Everlasting Father

Everlasting Father

December 10, 2023 • Rev. Eric Burton-Krieger

“And His Name Shall Be Called: Everlasting Father”  

12.10.23 // St. Luke’s UMC: North Indy Campus  

Isaiah 40:27-31 (NRSV) // Rev. Eric Burton-Krieger 


Main Idea: God’s love is personal and infinite. And that is Good News.


If you’re just joining us, each week in Advent – the weeks leading up to Christmas – we’re focusing on a different name that the prophet Isaiah said would describe a future deliverer – words that centuries later Christians would ascribe to Jesus - and this week we turn our attention to Everlasting Father.




Over the last two weeks we’ve talked about God as a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, next week Pastor Rob will share a dramatic monologue, and then on Christmas Eve we’ll talk about God as our Price of Peace. And for some reason, those titles are easier to grasp than this one – what does it mean for God to be our ever-lasting father?


Well for starters, we struggle with the idea that anything could be everlasting. Increasingly the world in which we live is made from disposable stuff. If you want an illustration, just take a look at this picture. [Slide 1: Refrigerator Picture] This feels so true for me – your old refrigerator, your cast iron skillet – these things last. Anything made in the last 10 years – not so much.


But in a culture of disposable, of single use, trying to wrap our heads around the idea of everlasting is BIG. And so is the idea of Father for some of us. You hear that word, and you don’t connect to it. Maybe it’s a past trauma for you or a deep disappointment in your life. Maybe a relationship you never had. If so, I want to remind you that Scripture uses lots of metaphors to try to communicate who God is to us. In the Gospel of Matthew for example, Jesus describes wanting to gather God’s children together like a mother hen gathers her chicks.


We understand that God is bigger than any one gender, and yet, Scripture uses the word Father most often when referring to God. It fits the worldview and cultural understanding of Isaiah’s and later Jesus’ time and place. And what calling God Father is meant to communicate is that this God who is BIG is also familiar. Even familial. God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us.


As parents are in relationship with their children. It’s not an equal relationship. For if we look at the Hebrew behind this name for God, we get [Slide 2: Avi Ad = Possessor of Eternity] So the one who possesses eternity knows us. Cares about us. Is concerned about us. Think of the way that Jesus talks to his Father throughout the Gospels – it’s as a parent and child who are really close, not distant and removed.


And yet at this point what seems comforting to us, held an even deeper message in Isaiah’s day. As Pastor Jevon reminded us two weeks ago, the Israelites are in a place of fear when Isaiah prophesied these words. The Assyrian empire to their north is systematically taking over the whole region. Israel is asked to join a coalition against them and refuses and is itself attacked. And here Isaiah comes to deliver a prophecy and a sign that God is with them – and you know what he points to? You know what he points to? - To a woman who is pregnant. To God’s creative possibility even when they don’t see it. And in the face of such great fear – the question they are asking is, can hope come in such a small sign?


For the idea of one who is coming who “possesses eternity” would have been easy to shrug off. By the time of our text from Isaiah 40, empires have shifted, and the people are now in exile in Babylon. They have forgotten that first sign and their deliverance. Once again, they let fear take hold. Nothing felt stable, let us alone permanent or eternal. And God in this moment seemed really far away.


And yet what Isaiah says is that the struggles of this moment are not the struggles of forever – “Have you not known? Have you not heard? Do you not remember?

[Slide 3: God who “possesses eternity” was here before this happened and God will be here after.]


In essence, God is so BIG that God has always been, and will always be. God has been with us since the beginning of time and continues to be with us and will be with us all the way through. Our lives are literally held in God.


And that is good news. As Pastor Mindie and I were talking about this text she said that Isaiah is really a trauma narrative. God has sent him to speak good news to people who are paralyzed by fear, by their past hurts and experience, and trying to figure out what to do next. How do they go forward?

Perhaps we can relate to that feeling. The news is overwhelming and bad. The holidays are here are don’t feel so joyful. The divorce, or the job search, or the diagnosis all feel too real. Maybe we’re moving to a new state and leaving a community we love behind.


And that’s when we need a loving parent to walk into the room. Someone who has seen it before and reminds you, it’s going to be ok. I’m with you. You can trust me. We’re in it together. And that’s what Everlasting Father communicates.


I can remember the day that Pastor Rob’s dad died. As most of you know this has been a hard year for Rob – losing both of his parents. And when the call came it was late in the afternoon on a Friday. There were not many folks around. As soon as I heard I got up from my desk and headed towards his office. He wasn’t there at first and so I walked to the Sanctuary and Chapel thinking I might find him. And then went back to his office to wait. He came in and thanked me for the condolences, but I wasn’t leaving. I stayed until the news sank in and then I prayed.


