Readings from: IS 49:3, 5-6; PS 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10; 1 COR 1:1-3; JN 1:29-34
A friend’s quote on Facebook had a lot to do with this week’s sermon. That quote fits better in, as my husband put it, the director’s cut (see the very end). It came from Oswald Chambers, who was a Scottish evangelist and teacher in the early 20th century. I spent a lot time mulling on that quote, which eventually led me to look him up and read a bit more about him. There, I found this quote, which I like even more, so I’d like to share it with you:
Service is the overflow which pours from a life filled with love and devotion…Service is what I bring to the relationship and is the reflection of my identification with the nature of God. Service becomes a natural part of my life. God brings me into the proper relationship with Himself so that I can understand His call, and then I serve Him on my own out of a motivation of absolute love. Service to God is the deliberate love-gift of a nature that has heard the call of God. Service is an expression of my nature, and God’s call is an expression of His nature. Therefore, when I receive His nature and hear His call, His divine voice resounds throughout His nature and mine and the two become one in service. The Son of God reveals Himself in me, and out of devotion to Him service becomes my everyday way of life. –Oswald Chambers
Cool, right? Inspiring. But as a social worker in a secular setting, by necessity and ethical guidelines, I keep my own religious beliefs under wraps. They guide what I do and who I am, but they are not overtly present. No one I work with knows that I am Independent Catholic. No one I work with knows I am a deacon. I don’t talk about it because it has potential to alter my position as a social worker and therapist, because it may interfere with my ability to provide the services I am there to perform.
I had a session last week with a client who is struggling with her religious beliefs right now. Her father is Muslim, and he is beginning to put pressure on her to be Muslim as well. But she spends most of her time with family and friends who identify as Christian. She wants to make both sides happy, and she is stuck. We talked about what it means for her, about how to be one or the other, and after careful consideration—and stating that it was one viewpoint that many do not share–I shared with her my personal belief on how religions coexist.
I said that I believe that God exists. I said it’s an important part of my life, as it is for many people. I said that I worship in a particular way in large part because of how I was raised. I explained that the way I worship fits who I am. I said that others worship with different services, different styles, even different names, and that doesn’t mean that one of us is right and the others are wrong; it’s just different.
I gave a bit of history about Judaism and Islam and Christianity, how they all agree on the person of God but how they have split off in different ways, depending on which prophets they recognize and how. It’s all the same God, just different names, different worship styles. I told her I know how much strife and violence and pain has been caused through all of this, but I said I really don’t think that God cares how we worship God, just that we do.
If I’m doing good things, I need to remember why I’m doing them. I need to remember that my purpose here on earth is to glorify God. My purpose here is to help people share in the peace that I have found comes in knowing God.
I’m not much on evangelizing, which sounds weird to say, and which I’ll admit comes with a twinge of guilt. At the same time, however, the God I believe in, the God I love, the God I worship knows that I am trying to do the right thing.
I have a prayer card with a prayer from Thomas Merton: “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
What’s the takeaway from this?
John the Baptist knew his role. He was born with a call to ‘prepare the way.’ He grew up eating locusts and wild honey and wearing clothes from camel hair (it’s not the softest out there). He lived in the desert. He devoted his entire life to helping everyone he met do whatever it took to ready themselves to meet Jesus: “the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.”
Every action he took, every act of service, was for Christ—and he did it without the benefit we have today of knowing the rest of the story.
I might not always do the right thing. I might royally screw up some things. Some people may be hurt because of the things I do. But if I do things with a pure heart, with good intention, with constant seeking to do the right thing and constant seeking and effort to learn more and do better next time, then I’m doing the right thing.
When I serve, I am following my path. When I think about the things I do, when I think about how I live my life, I hope that I am acting in ways that demonstrate my beliefs.
Tomorrow, we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This day has become known as a day of service, a fitting tribute to a man who lived each day acting upon his beliefs. There are organized service activities throughout the state that we can join with, or we can do a little bit on our own, picking up trash in our neighborhoods or putting together kits with toiletries and food for the homeless men, women, and children we try not to see as we drive around the city.
