The Language of Service

This past Monday I had the great privilege of participating with my ten year old son, Owen, and about 20 other BMPC children in a day of service organized and led here at the church by my colleague Rachel Pedersen. It was a wonderful day of games, conversation, laughter, and service for these children and the adults who volunteered their day in service to our children.

Children had the opportunity to live out Jesus’ call to help those in need found in Matthew 25 –
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me.”

The children made sandwiches for a local food program, baby blankets for refugees, and personal kits for local prisoners to receive at Christmas. They wrote down questions to be carried by World Wide Ministry Council members that they can ask this October when they visit the Fortelaza project in Mexico City, and went out into the community to visit BMPC members and friends at local nursing homes and at the Mainline Adult Day Center.

If Jesus encouraged us to do it – we did it at some point throughout the day.

I was especially honored to be able to spend time in conversation with each of the children one on one, as we created a new video resource that we can use to inspire us all to follow the call of Christ.

The first question I asked them was, “Why do we help people as a church community?” They responded mostly as you would expect:
We help people because other people don’t have as much as we do, and so we need to give them what we have.
We help people because we have been given so much and so we need to give to others.
We help people as a church because some people in this world are poor and we help give them what they need.
We help people because there are a lot of people in need in this world and we need to work together to help them.
People shouldn’t suffer, and so when we help them we can help to stop their suffering.

Much of their language reflects the way that we talk about service and giving as adults: I have been blessed, and so I am called to be a blessing to others. We have been given much and so we are called to give to those in need. Clearly the children of this church hear us as adults talking about the importance of giving back, of helping, and of sacrificing on behalf of others.

But what Jesus is talking about in Matthew and what we don’t often talk as much about as people of faith is what it means to be in relationship with those who are in need.

Yes, Jesus encourages us to give and to feed and to supply. But he also talks about visiting and caring and welcoming. These are all acts of compassion and service that are not about giving from our abundance but rather giving of our actual selves.

Jesus is talking about putting ourselves out on behalf of others, putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations when we don’t always know what to do or what the right thing is to say, and allowing ourselves to break down the diving walls between us so that real and genuine relationships can begin to take root.

The first step in opening ourselves up to these kinds of service opportunities is to become more comfortable with this language.

Towards the end of the day, a group of our children walked through the parking lot to Mainline Adult Day Center. Children, who had spent the day inside the church building (a place of comfort), walked into the Center (a new and different place where they were not sure what to expect and a little taken aback by the people they encountered there ) and transformed their “uncomfortableness” into gracious compassion and care for strangers. It was a testimony not just to these children but to the work of the spirit to call out from within them gifts of service.

May we learn from their example. May we continue as adults, committed to nurturing the growth of their faith, to expand the vocabulary we use ourselves as we live out our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ.