Set An Example
A sermon based on I Timothy 4:8-11, page 1035 in the pew Bible
Wasn’t that fun? Hearing our choir do some real toe-tapping down-home Gospel singing! How many of you could just imagine Dodi Lance dancing down the aisle, clapping in time to the beat, and engaging us all with her smile in that last anthem? Music has a way of doing that!
“There’s a little song, little song, singin’ in my heart… ’cause the Spirit of the Lord is in my heart! – I’ve found the Spirit, I’ll never let it go… I found the Spirit, and I need to let it show! – Every time I feel the Spirit movin’ in my heart, I’ll sing with praise! Yes, every time I feel the Spirit movin’ in my heart, I sing praise!”
Let’s give our choir a round of applause! That’s for this morning’s three anthems, and now, (if you are able) let’s rise and give a standing ovation for the whole past year since Kat Tomaszewski took the lead…
Music connects both on an intellectual level through the lyrics of a song, and on an emotional level through its melody and harmony… and the rhythm. Think of Fannie Stearns Davis’s poetry in that second anthem:
“Your friend shall be the tall wind, the river, and the tree, the sun that laughs… and marches (across the sky)… Your prayers shall be the murmur of grasses in the rain, and the song of wildwood thrushes that makes God glad again.”
I feel myself connected with nature in those lyrics -- as part of God’s living and evolving Creation -- singing praise to Our Creator. But what makes those thoughts memorable, and emotional, is when Sherri Porterfield underscored those words with her melody…
“Your friend shall be the tall wind, the river, and the tree…” I can hardly go for a walk on Sportsman’s Island or along the Thunder Bay River without that tune lifting my spirits (like wind in a sail) to engage “the tall wind, the river, and the tree” as my friends… expressions of the same nature, just like me: creatures of a generous God. It’s the tune -- the melody -- that secures the lyric in my mind. I don’t forget what I can sing.
Back in 1972, hymn-writer Fred Pratt Green wrote the following (#561): “When in our music God is glorified, and adoration leaves no room for pride"
it is as though the whole Creation cried: “Alleluia!” How often, making music, we have found a new dimension in the world of sound as worship moved us to a more profound Alleluia? So has the Church in liturgy & song, in faith and love through centuries of wrong, borne witness to the Truth in every tongue: “Alleluia!” Let every instrument be tuned for praise!
Let all rejoice who have a voice to raise!
And may God give us faith to sing always: “Alleluia!” (Amen?)
Country singer Rodney Atkins has a song in which his little boy says: “I’ve been watching you, Dad. I’m your Buckaroo. I’m gonna be like you, doing what you do.” As a parent, Rodney Atkins was both humbled and honored that his little boy “imitated” what he saw his Daddy doing. In some moments, however, like when a swear-word came out when his son was startled, it was embarrassing for the grown man to realize that his little one had been “watching” that, too, and learning from his Dad. On other occasions, like when the boy knelt to pray, or mimicked singing with a guitar, Atkins knew that he was having a positive impact on his son. It is a touching video, a meaningful song; and it is awfully close to the truth.
For good or for ill, people are watching us. Impressionable young people (like the ones who come up for Time with the Children, or come after school to Wacky Wednesday, or even like our High School Graduates Katie Mack & Gavin Plume) take their clues regarding “appropriate” behavior from their mothers and fathers (primarily), also from their teachers and pastors, from their coaches and Scout leaders. “I’ve been watching you. I’m gonna be like you.”
As they get older, children will also let television personalities & sports celebrities, movie actors & pop singers, impress them. Again, the profound power of music to anchor ideas in one’s head makes me wonder about the impact some of the lyrics of hip-hop and rap (not to mention the hard-drinking, partying storylines of some of the country songs on WATZ) have on the moral values and expectations of kids.
The Apostle Paul, writing a personal letter to Timothy (a young boy in Galatia, whom Paul had befriended and had begun to train for the ministry as a teenager), warned him to pay attention to the things he would teach through his example.
“Let no one despise your youth,” wrote St. Paul, “but set the believers an example… in speech and conduct… in love and in faith and in purity.”
No one is too young to be a role model. Recently it was: Justin Bieber and Hannah Montana! In my growing up years, it was Beaver Cleaver & his brother Wally -- & their creepy neighbor Eddie Haskill -- who showed me what it was like to grow up in a family; for some of you it may have been Bill Cosby when he was head of the Huxtable family, or Archie Bunker. For a lot of today’s high school graduates, it may well have been Sesame Street muppets, or that kindly neighbor “Mr. Rogers” who taught our kids “family values” like sharing & being nice and learning new things. Role models come in all shapes & sizes & ages!
Personally, I was one of Bob Keeshan’s “Captain Kangaroo” kids (Mr. Greenjeans and the Old Grandfather Clock storytelling time). I enjoyed “fractured fairy tales” on the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, and hoped one day to become a real hero like Dudley Do-right of the Mounties. I was too old for later “Teletubbies”, Rugrats, and “Barney” the purple dinosaur, but some of your kids and grandchildren have memorized every song they sang, mimicked their every move. Repetition can make almost anything into a role model for kids.
Saint Paul wrote to his young protégé, Timothy: “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example, in speech and conduct, in love and faith and purity. Do not neglect the gift that is in you… Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress.”
On this day when we congratulate our Graduating High School Seniors for their accomplishments as they mature into adulthood, the Apostle’s words to young Timothy seem especially apropos: “Set an example in speech and conduct … so that all may see your progress (not merely in book-learning & skill-training) in love, & faith, & purity.”
