The Work of the Father

Heritage Presbyterian Church

June 21, 2020
Father’s Day
3rd Sunday After Pentecost/12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scripture reading – Genesis 22: 1-14

On this day, we celebrate and honor fathers everywhere.  We have a Scripture reading in which the man called “Father Abraham” by generations of God’s people faces and passes the ultimate test of faithfulness and obedience to God the Father.  In this story, and in countless others, we are shown how important good fathers are to their children and their community.  Their good work doesn’t just impact their own lives; it serves as a message to generations that follow, if that father’s work is done properly.  If not, that message can also be instructive; basically, “Don’t do this” becomes the final word. 

This leads to today’s question: What is the work of a good father?  Many appropriate answers could be gathered if we took the time to do so.  But in order to focus our attention today, I have chosen the following.  I firmly believe a good father should: 

  1. Instruct his children
  2. Set a faithful example for them to follow
  3. Love them unconditionally.

As we consider the fatherly example set by Abraham and all other good fathers in history and in our own lives, let us also consider brief stories that are examples of this work.

First of all, a good father is called to instruct his children.

In southern Louisiana, there lives a young man with the unusual name of June.  He and his family are sugar cane farmers and have been for generations.  June’s ancestors were slaves in south Louisiana, and they always worked the sugar cane fields.  After June’s ancestors were freed from slavery in the 1860’s, many of them remained in Louisiana working on the farms and raising sugar cane; they were very good at it.  Over time, each subsequent generation instructed the next how to grow sugar cane expertly, and how to love, care for, and respect the land.

In June’s case, his own father taught him these things very well.  June grew up on his father’s small sugar cane farm, and he became an expert at it – just like his father was – and the generations before him.

As June got older, his father gave him more and more responsibility and his farming skills grew.  June and his father rented more and more land, and raised wonderful sugar cane crops year after year.  In fact, they were both so good that the state agricultural agents ranked June’s field first in the whole state and his father’s field 13th.  That caused some good-natured teasing and laughter between father and son.  His father was very proud of June, and he told his son just that.

One day, June’s father felt a severe pain in his chest.  It turned into major heart disease, and June had to take over all the work. By this time, he and his father had been farming over 5000 acres of sugar cane and continuing to do so expertly.  But June got behind on his crop loans due to mismanagement and deceit by the local bank.  June was in danger of losing everything, so he worked almost 20 hours each day.

When June’s father found out what was going on, he climbed out of bed, phoned his son, and agreed to meet him to help out him out.  When June arrived to meet him, he saw emergency lights from police cars – and an ambulance.  June’s father died next to the land that he loved.  June ended up losing everything – including the family graveyard where his father is buried today.

Sad story…very sad ending.  Except for one thing: when June speaks today about farming and his father, he speaks tenderly and with pride of his father’s instruction – and his love.  You see…even though June lost everything, he didn’t lose the things his father taught him were most important.

Next story is setting a faithful example, and it’s another farm story.

Back in the 1930’s, there was a farmer who had a very small farm.  Each year he and his family worked hard on that land and tried to do good work.  Each year, his crops were bountiful and revealed his hard work to everyone who could see them.  This farmer never got ahead – the Great Depression was pretty hard on farming – and he and his family were just barely getting by.

By the time 1940 came around, as the Depression began to fade, this farmer’s faithful work was finally paying off.  His crops brought in enough money for him to lease more land and grow more crops.  That year he planted them all with field peas, and his calculations showed that if this crop came in, he would clear enough money to finally get ahead financially.

At the end of the growing season, the peas look perfect.  All that was left was harvest them and take them to market to sell.  However, the perfect harvesting day fell on a Sunday, and the farmer would not work on the Sabbath.  Many of his fellow farmers went ahead and harvested on that Sunday, and this farmer wavered in his opinion for a time.  That Sunday morning, his wife and children got up early to get ready for church.  The farmer told them to go ahead because he was going to get to work on the harvest.  But when they arrived at the church, no sooner had they taken their seats than they looked up and saw their father making his way to sit with them.  He whispered, “This is more important.  We can harvest tomorrow.” 

Unfortunately, he was wrong.

That night a thunderstorm moved in and a large hailstorm destroyed his entire crop of field peas.  Everything was a total lost.

What was their father’s reaction?  It did not surprise his children much that all he did was to sigh, set his shoulders straight, and take some time to figure out his next step.  A few weeks later, he quit farming for good and enrolled in a training program for mechanics.  He had always been good with his hands – you have to be if you’re a farmer – and he thought a new start might be better.  The family moved to San Diego just prior to the start of World War II, and his father worked as a mechanic and provided steadily for his family for the rest of his life.

Another ending that is definitely tragic.  But don’t miss what the father’s work revealed to his children: setting a faithful example is an important task for a good father – and his children, his wife, and his community of farmers were paying attention.

Finally, we have the story of a father who loved unconditionally – even though he didn’t have to.  

When the girl was very young, her parents divorced and her father moved out.  Not surprising in our world today, unfortunately. 

However, the girl saw less and less of her father.  Eventually, it became painfully obvious that he did not care for his children at all.  This hurt her deeply and like many children of divorced parents, she wondered what was wrong with her.  She began to act out in school and later descended into a dark world of poor choices and bad habits.  Then one day her mother was introduced to a tall, handsome man at a party.  This particular man was very well known in the area, and yet the mother was not impressed with that at all; what impressed her was the way he treated her.  From there, they began dating pretty seriously.  It was not the first marriage for either of them, and sometimes that can cause people to be either too hasty or too cautious.  In this case, they seemed to get it just right.  They were in love and they got married.

But what about the young daughter?  The one whose father didn’t care about her.  What would this new man in her life do?

Well, this new stepfather became her dad.  Note what I called him…not “stepfather” or his first name.  No, he became her DAD.  

He earned this title from her because he loves her unconditionally.  In fact, he loves all of his children unconditionally.  Over the years, this good father has shown them all what a father is supposed to show his children: that they are important to him, that he cherishes them, and that he loves them.

So the message for all fathers out there today is the same as the one Father Abraham set for us in the Scriptures; to be a good father, to do the work of any good father, a man should endeavor to:

  1. Instruct his children;
  2. Set a faithful example for them to follow;
  3. Love them unconditionally.

Any father doing these will make his own Heavenly Father smile.

Happy Father’s day to all the good dads out there!