This Is Dedicated To The Christ I Love
A few years back the noted religious writer, Dr. Lyle Schaller tried to slip one past the reading public. He wrote a book on the church called Survival Tactics in the Parish. He dedicated the book to “Shang”. He described Shang as being one who had mastered three of the most essential characteristics for surviving in the ministry of the local church. He said Shang gets plenty of rest, has a clear sense of self identity, and has a remarkable ability to ignore trifling diversions.
When Leonard Sweet, the President of United Seminary in Dayton, Ohio picked up that book and saw this intriguing dedication, he wondered to himself, “Who in the world is Shang?” So he investigated, and he discovered that Shang was none other than Dr. Schaller’s dog. That book dedication so captured Leonard Sweet’s imagination that he began to do some light-hearted research into the subject of book dedications. He found that the vast majority of authors follow the traditional pattern of dedicating books to loved ones or other special people, but Leonard Sweet learned that there are some exceptions. He found that one author dedicated his book to” a mountain”, another to the “dear old apple tree”, another to “old movies”, still another to “a favorite armchair”. Best selling author Larry McMurtry dedicated one of his Western novels to “Leslie, for the use of her goat.” And Robert Morley dedicated his Book of Worries to “scrambled eggs and toast”.
Dr. Sweet said that his personal favorites were these two. The first by Steven Pile who wrote: “To all of those who have written terrible books on how to be a success, I dedicate this terrible book on how it’s perfectly alright to be incompetent for hours on end, because I am and so is everyone I know.” And the other, a book containing this brutally honest confession: “Dedicated to my creditors, whose increasing impatience has made this book necessary.”
Interestingly enough, Dr. Sweet says that more and more authors are finding the gall to arrogantly dedicate their book to themselves. He thinks that it began with Carlotta Monti, the girlfriend of W.C. Fields, who wrote a book about the famous comedian and dedicated the book to herself with these words: “To myself for the many years of loving service and kindness I willingly gave him.”
There’s a sermon in there somewhere, for we are living in a world where more and more people are arrogantly dedicating life to no higher purpose or cause than themselves. Isn’t that sad? It makes me wonder if your life and mine were a book, how would the dedication page read? Who would be honored there?
Actually, the remarkable incident reported for us in John 21, has Jesus putting that very question to Simon Peter. “Simon, to whom and to what is your life dedicated? Who will be honored in your life?” Three times Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” Three times Peter answered, “Yes”, and three times Jesus commanded, “Feed my sheep.” Quite clearly Jesus was saying to Simon Peter, “If you love me, dedicate your life to me. Dedicate your life to feeding and tending and caring for my people in the world.”
Today we formally install Ted Pierce as an associate pastor of this church and his ministry among us officially begins. It’s a good time for us to pose the question: To whom and to what is your life dedicated? Who is honored by your life? If your life were a book, how would the dedication page read? The risen Christ is speaking loud and clear to Ted Pierce and to all of us. He is saying, “If you love me dedicate your life to serving my church and my people.” Let me show you what that means:
Number One: We can dedicate to Christ a life of kindness.
If you want to do good for your church and your Christ, then go out into the world and be kind to people in the name of Christ. Imitate the spirit of kindness and generosity which was so radiant in our Lord. Someone once said, “You can master church history, you can spout high-sounding theological words, you can even quote scripture, but only when I see your kindness do I begin to see your faith.”
Carl Howie tells of an incident which took place one night on a New York subway. It was winter. It was unusually cold and blustery, not too many people were riding the subway that night. At each station the train would rumble in, screech to a stop, and slam back the doors allowing a few people to come and go. At one station a dismal looking woman got on. Her clothes were ragged and dirty. She was either extremely tired or weak from illness, or hungry, or maybe she had had too much to drink. As the train lurched forward, she stumbled and she slumped into her seat and immediately dropped off to sleep. On her hands were two of the most tattered gloves you’ve ever seen -full of holes. You could see through the holes that her hands were cold, chapped, almost frost-bitten. The people on the subway simply stared at this pitiful sight and you could almost read their thoughts; “Look at that worthless wretch. How do people allow themselves to get in such a mess? The city ought to do something about people like that.” Then a strange thing happened. A young Puerto Rican boy got up to get off the train as it slowed to a stop. As he passed this sleeping woman he stopped, removed his gloves, laid them on her lap, and then got off the train. Another of the exiting passengers called out to him and said, “Why did you give her your gloves?” His answer was simple but profound. He said, “Because I am a Christian.” He did it because of Christ. He dedicated his act of kindness to Christ.
