Bill York Memorial Service
August 10, 2012 (died July 30)
Note: Bill York and his wife Dee came to First Free in St. Louis rather late in our tenure there, but they became very close friends to Jan and me, and they remained so even after we returned to Wichita. I was pleased to return to St. Louis for his funeral shortly after I retired.
Message: I loved Bill York. Sadly, I only knew him the last two decades of his life, but almost from the day I met him I counted him one of my top ten friends ever. We often visited in one another’s homes–here in St. Louis and in Eureka Springs, AR. We enjoyed meals together, especially when Bill did the cooking! We played hearts and penuckle until the wee hours. I was with Bill at St. Luke’s the night he cut two of his fingers off after 50 years of having no major accidents working with power tools.
I grieved when he and Dee sold their home just two miles from ours and moved to The Villages in Florida (but then we ourselves moved the next year). When Bill had his stroke seven years ago in Florida, I flew down to be with him in the hospital. When he and Dee lived with his son Jim at their beautiful farm in Carthage, MO, we were privileged to visit them there several times. Since they returned to St. Louis, we never made a trip back here that we didn’t stop and see Bill, usually for a meal in the dining hall at Delmar Gardens.
Bill was such a gentle soul. I loved the twinkle in his eye. I loved to share geezer jokes with him. I love how he enjoyed teasing and being teased. I loved building things with him. I loved eating his world-class meat loaf. What a cook that guy was!
Our sorrow at losing such a dear friend is tempered by the knowledge that Bill lived a long life, his quality of life had deteriorated significantly these past seven years, and we know he’s in a better place. But we will miss him.
Recently I did a sermon series on 1& 2 Thessalonians. One of the dominant themes of both books is work. Apparently there were individuals in the church of Thessalonica who were so convinced that the Lord was returning soon that they quit working and started sponging off everyone else. As I was contemplating the life of Bill York, I couldn’t help but think about one verse in 1 Thess 4. Listen to these words:
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your own hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
To me that verse has Bill’s name written all over it. He lived a quiet life, he minded his own business, and he worked with his own hands. We could talk about each of these characteristics and why God values them, but I want to focus on the third one–the command to “work with your own hands.”
We live in a day and time when manual labor is not always revered. In fact, there are some who consider it demeaning, and their goal in life is to make enough money so that they never have to work with their hands. But God places great value on manual labor. Bill was a cabinetmaker and a carpenter, and a really good one. He took pride in his work. Some of you here today have enjoyed the results of his skill, as you have things he crafted in your homes. I sure do.
The value God places on manual labor is highlighted in the OT book of Exodus, where we read about a couple of men whose names are not exactly household names–Bezalel and Oholiob. The fact that they are essentially unknown is one of the things I like best about them. They were not famous, they never gave speeches, they didn’t lead crowds or exert influence over nations. But they did demonstrate that amazing things can be accomplished by ordinary people, when they do their best with what they are given, and when their hearts are rightly related to an extraordinary God. That’s how I would describe Bill York.
In the book of Exodus we read about the detailed plans God gave to Moses for the building of a sacred place of worship that predated the great Solomonic temple by almost 500 years. It was a portable building called The Tabernacle, designed so that it could travel with the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings. The Lord says to Moses in the first verse of Exodus 31:
“See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, to help him.”
These two men didn’t apply to work for God; they were chosen by God to do a task. And this is not unusual. Time and time again the Scriptures use the word “choose,” almost never of us choosing God, almost always of God choosing us.
The point is that God is the one who takes the initiative. He created us, He knows us intimately, He calls us, and He lets us know in various ways that He desires us to serve Him and His kingdom.
Verse 2 goes on to say of Bezalel, whom God has chosen, that “I have filled him with the Spirit of God.” I think the point is that when God chooses a person for a specific task, He doesn’t expect that person to operate just with his own strength, so He gives him His Spirit. The believer can have the confidence that if God calls him to do a task, the Spirit of God is available to help with that task.
But God gave Bezalel something else besides His Spirit. It goes on to say in verse 3: “I have filled him with skill, ability, and knowledge in all kinds of crafts.” Now this verse makes explicitly clear that these talents were all a gift from God. In fact, every talent we possess is ultimately a gift from God. The Psalmist writes,
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.”
Almost any ability or talent can be used by God’s help to edify and encourage others and to bring glory to God. That is true of musical gifts, prose, poetry, painting, mechanics, gardening, sewing, cooking, and woodworking. I think that’s the point of 1 Cor. 10:31: “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
Frankly, I would love to have been there as Bezalel fashioned the Ark of the Covenant with its intricate detail and with the hammered gold cherubim hovering over each corner. Nothing fascinates me more than watching a skilled craftsman at work. When we go to Silver Dollar City, it’s the craftsmen that get my attention, not the rides or the shows. Two TV shows that my son Andy and I never missed from time he was 7 were Home Time and This Old House. Even today I like to think the only reason Norm Avery can make things I can’t is that he has better tools.