As a church, we have a particular calling to service, and it’s one we have begun talking out in earnest. My challenge to us all for tomorrow and for the weeks leading up to our parish council meeting on March 23rd is to consider the ways in which we may use our collective skills and gifts to improve the world around us. Shall we focus our efforts on working with LGBTQ youth? On working with homeless men, women, and families? On people imprisoned or returning to the community after serving time in prison? On people with addictions or mental illness? Think about it. Pray about it. Talk about it.
Let’s find our mission together, and let’s act upon it, using as our guide what St. Francis told us: Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.
The Prayers of the Faithful, which I stole because I really liked them, and which I am sharing, again because I really liked them:
“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” With these words of Martin Luther King, Jr., let us come to God in prayer:
God of all races and nations, we praise you for all your faithful servants who have done justice, loved mercy, and walked humbly with their God. For apostles, martyrs, leaders, and saints, and for humble folk whose names were never in the news, but are recorded in your book of life, we give you thanks. Hear us as we name, aloud or in silence, the servant-leaders who have touched our lives:
In Christ’s name, we pray.
We thank you especially for Martin Luther King, Jr, for his courage and conviction, for his passion for peace, and for his tireless quest of a nation that keeps faith with its promises. Hear us as we pray for our nation.
In Christ’s name, we pray.
We cry out for children, women, and men of every race who are denied education, health care, jobs, housing, and hope in our land. Hear us now as we pray for those in our won community and around the world, who are lonely and desperate, who are sick in body and soul, who are weary from pain and in need of your healing touch.
In Christ’s name, we pray.
We grieve together for nameless multitudes who suffered the tortures of slavery and the tyranny of oppression, who were beaten, raped, and lynched; and for the multitudes today whose lives are stunted and cut short by economic and social structures of brutality. Hear us as we pray for those in the world who suffer from injustice.
In Christ’s name, we pray.
And now unto him who is able to keep us from falling, and lift us up from the fatigue of despair to the buoyance of hope, from the midnight of desperation to the daybreak of joy, to him be power and authority, forever and ever. Amen.
The theme of this homily came about in large part because of specific quote that stayed with me. Finally, I sat down to journal about it to figure out some thoughts. Here is a (slightly) edited version of the thoughts that didn’t make it into the sermon. I don’t usually post these, but today I wanted to.
A friend often posts quotes on Facebook about God and her relationship with God. She is devout, more demonstrative in it that many people I know, and she talks about it a lot. She often posts quotes from Oswald Chambers, who was a Scottish evangelist and teacher in the early 20th century. I usually skim them and move on to see what the next person in my Facebook feed had for dinner or the latest Instagram entry for The Cutest Cat Award. Recently she posted a quote that stuck with me. I read it several times right then, and I kept thinking about it and going back to it until I finally got around to writing my sermon. And the theme of it took over.
Beware of anything that competes with your loyalty to Jesus Christ. The greatest competitor of true devotion to Jesus is the service we do for Him. It is easier to serve than to pour out our lives completely for Him. The goal of the call of God is His satisfaction, not simply that we should do something for Him. We are not sent to do battle for God, but to be used by God in His battles. Are we more devoted to service than we are to Jesus Christ Himself? — Oswald Chambers
So it’s very exclusive, this club of Oswald Chambers. All of everything we do should be for the glory of God. But what of people who are good people, who do good works, who do all the service, but don’t do it because they are Christian? What of people who practice Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, traditional religions, or no religion at all?
But if I am not doing the good things I do for the glory of God, why am I doing them? Would I still be a good person if I didn’t believe in God? Of course I would. But what would be my motivation to do good in the world? I could ask a number of the good people I know who are agnostic or atheist and yet continue to do good things in their lives. We do good things because it’s the right thing to do.
St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Is this what I can take away from Mr. Chambers? When I do good things, I am following my path. When I think about the things I do, when I think about how I live my life, I hope that I am acting in ways that demonstrate my beliefs.