Sermons The Face of the Shepherd - Nov. 23, 2014
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The Face of the Shepherd - Nov. 23, 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Boose   
Tuesday, 25 November 2014 10:21
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The Face of the Shepherd

November 23, 2008 – Christos Rex

A few days ago, the news came from Windsor that Eleanor Freeman, who I and many others simply knew as The Button Lady, had died at the age of 93. 

Mrs. Freeman, with her white hair and black leather jacket festooned with picture buttons of the current year’s team of Spitfire players, sat behind the visitors’ net at The Barn (as we called the Windsor Arena) for 34 years and had a voice that, when things settled for a moment or two, could be heard distinctly by the players on the Spitfire bench.  According to the newspaper article, she lived behind the old arena and had first come to a game years ago with her daughter;  she was instantly hooked and became a second mother to many of the players.  She’d greet the bus coming back from a road trip at 3am with a tray of sandwiches and a cooler of drinks.  She’d have them over to her house for cookies after games or practices.  She called the players “her boys” and kept in touch with many of them even after they moved on to other things.  I still remember her cheerleading the entire arena, trying to get us up and making noise to inspire the team and, like my dad, she never used a foul word if a referee or a linesman earned her ire.  Unfortunately, arthritis had kept her from attending games for the last several years, and a week before her death, she watched her last Spitfire game on TV, although, as the author of the newspaper article said, she now has ‘the best seat in the house,’ which I contend that she has to share with my dad. 

Now, I was already thinking of my teenaged years this week, of people who did things, said things, showed me things, or otherwise had an effect on me while I was in those important, formative years of my life.  For one thing, I found myself remembering summer camp, of all things, despite (or perhaps because of) the snow and cold of the week!  It was an odd coincidence that I was attending a camp just west of Gravenhurst where one of the counsellors was an old student of my father!  His name was Jim Lynn, although we knew him as “Dew” (his middle name was Dewart), and he had been eleven when my father took a full-time class for the first time in 1968.  Eighteen years later, Dew actually drove me to the camp for my fourth and last year up there – I had, in fact, outlasted both of the friends who had brought me along in ’83 for my first time, but Dew was at that first one, and at this last one.

Being 15 that year, I was with a group that had crossed a couple of lines.  For one thing, we were in a co-ed camp, no longer a single-sex group, and the urge to ‘pair off’ was tremendous – a friend of mine named Anthony actually ended up with “a girlfriend” by about the fourth day, and I remember one of the counselors telling him that it was nice, but “don’t do anything that would make us lose respect for you.”  As older campers, we were treated as those who had heard the Christian message at least once before (very few of us were “new” that year) and we wound up taking some more in-depth looks at the Scriptures.  We even had a “guidance counselor” (for lack of a better term for him) who didn’t sleep with us in the cabins but was a general resource person for some of our “deep” questions.  For instance, that was the year I was finally able to put my thoughts about my dead sister into words:  she had died in 1979 and here, seven years later, I was finally starting to articulate some of my questions.  So, from a fifteen-year-old me to this “resource counsellor”:  if my sister died before she was even four years old, and couldn’t grasp the concept of ‘heaven’ or ‘hell’ or ‘good’ or ‘sin’ then where did she “go” when she died?  There you go, Barney!  I had to respect him for what he did for me – he first asked for some time, and then he came back with his Bible and we flipped through it, and he was able to give me the assurances I was looking for.

Now, it took me a while to realize how “conservative” this camp really was.  Beacon Bible Camp wasn’t run by any one church organization but was an entity unto itself, a non-denominational Christian camp.  I do know that whatever congregation had tied themselves to the camp was quite far to the right – when we had Sunday worship, any women or girls who came in from the outside would be wearing a hat of some description, and only those who had received a believer’s baptism were able to take communion (including the one boy who got dunked in the lake earlier in that camp session).  And, of course, no one would ever have suggested to the Skipper that we have anything that even looked like a dance! 

But, conservative or not in some ways, they were extraordinarily generous in so many others!  It was actually years later that I realized that counselors like Dew and Rembrandt and Oop were adults – not older high-schoolers, not college students (though there were a few of them), but working-force adults taking ten days of possibly only two weeks of vacation in their year to give it to us.  In retrospect, that’s pretty humbling.  And amazing, too.  I mean, that last year:  fifty boys, fifty girls, hormones absolutely on fire – in so many ways, we were not a vacation! 

