Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. DeeAnne Lowman, Associate Pastor

 

 

 

Steps of Discipleship: Serve (Equipped for Generous Loving)

Sunday, October 1, 2006

 

 

Acts 2: 41-47
Ephesians 4: 4-7, 11-13

 



 

 

We have been discovering the foundations for an Acts 2 church.  Three of these – learning, fellowship and worship are inwardly focused. We do these things for the sake of our own souls and spiritual wellbeing. They can help equip us for two practices that are outwardly focused – mission and evangelism – which we do primarily for the sake of others.

 

I say “primarily” because I know that I have gained something from the experiences of mission and service in my life. If you ask most people who have been a part of a mission trip or a service project, they will tell you that they “got more out of it than they gave.”  When I hear the stories of the youth and adults of our congregation upon their return from an ASP or VIM trip, and they tell us that they learned a lot, and got “so much out of it”.  This has almost always been my experience as well.  When I was 16, I went to work in a soup kitchen in the East End of London for the summer. While there, I received an unwelcome and unwarranted affirmation of a call into ministry (which I promptly ignored for many more years). But it was for me beginning of a life of exploration:  why did this matter – doing things for other people?  What about the opportunity to do for others has affected my own soul?  What changes did I make in my life as a result of performing acts of service?  How could I serve, and why?

 

There are three things that we learn from engaging in acts of service.  The first is an awareness of the needs of God’s people. Whether we are in our own communities, half way around the world or somewhere in between, we can no longer deny the depth of needs people have.  We are exposed, inwardly and outwardly, to the depth of injustice and lack of gentleness toward particular parts of humanity.  Our souls are touched, and our hearts are stirred.  Our minds wonder how this can be in a world with such technological and scientific advances. We want to do something about it, and wonder what that could be. Do we have the ability to affect any change?

 

This is not a new conversation for God’s people.  In one response to Torah called the Mishna Torah, a rabbi/teacher describes the eight levels of “charity,” or ways of giving to others.  When Rachel Naomi Remen was little, her grandfather helped to simplify this code of living and giving for her.

 

At the eighth and most basic level of giving to others, {one} begrudgingly buys a coat for a shivering {other} who has asked for help, gives it to {the other} in the presence of witnesses, and waits to be thanked.

 

At the seventh level, {one} does this same thing without waiting to be asked for help.

 

At the sixth level, {one} does this same thing openheartedly without waiting to be asked for help.

 

At the fifth level, {one} openheartedly gives a coat that has {been} bought to another but does so in private. 

 

At the fourth level, {one} openheartedly and privately gives {one’s} own coat to another, rather than a coat that has {been} bought. 

 

At the third level, {one} openheartedly gives {one’s} own coat to another who does not know who has given this gift.  But {the giver} knows the person who is indebted. 

 

At the second level, {one} openheartedly gives {one’s} own coat to another and has no idea who has received it.  But the {one} who receives it knows to whom they are indebted.

 

And finally, on the first and purest level of giving to others, {one} openheartedly gives {one’s} own coat away without knowing who will receive it, and {the one} who receives it does not know who has given it. [i]

 

Remen’s grandfather used this story to help illustrate how important it is to be free to do acts of service no matter which state we find ourselves in.  Better to bless life badly that not to bless it at all. I had a seminary professor who was always saying, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.”  But we can have misguided and even wrong understandings of people’s needs, and these misunderstandings can lead us to do things and offer things that are not helpful or useful, and may even be harmful. Our world history is full of poor attempts to do good things on behalf of others.  The missions of the 19th & even 20th centuries that took the Good News of Jesus around the world were seldom good news for those who were compelled to wear Western garb and speak English as they learned about God’s love. I asked Jana Meyer, Foundry’s Minister of Mission for her thoughts the notion of “blessing badly”. 

 

Definitely we cannot let our fear of not doing things right keep us from wading into uncomfortable areas and taking next steps. Definitely we learn along the way from our struggles and our imperfections. On the other hand, I think we can also get stuck in just acts of charity without challenging ourselves to really engage each other in right relationship.

           

Which brings us to another important learning that comes from engaging in service: it is through our acknowledgement of our relatedness to others that we begin to find ways to bless well, or at least better. Some of the most meaningful experiences of mission and service in my life (and perhaps yours as well) have had at their heart, the heartbeat of another.  At first, it may be the old adage, “There but for the grace of God go I.”  But as we continue to connect to others through acts of service, we grow into the notion of a connectedness and a relatedness that goes beyond gratitude for our own blessed lives.  We begin to recognize it is “the God in me meeting the God in another” that can remove our own personal agendas and motives for doing acts of service.  We truly become companioned with God to companion others. Then the blessing that we are a part of is done authentically on behalf of God to and for God’s people.

 

When I was on that mission trip to England, I encountered a young man probably only 5 years older than I was at the time.  We sat across the table for several nights in a dark converted crypt in St. Botoff’s church, talking about stuff in our lives.  He had been on the streets for a while.  He drank a lot, and was often caught up in situations of violence.  While we sipped bad tea together, I began to feel a strong connection to this young man’s life and story.  I felt for the first time that I was making a difference someone else’s life.  Then he disappeared.  I never saw him again.  I was so brokenhearted.  I thought that what I was doing was showing him a better life, a more excellent way of living – one that didn’t need alcohol or drugs or violence, and somehow I had failed to transform his life.  What I had missed in the encounter was the relationship that occurred in the moment.  It wasn’t about my Savior complex; it was about me being there for another person in the moment.  My only job was to companion him where he was, and not concentrate on where my young, naive, idealist living might take him. Within relationship transformation can and does occur, but change alone cannot be the basis for the relationship.  When we serve others, we must recognize the importance of mutual and authentic relationships.

 

Mission and service are outward expressions of an inward desire to change the world around us. This inward desire is supported by a giftedness that God gives all of us to work at changing the world, and helping others know who God is.  In Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of the Bible called The Message, the apostle Paul talked about how all these gifts were handed out by God “to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other…” We are all equipped to help bring about justice and peace and rhythmic movements among God’s people through our own giftedness.  These gifts are more than just skills and abilities, although that’s part of it.  Spiritual gifts include our deep desires and passions, and help us use our skills and abilities in service. Throughout his ministry, Paul said that all gifts contribute to the building up of the body, the church.  It is up to us to discover, uncover, or recover those gifts AND USE THEM so that we might contribute to the work of the church – being God’s hands and feet in the world. 

 

So an Acts 2 church actively invites and engages its people in mission, locally and globally.  Acts 2 churches help educate themselves about the needs of their community by asking questions like “Who is our neighbor?” and not assuming the needs of those neighbors.  Acts 2 congregations acknowledge both the need to engage in mission on behalf of others, and also on behalf of their own need for spiritual growth.  We gain awareness of the wounds of the world, recognition of our relatedness to one another, and the inherent giftedness of all of God’s people when we get involved in service to others.  Acts 2 churches become a part of God’s reclaiming of God’s world, and God’s word becomes flesh as we dwell with one another in the places of harshness and bleakness.  Bill Coffin said, “The Bible is less concerned with alleviating the effects of injustice than in eliminating the causes of it.”[ii]  As an Acts 2 congregation, let’s continue to be willing participants in the healing of God’s world on the highest level.

           

                 

www.foundryumc.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[i] Remen, Rachel Naomi,  My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of Strength, Courage, & Belonging,  New York:  Penguin Putnam, Inc., 2000.

 

[ii] Coffin, William Sloane, Credo, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.