The Rev’d Jenny Wilson

Galatians 4:1-11

In the name of God, creating ,redeeming, sanctifying… Amen.

The words “Abba! Father!” occur three times in the New Testament.

In our reading this evening from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he writes:

And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into ourhearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ (Galatians 4:6)

Paul uses the same words when writing to the people of 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. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, (Romans 8:14-16)

The third time, the first time, really, occurs in the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane, struggling with what he knows lies ahead, his passion and death.

Jesus says in that garden, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ (Mark 14:36)

Over the last few weeks, Wendy and I have been exploring, in our sermons, what is going on the Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Paul, a Jew, has brought the gospel to a group of people in Galatia who are not Jewish and he has made it clear to them that to be followers of Jesus Christ they do not need firstly to become Jewish. Having established them in the faith, Paul has gone on his travels and a group of Jewish missionaries have arrived. These missionaries have insisted that if these Galatian converts wish to be sure of knowing God’s salvation in Christ that they must obey the Jewish law and, in particular, that they must become circumcised, and obey other laws such as those referring to diet. Paul has heard about this and, from the tone of his letter we can see that he is aghast.

Wendy and I both drew attention to a most important point about whose faith it is that matters.  – This point was deemed so critical by one lecturer when I was at theological college that I remember him telling us to take out our pencils and change what was written in our bibles – that certainly caught my attention! The offending words came in the second chapter of Galatians, in the 16th verse.  The NRSV translation states:

 We know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. (Galatians 2:16)

Each time the word in was to be scrubbed out and replaced by the word of. We are justified not by faith in Jesus but by the faith of Jesus, this lecturer firmly asserted. For those who remember Alan Cadwallader, you will not be surprised by this dramatic way of teaching students an important theological point!

It is Jesus’ faith in which our salvation is found. And now, now that we have the portion of the letter to the people of Galatia that contains the words “Abba, Father”, we can look more deeply at what Jesus’ faith looked like, in fact, looks like. For those words, “Abba, Father” give us the clue.

Jesus in the gospel accounts of his life and ministry is often shown going by himself to pray. He goes up mountains to pray. He goes out in boats to pray. And, of course, he prays in the synagogue. And the point is that he very definitely does not feel that he is by himself. Jesus knows a deep closeness to the one he names, “Abba, Father”.

When the disciples ask him to teach them how to pray the prayer we know so well is given to them.

Jesus is praying in a certain place, and after he has finished, one of his disciples says to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ 2He says to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
’ (Luke 11:1-2)

Father. This is how Jesus experiences God. This is the heart of his faith. That God is not distant, is not unbearably mysterious. Jesus knows God as close as a loving Father. And the word Abba is important, too.

The theologian Jurgen Moltmann, in his book, The Way of Jesus Christ, writes of this Abba relationship

“The special characteristic of Jesus’ relationship to God is made clear in the “Abba” prayer. … it is important to come back again and again to the intimacy of this prayer of Jesus. In Aramaic, “Abba” is baby language. It is the word children use for their original person of reference. Whether it be mother or father, the main point is the sheltering, intimate closeness on which a child’s basic trust depends. When Jesus calls God “Abba”, …The stress lies on the unheard-of closeness in which he experiences the divine mystery. God is as close to him in space, as much “at hand” – as the kingdom of God is now, through him, close or “at hand”. …In this relationship to God Jesus experiences himself as God’s child.”[1]

And so we come to the one scene in the gospels where we hear Jesus say the word Abba. Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus calls God “Abba”, indicating the closeness of their relationship. And to that Abba, Father, he cries out in fear. “Remove this cup from me,” he says. And then Jesus dedicates himself to that Father’s will – “not what you want but what I want” – Jesus’ great faith being that God’s will is always about life. Jesus’ faith at this moment in the Garden of Gethsemane – this faith spoken in the closeness of the relationship between God the Father and his Son – this is the faith on which the redemption of creation is born.

Jesus’ faith.

We heard read, this evening, in the Letter of Paul to the people of Galatia, the following words: And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into ourhearts, crying, ‘Abba!Father!’

Jesus’ spirit nurtures our relationship with God, a relationship characterised by the word Abba … “the word children use for their original person of reference. Whether it be mother or father, the main point is the sheltering, intimate closeness on which a child’s basic trust depends.”

And so we might know God as a sheltering intimate closeness on which our trust, nurtured by Jesus faith, may always depend.

[1] Jurgen Moltmann The Way of Jesus Christ pp135-6.