And yet…

      Tossing us in the lake…

      Covering us with shaving cream while we slept…

      And helping teenagers find a closer walk with God…

            You just can’t do those kinds of things in the “normal” world!

I think it was on the second-last night of my final camp that a counselor we called Ice was to lead the devotions.  Earlier in the evening, Ice had set up a roaring fire in the fireplace of the Lighthouse hall, and as we crowded in to sing, the high yellow flames gradually lowered until, as we finished our last song, there was a bed of very red, very hot coals lying in the hearth.  The overhead lights were turned off, and Ice tossed a large chunk of pine onto the coals, and it popped and crackled with what was like gunshots as he read to us from the Scriptures.  I’m pretty sure that this was the gospel reading that he had chosen for the evening, about the final separation before God’s judgement seat, the separation into “sheep” and “goats” – it’s not that “goats” are evil or anything, but simply that God will be looking for “sheep”.  Don’t take Jesus’ metaphor too literally – what Jesus was trying to say was that when the time comes for our final judgement, God will be looking for certain things, certain elements, certain characteristics, and while sheep and goats share many things in common, there are still some very visible and very distinct signs that set them apart and make them different from one another.  The sheep, He’ll keep;  the goats, He won’t.

Ice then told us that though he didn’t know us all very well, and some of us hardly at all, he loved us as Christ had loved him.  He pointed to the fireplace and said, “Revelation 20:15 says that anyone whose name is not written in the Book of Life will be thrown into a ‘lake of fire,’ a place of eternal death, agony and separation from God.  Now, I know how hot that fire is in there, and I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in there forever.  Jesus tells us that we will be judged and separated, and that those who have rejected Him He will in turn reject. 

“I love you guys too much to let you go off and have an ending and an eternity like that if there was something, anything, I could have done to prevent it.  So, I have tried to tell you, to teach you, to show you what God is looking for in His sheep.  I can’t make the decision for you – only you can do that – but I can tell you that the only way to not have this be your end and your eternity is to live, not for yourselves, but for others and for God.  The choice is yours.” 

We sat there for a couple of minutes, just letting what he had said soak in, and then someone threw another piece of wood on the fire, we sang another song, and we got down to what we were going to do for the rest of the evening.

 

Now, this is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the old liturgical calendar of the church.  It’s a Sunday dedicated to Jesus’ majesty as the king and head of the church, a day on which the church would focus on the thought of “yes, Jesus on earth was humble and poor and shared all that He had, but He was also the Prince of heaven, the Son of God the Father and Creator, and as the Scriptures say that all wealth and power belong to God, so they also belong to Jesus!  When He comes again, it won’t be in humility;  it will be in power, in judgment, in wrath, and in ultimate mercy for those who are His children.  But we don’t know when, and we don’t know how, that return will come – people have been seeing “signs of the end” for most of the last two thousand years, and so far as we can tell it hasn’t yet come.  So many of the TV preachers are concerned with getting us to “be ready” for the coming end, warning the population at large to change their ways before God returns and sends them to hell.  But we need to remember that each moment could be our last, and we need to live our lives accordingly.  Scaring people by telling them that death and hellfire await them if they don’t convert doesn’t necessarily lead to true conversions – I think of Karl Malden as the preacher in Pollyanna, trumpeting “DEATH comes suddenly!” from his pulpit.  No, such preaching generally leads to fear and anxiety, or in this world often apathy, but not faith, not trust, not fellowship and not grace. 

Ice wasn’t out to scare us that night, just to make us a little more aware of what the Bible says about those who will not come to know Jesus as Lord and Saviour.  He also reminded us, consciously or unconsciously, that we don’t just serve God’s people by giving them our money, by giving cash donations to charities and churches;  we serve with time, and we serve with talents.  We serve with all of the gifts that we’ve been given.  Money is just one side of the triangle, one tool – a big tool, yes, but still just a tool.  Partly, it allows us to help in a physical, tangible way, when we can’t go somewhere or do something ourselves – I mean, if a disaster strikes on the far side of the world and a PWS&D team is able to get into the country and do what’s needed, we don’t have to be there ourselves, but we want to make sure that our people are able to do what we would have hoped to do, were we able to be there. 

