As you can see from the highlight of the bulletin graphic, today’s topic for stewardship season is service.
This posed a bit of a problem for me. How does a pastor preach “service” to a group of people who serve?
You serve your families and neighbors…
you act as power of attorney for friends
you have found neighbors who mysteriously go missing
you take the elderly to doctors appointments
you are raising thoughtful and respectful youth (mad respect to all the parents!)
You serve the local & global community…
you work to make sure all citizens have the opportunity to register to vote
you educate people on the rights of LGBT community
you are employed in the fields of social work, medicine, and education
you volunteer with youth organizations
you advocate for a more positive environmental impact
You serve yourselves…(which is important!)
you practice mindfulness and meditation
you attend yoga classes
you keep active in tennis and racquetball and walks on the beach
you come to worship
You serve within the church…
you create detailed spreadsheets that explain CDC yearly income
you come to the church at off hours to pull weeds and trim hedges
you mail weekly church bulletins & monthly newsletters to those who are homebound
you are active on the many committees and teams within the church
I mean, really, people!? What can I tell you about serving?!
I didn’t repeat all this to toot your horns, but I do want to point out that there are many ways of serving. Some are much more visible than others, and all are equally important.
And after hearing that, do you see my dilemma now on preaching service to you? What do you preach to the choir?
Well, even the choir needs reminding that they are needed and wanted.
In any situation where you have a goal set before you - maybe you’ve set a budget goal or a nutrition goal or work goal or a service goal - you need some occasional reminders of why you are doing the hard work. You need motivation to keep going, so that you don’t burn out or give up.
I particularly think of people setting long-term health and wellness goals, whether it is to lose pounds, build flexibility, lower blood pressure, drink less, or be more mindful, people often need motivation to stay on track.
And I think that it’s very similar to us serving as Christ-followers. Knowing this congregation and the many ways that you serve, you may need some motivation to keep going. You may need to be reminded that you are needed...that your services are wanted...that this world needs your authentic self.
Today’s story about the woman anointing Jesus with her hair, using precious oil she possessed, is so beautiful because she gave of her authentic self.
She used what she had. She didn’t see another person serving Jesus in some way and think “I need to do exactly what they did.” She looked around at what she had and thought “how can I use what I have to serve. How can I show my love for Jesus?”
She served authentically.
And Jesus praised her for it. Her action was used as a teaching point for the disciples and for us.
The disciples were concerned about the use of the oil - saying that it could have been sold for a good sum of money and used to help the poor, but that monetary amount was not what concerned Jesus. He knew that the poor in the community could be helped in other ways. He didn’t want to discount this act of service. What concerned Jesus was honoring the heart of this woman.
We can learn from this story that what matters is that we give from our sincere desire to show love. Yes, sometimes it doesn’t logistically or financially make sense, but that’s not always the detail we need to focus on.
When you get weary of serving - wherever it is (with your family, at school, in your occupation, at church) - try not to get caught up in what you “should” be doing but what you love to do. Focusing on the “shoulds” in life can be dangerous and set up unrealistic standards or expectations.
Sure, there are certain items that need to be checked off, maybe in the case of a job; however, the details don’t define our heart for that service. For instance, I remember the dreaded yearly evaluations as a teacher. I was in NC during a time when they changed the evaluation forms to include a number of boxes to check on a sliding scale of “proficiency.”
In order to calm our anxieties about this rubric, myself and other teachers jokingly adopted the mantra “I am not defined by the boxes.” Yes, we needed to ensure certain items were done, but those boxes didn’t define what we saw as our service to the students.
Similarly, our service as Christ-followers should not be defined by the boxes.
There are so many overwhelming details in this world, if we let ourselves lose sight of the desire to serve within us that motivated us in the first place, then the meaning is lost.
Remember last week our message was love and 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that if we do not have love, then we are but a noisy and clangy cymbal. And nobody needs noisy and clanging cymbals in their lives. They cause headaches.
Remember, too, that the way one person serves does not define how you serve. We show our love and serve others through many ways - similar to how people have different love languages, we have different service languages.
Some love to cut a neighbor’s grass
Some love to collect items for families moving into new housing
Some love to write cards or call people who are sick
Some love to give a hug to a person who is hurting
Some love to make spreadsheets tracking information
Some of the best moments I have had as pastor here have been those moments when a person who is new to the congregation says “these are my gifts and talents. How can the church use them?” It literally brings me to tears. And it is the best illustration of today’s message: to serve authentically from what you have.
The woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair was showing love through service and was simply giving what she had. Not everyone could have served Jesus in the manner that she did, any person with a bald head will know that. And we can’t serve just like how another person does. It’s a beauty in being a member of the whole body of Christ - some are hands, some are feet, some are internal organs, some are hair.
I pray that if you are growing weary in your service, that you take a deep breath and seriously reflect on what motivated you at the beginning. Think of how you can continue to serve authentically, from within your true self. It may be that you change your role in serving and that’s okay, but we all have something within us that can be used to further the spread of God’s love.
Kahlil Gibran is quoted as saying, “I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.”
I pray that each of you finds the joy in giving authentically of yourself. Amen.
Scripture: Matthew 26:6-13