Thursday, 12 December 2013

Talk on Service

John 13:34-35
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

To begin to discuss service, I thought it might be useful to look at some giants of Christian service so as to see the pattern or model of their service; what do they teach us in the way they served ?

Mother Teresa said: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

She also said “I am not sure exactly what Heaven will be like. But when we die and it comes the time for God to judge us, He will not ask, "How many good things have you done in your life?" Rather He will ask, "How much love did you put into what you did?"

When Mother Teresa began her work for the poor in Calcutta, she was alone. She left the comforts of her life as a teacher in a convent school and with only a change of clothes proceeded to the slums to live amongst the poor and suffering, one of the most wretched places on earth. Rejected by the local hospitals the sick destitute would just lie in the gutters waiting for death. Her first out-reach, was to an old woman who died in her arms as she brought her the love of God in her final moments. She accepted the unloved and uncared for and loved them, giving whatever she had at her disposal and by this means brought many to God.

Her service or self giving was driven, not by her own natural goodness, but by the grace of God. And the means of obtaining that is through prayer of the heart.

As she describes prayer :- “Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”

In this manner the love of God flows into the human heart and fills it, only to reemerge in loving service of our neighbours.

A less recent example is St Serapion, one of the desert father’s of the 4th century AD who retreated to the Egyptian desert to make intercession for the world and do battle for souls in prayer.

Like other desert monks, he led a life of extreme austerity. Though he traveled into several countries, he always lived in the same poverty, mortification, and recollection.

Once in a town in Greece, recognizing the spiritual blindness of an actor, he sold himself as a slave to the man for a small sum. (in those days if one was in debt it was a last resort to sell oneself into slavery to repay it and thus live the rest of one’s life as a slave). His only sustenance in this servitude was bread and water. He accomplished every duty belonging to his station with the utmost diligence and fidelity, joining with his labor prayer for the man and his family. In time his example and holiness of life made a deep impression on his pagan master and the whole family was converted to Christianity. His master wanted to give him his freedom out of gratitude for bringing the family to salvation but he would not hear of it but simply returned the original sum he had sold himself for, buying back his own freedom, and went off and sold himself again and again for the rest of his life, to various people but always with the same end in mind to bring them to God no matter what the personal cost.

A seemingly bizarre ministry of service to our modern way of thinking but when we examine it, we can see just how much the love of God moved St Serapion, his compassion for the spiritually impoverished was so great that the measure of his service or sacrifice was without limit. And that’s another component of Christian service, it is sacrificial, love leads to service and service is sacrificial.

If we look at the source of this love which led to the extraordinary service of mother Teresa, and St Serapion which is of course their savior Jesus Christ.

As He says in (Mat 20 26-28), whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

There are many episodes in His earthly ministry which define service; but in keeping with those mentioned above I would refer to the story of Zacchaeus.
(Lk 19  1-10)
 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

I noticed that as with mother Teresa and St Serapion, the first thing Jesus did was something no one else did for Zaccheaus… he accepted him, and spoke to him. As the chief tax collector for the Romans he would have been hated by the people as a traitor to his country and also for being corrupt and living off the backs of his own people. But Jesus not only spoke to him and befriended him in spite of knowing all his wrong doings but stopped his journey and gave him his time. He knew the heart of the man, knew that in spite of his previous crimes that he was ready for change. And in that very moment he did change, promising to give half his wealth immediately to the poor (previously he had probably made a lot of people poor and cared nothing for them) and then going further he was willing to pay back all he had cheated or stolen as well. An outward expression of internal repentance, and a knowledge that Jesus had forgiven him and set him free, with the gift of salvation. He was free to become the man God always wanted him to be, a good man, a generous man, filed with Joy. Jesus had unlocked his heart with the key of kindness.

His whole life, he had, unknowingly, been moving towards this moment of encountering Jesus, a divine appointment. All the while he was plundering and grabbing as much money and power as he could to ‘save himself’ and now suddenly he gave it away, he acquired a true appreciation of its value as compared with the far greater treasure he had just discovered in Jesus. Now the only purpose for his wealth could be to bless others, the ones he had previously hurt. A true repentance. Interestingly the name Zaccheaus means ‘pure and righteous one’. Perhaps in due course he began to live up to his name.

I’ll give one last example of a somewhat lesser stature now, if I may, which highlights another aspect of service, particularly within a larger group or organization. I am referring to our ‘motive’ for serving or purity of intention.

More than 20 years ago, myself and a few friends started a small charity in the UK to help refugees in Bosnia during the war. We took aid convoys over from England, drove across Europe to the suffering people. The food was all donated by church congregations and individuals in Manchester, some vehicles were donated too, even a few ambulances which we later left behind at hospitals. Later large truck loads or containers were sent too in partnership with other groups around the country.

It was a massive undertaking, became much bigger than any of us could imagine and the group is still operating today in a small way in fundraising for various projects in different countries.

There were many volunteers over the years, hundreds, maybe thousands of givers and participants in one way or another rendering wonderful service although it must be said that there were also a variety of ‘motives’.

People are seldom single minded and generally our motives or intentions are at best mixed. Whilst everyone had a measure of love and compassion for the refugees some had other reasons too, some came forward who originated in the region and had a sense of patriotism for their countrymen, others a desire to be part of something – part of the group or community, others may have sought to be seen to be doing some good deed, perhaps for some even an element of self upliftment or the prospect of glory; danger and adventure may have motivated some. Other motives can include gratitude to God for all He has given and a desire to thank Him by giving a little back, for others even guilt can be a driving force too.

A mixed bag of intentions and motives. But the wonderful thing about giving one’s service; particularly in the beginning, is that service changes the person and ultimately the service given purifies the motive or intention. Where there was a little love, it becomes magnified and other lesser reasons or motives melt away over time.

Many of our team experienced this after our first visit to Bosnia, we arrived in one camp (an old school building) where the day before 400 people arrived who had fled the fighting, having just lost their homes, livelihoods and often family members. They were given 1 hour by the invading soldiers to pack and leave their town or burn with it. They had nothing to eat, and no visible hope or future before them. And there were many such incidents that brought home to us their dilemma much more than the pictures on TV that had inspired us to go in the first place. It became more personal, even though we would never meet them again.

On returning to England the zeal for the work was far greater than before. Our team became more single minded, focused and hard working. The service transformed or purified the intention or motive.

Some service becomes high profile like Mother Teresa’s, others are hidden from view entirely like St Serapion. Sometimes the service rendered is great, a special skill perhaps that no one else has or a lot of time commitment and at other times it may be very simple service or very quickly accomplished.

The medical missions conducted by this team are of great value to those served by them and a joy to those involved. On the one I was privileged to be a part of  I could see the joy and gratitude of the people for all that was given to them and I am sure there will be a lasting effect above and beyond the medical treatments, because your love and care for them was also communicated, however poor they may be , however difficult their lot in life is, there is the knowledge that they are not forgotten or alone, that they are loved, respected and cared for.
I know too that the Lord appreciates all the service rendered to his children on His behalf and in His name and it will be a means of our sanctification, a step on the road to holiness which we all must travel together.

As a final quote, (also one of Mother Teresa’s )

“There is a thing you can do but I can not and there is thing I can but you can not; so let us - together - make something beautiful for God.”

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