[Deering friends, this is tomorrow’s sermon. I wrote it two days before the funeral. I think Read and I are on the same page. Rest of the world: I assume you won’t be in Goshen tomorrow, so you can see it now]
Sermon given at Goshen UCC, 9/10/2017 “Gordon, Community, and Christianity”
On August 2nd of this year, Gordon Sherman, my mentor for life, died at the age of 80 of complications from a stroke, which was a complication of years of smoking. Normally, for people, the cause of their death tells us something about how we should respond. I will impart to you that lesson: Don’t smoke, but that tells you nothing about Gordon. Gordon’s life, and passing, are inescapable for me this week, so I decided not to fight it, and try to preach on something else.
Yesterday, September 9, and this entire weekend, are huge events in my life. Yesterday, Saturday, Gordon’s funeral was held and the expectations were that there would be at least 450 people in attendance. After that, his wife Cy, is scheduled to have a reception at their retirement community. Today, immediately after church, I will be driving up to Deering, NH, for a final reunion and goodbye for Gordon at the place we met him – the Deering Camp and Conference Center, a UCC camp that changed my life. I think hundreds of people are expected at that event as well. In any event, I know that I need to be there. For all of those people that will know, care, remember, weep, and love, I suspect that you – here in Connecticut – have never heard of Gordon Sherman, because you, in Connecticut, have your own version of Gordon, in the form of Alden Tyrell, who, for years, was responsible for Silver Lake. Undoubtedly, some of you know the couple that replaced him, when you think of Silver Lake, and some of you will now know the new guy, as “the face of Silver Lake”. All of that is good.
Silver Lake, like the Deering of my youth, allows people like Gordon, or Alden, or who ever, to do what they do, and this church, like every other church out there, it seems to me, needs to do the same thing. That “thing” is to be Christianity, without even thinking about the world out there which needs Christianity so badly, so that when you go out in the world, your light shines so bright that the world takes notice and is changed. Remember the burning bush that we’ve been talking about this summer? The one that caused Moses to go look at it? That is what Gordon and Deering taught me I could be, and what I now tell you that you can be. There is an old saying that, a light is “harder to see without a dark to stick it in”. There is a lot of darkness out there in the world. The light that you bring to it will be noticed, I assure you, because I know a lot of lights. Those lights are powered by the Spirit of God that can only be experienced. There are those who think it’s important to use the words of Christianity to proclaim their faith. There are those, on the other hand, who think you should do the work of Christianity to show your faith. This morning, I want to offer you a third option for life-long change: be Christianity for someone. Be someone’s “Gordon”. Be to people in your world what Gordon and Deering were to me.
What does that mean? Gordon Sherman was a Christian from the moment he got up til the moment he went to bed, and then more of the same from sleeping to waking. Gordon had a job where he could do that. Deering hosted retreats year-round and summer camps for youth during the summer. Gordon had to prepare for that, he had to say something to those who would come in, and so he did. In addition to preparing the linens and the heat and the food for people who came there, Gordon prepared himself.
Gordon was always reading, or praying, or listening to music in awe of its beauty, regardless of what else he was doing. Even that takes some getting used to, but Gordon managed it. Gordon shared his wisdom often, as he read this book or that. One of the first books Gordon shared with me was “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. Brother Lawrence’s point was that Life is prayer. Everything should be done as prayer – with God in mind. Staff at Deering – “Camp Family” were taught to set tables by praying when you set down a knife, then set down a fork, then set down a spoon, as though God were watching. If it took you an hour to set the tables, you were praying for an hour and you felt energized and connected to God through your work.
Later, it was “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” which taught us – years before “Rick —–“The Purpose Driven Life” – that our individual lives had some purpose to God. After that, it was Richard Bach’s book, Illusions, which taught balance between growing yourself and helping – not forcing – others to grow, as well. Between those three books, there might have been a total of 250 pages all told, so they were not beyond anyone’s comprehension or anybody’s schedule. They were easy, but they changed your life, just as they had changed his. Last week in church, we read the passage where Jesus says, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light”. Living a Christian life, being Christian – always in contact with God, knowing you having a purpose and that you are important, and not burning out but burning steady – are actually easy or actually make life easier.
Gordon always grew, always read, always stayed a step ahead of the rest of us, and held out that carrot for others to see. If you liked where he was going, you could follow his path. If you liked your own, that was fine with him, because you were still far ahead of the majority of the populous, just for reading those books.
By living that life, you come to believe that miracles can happen, and you see them more and more. It’s a miracle that you get up in the morning. It’s a miracle when you look at the trees. It’s a miracle that someone can compose a piece of music like Beethoven or Bach or Handel. And if those things are miracles, what about making things happen through prayer? Is that possible? Maybe. And if that’s possible, what else is possible?! World peace?! Maybe. And when you go into a room with that attitude, the people around you change. A bunch of people who believe in God, who experience God’s spirit, and that God knows them, who believe that they have a purpose and a meaning in life are unstoppable, even by the most horrific acts that human beings are capable of, because they know, know deep in their heart, that God exists, and God is with them, and that God is in everyone else as well.
Years ago, there was a Deering reunion, at Gordon and Cy’s retirement community. In that room were tons of teachers, tons of nurses, quite a few ministers some professors, and some musicians. None of them were hurting people for a living. Nearly all were specifically in the helping professions. The others were simply joyous for a living (musicians or artists or whatever). All of them gave hugs, if you wanted one. All of them made the world, and your experience of it, better. I believe that there are at least 1,000 people like this out there, simply because there was a Gordon, and then because there was the community of Deering people like Gordon. And every day is a chance to live like that, to be like that, to ….be… alive! First, there was Gordon and Cy. Then there were the Cadieuxs and the Hudsons and the Kennedys, and the Bordeuxs, and so many others to list, that were mentored by Gordon. Soooo many wonderful people in Camp Family over the years! And when they left the hill of Deering, they married – sometimes other staff, sometimes someone who didn’t know of Deering, and they introduced them to Deering people and the actual Deering itself. And those people had kids, or adopted kids, or taught kids, or helped kids, and a third generation was born and raised with Gordon’s influence… and the world became better because of it.
So, this morning, I want to encourage you to be Christianity for someone else. Experience Christianity every day, grow in your Christianity a little bit every day. In short, be someone else’s Gordon, and this church, and this world, will not only survive, but thrive every day you’re alive. Amen.