But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
I’ll be honest. When deciding which of the spiritual disciplines to lift up in this Eastertide series of sermons, we intentionally decided not to do a sermon on Service. Truth is, service is an area in which First Church excels; when others ask me about our church, I am always quick to note that this is a church where we don’t just write checks—we get our hands dirty in the actual work of serving others. It’s one part of our “personality” that I appreciate the most.
I’d like to lift up a distinction that may be helpful for us in consideration of service, and that is the distinction between service carried out as an act of love and care for another and service taken on as a spiritual discipline. These aren’t mutually exclusive—hopefully all service is done with a measure of love for others, and really any service can help us to grow spiritually, but I invite you to consider what might be different about a practice of serving for the purpose of training your spirit.
That’s what spiritual disciplines are about—training our spirits, shaping our desires and our attention so that they become an reflection of Jesus. The letter to the Ephesians urges Christians to “Be imitators of God.” We believe that Jesus is the clearest picture we have of God, so we seek to pattern our lives after his life. To pattern only our actions after Jesus would be a cheap imitation, so we reach deeper, seeking to be spiritually transformed and pattern our very hearts after Jesus’ heart.
So what would it look like to take on service as an intentional way of training our spirits in the way of Jesus? I think it looks like a regular pattern or commitment to serve, rather than a haphazard approach. This type of service wouldn’t be done in a utilitarian manner—just getting the job done—but rather with attention to knowing and loving the people you are serving, and performing that service with both humility and excellence (notice I didn’t say perfection!). Most importantly, service as a spiritual discipline takes notice of all that is stirring in us through this practice—hopefully a waning of envy or arrogance, and a deepening of solidarity, gratitude, and humility.
You can serve even today, from your home, and I have seen many of you doing so during these last few weeks. In fact, we could consider even the act of staying home as an act of service. I invite you to consider your service as a discipline that offers a potential for spiritual growth during this—or any—time.
With great love,