Be In Service
Third of a series
The HABITS of a Growing Christian
I Thessalonians 5:12-24
Last week, I shared two fundamental beliefs about the purpose of my faith journey and how I achieve that purpose. The purpose of the journey is expressed in the words of Jesus found in John 10:10 where he says, “I came so you may have life and have it more abundantly.” My journey of faith is to help me find the best, most exciting life possible. This statement then supports my second assumption, which is that it is through a relationship with God through Jesus Christ that we find the most exciting, meaningful life we can possibly have. Obviously, this is the foundation for our sermon series, “Habits of a Growing Christian.” Each letter of the word “habit” reflects a particular spiritual discipline or practice that we can practice that allows us to be proactive in deepening this relationship which allows us to find this new life, and abundant life in God.
Today, as the sermon’s title indicates, we look at “B” which stands for “Be in service.” That serving is actually a spiritual discipline and that in our serving others we deepen our relationship, or we find a means or pathway to God’s grace and love in our lives. I believe this is true, because it helps us to become in touch with the core of our humanity, to be in touch with the very being that God created us to be. This became very clear to me based upon an experience in my own life.
I need to share just a bit of background first. My mom died at the age of 50 from cancer. She died just before I entered into seminary. When I attended seminary, I was fortunate to receive a student pastorate, which allowed me to have a home to live and to earn a modest income to me expenses. The hard part was the pastorate was about an hour from the school. My second year in school I had a schedule where I had a late class one day, and an early class the next. Rather than drive all the way home, I would spend the night at my dad’s house, which was only about 15 minutes from the school. It was great, because it gave me a chance every week to see how he was doing and to stay in personal contact with him. One night as we visited he began to talk about what his life was now like after my mom’s death. I was pleased for he had never said anything about my mom’s death for the full year after she died. He shared that, “It’s not the loneliness so much that bothers me, I can handle that. What really bothers me is no one needs me anymore. You and your sister and brothers all have your own lives and families and so no one needs me. I could die tomorrow and it wouldn’t make a difference to anyone.”
I was so pleased he began to talk, especially since I had just started my pastoral counseling class. “Great,” I thought, “now I can utilize some of what I am learning and be a good support for my dad.” First I tried to assure him that he was indeed needed. “Dad, we would all miss you and you are very important to all of us. You are an important part of our lives in many special ways.” Then, I thought, I can help him see that his life can be important and that there are good reasons for living each day. “Plus,” I said, “you’re a very talented man and have many skills that others would love to learn. You could help others by teaching them some of these skills.” I no sooner had these words out of my mouth when I could see his face turn a bright red. As he glared at me he shouted, “You’re talking about volunteer work! No body is using me!” Well so much for my pastoral care abilities. I want to assure you I have had many years to hone them. But, what made me the saddest about my dad’s response was, “He had indeed been able to identify his deepest need for himself and his life, but his value system, what he had learned about life in his world view was that helping or serving another was being used. So he shut off the very pathway he needed to restore his need to be needed and to make a difference. But, his response also convinced me that this need to make a difference, this need to know we are contributing to life is a central part of who we all are as children of God. It is a part of who God created us to be.
In the passages from Mark, we can see that its not just my dad who misses what it means to be fully alive because the world has taught us something different. Even Jesus’ disciples had a hard time understanding what he was trying to teach them about the significance of life. While they were walking along the road he had overheard them arguing amongst themselves. When he asks them what they were arguing about they sheepishly hang their heads because they had been arguing over who was the greatest, the most important, the most special amongst themselves. Jesus then teaches them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last and servant of all.” Yet, just a short time later, James and John approach Jesus and try to make him promise that they will receive prominence and greatness from him by having them sit at his right and left hands in glory. It is impossible for them to move on from their stereotypical, worldview of what it means to be great and important. So Jesus once again teaches them, “whoever wants to be first amongst you must be slave of all.” And then to reinforce his point, he says, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”
Service and servant hood are not the world’s understanding of greatness, but our Lord says it is the measure of ours. Why? My dad said it well. “I need to be needed by someone. I need to know my life makes a difference to another. I need a reason to be, besides just taking care of myself. I need to know that the world is a better, kinder, more caring and compassionate place because I am a part of it. It is a wonderful feeling to know you have just brought a smile to another’s face, or more tears of thanksgiving and joy because you just let someone know they are not alone but loved. It is a part of the core of who we are. It is being, what I shared last week, “A means of grace, an experience of unconditional love to another.”
It is so foreign to what we are often taught about greatness. I love the thought of William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwaus in their book, Resident Aliens. They say that many people outside the church believe that Christians go to church to escape from reality, but just the opposite is true. We go to church to discover what is real and to practice it together so we can live it in our day to day lives. As John Wesley said, “God does not call you to a devotional time, but to a devotional life.” And Wesley then gave us a challenge to follow as disciples of Jesus Christ. He said, ”Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you can.” As we go forth from this place called sanctuary, where we find truth as Christian people, we are challenged to take what we learn and hopefully practice amongst ourselves and take it to the world. We are reminded over and over that the mission field is right outside our doors.
I want to share a short video with you that I believe expresses why Jesus is trying to help us understand why serving is so important.
The world needs healing. The world needs hope. The world needs comfort. The world needs transformation. Isn’t it fortunate that the church is exactly what the world needs?
Sermon delived by Rev. George Cushman on August 14, 2005.
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