June 17, 1989. It was a Saturday. I flew home from Detroit to Los Angeles, after preaching a youth revival all week. As I was in the air, the Lord called my father from earth to glory.
When I finally arrived home, it was crowded with people. Mercifully, several of my friends picked me up and got me out of the house for several hours. I really needed it. When I returned home, several leaders of the church my father had pastored for forty years were there. They were waiting to talk to me. They asked me to preach the 11 AM service the following day. Father’s Day. Without really thinking about what I was getting myself into, I consented.
I was up all night trying to determine what I would say to the church, who would just be getting the news that their longtime pastor had died. I was only sixteen-years-old. And even though I had preached many youth services by then, this was an entirely different ballgame. Nothing I had ever preached seemed appropriate for that Sunday’s assignment.
I stayed up all night, preparing myself mind to preach (a pattern that has not changed in twenty years). As I read the John’s Gospel in those early morning hours, I hit a speed bump at the miracle of the fish and the loaves in John 6. I had preached it before (The lad and his lunch makes a good youth sermon). But something different jumped out me. Jesus asked Philip where they would find bread to feed the hungry multitude. Then John 6:6 records a parenthetical statement: “But this he said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do” (KJV). That was my first Father’s Day sermon. I labeled it, “The Lord Knows What He Is Doing.”
Of course, that sermon had nothing to do with Father’s Day. I don’t think Father’s Day was even acknowledged in the worship services that day. Yet for years to come, I would associate Father’s Day with that sermon.
It may have been more than ten years before I preached another Father’s Day sermon. Mind you, I was called to my first pastorate in November of 1990. But I for most of the early years of my pastorate, I did not preach on Father’s Day. I could not preach on Father’s Day.
On Father’s Day 2000, I stood to preach without my father being on my mind at all. I was thinking about another H.B. – H.B. Charles III, my son. My son had been born the previous year. And on his first Father’s Day, I preached a message entitled, “A Father’s Desire for a Godly Legacy.” In the sermon, I envisioned my funeral. And I considered what I would want my son to say about me if was to give remarks. I concluded that I wanted my son to be able to say three things about me:
1. I know my father loved me unconditionally.
2. I know my father loved my mother unconditionally.
3. I know my father loved God unconditionally.
If I remember correctly, I only wrote one more fathers-oriented sermon after that. It was on Ephesians 6:4, where Paul exhorts father’s not to provoke their children to anger, but to bring them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. After that, however, I have not written another’s Father’s Day sermon. If I was not (conveniently) in a series, I would redo old work… if I preached at all. Several years ago, I did not even go to church on Father’s Day. Really not good.
The Father’s Day weekend was the twentieth anniversary of my father’s death. And in some ways, it was just as disorienting. First of all, Crystal and the kids were in Los Angeles visiting family and friends. It was my first Father’s Day without my family. Moreover, it was my first Father’s Day in Jacksonville, away from everyone and everything that is familiar to me.
I was really busy over the weekend. That helped. But the Lord also used his word to comfort my heart. My first Father’s Day sermon. For the record, I do not remember anything I actually said in that sermon twenty years ago. But I cannot forget that little verse from John and its all-important message: The Lord knows what he is doing.