Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI; Sunday September 17 2017
The Reverend Alan Neale; “Called to Serve”
A story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.
Today is Ministry Sunday – a really, really, really crucial day in the church’s, this church’s year. Today is the day when, if we are brave, we allow ourselves to be confronted by this truth… to be a follower of Jesus is to accept the call to serve. Today we are bold to confront this truth – that though we happily call Jesus our Friend, though we thankfully call Jesus our Rescuer… we must also call him our Lord. And of this Lord Jesus we read (Mark 10:45) “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve… and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Ministry Sunday (though one day in the whole year) should reflect what is our business every day: to offer our lives to God and ask not whether but how may we serve the Lord.
Today’s readings speak eloquently of the call, the vocation to service and the way in which service expresses our worship, fulfils our obedience and is energized by our gratitude.
Service and Worship. Psalm 34:1 “Bless the Lord o my soul and let all that is within me bless his holy name.” The church community at its best is a community that serves to identify, celebrate and sustain the many gifts of its members. Each one of us is gifted to serve, any other statement is a lie and a deceit. And as we use our gifts (tentatively and modestly as befits Episcopalians!) so we bless and worship our Creator who has generously bestowed upon us gifts for ministry, gifts for service. There are some churches that end their worship with these words… “Our worship has ended, our service has begun.” Significant words but telling only a half-truth.. for in our worship we serve, and in our service we worship. “Bless the Lord..”
Service and Obedience. Romans 14:12 “Every knee will bow to me and every tongue confess Jesus is Lord.” It is supposed that here (as elsewhere in his writings) St. Paul is using words from a hymn sung in the early Christian church; these are words taken up in one of our own contemporary hymns… “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.” The hymn contains such vivid phrases as “at his voice creation sprang at once to sight” and “in your hearts enthrone him.” Brothers and sisters in Christ, all too often we speak glibly and easily of the church as a volunteer organization but, in all truth, this is in error; the Church is composed not of volunteers but of conscripts and conscription (to quote one dictionary) is “the compulsory enlistment of people in a national service, most often a military service” – we are conscripts in the army of the Lord. Are you “absent without leave”? It’s time to put that right!
And, Service and Gratitude. The mean and vicious servant in today’s Gospel is condemned because despite being awarded such enormous grace, he acted with vindictiveness and indifference. Authentic gratitude moves us to active service. The horrible, relentless spate of recent natural disasters has, at least, presented us with the ready willingness of volunteers to assist when and however they can; gratitude for the safety of their own lives has spilled out, has generated service to assist others. It borders on blasphemy if we who call ourselves Eucharistic people, if we who celebrate Eucharist (thanksgiving) are not in turn energized to serve the Lord and His people and His creation.
Service is intricately linked with worship and obedience and gratitude; it is also linked with our spiritual growth and awareness. In the well-known and much loved story of the wedding in Cana of Galilee, the Gospeller describes the ignorance of the guests as to the provider of the good wine. Well, the guests might not have known the source but the servants did… “9 When the host tasted the water that had become wine (he didn’t know what had just happened but the servants, of course, knew)”. Of course they knew, their service was the doorway through which they passed to gain profound spiritual understanding. So, do I (do you) want to know the Lord better… serve Him.
In Honyman Hall this morning tables will be set describing just some of the opportunities for service in this church family; all are important but I dare to underline one ministry (on behalf of them all). The children of this church are members and we need care for them in every way and show them that they matter; we do this by supporting their families but also by providing opportunities to learn about the goodness and presence of God. Please really consider giving time, some time, to this ministry… and men are included in this plea as much as women.
I end with the story with which I began…
This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.
Let us pray, and let us act, that this faith community never merit such a story. AMEN