"Let us not grow weary in well-doing."
I’ve been talking in this sermon series about spiritual disciplines: holy habits. Life is largely made up of habits – learned routines that we largely do without thinking. There are good habits, and they’ll carry you through a lot of difficulties, help you get where you’re going; and then there are bad habits, and they’ll get you places, too, but you might not like it, and getting out of those places might be harder than you bargained for.
So far, in this series we’ve talked about worship and prayer and fasting, about accountability and study and witness. Today, I want to talk with you about service.
We are to serve Christ our Lord, not be served by him. We are, of course, drawn to faith by the possibilities of what Christ can do for us, but it can’t just be about me, if I am to be of use to Christ. After Jesus has drawn me to him – gotten me out of whatever trouble I was in, cleaned me up, set me right with God – he continues to share all good things with me, but he is not my servant; I am his. I must serve him, and organize my life in such a way that my habits, my daily routines, the way I structure my time, fulfill his desires of me.
Now, God-in-Christ is not a slave-driver, and he understands that there are many calls on our time and energies. And, indeed, there may come a time when we cannotT serve him as we would like. John Milton -- statesman, poet, and all-around intellectual -- served God with superb literary skill. He was devastated to realize he was losing his sight -- which meant, his ability to read and to use a pen -- when still fairly young. Eventually, he came to terms with this, writing his famous poem, "On His Blindness" about it.
When I consider how my light is spentSo, okay, it's not up to you to bring the kingdom in; still, we’re supposed to do what we can and not make excuses. So what does God expect us to do for him? Well, let me suggest that we are to serve Christ in each of three different arenas of our life.
E're half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide,
Lodg'd with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present 5
My true account, least he returning chide,
Doth God exact day-labour, light deny'd,
I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts, who best
Bear his milde yoak, they serve him best, his State
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o're Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and waite.
First, we are to serve him IN THE CHURCH.
And the primary service all of us are to render to our Lord is to worship him and to build up the body of Christ. As the writer to the Hebrews says, “neglect not the assembling of yourselves together.”
Regular worship attendance matters – and I made that point before, when we talked about the discipline of worship, but it bears repeating. We gather to praise God: “the Lord inhabits the praises of his people.” And we gather to join our prayers together – which is more powerful than praying separately. And, we encourage each other: one of the best parts of coming to church, especially here where the love is so genuine, is the smiles we get, the friendly greetings, the hugs, the honest welcome.
We all feel better for coming to church – just because of the people we’re with, in addition to the comfort of God’s word and the sacraments. And (we often miss this point), we make the experience of coming to church better for everyone else when we are there to share it with them. Everybody likes the excitement of a full church, but if you don’t come, and he doesn’t come, and they piddle around, well, the church isn’t going to be full very often, and everyone is the loser by that. So, you lighten everyone else’s load and increase their joy, just by showing up. Somebody said, 80% of life is just showing up, and showing up is the first and longest-lasting duty we owe Christ in serving him in his Church.
Beyond that simple duty, then, there are also many other things we can do to serve Christ in his Church – things that build the church up and help the church achieve its goals, to fulfill the commission of Christ to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that he has commanded us.”
We need Sunday School teachers. We need singers for the choir. We need people who can organize a dinner – and to cook that dinner – and to eat that dinner.
As the “Scouting Church” in town, we need lots of volunteers to teach Merit Badges and go camping and do Boards of Review, as well as buy popcorn and Girl Scout cookies.
We need people to share their wisdom with us in leadership of various sorts: on the Trustees, on the Church Council, in Stewardship, and Missions, and so on.
We need people to volunteer to be greeters, to bring in stuff for the food pantry, to go on mission trips, and on and on. There are lots of diff tasks to do, so lots of folks’ abilities and availability can be tapped. And everybody can do something to serve Christ in his Church.
Second, we are to serve Christ IN THE WORLD.
