June 17, 2018
“A Man After God’s Own Heart”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Fathers are important. Being a good father is a huge challenge, a great responsibility and a greater joy. Becoming a great father is to be a man after God’s own heart.
There are all types of fathers. There are some of you who get to greet your kids when they come home from school, or they greet you when you get home from work. There are divorced fathers who share the responsibility of raising their children with others. There are you dads who got to choose your children in the gift of adoption. There are granddads who are called upon to help raise grandchildren. At Ascension, on Confirmation Sunday, five young people were confirmed, and of the five, three of them had their primary religious encouragement to come to this church and be confirmed through their grandma or grandpa. Today there are dads who are grieving because they have suffered the untimely death of their own children. There are also some of you who, for whatever reason, have not yet been blessed with the joy of a child. You pray that God will grace you in that way, and so do we.
Do you see that fathers, all types of fathers, are important? Let’s see, Scripture says that fathers are to provide for and protect their children. Fathers are to discipline their children and to be a model to them. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
Joel Biermann, a professor at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, shared a letter he wrote to his son who was becoming a father for the first time. “Fatherhood is hard, and it is rarely undertaken with an awareness of all that it will demand of the man called to the task. God expects much of fathers…A father is accountable to God for his children. This involves much more than providing material necessities and a positive role model. God commands a father to teach, lead, equip and form each of his children. In other words, yes, God holds a father responsible for how his kids turn out.” (The Lutheran Witness, June/July 2018, Pg. 6) He goes on, “To be a successful father, one that fulfills God’s intention, requires deliberate and concerted effort. It doesn’t just happen.”
I say that if a father are going to be a good father they have to be a man after God’s own heart. The text I chose for today is that verse in Acts 13. Paul is preaching, recounting the history of God’s hand in Israel’s history. He talks about the crown leaving Saul and coming to David. “After removing Saul, He made David their king. He testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after My own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’” (Acts 13:22)
What is to be “a man after God’s own heart?” Perfect? Never making a mistake? Always a role model? A little halo that sits over your head? (I imagine you’ll get one when someone eulogizes you at your funeral – but I know you’re not wearing it now!!)
I find it quite interesting that it even mentions that David was a man after God’s own heart. David slept with a whole bunch of women, including Bathsheba – who was someone else’s wife. And then he concocted a scheme to cover up his adultery. And then, after failing at that, he had the man murdered. And now, he thought he could get on with life, be the leader of God’s people, as if nothing happened. But the #MeToo stigma eventually caught up with him.
For Father’s Day I wrote a letter to my dad, sort of like Biermann wrote a letter to his son. This is how I started it, “Dear Dad, Isn’t it fun to look back at how life has been? All the blessings? The successes? Even the failures, the mistakes and the dumb things?” Being a man after God’s heart does not mean that we are saints, perfect people, perfect dads. It first means that we seek the Father.
In that Biermann letter he says, “A man needs to check himself to be certain that his own course is one that he wants his children to emulate, asking: do I honor God, love my wife, respect my work and use my time and abilities in the way that I want my child to learn to do these things? If a man cannot urge his children to live and act as he lives and acts, then his first fatherhood task is to get his own life in order.” (Page 7)
David was a man who sought to get his life in order and became a man after God’s own heart. He became an honest man. The prophet Nathan came to David after David had stolen Bathsheba, murdered her husband, Uriah, and tried to conceal everything. He told a story about a rich man, who when he had friends come to his house, wouldn’t take any sheep from his own flock to feed his guests, but took the poor neighbor’s pet lamb and slaughtered it and served it for dinner.
David, in hearing this, became angry and said that that man deserves to die for such a deed. And Nathan, without flinching, told the murderous and lying King, “You are the man.” (II Samuel 12:7)
David, a man after God’s own heart, owned up to it. A man after God’s own heart has an honest heart, desiring to see God’s truth about their life, even when it is is not pretty. I think it was Albert Einstein who said, “Women marry men hoping they will change. Men marry women hoping they will not. So each is inevitably disappointed.” But it doesn’t have to be that way. Men, even Lutheran men, can change.
A man after God’s own heart is honest and they are humble. Some of the greatest words in the Bible are the words of David to Nathan. “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’” (I Samuel 12:13a) No excuses. No reasons. Just the truth. Psalms 32 and 51 are penitential psalms, both of them coming from the heart of David. “For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ – and You forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:4-5) In Psalm 51 he says, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Verses 10-12)
You see, for every father who is not perfect we have a Father who is. A man after God’s own heart is one who looks to that Father. I hope you know the Parable of the Waiting Father (Luke 15:11-32) backwards and forwards. The son, irresponsible, reprehensible, ran away from home. He wanted nothing to do with his family. He became immoral, making bad choice after bad choice. But the parable is not about how bad he was, but about how good his Father was. “While he (the prodigal son) was a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” And next? “The father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:20, 22-24)
A man after God’s heart goes after God’s heart. God’s heart, the one that we seek, seeks us, finds us, cleanses us and throws a party to celebrate that we are alive and have been found.
Here’s the heart of our God, our Father, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. (John 3:16-17)
On Good Friday there is a prayer tucked away in our liturgy that prays for the family of God. The Collect, the prayer, for Good Friday reads, “Almighty God, graciously behold this Your family for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed and delivered into the hands of sinful men to suffer death upon the cross.” (LSB Altar Book, Pg. 512) “Almighty God, graciously behold this Your family…” He has. He does. That is the heart of the Father for us!!
God’s own heart has to be our heart. We want our children and grandchildren and every generation to come to trust in Jesus for their forgiveness and eternal salvation. We want them to be certain of the love of God that brings them the joy of heaven. We want them to follow God in the strength of His Spirit and in the guidance of God’s Word.
I could ask many things for you on this Father’s Day, but what I ask today is that all of us who are gifted with this enormous privilege and responsibility would be men after God’s own heart. Honest in need. Humble in repentance. Trusting, confident and joyful in faith. Amen!!