On Joyfully Serving

This Lent we have been journeying through our new mission statement. We heard how we are Called by Christ, remembering our baptisms; we heard also how we are Gathered in Grace, how our sins are forgiven and we gain freedom in community. Today we begin the last part: Joyfully Serving.

So how do we be joyful in our serving? Sometimes, it seems joyful serving is more of a prayer than a reality. We don’t really want to serve our neighbors. Given the choice of feeding the homeless at 6am on a Saturday, and sleeping in, why I think I’d rather take sleeping in!

For help in this prayer for joyful serving, one place we can look is at the Fourth Commandment. What’s that you say? Honour thy father and mother? What does that have to do with joyful serving? I suppose I’m bad at honouring my parents, and I’m also bad at serving joyfully. So they have that in common. But that doesn’t really help the situation. Now I just feel guilty for not doing even more things.

Just bear with me for a moment, and maybe we’ll save joyful serving and honouring parents both. When writing his Catechisms, one of Luther’s greatest insights into the Ten Commandments is that for every command, there is also a promise. At the very bottom of the law, the God has also written the Gospel. But this is perhaps nowhere more apparent than with the fourth commandment. When the Holy Spirit wrote it out in Exodus, she couldn’t help herself but to also mention out loud the promise right along with it. The promise is just too good, and this is the only commandment that has such a flat-out mention of its promise: It says “Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land where you live.” God promises here all manner of joy in long life! Where else could we find such a gift?

But there is still another promise in this commandment that makes me turn to it when I want to talk about joyfully serving. Children, look at your parents. Luther writes: “If you [look at] these people [noticing only] their noses, eyes, skin, and hair, flesh and bones,” they don’t look like much. You may wonder “Why should I think more of this person than any others?” But in this one simple commandment, God takes that fleshy person in front of you, with wrinkles and awkward hair, and gives them a seat of honour! God’s word attaches itself to normal everyday people, and turns them into fathers and mothers! God crowns them with every honour and treasure and worth in the world! Not only that, but parents, look at your kids! Squirmy, fleshy people with snotty noses all…And God in this commandment turns them into sons and daughters. And what is it to be a father, mother, son or daughter but to share in the joy of one another in family?

And believe me, it’s a prayer and a promise that such a family should happen at all. But God promises to make it so in this commandment, and so take it up with God if this is not what you have experienced. But that is indeed the promise of the fourth commandment! God’s word takes what is ordinary and makes it extraordinary. What is flesh hair and bone, and turns it into the greatest treasure: a loving family worthy of honour.

So it is with serving. It doesn’t look like much on the outside. But God’s Word makes it joyful and full of every good thing. Says Luther: It is not that doing service somehow serves God, faith alone does that. But through faith, we cannot help but jump up and down at the promises of God in our serving. God turns serving into something like the love a parent is wont to have toward their children. Because God loves us first and makes us (flesh-bags all) to be honourable. God fills us up with Love and Grace, and makes us to spill over so that now we can joyfully bring that same honour to others.

Luther says “if you do your daily household chores, that is better than the holiness and austere life of all the monks!” Because in doing our household chores we serve one another, we share joy with one another. “Look how clean my room is now!” “Look how good this food is to those that are hungry!” These are the joys God makes it possible to share.

If for some reason at this point, you should still think all this talk of family does not joyful service make; if you are saying to yourself “I don’t have parents, nor children, nor have I ever had any kind of pleasure meeting anyone who was either of those things.” Look finally, at the cross. God will turn THIS into Easter. Through Christ’s lifting up, our own very weakness and death are lifted up away from us. If God can win such a great victory through such a miserable instrument of torture, then who are we to say that God cannot also make families honorable, and service joyful?

Therefore, trust in the victory of Christ where we are made free of our sins! We no longer have to worry about ourselves, but we can approach service like an infant who has just discovered for the first time that her toes are attached to her feet. “Look! There they are! Those little toes.” Look! There we are! Made to be children of God in our Baptisms, and with service to do attached to our hands! This is the joy with which we serve others.

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