And that moment happens for all of us. We don’t know exactly what’s next or how we’ll go forward. We’re looking for some big miraculous sign it’s going to be ok. And the example Isaiah points to is that the sign God will give us will be small – maybe just what person, or the birth of one child - but the God who is behind it – well that God is BIG! And can be trusted.


For the aim of God’s work in our world is our redemption from all the things we fear – separation, evil, death, maybe even taxes. For this small sign, born to us in the manager will be named [Slide 4: Jesus = God saves”].


And while redemption is a moment it is also a journey. And we see this in Jesus' life and ministry. One of my favorite stories comes from the end of the Gospel of John. Peter – the Rock on who God would build the church, has just three days earlier denied ever knowing Jesus. Standing around a charcoal fire, the cock has crowed, and Peter has realized how he has betrayed his friend and his Lord.


Faithful Peter has become Fallen Peter. And he’s run away, back to fishing, the only other life he’d ever known. And what our Everlasting Father does through Jesus is come to us and love us. Peter and the other disciples see him on the shore – and Peter swims in. And there around a charcoal fire Jesus recommissions him. Asks him if he loves him and then turns him back around and sends him back into ministry. He meets Peter where he is but he doesn’t leave him there. He loves him through every season, even the ones with dramatic twists and turns.


[Slide 5: Because our Everlasting Father is in this for the long game.] Jesus shows us that in his relationship with Peter, God shows us that in his relationship with the Israelites, and Holy Spirit shows us that in their relationship with us.

I can remember a time when this idea became real for me. You see my parents, who are here today, weren’t outdoorsy people. And when I was in elementary school I got involved in the Boy Scouts. At a certain point, to advance to the next rank, I had one critical requirement to complete. I had to pass two swimming tests. I wasn’t a strong swimmer, and really didn’t think I could do it. But I had a Scout Master, Bruce, another adult in my life, who believed in me. So much so, that during one spring break in high school, Bruce met me at the pool at the local YMCA and worked with me EVERY DAY until I could pass that swimming test. He didn’t give up on me. Maybe you’ve had someone like that in your own life. Pause.


As I step aside as one of your pastors – let me just say what a profound privilege this has been. I have grown so much over the last eight and a half years. We’ve grown together, opening a Midtown campus, creating a culture of small groups, navigating Covid, starting an online community, approving a new strategic plan, open statement and commitments to being anti-racist, and to perform same-gender weddings. I’ve hired, and mentored, and been blessed by amazing colleagues and leaders.


What I am proudest of, is the way I have simply gotten to walk alongside so many of you as your pastor. To learn your name and your story. To be there in the moments of great joy and great sorrow. When you invited me in to help you find or give hope through Jesus Christ.


This morning we’ll celebrate a baptism of a little girl whose life is this story. And she doesn’t even know it. Not long after I arrived at St. Luke’s I had the opportunity to teach the Pastor’s Book Study, and to begin to get to know people in that group. One woman sought me out after class and asked if I’d meet with her young adult daughter who had just moved back to town after a serious and long-term relationship had unexpectedly come to an end. She and I met and talked as she processed through her hurt and grief, and slowly she began to map out what would be next in her life. Two years later she reached back out to me to say she’d met someone and that they were engaged – would I officiate their wedding? Of course. (It was right here in Robertson Chapel.) And then they had a daughter.


In the short time since, life has been harder. That mother who connected me to her family – her cancer became more aggressive. I visited with her family and presided at her funeral.

That little daughter ended up in the hospital and I visited her there.


And today – my last chance to serve here in this way – we’ll baptize her. And she won’t know any of that. But what she will know is that she is a beloved child of God. Just like every child we baptize, and she’ll know that not because of me – but because of you. Because you’ll take that commitment you just made seriously, and will give, and will serve, and will be other adults who believe in her and help remind her that God is with her – even on the days in her life when she wants to throw up her hands and say that’s impossible.


And our job – as I like to say – is to remember something different. That the God who comes to us gives strength to the powerless. Sees in us divine goodness. Has been with us before we born, and in this moment, and will be into our future. To remind her that she has an Everlasting Father.


This is good news for us whatever the state of our relationships, because even in the places of loss and brokenness, you and me – we have a God who loves us and doesn’t give up on us.


And even as a pastor I need to hear that myself – because even for my best efforts I’m not perfect either. I left people down, can’t always follow-up, choose the easy path. And yet, like Peter there is Jesus and here at this church there are so many of you – who love and remind and recommission us to go back out there and try it again.


I hold great hope for the future. I don’t know what God has next yet for me, and I don’t for you. But I know the character of God. And that character is the source of my hope. May it continue to be yours as well as we journey towards Christmas. Amen & Amen. Closing Prayer