Sermon in Shoes
Funeral of M. Lee Schenck
April 2, 2012
Most of us here this morning will remember the children’s song, “Sermon in Shoes.”
Do you know, Oh Christian, you’re a sermon in shoes?
Do you know, Oh Christian, you’re a sermon in shoes?
Jesus calls upon you, to spread the gospel news,
So walk it, and talk it. Live it, and give it.
Teach it, and preach it. Know it, and show it.
A Sermon in Shoes.
That’s what came to mind this week as I thought of what kind of sermon would be appropriate for my father’s funeral. It dawned on me that he had already preached it with his life. He had walked the gospel and talked it. He had lived it, and he had certainly given it. He didn’t so much teach it and preach it, but he certainly showed it. My father was a sermon in shoes. As I told several people at the service in Florida on Friday, by God’s grace my father hit the Christian life out of the park.
The Scripture just read seemed highly appropriate. As Paul writes the Philippians, he is unsure whether he will live or die. But in the meantime, he urges them to conduct their lives in a way that is worthy of the gospel. In other words, he urges them to be a sermon in shoes. I’m not sure how long it will be before I see my father again, but his life also urges me, urges us all to be sermons in shoes.
A Servant of the King
What is the gospel? It is much more than how to be saved from God’s judgment. In fact that’s the human-centered, often self-centered version, a paltry shadow of the real gospel. The real gospel is the good news of the kingdom of God, the good news that our God reigns and is in control. When a death like my father’s happens, we are reminded of how much we are out of control. But God is still on his throne; God is still in control. Christ is still king and, indeed, part of the good news is that the dead in Christ will one day rise and that my father’s spirit is already in the presence of Jesus.
My father was a sermon in shoes as a servant of the king. He showed us all what it meant to be a good and faithful servant. We Wesleyans believe in something we call, “entire sanctification.” Some in the past have unfortunately reduced it to having a certain experience or following certain rules. When I’ve tried to explain what it looks like, I’ve sometimes pictured it as a God-given ability to do the right thing and indeed to like doing it. Godliness has to do with the choices we make. It involves doing the right thing for the right reasons especially when you are tempted to do something else.
My father was one of the best sermons on entire sanctification I ever heard. I never once, never once in my entire life, remember a time when my Dad intentionally made the wrong choice when he knew what God wanted him to do. Oh I’m sure there were many times when he misunderstood God’s will. I’m sure there were times where he didn’t realize he wasn’t doing God’s will. But I can’t think of a single time, not a single instance, where my Dad knowingly did the wrong thing.
My Dad gave God his all, everything he knew to give. He did everything to the glory of God to the best of his understanding. He tithed throughout World War 2 even though he considered himself backslidden at the time (by the way, I don’t believe it for a minute). He did it because he believed he would one day get right with God and would have to pay restitution on back-tithe anyway.
He read Scripture every morning. He prayed every day. He knelt in prayer beside his bed every evening and prayed for his whole family by name. His last night when he felt so weak, he still managed to pray, “Lord help our children,” and then later added a prayer for a family member who is currently in danger. I suspect he was far more exacting of himself in these matters than God was, but it shows his complete surrender and devotion to his heavenly Father.
My Dad loved the church. Christianity for him was not some vague notion of God you have while hiking through the forest. For him you didn’t go to church for what you could get out of it. He went to church because he was a good and faithful servant of the king.
I like to imagine that moment in heaven when God made him feel through his whole being, maybe for the first time, that he was not just a servant, but a son of the king. My mother, my four sisters and I know how thoroughly and completely our Dad loved us. I have never once in my entire life ever doubted that he loved me. The thought never even occurred to me growing up.
But I delight to think that my Dad now knows how much God loves him, that the love he showed his children pales into oblivion next to the love God has always had for him. Some of us this morning need to be better servants of the king than we are. I ask you to listen to my Dad’s sermon in shoes. But others of you are great servants of the king, but need to hear God’s voice this morning saying that he loves you far more as his child than as his servant. I ask you this morning to hear that good news.
Standing in one spirit, striving as one person
In the Scripture read a few minutes ago, Paul tells the Philippians to walk worthy of the gospel. What does that look like? Well, he tells them. It is for them to be unified, for them to stand with one spirit and to strive in the world as one person. We know from later on in the letter that the church had its share of disagreements. It was not one of those dream churches where everyone gets along.
Most of us are willing to stand together as one person as long as that one person looks a lot like us. It’s much harder to be one with someone who disagrees with you. The temptation then is to dismiss them—they’re not a real Christian. If they were, they’d see it my way.
My father was a sermon in shoes when it came to getting along with real people who just flat out disagree with you. At one point my Dad went through a Dale Carnegie course as part of his job, and I remember him quoting several times the saying that “A man convinced against his will is of the same mind still.” The saying must have resonated with him and his experience.
Scripture doesn’t put it quite that way, but it fits Scripture. There’s a time to agree to disagree. At some point I have to live my life faithfully and let others stand before God on their own. So many of us can’t let it go. We want to force everyone else to see God our way or to do things our way.
It’s a losing battle. Even worse, we often cause more damage than good to the kingdom by fighting over what we think God wants. Paul didn’t tell the Philippians who was right and who was wrong in the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche. He just told them they needed to get their spirits together and be unified. God looks on the heart, and we can be one in spirit even when we disagree over ideas or courses of action.
My Dad never attacked when he disagreed. It is so tempting to call others names when we disagree even over spiritual things. We call others stupid or perhaps a host of other words that I hope have never been said from this pulpit. I remember one time when someone told my Dad he would go to hell if he did something, something my Dad actually thought was what God wanted him to do.
