Paul says that we are heirs of the Kingdom of God. Like it or not, the Bible was written in a time when it was the sons who inherited from their fathers. So speaking of God as father helped get through the idea that we can inherit something from God. But the Bible also makes it clear that it is not men and boys alone who are inheritors of all God has to offer, women and girls can also fully inherit in Gods kingdom.
The other problem with speaking of God as father is that it seems to slight women. What about speaking of God as a mother? Well the Bible does use some descriptions like that, such as referring to Gods protection as being like a hen gathering her chicks under her wing. There are other feminine images of God in scripture as well. The important thing to understand, that we all know intuitively, is that God is neither male nor female.
While it was common in ancient cultures to attribute sexuality to the Gods, Judaism and Christianity both avoided all sexual references to God. God is creative, not reproductive. God is more than our distinctions. The feminist theologian Sallie McFague put it well in saying,
imagine God as both mother and father, but we realize how inadequate these and any other
metaphors are to express the creative love of God
Nevertheless, we speak of this love
in language that is familiar and dear to us, the language of mothers and fathers who give
us life, from whose bodies we come, and upon whose care we depend (From her book Models
What I suggest is to separate the metaphor of father and what it can teach us from any negative images we have. Saying God is father does not limit God to being male nor does it make God into any of the bad fathers you have known or heard about.
What speaking of God as father did in ancient Israel was to open the idea that God can have heirs, people who inherit the fullness of what is Gods. For the Jews, they saw themselves as inheritors of Gods grace through their common ancestor Abraham. Jesus enlarged that idea and said that all of us, all humans, are children of God.
Paul highlighted the marvelousness of being Gods child writing that we can cry out to God as our Abba, our Daddy. You see it is not so different from the classic epic story line from the tragedy of Oedipus to the heroic deeds of Luke Skywalker.
People go around not understanding the real value of who they are because they dont know that they are the beloved children of the creator of all that is. We could avoid the tremendous emotional and physical damage we humans do to each other, and to ourselves, if we could truly see ourselves as God sees us and then to see those around us as God sees them.
Your secret identity has been revealed. You are not some nobody from the back of beyond. You are really and truly a child of God set to receive an inheritance beyond your wildest dreams. You are princesses and princes, joint heirs to the kingdom. When you speak to the king, be sure to address him as Abba, Daddy.
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526