Matthew 25:31-40, The King expects service. (11/2/2009)
Good news! It's not necessary to be a martyr, to be a missionary, to go to seminary, or even to sing in the choir, in order to serve God. You can serve God by helping people right in your own city or neighborhood. This is so easy: just be alert, and if the people around you need something, try to provide it.
Notice that in spite of all the discussion last week about God's money, the sheep and the goats in this parable are separated on the basis of service to other people, not on the basis of their monetary giving. Even so, one way to serve people is to give money to organizations (e.g., your local congregation) that have a system for providing services. For example, I don't actually know any homeless people, but St. John's helps Family Promise of Albuquerque
to feed and house homeless families. Another terrific organization here in Albuquerque – Good Shepherd Center
– feeds, clothes, houses, and trains homeless men and brings them to Christ. By contributing to St. John's and the Good Shepherd Center, I can help their clients.
The thing that always gives me a little pause in today's passage is that the sheep are sort of amazed that they did anything worthy of a reward. I know people like that – no matter what they do for you or for the church, they don't consider it to be a big deal. I expect them to be in the front row on the king's right. Maybe they'll see me standing there way in the back and wave.
Mathew 25:41-46, Failing in service is inadvisable. (11/3/2009)
I'm sure that most of you read serious literature. I don't. I read fantasy; however, this means that I know more about feudalism than your average American bear. In feudalism, people at each level of society owe some type of service to the person who is above them. Peasants owe service to the local knight, who owes service to the local baron, and so on up through the earls and dukes to the king. No surprise there. Did you know that the king owes service, mostly in the form of protection from foreigners and criminals, to his dukes? And the dukes to the earls, and the earls to the barons, and so on down to the peasants? Being king is more work than would appear from fairy tales.
We are also in service to a king. God is repeatedly referred to as our king in the psalms, the prophets, and in the parables of Jesus. We owe service to him, and he protects us. I mentioned yesterday that the service demanded of us is not necessarily difficult; in the words of Jesus, his yoke is easy.
The downside of being in service to a king who demands easy service is that he gets annoyed if you don't provide it.
Matthew 21:28-32, “The Parable of Two Sons” (11/4/2009)
Jesus spent a lot of time debating with religious leaders. Following in the footsteps of the Old Testament prophets, he tried and tried to get them to see that God cares more about what you do than about what you say.
Everybody knows that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). Unfortunately, we tend to interpret this to mean that God doesn't love crabby givers. Then we apply it to other kinds of service to God, and we decide that if we can't serve with a cheerful heart, we shouldn't serve at all. You may think I'm making this up, but I'm not. I've heard real, live people say that they couldn't bring themselves to feel “good” about doing some act of Christian service, and therefore, they thought they shouldn't do it at all.
Nothing could be further from the truth! Serving God and your neighbor is your job. You are expected to do it whether you are feeling cheerful or not. Of course, it is better if you can feel good about it, and I'm not saying you have to make a long-term commitment to do things you hate or do badly – if you're tone-deaf, don't join the choir! But for things that you can do, mere crabbiness is no excuse. God wants service, not lip-service.
John 13:3-17, Jesus sets an example of service. (11/5/2009)
Many of Jesus' followers expected him to form an army, throw out the Romans, and restore the kingdom of David. They didn't make this up on their own; there is a substantial thread of Messianic prophecy and rabbinical interpretation that says the Messiah could be of this type. Another substantial thread says that the Messiah would be a suffering servant. It is the latter model that Jesus chose, but he had some difficulty in getting his followers to understand. At the Last Supper, Jesus knew he didn't have much time left for instruction. Instead, he modeled Christian behavior in an unforgettable way, by washing the feet of his disciples, so that they would be sure to remember it even if they only came to understand it later. He explained, “If I, your teacher, am willing to serve you, how much more should you be willing to serve each other!”
Acts 6:1-8, Lay members are appointed to service. (11/6/2009)
Pastor Craig said last Sunday that he thinks “committees are not from God.” I share that view; however, I am forced to admit that committees definitely are “from the Church.” The Church has the authority and power, given to her by God, to create new organizational structures (cf. Matthew 16:18-19; on committees in particular, Mark 16:18a).
The earliest Church committee we know of was created around 33 or 34 A.D., almost simultaneously with the birth of the Church herself. Two characteristics of the first committee strike us: it was made up entirely of lay members, and its purpose was service. St. Stephen, the leader of the committee, was a man of faith and power. He was martyred in 34 or 35, and I'm sure that all committee leaders since his time feel that they are following in his footsteps.
The earliest Christians were all Jews, but they were Greek-speaking Jews and Aramaic-speaking Jews. Most Jews who lived in Jerusalem and Judea spoke Aramaic, and most who were from outside Judea spoke Greek. Remember that Jews from all over the world came to Jerusalem to worship during the five major Jewish religious festivals; at Pentecost, many had become Christians. Apparently a lot of these Greek-speakers from out of town had stayed and become part of the tiny, but rapidly growing, Church.
I like to think that the Greek-speaking widows were not being neglected out of malice, but rather because their needs were not known as a result of the language barrier. When the Greek-speaking portion of the congregation grumbled about the situation, the apostles quite rightly told them that seeing a problem makes you partly responsible for finding a solution. Thanks to the Evangelical United Brethren portion of the merger that became the United Methodist Church, UMC laity shoulder a big portion of the responsibility for seeing and solving the problems of service.
More on the UMC Membership Vow
Copyright 2009, 2013 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.
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St. John’s United Methodist Church,
2626 Arizona NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87110
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Traditional worship services are held Sundays at 8:15 and
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