Bill York was a skilled craftsman. I took great pleasure in observing the cabinets and furniture he created, the figures he carved, and the home improvements he made. My own home in Eureka Springs, AR shows many results of Bill’s craftsmanship– the sliding doors and windows he installed and the oak crown molding in the living room.
What was different about Bill’s work from than that of the average carpenter with the same skills? Well, for one thing, Bill recognized that his ability was a gift from God and he gave God the glory. He was motivated to do his best because he was ultimately working for God, not just a customer or friend.
Our society has elevated certain professions above others, but I don’t think God does that. The surgeon in our culture is highly honored and very well compensated, but where would he be
without the nurse to stop the bleeding he causes,
or the orderly who brings the patient to the operating room,
or the janitor who keeps the operating room clean,
or the electrician who makes sure electric power is available,
or the common laborer who manufactures the gloves that protect both the
doctor and the patient,
or the truck driver who delivers the gloves,
or the wife who graciously fixes his supper when the surgeon comes home
four hours past suppertime.
You see, all are important in God’s scheme. That’s why the NT speaks so clearly of the Church as a body. “The eye can’t say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you.’ The head cannot say to the foot, ‘I don’t need you.’” (1 Cor. 12:21)
Now I see another very interesting point regarding Bezalel and Oholiab. In Exodus 35:34 Moses says that “God has given both Bezalel and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others.” Isn’t this always God’s way? He doesn’t give us talents to bury or even just to use, but to share. And the best way to share them is to teach others how to do the same things we are skilled in.
I learned so much from Bill. I just loved going to his shop. He showed me how to make various kinds of wood joints and how to cut crown mold angles. And when he moved to Florida, he gave me lots of his hardwoods, some of which I still have. He gave me some tools also. One of my prized possessions is a box he made with little compartments, all filled with copper fittings. Bill was not just a doer; he was also a teacher.
I see something else in this story of Bezalel and Oholiab. It tells us in Exodus 38:22 that “Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made everything the Lord commanded Moses; with him was Oholiab.” They did exactly what God gifted them to do, and the result is that the worship of the entire congregation of Israel was enhanced. It wasn’t just the work of the prophets and priests that impacted God’s people–it was also the craftsmanship of Bezalel and Oholiob. And it’s not just pastors and missionaries who do great work for God today–it’s anyone who employs the gifts God gives them. Bill did that, and because he was faithful with his gifts, all of our lives were enhanced.
Let me summarize with a few truths for you to take home:
1. God never asks us to do anything without providing the resources to accomplish it.
2. God never forces anyone to employ the gifts, talents, and creativity He has given. It’s our choice to use them or neglect them. And it’s our choice to use them selfishly or for Kingdom purposes.
3. God honors the faithful servant, no matter what his area of giftedness or sphere of influence. The words, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” are not reserved for geniuses, or great public accomplishments. They are also for ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary things by using the gifts God has given them.
Some years ago I heard a story, the gist of which I remember but the details are a bit fuzzy. If I recall correctly the story concerned Michelangelo as he was working on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. The great artist was slaving away hour after hour and day after day, suspended on an uncomfortable scaffold 70 feet above the floor, all the time painting a portion of the ceiling that would be hidden from every observer by one of the flying buttresses.
Finally, one of the cathedral helpers showed his irritation by asking, “Why are you spending so much time on something no one will ever see?” And his response was, “God will see it.” God sees what we do and if it’s done right, He will honor it whether anyone else does or not.
Listen to this short passage from I Peter 4: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides (can I be so bold as to add this: ‘If anyone builds cabinets and finishes woodwork, let him do it as unto the Lord), so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
Of course, Bill’s story would not be complete without stating clearly that the reason he desired to give glory to God through his life and work is that God had already given him the gift of His Son. Bill believed with all his heart that Jesus Christ went to the cross to pay the penalty for his sin. He put his personal faith and trust in Christ, and it is because of that, not because he worked hard or loved well, that we have confidence today that Bill is in the presence of his Savior.
Prayer: Our Father and our God, as we come to you today our hearts are tender as we are reminded once again that “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” We seek the comfort of your Holy Spirit and the fellowship of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Thank you, Lord, for special memories we all have of Bill York–memories of looks given, of words spoken, of kindnesses done. Thank you for his strong faith in Christ, for his love for Dee, for his boys, Bill, Jim, and Ron, for Dee’s children, who loved Bill as a father, for all their grandchildren, and for his friends.
Comfort them in their loss.
Father, thank you for the reminder in your Word that we do not need to grieve as those who have no hope. We have confidence that Bill York knew Jesus as his personal Savior, and that therefore his absence from his body means he is present with his Lord.
Father, take good care of our friend, and I trust that heaven itself will be a more beautiful place as Bill adds his creative touch. Help us to turn in faith to Christ and to lean on Him alone.
We pray all these things in our Savior’s name, Amen.