Sunday Worship at St. Paul Lutheran Church

Message: “Great Resemblance; Great Inheritance”  Romans 8:14-17

Trinity Sunday (First Sunday after Pentecost)

June 15, 2003

   Father’s Day is a good day; traditionally a day set aside to remember, to honor, to give thanks for our fathers.  Not just our fathers by birth both living & dead, but with an ever-increasing number of families & children & teenagers who are “father-less”         these days, how ‘bout Father’s Day also including those who act as good ”father figures;” all those who fill in & serve as Step-fathers, Foster Fathers, Grandfathers, Mentors, Favorite Uncles & Big Brothers. 

   Probably most of us, if not all us, know who our earthly father is or was, and that’s good. That’s the way it was meant to be; that we should have good moments together with our dads; good lessons to be learned; good memories to recall; good things, on-going things like caring & sharing & sacrificing - and coaching & fishing & camping & traveling to associate with the family name.

   But since it’s also my aim to proclaim to you again this Father’s Day the Good News of Who God our HEAVENLY father is and what a “GREAT INHERITANCE” we possess as children of God, I’m going to tell you a story about a son who not only didn’t know who his earthly father was, but his mother wasn’t married when he was born. 

   Keep in mind a common word for such child is, “illegitimate,”  meaning born of parents not lawfully married to each other.

   Which raises this question: What grace; what good news; what power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is there in the story of an “illegiti-mate child”, who was socially despised & looked down on, yet learned he had a great inheritance & went on to become a great public servant?

   Dr. Fred Craddock, a homiletics professor, tells this story as it happened to him when he & his wife traveled thru Tennessee on a quiet, easy-going vacation they had planned together. One evening they found a quaint little restaurant where they looked forward to having a nice, private meal together, just the two of them.

   After sitting down, looking the menu over, and giving “the server” their order, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, stopping to chat with guests. Dr. Craddock whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn’t come over here.”

   But the man did come to their table, “Where you folks from?” he asked in a friendly tone. “Texas?!  Great state I hear, although  I’ve never been there.  What do you do for a living?,” the man asked.

   “I teach homiletics at the graduate seminary,” Dr. Craddock replied.

   “Oh, so you teach preachers, do you.  Well, I’ve got a story for you.”  And with that the man pulled up a chair and sat at the table.

   Dr. Craddock rolled his eyes and groaned inwardly . . .


   I’m Ben Hooper,” the man started out. “I was born not far from here across the mountains.  My mother wasn’t married when I was born so I had a hard time.  When I started to school my classmates had a name for me, and it wasn’t a very nice name.  I used to go off by myself at recess and during lunchtime - because the taunts of my play-mates were sharp and cut so deeply.

   What was worse was going downtown on Saturday afternoons & feeling every eye burning a hole through me.  They were all wondering just who my real father was.

   “When I was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to our church.  I would always go in to church late and slip out early.  But one day the preacher said the benediction so fast I got caught and had to walk out with the crowd.  I could feel every eye in church on me.  Just about the time I got to the door I felt a big hand on my shoulder.  I looked up and the preacher was looking right at me.

   “’Whose are you, son?  Whose boy are you?’

   “I felt this heavy weight on me again,” said the man.  It was like a ball & chain I couldn’t be free of.”  I thought even the preacher was putting me down.  Yet as he looked at me, studying my face, the preacher began to smile a big smile of recognition. ‘Wait a minute,’ he said. ‘I know who you are.  I see the family resemblance.  You are a son of God.’

   “With that he slapped me on the back and said, ‘Boy, you’ve got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.’”

   The man, telling this story, looked across the table at Dr.  Craddock and his wife and said, “That was the most important single sentence ever spoken to me. ‘Boy, you’ve got a great inheritance.  Go and claim it!’”

   With that, the man smiled, stood up, shook hands and moved on to another table.  That’s when Dr. Craddock remembered.  On two occasions the people of the state of Tennessee had elected an “illegitimate to be their governor.” One of them was Ben Hooper, the man who stopped at his table.

   So much for Dr. Craddock’s impatience & resentment once he heard that man’s story.  That’s because Dr. Craddock recognized the point of it all & what a good point it was: that that man’s story is pretty much our story too.

   Fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, sinners, saints, don’t we all know; even if we’re not always ready to confess it or acknowledge it before God; don’t we know that there is a certain “illegitimacy” to our lives; that we are as the Psalmist said, “conceived in sin” and born not right with God, not worthy to be children of God?  Don’t we know that we have all fallen short of the glory of God; that there is not one of us here who does not deserve to be labeled, excluded, judged unworthy, undeserving sons & daughters. 

   Yet wonder of wonders, God is not ashamed to be called God our Father.  God is not the least bit reluctant to claim us as His own dear children.  You and I have got a great inheritance.  That’s what the apostle Paul wrote to God’s people in the church at Rome. 

   For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. 

   Eugene H. Peterson, in his contemporary paraphrase of the New Testament called the MESSAGE, puts it this way. The resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It is ad-venturously expectant greeting God with a child-like “What’s next, Papa?”  God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are.  We know who God is, and we know who we are: Father and children.   

   God is a kind & gracious & merciful Father, according to Martin Luther’s explanation of the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed, meaning God our Father provides everything we need every day to support this body and life.  God our Father sets us all in those times & places where He wishes us to live and be employed; so that who we are or where we are or what we do is truly “God Our Father’s business. 

    A good day, Father’s Day.  A good story, an illegitimate son who was elected the governor of Tennessee!  A good point to remember, that God the Father has a plan for all of us as his children, redeemed & forgiven, sanctified & energized by His Spirit.  We have been buried with Christ in baptism and given new life.  We have been marked with the cross of Christ. God looks at us and sees the family resemblance. We have a great inheritance.

    May there always be this good connection; this good outcome to our lives; that we not just be sons & daughters of God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, but that we remember we are heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. 

    To have life with God, eternal life in Christ, and to claim this great inheritance every day means that we also inherit Christ’s mission and ministry. We accept what God’s plan is for us along with the hope of its conclusion.  We share Christ’s self-giving obedience to the Father. We offer Christ’s grace to the needy & sinful. We claim Christ’s humility as well as His greatness, the serving as well as the triumph, the suffering as well as he glory.

   In IS a good connection; a good outcome to our lives, writes Henry van Dyke, in the third verse of the text he wrote to go with Beethoven’s great hymn “Ode to Joy.”

   God our Father, Christ, our brother, All who live in love are Thine; Teach us how to love each other, Lift us to the joy divine!

   In Christ & with Christ, you have a great inheritance.  Go and claim it.