5th Sunday of Easter
Ever since Easter Sunday we have been reading from the Acts of the Apostles, hearing about how the early Church sought to live out the mission that Jesus had given them. We have no record of Jesus giving the disciples instructions on how to organize themselves into Church. It is interesting how they chose to do so. From the very beginning we see them putting into place an attitude and a structure of service. First and foremost service to one another, and then expanding to service of the entire community.
We will be listening the next few weeks to verses from the Gospel of John from what is called, “The Last Discourse”. This passage today comes immediately following the story of the washing of the feet we heard on Holy Thursday, where Jesus told his disciples, “If I washed your feet – I who am teacher and Lord – then you must wash each other’s feet. What I just did was to give you an example: as I have done, so you must do.”
This is where the Church received its marching orders from Jesus, and we are beginning to see how they chose to live out those orders. This took on a very practical orientation. From the very beginning the Church ordered itself in practical ways to carry out its mission of service. This attitude of loving service, of subordination to each other, was what attracted so many people to Christianity.
The Church addressed both the spiritual and physical needs of its members. The role of the apostles was to preach and teach the gospel. They also governed the community. When they found themselves being bogged down with the temporal needs of the people, they set aside certain people to take on that role.
We hear today the story of the ordination of the first deacons; the very name means servant in Greek. Their job was to take care of the poor and the sick and the needy, just like today. They were the servants at table, both the dinner table and the altar of the Eucharist. It may seem that the Apostles were delegating the dirty work to lesser men, but in fact service at table is what Eucharist is all about, isn’t it?
Archbishop Niederauer, whose motto was “To Serve and To Give”, liked to say that Eucharist happens under the table as well as on top of it. We gather around the table to share in the banquet on the top, but we serve down below. Because foot washing happens under the table. If we are to be people of Eucharist, we must be foot washers for one another.
“Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do,” Jesus said, “and will do greater ones than these.” Jesus in his earthly ministry fed the hungry, healed the sick, raised the dead, taught his disciples, gave himself in Eucharist to us, gave his very life for us. As his disciples we are called to do the same. Jesus did all these things himself, because he was giving us example. However, we aren’t called to serve God’s people all by ourselves; we are called to do our part as members of the larger Body of Christ. Some of us feed the hungry, some of us heal the sick, some lead us in Eucharist, still others teach, but all of us are called to give our lives for others, not necessarily literally, but we are called to live our entire lives in service.
Service is not an option; it is what we are compelled to do through the Holy Spirit. If you have the spirit of God within you you will do great works. That is how you know you have the Spirit. When the Spirit came down upon Jesus at his baptism, he didn’t just go off somewhere to study or to keep this power within him. He didn’t keep it just between God and himself. He immediately went throughout the entire countryside spreading the gospel he had found. He was driven into the desert by the spirit and then from there spent the rest of his life in service to God’s people. He didn’t work a year or two and then say, “Well, I’ve done my part, now it’s time for someone else to take over.” He was serving unto his death. He was obedient to the will of his Father unto his death. Only when he went back to the Father did he hand over his ministry to his disciples. To us.
It really is all about stewardship. We have all been given great gifts from God. Everything we have – our health, our relationships, our children, our jobs, our material possessions – ultimately come from God. We have been given so much, and we have an awesome responsibility to take care of those gifts.
As stewards we understand that while we have so much, we do not really own anything and nothing really owns us. We are here to nurture and grow the gifts we have been given, to increase their worth and give them back to the creator who gives them to us in the first place. The greatest gift we are called to take stewardship of is one another. By serving one another we help each other to grow and become the people God intends us to be.
It’s fitting that we celebrate Mother’s day this weekend. A mother is a natural steward. Motherhood is a vocation of service, of nurturing, of giving tirelessly of self for the benefit of others. There is something about having a child that brings out this selflessness. We fathers also feel this need, but a mother’s love begins in the womb, with a baby’s total reliance on her for sustenance. The connection between mother and child is both physical and spiritual. And once born, a mother’s selfless service to her family only grows deeper and stronger.
The Church is a lot like the womb in that regard. One of the strongest images we have of the church is as mother. Mother Church we call it. As Church we look out for one another. We take care of the spiritual and physical needs of others, whether they belong to our community or not. We see each other as special gifts from God, and we offer up our own unique talents for the benefit of all.
Because that’s what love is and that’s what love does. Jesus gave us our mission. “Love one another as I have loved you.” And then he gave us his example of humble service to show us how to live that love.
A good friend of mine posted today on Facebook,
“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, "I have nothing left, I used everything you gave me."
To me, that says it all.