A Father's Love

The second reflection in a series, “Hope to See Us Through,” by the Rev. Terry Elsberry.
I

The other night Nancy and I were watching a television interview with the actor Sterling K. Brown. He’s a dynamic young man and superbly talented. He stars in the television series “This is Us,” for which he’s won an Emmy award for outstanding actor in a drama series and a Grammy, the first African American to win in his category.

Watching him being interviewed, you’d think this guy has it all. Then near the end of the interview he told a story that caught our hearts. He said that one of the life-molding events of his life was when he was ten and his father died.

He adored his father, he said, and he couldn’t believe he was bereft at such an early age and without warning. His father had a heart attack at 45, in the morning while still in bed. Sterling’s mother ran in to dial 911, calling to Sterling to dress his father. Which he did.

The ambulance crew was carrying out his father on the stretcher, Sterling running alongside. His father’s eyes were closed. It seemed his father might already be gone when suddenly he opened his eyes, looked at Sterling for the last time, and winked at him.

That wink meant everything to the boy. In reflecting on that traumatic moment in later years, Sterling said that wink from his father had come to mean several things. It meant that the two of them were connected. It meant that whatever happened, his father would ultimately be okay. It meant that no matter what happened in Sterling’s life, his father would always love him. Just a wink, but it meant the world to him.

II

What happened to ten-year-old Sterling that day was something like what we’re all experiencing with the virus. A certain security we’ve always taken for granted has been yanked out from under us.

Fortunately, Sterling had a strong, nurturing relationship with his mother.

But, he said, no matter what tough times he’s had to go through in the years since, he’s also known his father’s love was still with him.

In the uncertain times ahead, you and I and all of us as Christians need to know, need to remind ourselves, that whatever might lie ahead we can depend on our heavenly Father’s love to be with us and help see us through.

You may not have had an altogether positive relationship with your earthly father. Sometimes when I’ve preached on the love and faithfulness of God, people have come up to me afterwards and said, “Because of my poor relationship with my father, I’ve always had trouble relating to a loving heavenly Father.”

What would I say to that? I can only say that now is the time, here is an opportunity to turn to our heavenly Father and ask him to make His love known to us. We can pray something like: “Father God, manifest your love for me. Make your love come alive in my heart and in my spirit, so that I might be free to love you in return.”

Turn to the Bible. Learn of the goodness of God for His children. In the words of the prophet Nahum: “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble. He cares for those who take refuge in Him.” (Nahum 1:7)

In Isaiah: “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but My steadfast love shall not depart from you.” (Isaiah 54:10) And: “He is with us because He loves us.” (Isaiah 43:13)

And in the New Testament John says, “Perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18)

“That perfect love is the love of God. God is love.” (1 John 4:9b)

God is love. There is no limit to the love God has for us. His love is more permanent, Isaiah says, than the mountains and the hills. His love is perfect, John tell us. His love brought Jesus to earth to give His life for us.

What does our Father God’s love mean to us in the midst of these uncertain times? What does His love mean to us when so many of the assurances we live by and take for granted have been torn from us?

It means He’s with us. It means He is our confidant, our support, the loving Presence we can depend on. He’s the one we can pour out our doubts, our fears, our hopes to. When so much seems uncertain, when the situation is constantly changing, He and His love for us never change. He’s our certainty. He’s the rock we need to build our lives on. He’s the one Who always understands what we’re feeling.

In the words of Bishop Barbara Harris, the first female bishop in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican communion, who died last week: “The God behind you is greater than the problem in front of you.”

III

I’m a tiny little boy. Clinging to my mother’s hand in the forest of people all headed for the main street of our town for a parade. I wasn’t sure what a parade was. But based on my parents’ excited tones I knew it was something wonderful. I didn’t mind being unable to see any thing but giant adults crowded around. Until suddenly one of the tree-tall bodies stepped on my foot. I let out a yelp.

At which point, my father swooped me from my mother’s grasp and swung me up, up, up till I was sitting on his shoulders. I was above everything. I was actually looking down on all those moving giants. I relaxed. I heard the sounds of a band. I saw the band. I bounced with excitement on my Dad’s shoulders. A brilliantly decorated float hove into view. So this was a parade!

I loved my first parade. I still love parades.

But for me what was most wonderful of all that day was the sense of absolute safety and security, the feeling of total assurance I felt from being lifted up out of the darkness and insecurity of the crowd onto the security of my father’s strong shoulders. I knew that for a little boy it was the safest place in the world.

*

There’s one place even more safe for us. It’s in the presence of the Lord who loves us, who will not leave us, who will never let us go. And when you feel down or lost and alone or overwhelmed by the situation at hand remember these courage-enhancing, spirit-lifting, hope-reminding words from the Book of Lamentations: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness, O Lord, great is thy faithfulness.” (Lamentations 11:22)