Community Service as a Core Component of Christian Life (Pt 1)
Why do we end every worship service by hearing that we are sent into the world to serve?
This past fall we organized our stewardship appeal around the important words Jesus shared with a scribe who saw that when questioned, Jesus “answered well”. The scribe asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” [St. Mark 12:28]
It was not a new question. Moses, many years earlier in his farewell address, began with these words: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” [Deuteronomy 6:4-5] Answering the scribe, Jesus expanded on Moses’ beginning with: “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” [St. Mark 12:31] At the core of the faithful life is both a heartfelt love of God and a deep commitment to love our neighbor.
Jesus could have restricted his comments to loving God wholeheartedly, but he wants us to know that the life of faith has to do with more than this. It is not a one-dimensional faith, consisting of our relationship with God. But it is a two-dimensional faith, also including our relationships with each other.
In fact, the very cross of Christ has both a horizontal and a vertical dimension. In his suffering and death he proclaims that faith impacts both our (“vertical”) relationship with God and our (“horizontal”) relationships with each other. Martin Luther understood this well. In 1520 he published a tract entitled, “On the Freedom of a Christian.” In this tract he famously posed a paradox: “A Christian is utterly free, lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is utterly dutiful, servant of all, subject to all.” In Christ we are loved profoundly: set free from the need to make ourselves worthy of God; beholden to nobody for the race we have received. At the same time, in Christ we are called into the lives of the neighbors who surround us: utterly dutiful, living a life of service to others.
This is our call as followers of Christ. Loving God and loving neighbor is who we are, what we are called to be, and the life for which we have been specifically created. To love God and others is to live into our essential purpose in life. When we live as we are created to live, we find the deepest sense of meaning, purpose and fulfillment. To do any less is to miss out on what life can be.
This, of course, is why we conclude every service of worship with these words: “Go in peace. Serve the Lord. Thanks be to God.” It is who we are created to be. It is who we are called to be. It is who we are. Thanks be to God. And we will!
This article is part one in a three-part series of articles from Pastor Dave Risendal and Faith Formation Leader Jeanne Maloney on community service as a core component of Christian life. These articles are intended to coincide with our High School Youth Group’s service trip to Anapra, Mexico (June 23-29). Next week: “The Joy of Christian Service.”