Thursday, August 24, 2023

Serving and Served - the true Christian Life

See Luke 22:24-30

As Max Bygraves used to say, “I wanna tell you a story”.  I picked this one up on Facebook, recently, and it touched me….

When I asked my 11-year-old son to help me unload dirt from our small pickup into his mother’s new garden boxes, his reaction was typical.

“Ummmm… I’m busy right now,” He said.

He was playing a game on the family laptop, wearing sweat pants and an old T-shirt, lounging on the sofa, feet on the coffee table.

“No you’re not,” I said.

There was a fight, moaning, excuses... the usual.

Moments later, we were next to a wheelbarrow shoveling dirt. He looked at me with flat eyes, his hood up, shoulders slumped, and said, “Why do we have to do this?”

I thought for a moment, because I’ll admit, it was a valid question. Neither of us were all that into flowers or vegetables, or any of the things that would be grown in those garden boxes. But my wife, Mel, loves gardening.

I thought, and he waited, and finally I said, “When you love someone, you serve them.”

I went on, telling him that I want him to grow up to be the kind of man who serves his family, friends, and community.

“This” I said while gesturing to the dirt, and the garden boxes I built the weekend before, and the wheelbarrow and shovel, and the first of many truckloads of dirt we would unload over the next few weeks, “Is what love looks like.”

He didn’t like my answer. I could see it in the way he reluctantly picked his shovel back up.

We finished unloading the dirt. The next day, while I was at work, and the kids and Mel had the day off because it was between terms, Mel sent me a picture.  Mel had picked up another load of dirt and before she had a chance to unload it, Tristan voluntarily started working. When she asked him “why,” he shrugged and said, “Because I love you.”

I’d never been prouder of my son."

That’s a beautiful story isn’t it.  It places service to others, and love for each other, at the core of a family relationship.  And for me, it stands as a model of what service to each other in the Christian family should be too.

Giving service to one another is a core principle of the Christian faith.  It is why all of us ministers, including Bishops, are first ordained as deacons, before anything else.  (The word ‘deacon’ comes from a Greek word that means ‘servant’).  Jesus modelled that same servanthood, not only in giving his life for us, but also by healing, teaching and leading.  Leadership is, in Jesus’ terms, another kind of service.  The best leaders seek nothing for themselves from the job of leading – only the satisfaction of seeing a community move forward.

The word ‘minister’ also points us to this notion of service.  And of course it is used not just of Christian leaders, but also ministers of the Government.  The word implies that the first and greatest duty of all Government leaders is to serve the people who elected them, without fear of favour, and never for personal gain.  Perhaps that is why we are so cross when any minister, in the church or in the government, appears to be feathering their own nest, rather than pouring out their lives in service to others.

The principle of service goes much deeper than just the leaders of the church, however.  It applies to all Christians, at every level of the church.  This idea is exemplified in that lovely hymn ‘Brother, Sister, let me serve you; let me be as Christ to you’.  When the call to service has been heard by every member of a church community, we can have real confidence that the Spirit of God is powerfully at work among us.

But what about those who feel too weak, or too poor, or too sick to offer service?  Does that exclude them from the Christian life of serving and loving others.  Not at all.  I have sat with many a sick person who struggles with the fact that they are no longer well enough to serve others.  They miss the sense of purpose that serving others gave them.  They miss the joy of giving service.  To such people, I always ask a question.  I say “Did you derive pleasure or satisfaction from your acts of service?’.  (They always say yes!).  “Then,” I say “now is your opportunity to let others gain that same sense of pleasure or satisfaction.  Your incapacity, at this point in your life, is your chance to give a gift of vulnerability.  Your vulnerability gives space for others to serve.  It is your gift to them.  Your vulnerability is, in fact, a service you can offer, in itself”.  I usually find that people feel better about themselves after that little talk!

You see, there is something intrinsically powerful in the giving and receiving of service.  When service is offered freely, without cost, and without looking for reward, it can bring surprising reward of its own.  If I sit with a homeless person feeling superior and powerful, with the power to either improve their life or leave them in the same state that I found them, then I have missed the deeper potential of my act of service.  I’ve missed the fact that the homeless person brings to that moment everything they have experienced, all they have learned about themselves, God, and the community.  If I set out only to serve, but not to BE served, I miss what God wants to give me through the transaction of service.  If, however, I sit with the homeless person with an openness to hearing how we can serve each other, then a new and vital relationship is likely to form. 

This is something of the heart of God that I detected in that story I started with.  The young boy, eventually, carried out his act of service out of love for his mother.  But what the story doesn’t explicitly say is that the Mother also served the boy – not least by growing and preparing food in the planters he was filling.  His father served the boy by awakening him to the depth of love he felt for his mother.  Service then, became reciprocal and shared.  The boy served his Mum, his mum served him, the father in the story served them both – and all were bound together in love.

This is something  of what the church means when it talks about the Trinity.  Each member of the Trinity is bound in love to the others.  From that love, service breaks forth – and those acts of service breathe the Universe into life.

Service then is one of the most profound things that a Christian can do.  It is life-giving to the one who receives service, AND to the one who gives it.  Service was at the core of Jesus ministry, and it is at the core of the Christian Way.  So let me leave you with this question:  what service will you offer and receive today?  Amen.

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