Together We Give: Service

This sermon was originally preached at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on October 13, 2019. To watch the full recording, visit Mission Hills’ Facebook Page.

Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

 

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

As you may know, this month is our Together We Give series, where we focus each week on a different avenue of giving. Last month, we spoke about giving our financial gifts, as a reflection of our investment to love. Today, our theme is service, and given what we saw earlier today, our kids sharing their gifts in worship, there is no better theme for us this morning.

Today, we’ve been given a really concrete example of service. Our kids have been preparing, planning, and practicing to lead us in worship this morning. They are serving this church and the community in ways that are so important, and show us exactly what service is all about. Even more, they bring with them such a sense of joy, which is the other piece of service. When we do it right, it’s not about being miserable, or giving up freedom or time or energy. It’s again, an investment in what we love.

A big part of my childhood was service. My parents taught me how to serve in this incredible way. They were both Sunday School teachers as I was growing up, because both of them loved working with kids. My mom was a preschool teacher, so she would come volunteer in my classroom. And my dad is a big sports fan, so he would often be my coach for various sports I played. I watched this behavior, and soon followed suit. I’d be at church anyway, I thought. Why not help out in the nursery, or volunteer to serve coffee, or read scripture during the service? The things I were already doing became opportunities to serve, because I was passionate about them.

I think this is part of the reason it surprised me, and only me, when I learned I was called to work in the church full-time. It’s because there was this natural connection between myself and the church, and so serving there just made sense logistically. For whatever reason, it didn’t register to me that maybe, I was gifted in those areas for a reason. But I, like our kids, had a natural joy while I served in the areas I did, because I was serving a greater purpose than myself through the avenues I was most passionate about.

When we serve, we are making strides to connect and commune with those around us through our passions. We are building community.

The author of our first text, Jeremiah, is a prophet, and an important prophet. He was writing to leaders of Judah in a tough time in their community’s history. Jeremiah was one for engaging really difficult questions about what God is asking of them in this time. Jeremiah spoke to the leaders, telling them they needed to build community.

“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to God on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

Those hearing Jeremiah’s letter were tasked, simply enough, to serve. To build community requires a lot of things. It’s not an easy task, and Jeremiah knew that. But instead of assigning roles to each person, that became part of the story. In the creation of the community, those hearing his prophetic words used their own means of giving, and built from there, from a place of love. And through that, they found welfare, that is, they found community.

Sometimes we think of the gift to serve as exhausting, as something requiring too much of us. And maybe it feels like that at all times. But each of us are immensely gifted, and immensely called to something bigger than ourselves. So we are tasked with finding that middle point, the passion, the need coupled with our giftedness. Theologian Frederick Buechner says that this is “where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need”.

Jesus is a prime example of that. Obviously, he had a very very unique set of gifts. But his passion is one that many if not all of us can share in. Jesus cared for all people, and in caring for all people, he cared a whole lot for the least of these, the underrepresented, the oppressed.

Jesus named all those who remained otherwise nameless. He made a point to not just tolerate everyone. He said, this is so important, that people feel seen, that I will make a point to celebrate any and every group of people I come in contact with. And I will call them by name: those experiencing disease, the sick, the ones with disabilities, the ones experiencing homelessness, the ones struggling with their mental health, the incarcerated, the misunderstood, the grieving, the LGBTQIA+ community, the ones with chronic pain. Jesus made a point to call everyone by name, because he knew how important it was to be seen, through his service.

Today, we read the story of the ten with leprosy, a disease that made those who had it literally untouchable, outcasts in society in a very visible way. Yet, we see Jesus, a man who knew his call and his giftedness, hearing their cries, and responding in service.

Jesus wasn’t ignorant. I have to believe he knew what was at stake for him, in going near the ten with the disease, yet he makes the choice to give of himself, to serve, so that the healing would take place. No matter their sickness, no matter who they were, no questions asked, Jesus tells the story of the one who loves all people, and the one who helps all people.

This story was not the first or the last time we see this kind of behavior from Jesus. He had a real knack throughout the Gospels for going where nobody else would, for serving from an acknowledgment that he may very well be the only one serving whoever the people were. From the woman at the well to the blind man to offering forgiveness to those who’ve wronged him, Jesus sought out people in this way because he knew his gifts to serve were rooted in a forgiveness and a hope that was both inspiring and rare.

I hate to break this to you, but we are not Jesus. None of us are. And just speaking for myself, I do not have nearly the same capacity to love or to have hope or to offer forgiveness like Jesus did. But what I hope we can see, and what I hope we can take with us today, is that we don’t need to be Jesus to serve like Jesus did. Each of us are called to serve people in our own ways, and at the heart of our service is love and passion.

This passage from Luke shows the root of service to us now. The revolutionary thing that Jesus shows us here, is that when we serve, we’re not meant to ask for anything back. And In fact, if we ask for anything back, maybe it’s not service. In our story today, these ten people with leprosy came towards Jesus, expecting some empathy, but not necessarily the response Jesus gave them. He looked at them and he saw them, something most other people wouldn’t have done, something as simple as acknowledging their presence, a simple act of humanity.

Then, Jesus, without any kind of contract or conversation, told them to go show themselves to the priest. He didn’t tell them to go to the priest because the priest would heal them, but because the priest in that time, was the only one who could allow them to go back in society, serving sort of as the one who can clear someone after they become well again. They were healed of their disease on the way there, because of Jesus’ service.

Jesus didn’t ask for anything in return when he served, and that’s a huge part of the way we too are called to serve. When we serve from the heart, it’s an act of love, an act of selflessness, and if you identify as Christian, an act of remembering the story of Jesus, who died so we could live. There’s a lot there, and it’s rooted in Jesus stories like this one today.

My challenge for you all today is to think about the places you may feel led to serve. Is there a specific specialty you have that isn’t getting the time to shine? Do you have a talent that could help someone? Are you eager to be a part of a community, but don’t know how to jump in?

Sidenote: If you’re looking for an opportunity in this church, come talk to me and we can think of something.

In the same way that we give financially as a means of investing in what we love, we also serve as an investment in what we love, or who we love. Each one of those beautiful faces singing today is another means of proof that we serve by love, for love.

Simply enough, that is my challenge for us all today. No matter who you are, how long you’ve been attending, where you call ‘home’, may you know that you are uniquely gifted to serve in purposeful ways. May you feel led to use your gifts of service to connect with that which is bigger than yourself. And may you remember that you were created by the God of love to build community and to connect with those around you.

Let us pray:

God of wholeness and life, we give you thanks for this community, for the opportunity to reach each other in love. Bless us as we go about our weeks, that we may carry the example of Jesus into our lives, a shining example of faithful service. In your name we pray, Amen.

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