Title: “Me? An example? Really? Yes you. Really. An example”
Scripture: 1 Peter 5:1-4
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
There are things in life that you just won’t believe unless you see them with your eyes. You hear about it on the news and you hear people talk about it but unless you see the video footage of it, you just don’t make the connection.
As an example, some guy named Felix Baumgartner jumped off from the edge of the space and broke the highest free fall record. They shuttled him up there in a balloon and once he reached 127,000 feet in the air (that’s 38,709.6 metres and CN tower formerly tallest structure is measured at 553 metres. You stack up 70 CN towers and that’s where that human being jumped.) Once the balloon reached 127,000 feet, Baumgartner stepped out to the platform and before he jumped he said this:
I wish you could see what I can see. Sometimes you have to be up really high to see how small you are. I’m going home now.
Hearing the news, I just couldn’t relate to what he was talking about but when I saw the photo of him stepping out onto the jumping platform and the earth as its background, I was finally able to relate, somewhat, to his experience. When he said it was an awesome experience, I wasn’t able to imagine or picture the experience myself but once a photo was shown, I began to make sense of his experience and felt as if I saw what he saw.
Another example, back in the 80s a German company began making and selling what’s known as Rubik’s cube. It was a sensational hit but believe or not, many people actually believed that once it was mixed or scrambled, it was impossible to restore it back to original state. Eventually there were books written about it and they even had competitions to see who can solve the cube fastest but we have to note that people actually thought that it was a myth that a person can actually solve a scrambled cube into original state until they saw it in front of their eyes.
The point is this, in this visually driven culture, sometimes one picture replaces thousand words. That’s just how we grew up and that’s how we often judge the credibility of a news – by being able to see it or witness it somehow.
In today’s scripture, Peter says in his letter “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be;” and again in verse 3 “not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock”. Peter appreciated the value of examples – that very thing that people can look at and see an example of godly and holy person. In the face of exploitive and greed driven culture, it is highly encouraging for all believers to be able to witness a person who does not weaver by self-serving greed but the walk the path of biblical principle.
When people are told that they need to lead by example or they need to be a good example, usually they feel a lot of pressure, thinking that they now need to be saving human lives every other minute. But what people have forgotten is the art of being an everyday hero. A hero of the ordinary and a hero of small steps. Let me explain what I mean using a personal experience during my University days.
While I was in a discipleship group in 1996 at University of Toronto through the campus ministry called KCF (Korean Christian Fellowship), we had a member who was part of a Christian monitoring group. That group’s function was to monitor the news and events in Toronto and alerts churches and parachurches of any alarming news that they must be aware of and/or pray for. One of the news we were notified of was Marilyn Manson concert in University of Toronto’s venue (varsity arena). (Marilyn Manson is world famous anti-christian recording artist whose hatred for Christian churches is well documented)
Many turned up for the event and while we were walking towards the entrance of the arena I happened to see a friend of mine lined up to get into the concert – imagine my shock. When I got to the front, what I witnessed was two ladies who were holding up signs (specificity of the message escapes my memory but I do remember one sentence “Sweet blood of Jesus forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”). Many who lined up to get into the concert were upset with the ladies for their message and some of them even went right up to their face and screamed and yelled at them. The poor ladies were so scared of big guys who challenged them as if they were going to hit the ladies. One lady began praying in tongue and of course it was the subject of laughter of the spectators.
Then I witnessed these “Christian” men who were sitting by the ladies and they weren’t doing anything to relieve the tension or to come to the aid of the ladies. I watched the scene for five long minutes. My eyes moved from the coward men and the ladies who kept on taking vicious verbal abuse from the spectators. Then I prayed for the courage as I, myself, was not ready to take up a sign – I’ve never done anything like that before! Then I saw enough and I went up to the ladies and I asked for one of the poster signs and fortunately one of the ladies had two signs so she gave me one.
As soon as I took up a sign and held it high, there was murmuring amongst the crowd and I could hear “look, there is *another* one” from them. One of the guys who was hurling verbal abuse at these ladies saw me and we made eye contact and I could tell that while being discontent, he did not want to approach the line any more. Many hurled insults at three of us but none dared to approach the way they did before I became part of the line.