There’s a lot more of “out there” than there is of “in here,” and we are to be like Jesus, "who went about doing good." You Scouts and Scouters will recognize the slogan, “Do a good turn daily,” but both John Wesley and Lord Baden-Powell were known to say that a day in which they did not help anybody was a wasted day, to their minds. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they see your good works and give glory to your father who is in heaven." So the good we do is valuable not only for the degree to which we help others, but for the way it reflects upon the righteousness and love of God. So, doing good to your neighbor is something we can all do – and should do.
I called on Sue H. in the hospital recently, and more than once, she spoke of her appreciation of Anise O., who called her regularly to check up on her and encourage her. She said of her, “She mothers me so." That's loving your neighbor!
Meanwhile, there are lots of folks here in our congregation who contribute significant time and energy to various community organizations, to what we call “civil society.” We have folks who are active in the Masons, in the Lions Club (with their eyeglass program), and the American Legion, to name but three, and all those groups have programs and activities to help others.
We also have a bunch of folks who work at the RBB store, while others volunteer for Habitat. Laurie and Rich S. are both frequent team members on Walks to Emmaus. Some of us here are volunteers at District or Council level of the Boy Scouts. Chris F. has lavished a lot of love and attention on Ellettsville Main St, while Tiffany W. just put in yeoman’s work on the Fall Festival and its education day. Deanne has spent a lot of time and skill on the Centers for Women’s Ministries and Middle Way House. There are folks here who support others in 12-Step programs. And there are folks we help lead or chaperone school activities (God bless 'em). And we have people who work with grant programs and serve on boards and agencies and more kinds of service than I can spell out. All of us who do anything to make our community better or help someone who inhabits this world with us is doing the work of God -- doing what Jesus expects his followers to do!
Finally, we are to serve Christ IN THE PURPOSES OF OUR LIFE.
All of us have a call from God. For some of us, that includes our professional work. Some of us are clergy or work in the medical field or teach or do counseling – what we traditionally call the “helping professions.” This doesn’t exempt us from the usual expectations of service in the other areas of life, but we do what we do professionally for the glory of God and the relief of our fellow Man. Others are in skilled trades, and that may not sound like a “helping profession,” but you know what? The world needs builders and fixers and designers, plumbers and carpenters electricians: people who do honest work and provide others with well-made products and well-done services. Every honest workman offers his craft to God, and glorifies God in the doing of what he or she does. And if you are in a line of work which cannot be used to glorify God, then maybe you need to find a new line of work, because any good work done honestly and well is an act of service to Christ.
Some of us have hobbies in which we serve Christ; or at least, we use our witness to others with whom we share our interests to make known his goodness to us. People who offer their art to God – whether painting or writing or music or performing arts, whatever it might be – also do Christ good service.
And certainly, all of us who have families have a call from God to honor Christ in our marriages and in our family relationships. Raising children to know and serve Christ is as holy a calling as there is, and marriage of man and woman is, as St. Paul pointed out, an icon of Christ and the Church, and as Genesis said, an image of God. How we love whom we love and how we act for their benefit is service to Christ, indeed; as James said, “he who does not provide for his own has denied the faith and is worse than an infidel.” So once again, everyone has a call from God within one's capacity to answer, and in making one's offering, one honors God and serves Christ.
And here’s the thing: all of us need to serve him in all three arenas of our lives. Figuring out the right proportions between them can be a challenge, but nobody is exempt from serving Christ in the Church, in the world, and in the purposes of their lives. So, every day (or every week), you should be able to look back and say you’ve got something to show in each area. As the old campfire song puts it,
Softy falls the light of day,And the final challenge is to do your service often enough to wear some grooves in your life – to make a set of proper habits. It’s not about doing more than somebody else, it’s just about doing it for the rest of your life. And when you serve Christ, he notices and is greatly pleased.
as our campfire fades away;
silently each Scout should ask,
"Have I done my daily task?"
Blessed be his Name forever. Amen.