Saturday, November 27, 2010

On Serving God (or the Church)

I was having a conversation with a friend about doing work at church. In the middle of it I was reminded of an incident that occurred a few years ago that brought me up short. I was listening to a pastor talk about the announcements for his congregation. This particular congregation had volunteer snow shovelers since it did not have a lot of sidewalks and a local plowing service did the parking lot. He said he was offering people the "opportunity to serve God by signing up to shovel snow at the church."

It was like a ton of brinks. Somehow that whole idea made absolutely no sense. If he had said serve the church or something like that it might have sat differently. But it was the idea that shoveling snow at a suburban church building was serving God seemed ridiculous.

I realized at that moment that I had been as guilty as that pastor many times over my years in the pulpit. I, like many pastors, often equate serving the local church to serving God. Yes, I know that you can make the case that if the local church didn't exist, there would be no serving God at that place. Or at least not as much. There is this great big logical-thinking series that can easily get from one end to the other.

People need to get to church ---}
Church needs walks shoveled ---}
Church is the Body of Christ ---}
Christ is one of the persons of the Trinity ---}
The Church as the Body is part of the Trinity ---}
As part of the Trinity the Church is part of God ---}
Shoveling walks at the church is serving God ---}
Okay, it makes no sense. But it can easily get us mixed up in our thinking about service and being servants for (and of) God. As members of a congregation that needs work done, such as shoveling snow, it is part of our responsibility as members to do our part. It is service. But it is service to ourselves. God is pleased with that, I am sure. God wants us to serve.

But only in some syllogistic reasoning does this make any sense as serving God. How do we know we are serving God, then? Well, most of the time we don't. Unless we sense a specific call to a specific form of service and it is affirmed by the community of believers in one way or another, most of the time we probably end up like the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
What we do for the least, the lost, the lonely may be the best gauge for serving God. If I had to go back and do it over, as a pastor, I would be more cautious of my language.

And I might suggest that we get a list of widows, unemployed, and disabled people in our neighborhood and sign up to shovel their walks instead.

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