SCRIPTURE: 2 Corinthians 9:12‒15 and John 13:1‒5 (Inclusive Bible)
2 Corinthians 9:12‒15
For the administration of this service not only supplies fully the needs of the holy ones, but also overflows in thanksgivings to God. By offering this service, you prove yourselves. And that makes them give glory to God for the way you obey and profess the Gospel of Christ, and for your generosity to them and to everyone. And their prayers also show how they are drawn to you because of the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for such an indescribable gift!
It was before the Feast of Passover, and Jesus realized that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to Abba God. He had always loved his own in this world, but now he showed how perfect this love was…So during supper, Jesus—knowing that God had put all things into his own hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God—rose from the table, took off his clothes and wrapped a towel around his waist. He then poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and dry them with the towel that was around his waist.
One: This is the witness of The Church,
Many: thanks be to God!
At many awards shows or sports finals, the winners often thank God, and I always wonder what they were thanking God for exactly. If they’re thanking God for the award or trophy, then, I thought they were way off based because if God loves everyone equally, then I don’t believe God rewards one and punishes another. If, however, they were thanking God for their talent or the people that provided them with opportunities that resulted in a win, that I can get behind. Being thankful and giving thanks go hand-in-hand, don’t they? Often, I find myself sending a thank you card to folks and then, in return, I get a thank you for the thank you card. I love it, and it’s natural, isn’t it? We give a gift, make a compliment, or do something special for a person, and almost every time, that person says thank you. If I get a thank you card or something in writing, then, almost automatically, I thank them back. When we sit down for Thanksgiving, many of us have a tradition of going around the table sharing what we’re thankful for. Our scripture from Corinthians states very boldly that giving thanks … is praising God. I’m going to talk about that more specifically later, but for now, I would expand on that and say that giving thanks and showing gratefulness is our God-given compassion being lived out. We honour how others have served us by thanking them, and the unconditional love of God is shared through both the serving and the thanking.
Here’s the wondering I have. Is giving and serving different? Most of us would agree that when we give to a cause or give to an organization, we often think about the giving of money. But our scripture reading from John turns that around and helps us open our minds to the idea of giving as an act of service as well. Jesus, knowing his time was coming to an end, wanted to give thanks to his disciples and show them how much he cared for them. He also wanted to model for them, one last time, how serving others is what we should be doing for one another. Today, we continue our stewardship theme of Re-Awakening our Spirit by reflecting on serving. We continue our message of giving from last week where we were encouraged to share our surplus of blessings. And, of course, that can mean financially, but giving also means the giving of our time and talent; or the act of service. The only qualification for the act of serving is … willingness and time. Serving means giving of your time and talent to make the world a better place. There are many volunteer opportunities that come up around the church that don’t require a financial expectation. Rather, it’s your time or talent that we need. Today’s scriptures remind us that no matter the contribution, each time we give through serving, we’re essentially living out the love of God. Our Christian faith teaches us that we love, because God loved us first, and in the same vein, we give and serve because, through Jesus, God gave and served us first. Our serving of others is in response to the compassion that we believe God gave us all first.
Serving one another means a great deal, both to those doing the serving and to those receiving. It definitely should be a gift that has no strings attached. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples knowing that, one would soon turn him over to the authorities while another would deny knowing him three times. Despite this, Jesus still served them all equally. That’s the hard part, right? Serving all equally. At least for me. A few weeks ago, I shared a definition of what it means to be a good steward and the line that stands out for me in relation to the scriptures this morning about serving is this one: Good Stewards meet and greet and engage with many people, never knowing who might later be a friend or a foe. Jesus modeled that in his leadership, teachings, ministry, and at the end … in the washing of the disciples feet…because it turns out, he even washed the feet of those who would later turn their backs on him. That’s sacrificial and humble serving. And today, we still see this type of serving all around us. Let’s list some of the things St. Thomas has recently experienced that have re-awakened our spirits. My spirit has been re-awakened at the depth in which this church family has continued to offer support – yes, financially, but in so many other ways as well. Cards dropped in the mail, a supportive text, or encouraging email – just because. Deliveries at Christmas and Easter. Meals being lovingly made and delivered, sometimes to people we don’t even know. Gifts of rainbow earrings, dream catchers, and porcelain ducks. Endless volunteer hours maintaining the church and … figuring out where that weird sound is coming from. Meeting after more meetings with Search Committee members figuring out what the St. Thomas staffing needs are moving forward. Continued birthday and anniversary wishes following a year of driveway celebrations. Plans for trick or treating in the parking lot again. Hugs and Hearts! Making up and delivering gift bags for Sunday School kids. Sharing our musical talents outside the church walls. Partnering with other churches while in a pandemic. Connecting with one another over zoom. Zoom Jack-in-the-box games or scavenger hunts with the Youth. Zoom choir rehearsals, Zoom team meetings, Zoom baptism or wedding prep, Zoom educational opportunities, Zoom, Zoom, Zoom. So many ways in which we are serving one another to re-awaken our spirits.
As mentioned earlier, some theologians who have interpreted our Corinthians passage this morning would say that we give and serve solely because we are disciples of Christ; because it glorifies God; it’s our way to praise God. Let’s unpack that a bit more for St. Thomas’ context. I would love to simply be able to wrap up all our good works into the reason being, it gives glory to God. But I know that very few of us would use those words. In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to find very many people who would describe their reason for helping others as being because their faith demands it of them… even though it does. A 2012 study by the University of California, Berkeley, concluded that “atheists and agnostics are more willing to help other people than those who identify themselves as religious.” Shouldn’t it precisely be our faith and the teachings of Jesus that are supposed to encourage us to “strive for a new heaven and new earth”, to “make God’s kin-dom real here on earth”, to “be the hands and feet of Christ here and now”. Christianity is a major religion after all, so why aren’t Christians making more of a difference? Why aren’t they saying their Christians? Why is it that atheists and agnostics are more willing to help and make a difference in the world? Maybe we simply don’t want to identify as religious because of the hurt and harm caused in the name of religion over the years. Maybe those harmful Christians don’t represent what Jesus modelled or taught at all. Because of that, maybe “glorifying God” isn’t a good enough incentive to give and serve. I know I certainly don’t ever consciously praise God when I show care. Nor do I particularly feel as though God is glorified in my kindness to others. I think the problem actually is with the praising and glorifying language; or rather, with some religious people who use this language while in the same breath deeply hurt people. I don’t want to be put under the same Christian umbrella as those who are so harmful. That’s my problem, anyway, with naming I’m Christian or religious, and I don’t think I’m alone in that thinking.
The real reason I believe we serve others comes down to plain and simple compassion, and whether you’re religious or not, it’s our compassion that compels us to help others.
Jesus washed the disciples’ feet because he loved them and had compassion for what they were about to experience; and that love and compassion included Judas and Peter. We, too, give and serve one another because we have a surplus of compassion. Mind you, we don’t always have a surplus of compassion (believe me, I know) but when we do, we share it and we do so in abundance. And even though it’s hard, compassion extends and includes those who may not be our favourite people. Those we tend to always have misunderstandings with. Those who make choices that we don’t agree with. Giving thanks, serving, and compassion shouldn’t have strings attached or a hidden agenda behind it. So, as we continue with our Stewardship Campaign, on this Thanksgiving weekend, may we give thanks, remember to take time to fill your own spiritual buckets so your surplus can be shared, and keep being the awesome, giving, and serving people I have seen you live out to be, every day. Happy Thanksgiving! Amen