When the risen Lord said to Simon Peter, “If you love me, tend my sheep”, what he meant was, “If you love me, dedicate your life to loving kindness.” Let that be your tribute to our Lord. Dedicate a life of kindness to him. That’s number one.
Number Two: Dedicate to Christ a life of courage.
Simon Peter realized on the seashore that morning that he didn’t have to be afraid anymore. His Christ had faced the worst this world can dish out and had triumphed over it. He had conquered once and for all and forever sin and evil and death. Suddenly Simon Peter realized that when Jesus Christ is on your side, and by your side, you have nothing to fear. That proved to be the turning point in Peter’s life. He went on to become one of the most courageous leaders of the Christian church this world has ever known. He was the one, who in the face of persecution, and in the face of his own death said, “Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful creator while continuing to do good.” He lived a life of courage, dedicated to the cause of Christ no matter the cost.
Someone once asked the great preacher, Phillips Brooks, why he was so confident and courageous and optimistic about life. He replied, “Because I am a Christian.” As Christians, we can be courageous and confident because God is with us, and nothing, not even death, can separate us from Him.
One of the most colorful sports personalities of our time was a man named Jim Valvano- “Jimmy V” as he was known affectionately to sports fans around the country. “Jimmy V” died last April after a long battle with cancer. He was 47 years old. I suppose he will be remembered as a great basketball coach. His 1983 North Carolina state team won the national championship. I suppose he will be remembered as an outstanding T.V. sports analyst, an eloquent and inspirational speaker, and a loveable, wise-cracking humorist. Yes, I suppose he will be remembered for those things, but there is something I know he will be remembered for: his courage. A few weeks before he died, he was honored on national television, and to that vast viewing audience he said this: “Today I fight a different battle. You see I have trouble walking, and I have trouble standing for longer than a few minutes. Cancer has taken away most of my physical abilities. Cancer is attacking and destroying my body. But what cancer cannot touch is my soul. I have faith in God, and I hope that things might get better for me, but even if they don’t, I promise you this; I will never, ever quit. And if cancer gets me, then I’ll go to heaven, and I’ll try to be the best coach they’ve ever seen up there.”
You know what Jim Valvano was saying, don’t you? He was saying, “I am not afraid. Because I am a Christian, I am not afraid.” Mark it down, my friends. If Jesus Christ is everything to you in life, then there is nothing in life of which you ever need to be afraid. As Christians, we can dedicate to Christ a life of courage.
Number Three: We can dedicate to Christ a life of service.
When the risen Lord said, “Simon, if you love me, feed my sheep,” He meant, “Simon, make service to my people in the world the hallmark of your everyday living.”
There’s a beautiful legend arising out of the early church about a rich merchant who searched the Mediterranean world looking for the distinguished apostle Paul. The merchant finally located Timothy, who in turn took him and introduced him to Paul, and Paul and the merchant visited for several hours. When the merchant emerged from that visit, he was buoyant with excitement and energy. He said to Timothy; “I’ve never met anyone like him. He is the most amazing human being I have ever encountered. He is so serene, and yet he is so powerful. He has done so much, given so much, sacrificed so much, accomplished so much, and helped so many people. Please tell me what is his secret.” “Don’t you know,” Timothy replied, “Paul’s secret is that he is totally committed to Jesus Christ. He is committed to Jesus Christ heart, mind, body, and soul.” The merchant looked confused. “Is that all?”, he said. And with a smile on his face Timothy replied, “That, my friend, is everything.”
If you and I could climb into a time machine and be transported back to the first century to visit with Peter and Paul and ask them: “Why have you given yourself in such devotion to the church? Why have you risked so much and lived so sacrificially? Why have you given your life to all of this?” Each one of them, in his own way, would answer: “Because I am a Christian.” That’s what being a Christian means: dedicating our own lives, our kindness, our courage, our service to Jesus Christ and to His Church.
Is that all?
Oh, my friends, that is everything!