Gospel Text: Matthew 10 : 24 – 39
If your Father is still living, say ‘Praise God’ like you mean it. It will be fourteen years this August when I last saw my Father. For 33 years he was a part of my life in every single way. But now he’s gone…buried beneath a pine tree just 6 or so miles from where my mother is still living.
In a way, it seems almost strange that I would actually have to “stop”…and will myself to think about him today. Because the truth is, he is never far from my thoughts. And I guess that’s because he never was. Dad was always around when we needed him. Always available. Always present. No matter what was going on or how busy his docket became…nothing was more important than being with the family. Nothing. I remember him being the first to arrive at my ball games…not just one, but all of them. Softball, basketball, volleyball, track, tennis, even girls football…you name it, and he was there…standing on the side line leading the cheers all the way through college.
Growing up the daughter of a Circuit Court Judge…you would think that there would be days when business would overrule family. Especially the pleasure of being with the ones you loved. But that’s the thing about being a judge. You can set precedence where there has been no precedence before. And Dad was very good when it came to keeping one’s values in check. He wasn’t afraid to tell the lawyers that it was time to “go home”. Be with your family. Take care of your loved ones while you still have the chance. I can tell you this, the way my Father led his life…and the choices that I saw him make…spoke volumes to me when words never could.
I remember the first time I ever saw my Father cry. I had just turned 6 years old. I knew that something was wrong on that chilly November day, because Dad came home from work earlier than usual…and he went right in and turned on our then ‘black and white’ TV. I remember that everyone was very quiet, as we all gathered around to watch. I didn’t really understand what I was seeing, but I could tell from the tremor in the announcer’s voice…and the look on my Father’s face…that something was terribly wrong. And as I watched a young boy named ‘John John’ salute his Father’s casket as it was being drawn by a horse drawn cassock…it was then that my Father began to cry. It was a lesson in love that I have never ever forgotten. And I knew, that yes…there are times when it is perfectly acceptable for even grown ups…to cry. It was his gift of being open and honest with his emotions that has impressed me to this day.
To this day, there are certain things that remind me of my Dad. One hymn in particular that was played during our opening prelude today…was a hymn that was sung on the day of my baptism. I can remember being led down to the baptismal pool where my sister and I were dressed in long white albs. And as we waited for the pastor to call our names…a woman in her mid-50’s stood up…and began to sing the most beautiful song that I had ever heard. And what made it even more impressive, is that she was blind. Her name was ‘Miss Margie’…and on that day…she sang like an angel…
“…I sing because I’m happy….I sing because I’m free…
…For His eye is on the sparrow…and I know He watches…me.”
It was the second time in my life, that I saw tears in my Father’s eyes. Only this time, I am sure they were tears of joy. Joy in seeing one’s children find their own way to the Lord. I will tell you that I am so grateful to my parents for raising me in a Christian home. And by that, I don’t necessarily mean that we read the Bible together every single night, or listened to only Gospel music on the radio…because we didn’t. What I mean…is that there was a calming assurance that pervaded our home…beginning first with the faith of my Father, that even as a child I felt drawn to. And as I look back on those moments, I can remember spending time after church talking to Dad about the sermons. Asking him questions about what I had heard. And listening as he tried to put into his own words…what it meant to have faith in God.
Mother reminded me, that as good as Dad was with words, he was even better when it came to writing his thoughts down on paper. He was always coming up with stories to illustrate a point. One of my favorites is the story of a little bird.
A young man went to an elder of the village who was full of courage,
dignity, and faith. He said, “Old man, I hold in my cupped hands a
small bird…is it dead or alive? Now, the old man being wise knew
that if he said to the young man the bird is dead, the young man would
simply open his cupped hands letting the bird fly away. He also knew
that if he said the bird was alive, the young man would simply press
his hands together…thus, killing the young bird. So, the old man
said, “Sir, the bird is as you will.”
In today’s Gospel story, Jesus makes a point in saying, “that not even one sparrow will fall to the ground apart from God knowing it. And that even the hairs on your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” The gift my Father gave to me for which I am most grateful, came at a time when his health was failing…and in many ways I think he saw himself much like the little bird held captive by life’s circumstance. It was then that my Father gave to me his most precious gift. The calm assurance that God is in control, and that no matter what transpires in this life, God’s will…is for all to live…and not die. That is how my Father lived his life, even to the very end. Resting assured, that yes, His eye is on the sparrow…and I know He watches me