But money isn’t everything, and while I know it embarrasses her, I’m going to point to Kathy again.  Kathy made chocolates for the bazaar – molded, painted chocolate suckers.  She’s done this for years for church sales, and sometimes she has wondered if it has been worth the time and the energy.  I mean, I know what it cost for the chocolate, and for the molds that she has bought, and I watch as she puts her time and considerable artistic talent to use in decorating the molds and cranking out the finished candies, and I know we could have just put that amount of money into a pot along with the money that others would be putting into it as well – I think the actual term for this is a “silent bake sale,” where you don’t cook, don’t bake, don’t buy any ingredients or use up any extra electricity in the creation of something to sell, just estimate what you would have spent, put that amount into an envelope and hand it in – but that takes all the fun out of it.  It takes all of the fellowship out of it.  There’s no team-building, no community-building, no life-building when you do something that way.  What Kathy’s doing there is similar to what those counselors did for me all those years ago, what Mrs. Freeman did for generations of Spitfire players – not caring about the financial side as much as the reaching-out side, as much as the building-up side, and (in our church context) as much as the faith-strengthening side.  You or a friend or strangers from the community may have come to the Bazaar and no one may have talked about Jesus at all!  And they’ll have purchased a Christmas gift or two, or a plateful of nibblies, or sat with a friend over a Scotch pie and a shortbread cookie, or whatever – I just hope and pray that everyone who came also saw the love of Christ, and our love for them, reflected in every face from this congregation that they saw there. 

It’s the face we want them to see when someone receives one of the pairs of shoes we took in to the Scott Mission…

Or when they are served a meal at Evangel Hall…

Or when they’re told that this sewing machine is for you and was given in by a family in Georgetown, Ontario…

Or when they drop their child at a youth night in Nadzko, BC and we’ve helped to pay for the evening’s needs…

Whatever we feel led to do, be it to fill a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child, bake or create something for the Bazaar, sit monitoring a kettle for the Salvation Army for two hours to help them with their annual fundraising, go off to a mission field somewhere in the world, whatever, if we’re doing it for others and not for ourselves, not so that we can be seen doing it but so that we’ll make a difference for someone, somewhere, in the name of Christ who sends us out, then we’re doing it for the right reasons.  And if we’re doing them for the wrong reasons, well, it won’t matter what people say, and God will know better. 

I mean, I read once that one of the ‘prosperity preachers’ down in the States purchased a $20,000,000 private plane in 2006 (well, his ministry did, for his private use), and he wonders why people question this.  As one person worked it out, even if you spent $25,000 a year on air travel, it would still take you eight hundred years to spend the price of that plane.  When he stands before God, I’d be really interested in hearing how he defends that purchase, because while I am also guilty of spending money that could have been channeled into mission work here, there or somewhere else, that level just seems scandalous.

But that’s where the trick is, friends:  when we come before God… Not if, when!  When we come before God, we will see our sins, and we will be embarrassed by them.  Because God won’t be judging us next to other people.  It won’t be like we’re trying to make it for a team, only the top twelve qualify and as for the rest of you, thanks for your interest and effort.  God won’t be saying, “Well, you’re better than him, and your better than her, but you’re not quite as good as they are so, um, no, you don’t quite make it!”  He’ll judge us on our merits, according to our faith life, and will compare what our walk with Him should have been with what it was.  Did we give Him our life?  Did we give Him our heart?  Did we try?  When we failed, did we try again?  Did we take the risk of sharing our faith in order to try to share the joy of Christ that we have found and experienced, or did we let the fear of potential failure prevent us from doing so?  Did we pray, when we could do nothing else, and trust in God to hear our prayer and guide us, or guide the person we’re praying about, as He sees fit?  And, the important question:  When we are ultimately sorted, will it be as a sheep, or as a goat?

            I guess that’s up to the shepherd, isn’t it…?

 

Anything else I might say this morning is probably best expressed in prayer, so let’s pray.

Eternal God, our Father and Good Shepherd, we know that we are supposed to seek your face in others as we try to serve the world around us.  We know that we have a choice:  to be sheep or goats, to submit to your will and follow where you lead or to butt and push and prod and demand our own way, no matter what you may want for us.  We are called to enter your gates with thanksgiving and humility, and yet it’s so very easy to come before you with arrogance and impatience and rudeness.  These are the ways of the world, but we pray that they will not be our ways, and if they are our ways, we pray that they will not be so for long!  Help us now and every day to serve humbly, to live generously, to love openly, to speak freely, to have faith confidently, to reach out deliberately, and to bear all things through your grace, love and unending mercy.  When you come in your glory, I pray that we will all be the sheep of your sheepfold, members of your flock, and gathered with you for all eternity as we pass by your throne of judgment.  Forgive us when we sin, and set us on the right path once more, we pray in Jesus’ most holy name.  Amen.

 

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