Then after a while longer, the crowd started moving into the area and that’s when I saw the most shocking scene of the event. While I was looking at the crowd going into the Marilyn Mason concert in 1996, I could not help wondering what will happen to the kids and infants who were being “led” into the concert. I’m not going to turn a blind eye and say Marilyn Manson had no valid criticism of Christianity but his message is largely driven by his emotional response of “hatred”. When kids are exposed to that much hatred against certain group of people believing in certain kind of doctrine (as in, Christians believing in loving God who sacrificed himself in reconciliation), it is hard for me to imagine those kids growing up to be “loving” and contributing members of society. Maybe some has turned up just fine by some miracle but every early childhood educator will tell you that exposure to that kind of hatred is not good for a child. And these kids’ parents couldn’t even serve as an everyday hero and failed to provide decent examples for their kids.
Wherever I serve, I have this vision. It’s not really a “vision” like the ones that Joseph the dream interpreter of the OT received but these are the principles that I would like to see flourish.
First of all, I would like to see a community where Christians are shaped by the Word and led by examples. What kind of examples? Those of everyday heroes. You think it is easy for your parents to get up every morning and go to work – Not so. The dollars that you enjoy in your pockets that come from your parents represent they sweat and sometimes even blood that they had to pay. As for you University students, even just being at church attending the service can be a great example to the younger ones.
I had trained judo for 5 years. I am now black belt and I am called sensei every dojo I go to. One thing that my dojo asked me to do was to show up at kids’ classes once in a while. They told me that even if I’m not teaching them, the kids who watch the big guys practice gives them inspirations. They see the fine examples of judo and want to become like the big guys that they see. So they said “just show up” – it will mean a lot to other senseis.
I understand that some of you are in awkward distance like Hamilton. Not quite far away and not quite near but an everyday hero’s example is that even if you have hardest week coming up with all the assignments and tests due, you still show up at church to offer your worship to God. THAT is being an everyday hero. And isn’t that about thousand times better than people leading their kids into Marilyn Manson concert? Sometimes, we neglect the importance of the little things. Little things like showing up at church because you just cannot compromise your commitment to God. Little things like taking care of smallest things in the church that no one likes to do – like cleaning the window blinds that haven’t been cleaned in many years. Little things like actually having a clear direction in life that people can feel that you are driven by a purpose. There are other little (but not actually little) things like doing well in school and actually enjoy reading the scriptures.
The kids who were being led into the Marilyn Manson concert must be now anywhere in between 18-25. Some of you would be in compatible age as they are and how I wish I could reach out to some of them and find out whether they know the Loving God that they can have in their life. Those kids had the example of living holiness robbed from them. Apostle Peter says, “Not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock”, we have many youths who have no other choice but look at you to figure out how to live. Please do not rob the everyday example of holy living from them by not living it or by not showing up.
Secondly, I also dream a vision that this becomes a place where “lost” souls can find their belonging place. In the 2nd half of verse two, Apostle Peter says “not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve”. That dishonest gain can also be understood as “selfish gain” since “eager to serve” is proposed as the opposing action (what is opposite of “serving”? – being selfish).
Often churches neglect the people who need us the most. Many churches who weren’t able to see growth in membership often suffer not from lack of spirituality but lack of relational and social care. What do I mean by that? Well, what do new comers need when they come to a new place? They need hospitality of existing members.
You all feel little awkward, uncomfortable and even embarrassed when you go to a place where you know no one. When you are standing at a corner awkwardly, there appears that church member who simply comes to you to welcome you to the church and carries on a light conversation with you – an everyday hero, hero of the ordinary. It may not seem like much but it has life healing force to the one who, otherwise, had to stand there awkwardly.
I would like nothing less than a community where “comfort” of Jesus Christ becomes real. We all have had hard times in high schools or Universities. Everyone needs comfort and a place to belong. When Apostle Peter encourages his listeners to be “not pursuing dishonest gain but eager to serve”, let’s think of nothing less than giving up little bit of our time and comfort to approach the ones who need our time and attention.
As I conclude, I only have one thing to add. I always appreciated real human presence. Please be here as often as you can. You can only be an everyday hero to your younger ones, when you are actually here. We can hear about Felix Baumgartner jumping off from the edge of the space but nothing was more descriptive than that one photo that we were able to see. Nothing replaces your presences here in the church. So consider giving up your gain in order for your “presence” to serve others – that’s the St. Peter’s exhortation.