Again, my father was a sermon in shoes. He didn’t respond in kind—he didn’t de-Christianize the other person. He didn’t treat the other person as an enemy. He continued to act in love toward that person and others even though I doubt he felt much like it at the time.
I have thought more than once after letting my mouth fly with my children that my father never did that with me. This morning I resolve to listen to his sermon, to control my tongue better. I’m taking it as a charge to keep.
My father also lived out one of the most difficult truths of Christianity to grasp, let alone to live. It is the very truth of Christ’s death in the Scripture read a few minutes ago. Sometimes losing is winning when you choose to lose for the sake of Christ. The Scripture says, “having been found in shape like a man, Jesus humbled himself, having become obedient to death, even the death of a cross.”
In our world today, we prize the victor, the one who stands up to the enemy and blasts them away. There will be a time for final judgment, although it’s on God’s calendar rather than ours. I believe there is a time to protect your family and your land. My Dad was not ashamed to have served his country in the Army. I believe there is a time when it is not loving to another person to let them run all over you, when “love must be tough.”
But according to Jesus, these are the exceptions rather than the rule. The rule is to love your enemy, to pray for those who persecute you. The rule is not to repay evil with evil. The rule is not to act in judgment toward others. The rule is to show your strength by not responding in the same way your enemy attacks you. Jesus won by doing God’s will with strength of spirit, even when they beat and destroyed his body in the most shameful way they knew.
My father was that sermon in shoes. I don’t know if anyone ever thought he was weak because it wasn’t his way to fight back. But if anyone did, they were wrong beyond anything they could imagine. My father lived out that proverb that says, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” My father lived out Jesus’ instructions to turn the other cheek.
I’m sure it wasn’t always easy for him. The Schenck family isn’t known for holding their tongue or being meek and mild. That just shows how much strength it must have taken for him to be that sermon in shoes.
Putting Others First
One verse in the Philippian passage particularly fits my Dad. It says, “Let everyone consider not only their own interests, but also the interests of others.” I’ve never met anyone who thought my Dad selfish or stingy. Quite the contrary, my mother said more than once growing up that we would never have a lot of money because my Dad always gave it all away. Some of you have already heard that in my Dad’s car the day he died was a letter to one of my sisters with a check in it to help her with her income taxes. “Generous” and “selfless” are two adjectives that come immediately to mind when people think of my Dad.
I can only remember once or twice when my Dad actually let me pay for his meal, let alone my own meal. When I was in school he said he’d let me pay after I got a job, but the day never came. “Don’t be too proud to accept a little help,” he would say jokingly. I let my mother pay for the shoes I’m wearing today for his funeral in honor of the never-ending love he showed his children through his generosity.
Last summer when my mother was very weak, he waited on her hand and foot so much that he practically forgot to eat himself. My sister Patricia had to start watching to make sure he was eating. He lived to serve others, and he consistently put the needs and desires of others above himself. I know one of the frustrating things for my brother-in-laws and my wife is the difficulty my family seems to have at deciding what to do or where to go eat. In other families, the problem would be the stubbornness of people who want to go different places. In our family, the problem is that no one wants to go somewhere the others don’t want to go.
That is my father’s legacy. “In honor preferring one another” was my father’s watchword and song.
Again, my father was a sermon in shoes. What does Paul tell the Philippians? “Have the attitude that Christ Jesus also had: although he had the status of God, he did not consider equality with God something to exploit, but he emptied himself, taking the status of a servant.”
This is how we become unified in spirit. This is how we get along with each other and strive together as one person. We do it by considering others first and ourselves second. Sure, there is a time to stand up for yourself. There is even a time when it is not in the other person’s best interest for you to let them take advantage of you.
But imagine what the church would be like—let alone the world—if people truly put themselves in the place of others and tried to look at things from their perspective. What if we truly lived out love of our neighbor by doing to others the good that we would want them to do for us? It would change the church. It would change the world.
My Dad lived that way. When he visited our house, he wanted to help us with something we needed done. He would vacuum or want to mow the yard, even when he was beginning to get frail. He would try to fix whatever I predictably hadn’t gotten around to fixing. The day before he died he exhausted himself trying to help my sister Patricia and others with a pitch-in dinner following a concert at church. He was one of the last ones to eat when most of the food was already gone. It’s easy to be generous with your money, if you have it. It’s much harder to be generous with your self and your time.
In his selflessness perhaps more than anything else, my father was a sermon in shoes.
As I’ve reflected on my Dad’s life, it’s occurred to me that on those occasions when I am at my best, I am being the way I remember my Dad being all the time. When I wait that extra second before losing it with my children, I’m being the way I remember my Dad being all the time. (mind you, I don’t know if my sisters have a slightly different memory)
When someone attacks me or unchristianizes me because they don’t see things the way I do, and I hold my tongue (or fingers on the internet), I’m being the way I remember my Dad being all the time. When I do something helpful or selfless for someone else that I wouldn’t really have had to do, I’m being the way I remember my Dad being all the time.
Pick any one of the summary statements in the Bible about how to live, and there will be examples in my father’s life that illustrate them. “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength”? Yes, I remember that sermon my Dad preached in his shoes. “Love your neighbor as yourself”? Yes, I remember that sermon my Dad preached in his shoes. “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God”? Yep, I remember that sermon in his shoes as well.
We will honor my father today the most—and more importantly, our heavenly Father—if we follow his example and live out the rest of our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will conduct ourselves worthily if we are good and faithful servants of the king, if we live together in one spirit and strive for the gospel as one person, and if we look not only on our own interests but also on the interests of others.
Do you know, Oh Christian, you’re a sermon in shoes? Then walk it, and talk it. Live it, and give it. Know it, and show it. A Sermon in Shoes.