Pastor Jonathan mentioned the heaviness that we feel this morning. As a nation, we are unbelievably divided. We all too eagerly demonize our political opponents, and then we’re surprised when unstable people take the demonization seriously and seek to assassinate political leaders. As a city, we’re deeply broken, grieved, and confused as the tragic death of Philando Castile is again front and center in the news.
As a congregation, we feel heaviness in multiple directions. Today is Father’s Day, a day when we celebrate the good gift of fathers. And, as Christians, we know that fathers are not merely a good gift, but that they are designed by God to show us what he is like. God is our Father, and he gives us earthly fathers to faithfully represent his love, provision, strength, and tenderness. And because fatherhood is such a high and noble gift, Father’s Day can be painful for many of us. It can be painful because our fathers didn’t show us truly what God is like, but instead hurt and oppressed and sinned against us. It can be painful because our relationships with our fathers, or with our children, is estranged and broken. And for some of us, Father’s Day is painful because it’s haunted by death; of our seven young pastors, two of us (Pastor Kevin and me) have buried our fathers in the last few years and feel their absence deeply on this day. And Pastor Michael is not here this morning because he’s in Wisconsin visiting the grave of his son Henryk who would have been five right now and playing t-ball.
And this morning we’re heavy for another reason. Many of you have received the emails about Jen Jacobs. Her husband Josh is one of our deacons and until recently led the Nokomis Community Group. Jen has been having some odd health issues over the last few months, and on Friday they discovered that she has an inoperable brain tumor near her brain stem. Saturday morning she had surgery to relieve fluid on the brain, which was successful. And she remains in the hospital, where they are performing a number of tests to determine the nature of the tumor in order to see what treatments, if any, are possible. And so we feel the heaviness of Jen’s illness.
The common thread in much of that heaviness is Death. In this world, under the sun, death haunts us. It hovers close at hand. It threatens us and those we love. It robs us of precious relationships. It looms so large, and we work so hard to avoid thinking about it. We try to tame it, sanitize it, rationalize it, distract ourselves from it. And yet, as Ecclesiastes tells us, death comes to us all. And it doesn’t ask your preference as to timing and as to cause. Death, according to the Critic in Ecclesiastes, comes to young and old, to small children and grandparents, to fathers and to young mothers of four, to the righteous and the unrighteous. It’s the same for all.
And the Bible tells us that the fear of death enslaves us. Fear of death subjects us to lifelong slavery, because we know it’s coming and we know that, in the end, there’s nothing we can do about it. Ultimately, no amount of doctors or treatments or diets or medicines or fitness regimens or risk assessments can deliver us from death. I want you to feel that this morning. Stare it in the face. There’s nothing we can do about death. Which is why it’s such good news that God did something about death. He killed Death through the death of Jesus. He conquered Death in the resurrection of Jesus. The first question of our children’s catechism: What is our only hope in life and death? That we are not our own but belong to God…through Jesus. As Paul says in Romans 14:8, “If we live, we live to the Lord. And if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” That’s the hope we have in the midst of the heaviness.
Given the heaviness, we want to devote an extended time of prayer this morning during our confession of sin. I’ll lead us in a short prayer, and then have a time of silence for you to go to God with your heaviness this morning.
Prayer of Confession
Our Father and God, we come to you this morning carrying heavy burdens. We have the burden of life under the sun, and we have the burden of our own sinfulness. We want to bring them both to you. Father, we confess that as a nation, we are deeply divided. We are full of anger and frustration, and even hatred and malice. We’ve rejected Jesus and turned politics into a religion. Because, as a people, we too often believe that life under the sun is all there is, we bite and devour one another to control what happens under the sun. This is a great evil. Forgive us for hating our neighbors, for demonizing our political opponents. Help us to live at peace with all men, to seek their good, and to love our opponents, and even our enemies. Lord Jesus, have mercy.
Father, we live in a broken city. The tensions and complexities of race relations, of policing, of trials and verdicts simply weigh us down. God, we pray for the family and friends of Philando Castile. Bring them your comfort; it’s the only kind that can overcome the grief and anger and pain that they feel today. Father, we confess that we don’t know what to do with Friday’s verdict. We don’t understand it. If there was injustice done, you know it, and we trust that one day, you will put it right. In the meantime, give us wisdom and discernment to know what to do with our grief and pain over the fragmented relations between different ethnic groups in our city. Help us to love each other in the strength and humility that you supply. Lord Jesus, have mercy.
Father, we thank you for the gift of fathers. Imperfect as they are, they are able to show us a small picture of your joy, your delight in your children, your fatherly care and provision. And God, we grieve when fathers fail. On behalf of the fathers in this room, forgive us for our sins against our families. Renew us in the image of your Son that we might show them who you are and be the smile of God to our children. And God, many of us grieve on Father’s Day. Be our Father. Whether we’ve lost fathers or children, draw near to those who are broken-hearted and crushed in spirit and strengthen us as we cling to you. Lord Jesus, have mercy.
Finally, Father, we pray for the Jacobs family. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours. He prayed, and there was no rain. He prayed again and the rain came. In that spirit, God, right now, there is a tumor. We pray there would be no tumor. In your omnipotent mercy, remove it. We pray for immediate healing, direct from your hand. We pray for wisdom and discernment for the doctors who are seeking to diagnose and treat this tumor. Grant them unusual clarity and skill in preserving the life of our dear friend. And we pray for the faith of the Jacobs. Strengthen and uphold them with your righteous right hand. We thank you that, through Jesus, you have delivered them from the fear of death. Whether Jen lives, or whether Jen dies, she belongs to you. Help them to stand in your grace. We pray for Ernie and Elsie and Otto and Abner. Comfort and keep those little ones in the midst of this turmoil. May their parents and grandparents guard their little hearts through their own stability and faith in your sovereign goodness. Lord Jesus, have mercy.
Father, we confess that the power of prayer is not in prayer, but in the God to whom we pray. Prayer is a confession of our weakness and impotence. We confess that in ourselves, sinners that we are, we have no right to expect answers. We don’t deserve good things. And so we pray to you in the name of Jesus, your Son. He is deserving, and in Christ you have granted us every spiritual blessing. And so we place our trust in your Son, and draw near to you. In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen.