Exploring a Rule of Life 5: Service

So, this is the fifth week of Lent,
and it is the fifth week of our series of talks on the rule of life.
We’ve had pray, read, learn, and tell,
and this week we are looking at serve.

Hmmm. As approached this subject I had three main concerns,
three things I wanted to avoid saying.
Things I suspect some of you, like me,
have wrestled with over the years.

First of all I wanted to avoid giving the message
that you’ve got to find more time
to fit Christian service into your already busy lives.
Yes, I’m in a full-time form of Christian service,
but I recognise what its like to be really busy.
And if you were to ask me to find more time in my life,
outside of my work commitments
to give to some other good cause,
I can guarantee you would not find me especially open.

The second thing I wanted to avoid communicating
is that I, or Simon, or God, or the wider church community,
would really be very obliged and grateful
if you could please just do some more Christian service.
I want to entirely avoid, however indirectly,
any sense of being brow beaten or guilt tripped.

The third thing I wanted to avoid saying
is something along the lines of
these are the prescribed ways you can serve.
Only certain kinds of churchy, religious things count,
and it really doesn’t matter who you are,
or what you can do,
this is what needs to be done.

So rather than give you these bad messages,
I thought I could actually turn bad news into Good,
and try to give you the opposite.

Let’s take the first one.
We as a church want to encourage our members to serve God,
but we, all of us, already have plenty of things going on in life.
Well, I’m not going to give you the bad news
that you’ll simply have to make time for service,
but the Good News I am going to give you still might not be easy to hear.

The Good News is that God doesn’t want to be squeezed into a box.
Nor is God a box to be ticked.
The old Bible translations say that God is a jealous God.
He doesn’t want just a little bit more.
He wants all of us.
And he wants our whole lives to be transformed,
from the inside out, by his life.
Not selfishly, but out of love for us in our human predicament.

When we become a Christian in baptism or confirmation
in a very real sense,
our lives cease to be our own.
We get a new identity.
In the language of the baptism service,
Christ claims us as his own,
and from that moment we enter his service
as his disciples, and members of his Church.

As you consider how you want to serve God,
start from the very core of you.
Who are you?
As a baptised member of his Church, you are his.
And out of this core identity,
allow your service to flow.

Rather than squeezing a little bit more in,
this might mean stopping.
It might mean you’re doing too much,
with the wrong motivation,
and that you first of all need to rest in this love,
and your core identity as a beloved Child of God.
It may also mean that you are already doing much appropriate service,
through your working life,
or through your private or family life.

Either way, our Christian service flows out of the depths of our identity in Christ,
and out of the new life we receive from God
as he claims us for his own.

Now let’s take the second thing.
It’s a question of motivation. s
Yes, we are looking at this rule of life
because as a church we want to practice our faith more faithfully,
and a big part of that is service.
But where does the motivation come from, if not obligation?

As Christians who are claimed by Christ in baptism,
it is essential that we act not from a misplaced sense of obligation,
not from an internalized parent or authority figure
who tells us we ought to do X, Y or Z,
or that we really should oblige the new vicar
and join in with his new initiative.
No, that is a well that will quickly run dry.

The Good News is that our Christian service
wells up naturally from within,
from a deeper source,
a spring that flows for eternity.

Jesus said that the life he gives
becomes in us a spring of living water
gushing up within us to eternal life.
This spring of living water
is the only sustainable source of energy
for the life of Christian service.
And it makes our service not only good for the world,
but good for us too.
It may not be easy,
it may in fact be crucifying difficult;
either way we need a sound motivation.

To live out of the life of this spring
brings us joy and peace and satisfaction,
even as we go about serving others,
and carrying our cross in the world.
And if we are not living from this place,
we quickly realise how hard it is to sustain life,
before we’re running on nothing more than fumes.

So please, don’t do anything to please me – or Simon.
And we don’t need to please God,
because God is already in our corner.
We’ve nothing to prove to God –
he knows it all, the good, the bad and ugly.

Now the third thing I wanted to avoid implying
is that there are only certain ways you can serve.
Or that there are ways to serve God that are better than other.
For example, being a priest.
People often assume that being a priest is the best way to serve God.
That’s priests are holier than other people,
and generally closer to God.

I also wanted to avoid saying that church-based things
are the only or best way to serve God.
As if how you spend your life Monday to Friday
is all very well and good,
but the religious bit of life is where its really at.
Neither of these things
– that Priests are better at serving God than others,
and that religious, churchy ways of serving God are superior –
neither of these things are true.

St Paul in our Epistle reading,
remarks that we should each serve one another
with whatever gift each of us has received.

Well, God, who creates and sustains us,
has put within our hearts, desires, gifts and talents,
to serve him in our own particular way.
Another word for this is vocation.
To have a vocation is to have a calling.
And too often we think that priests are the only ones with vocations.
But that’s a nonsense and a harmful lie.
Every one of us has a vocation,
because every one of us has been called by God
to be members of his body the Church.
And we all know,
each of the many different parts of the body have a role.
There are no spare parts in a body,
and if one part is sick,
and can’t supply the gift that is particular to it,
the whole body suffers.
You are called by God into his church
and as such you have a vocation,
and particular gifts and talents to use,
in the service of his Kingdom.

One little addendum to this too,
is that there is no ageism, or indeed ableism, in the Kingdom of God.
One’s vocation, gifts, and talents evolve over time,
and don’t become redundant as we age.
Similarly, having a vocation doesn’t depend on physical or mental capacity.
God has made us all different,
and has given us each particular gifts to offer in his service.

So, the Good News I want to communicate today is threefold:
One: God wants all of you.
Not just the spare hour on a Monday evening
you are so jealously guarding.
Let your new identity in Christ
transform your whole life,
and find a new purpose
as Christ claims you for his own.

Two: you don’t need to please anyone.
My opinion doesn’t matter,
and God is already on your side.
Draw instead on that deep, pure spring that wells up within you
and gushes forth to eternal life,
and let all your motivation and desire for service
spring from this place.

And three: there is no hierarchy of service.
There is no ageism or ableism in God’s Kingdom.
God has created us all differently in his image,
each with a vocation, with gifts and talents
to bring the table.
Trust what God has put within you,
and do what only you can do
in the service of his Kingdom of justice, mercy and peace.

And no, I’m not going to give you lots of little ideas
about what forms of service you might undertake.
Yes, you might set yourself a goal
to undertake 10 acts of service this year,
but what those things should be
is for you to decide
as you relish your status as a beloved Child of God,
as you draw on the eternal spring rising up within you,
and as you consider the vocation, the desires,
the gifts and talents that God has blessed you with.