Progress in purity? What’s that? How do we grow in love? How do we set an example of faith? Values like those are not easily measured. There’s no school we can go to for learning about love, & faith, & purity. Such things are not on any school curricula (like math, science, history, & English are). We learn values by watching those who have them. St. Paul is right: we set the example for others (those who are “watching” us) by our “speech and conduct” -- that is, by what we say and what we do -- and by our outward appearance “so that all may see” our progress.
It’s not enough to have the right ideas in our heads, or to have the best intentions to our actions, it’s what we actually DO -- what comes out of our mouths and into the ears of others -- that is the measure of our “morality.” What we do is what people see.
A quick reminder – a vocabulary definition: “morality” is whenever our words or behavior have an impact on others. Morality is not just a list of “do’s” and “don’ts”, restricted to a handful of personal behaviors. Whenever what you do affects another person, or a whole set of people, there is a “moral” dimension to that action… for good or for ill. St. Paul reminds young Timothy that what we say and do is what people see.
You are not going to teach a child to stop hitting by giving them a spanking, for example. That action speaks louder than your words! (!) You’re not going to clean up a teenager’s language by swearing at them, no matter how mad they have made you.
When it comes to teaching values, what we do as adult “role models” around children speaks much more loudly than our words. Imagine, for example, shouting at a child (or teen) our opinion -- our demand or complaint -- and then when they shout back at us, we say: “Don’t raise your voice to me! I don’t like your tone.”
It’s raw imitation, of course: mimicking. It’s mirroring the same attitude that we were demonstrating. “Parroting” is not flattering! It often escalates the irritation when we increase the volume. (Chill out!)
I remember, when we kids would be arguing too loudly around my Dad, he would say: “Cut it out. Too much Yakkity Yak!” Those simple words would remind us that we were getting too loud, too noisy (a bit out of control); that our mis-behavior in one room was being overheard in another, where Dad was trying to read. We were infringing on the space & peace of others; namely, my Dad’s. Now, saying “Too much Yakkity Yak!” by itself didn’t solve or settle whatever the disagreement was about, but it quieted us down… because we knew Dad was listening, and that we were getting on his nerves.
It was much later that I realized where that phrase “Yakkity Yak” came from. My mother (Dodi) had met my Dad when she was singing and dancing in a Tavern at Houghton Lake: The Colonial Hotel. Those of you who were here yesterday for Mom’s memorial service will recall that Dodi Lance had majored in choreography at Northwestern Univ. in Evanston, Illinois. But from the time that she was a child, our Mom always loved show tunes and she taught all of us kids to dance: my sister, ballet; me, tap. Mom had the whole set of Ed Sullivan Presents Broadway Musicals on records (vinyl LPs) and Mom knew all the lyrics of all those songs! So it was natural that (fresh out of college) Dodi would use her talents of singing and dancing at that North Woods nightclub.
Meanwhile, our father (Les Lance) had gotten out of the Army Air Corps at the end of the War and used his G.I. Bill to finish a degree in political science at the University of Michigan. He and his buddies had a reunion up in Northern Michigan and Mom & Dad met where she was the dancing girl & they fell in love. (You heard that yesterday, too.) I remember growing up that the lyrics of show tunes, popular songs, and church hymns were always on their lips. If my Dad wasn’t singing them out loud, he was whistling them. Every time he’d give us kids haircuts, he’d be singing church songs – “Oh, dem Golden Slippers…” -- or Roy Rogers “cowboy” songs. When he worked on construction projects, my Dad was always whistling.
Well, “yakkity yak” was a phrase from a popular song when I was a little kid, and the lyrics that followed is what set the message so deep in my young psyche: “Yakkity yak: Don’t talk back!
Don’t you give me no dirty looks. Your father’s hip, he knows what cooks. You tell your hoodlum friends outside, you ain’t got time to take a ride! Yakkity yak: don’t talk back!”
There you have it! (An example from my own mis-spent youth.) When a message is sung to one who is young, often enough to imprint on the mind, it only takes a little whistling (or a single phrase) to bring it all back. That’s how Barney’s songs, or Sesame Street does it. In fact, it’s what Martin Luther did to teach his children Bible lessons – he put them to music! We have a hymn-singing church -- instead of merely chanting in Latin -- because the Reformers wanted Christians to remember who they were devoted to and what it took to be a follower of Jesus Christ. The catechism was imbedded in the songs we sang!
I’m tempted this morning to sing several other such songs that my Dad used to raise us right – and (when I do) they always make me feel like that little kid again, sitting on the kitchen chair, with my Dad using the electric dog-grooming clippers to trim my hair. “All day I faced the barren waste without a taste of water: cool water… “See them tumbling down, pledging their love to the ground; lonely but free I’ll be found, drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds… “Oh, give me land, lots-a land, under starry skies above: don’t fence me in! Let me ride thru the wide open country that I love: don’t fence me in!” (If we have time at the end of this sermon, maybe I’ll sing you the one about the “misty-moisty morning” that my Dad learned from his dad, Grandpa Lance.)
Again, the point is that when it comes to teaching values, what we do as adult role models around children speaks much more loudly than our words.
This morning we congratulated Katie Mack on her graduation from High School and applauded her exemplary record in track, high jump, and long-jump. Katie was also a top-notch volleyball player for AHS as well as a good student and a really good young person.
As St. Paul said to Timothy: “While bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, for it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come! These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example, in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. … Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching, for in doing this, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” May we -- as role models of what it means to be “Christian” -- set examples… not only within our families and among our friends, but in the community at large, in ways that that serve the well-being and flourishing of all. May our lives, like the tall wind and the trees, sing praise to God in our very being, as well as on our lips.