Cathedral News, July 23, 2017

 
 
 

What Can I Learn From Service?

“People we meet, some great in the eyes of the world and some almost invisible to the larger society, are often conduits of God’s wisdom.

Henri Nouwen, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life

When I was ordained to the diaconate, I was placed into a ministry of servanthood.  During the prayer of Consecration the Bishop laid hands on me and prayed to God, “As your Son came not to be served but to serve, may this deacon share in Christ’s service.”  Deacons specifically are called to a life of service.  And in my case as a “transitional” deacon this time has been a preliminary step, a training ground if you will, toward ordination to the priesthood.  More than those I serve, I feel that I am the beneficiary of this period specifically devoted to servanthood.

But regardless of whatever holy orders one holds, lay or clergy, all ministry is fundamentally based in servanthood.  We seek to help our neighbors because God creates us to live and work and serve and to do so in community.  However, there’s an important distinction to make here and that is that when we serve as members of the Body of Christ we don’t call it “volunteerism,” we call it ministry.  The distinction is important because we don’t serve just to do good deeds.  Ministry is sacramental – an outward and visible sign of Jesus’ love among us.  Ministry is how we fulfill our baptismal vows and how we grow in the knowledge and love of God.  It is what we do and how we act as this generation of God’s chosen people.

Most often, when I am involved in a ministry of any sort I approach the work from a position of offering something to someone else or as a way to provide a solution to other people’s problems – feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, tutor in a local school or visit the sick and lonely.  This seems obvious, I know, and these are all good things… but there’s more.

Might I suggest that when we approach ministry we also ask, “What is God creating in me through this work?”  When done properly, true Christian service is a gift that is at once both given and received.  God’s grace is not a one-way street.  As we work and serve in community we begin to see the ways in which others teach and thereby ‘serve’ us.

The last few weeks we have been emphasizing the ministry of our Sunday School teachers.  I believe that this particular ministry is one of the best ways that one experiences the mutual benefit of service.  Not only are children eager to learn, they also have the unique ability to make us view God’s presence through a completely different set of lenses.  We become transformed when we witness God’s creativity and listen deeply to children.  As relationships develop, children make us aware that it is our turn to help them navigate their way into becoming the next generation of God’s chosen people – a formidable and yet hugely rewarding task.

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