It has been said that the best of sermons have three points.
Even better, in the estimation of some, is the sermon that has three points beginning with the same letter.
And so for a Sunday Special around the theme of the letter ‘s’ a sermon in three points, each of which begins with the letter ‘s’.
In His Service.
A wonderful theme for a Sunday Special
It goes to the heart of what our Christian faith is about.
This is what Jesus was about. It was not a matter of being the greatest – how the James and John wanted to get to the top of the tree.
Instead Jesus mapped out a way of service.
He came not to be served but to serve, to give his life as a ransom for many, to set people free.
To follow the way of service for Jesus was to follow a way of selfless sacrifice and suffering.
This was the very essence of what Jesus was about.
It is what he called his followers to.
Nowhere is that put more powerfully than in Philippians 2:1-11
What a description of ‘service’ the service that is of the essence of Christ.
The same mind, the same love, oin full accord and of one mind.
Nothing from selfish ambition
Look not to your own interests but to the interests of others.
It is the mandate of the Christian – Christian service and it is modelled on the one who humbled himself to become servant.
Think of the challenge – the service you have done – the service we do as a church – the call we have.
There is a problem.
And that’s where I come to my second ‘s’.
My second word is ‘sustainable’.
How can we make our service sustainable.
There are so many demands, so much that we could do. Let’s see how Jesus made his service sustainable.
He didn’t do it all himself. He shared the task with others. Isn’t it interesting to track through what he did and then what he shared. His service entailed bringing healing to the lives of people who were hurting. He shared that task with the twelve and with the disciples. That’s the whole point of the Sermon on the Mount, it’s the whole point of the mission of the twelve.
As if that wasn’t enough he then shared the task more broadly still, with the 72 … and then more broadly still.
Service is not something we can do alone … it is something we need to share.
Interestingly, Jesus was careful with his time. He did not serve – he actually got into trouble for the meals he enjoyed and the partying he shared in. John the Baptist was the ascetic who rejected the good life and was condemned for it by many; Jesus on the other hand partied with people … and again was condemned. You can’t win was his comment! Though he did say it in more picturesque language.
He sat with Mary while Martha worked.
Maybe we need that kind pattern too.
But there was something more that sustained Jesus in his ministry.
He had a rhythm of prayer and worship. Each week he sustained his life of service with a diet of reading of Scripture, praying with others and sharing in the Synagogue, the place of Gathering Together. And each day he sustained his life of service with prayer.
Prayer and worship.
And that gives rise to a problem.
Neither begins with the letter ‘s’.
So why don’t we try the word spirituality instead?
Jesus had a spirituality that took prayer and worship seriously. He knew his prayer book, the psalms, he knew his Scriptures, and could draw on their resources when facing difficult times. He took time out to spend time in prayer and reflction. Read through Luke’s gospel and you see how before each major event he spent time in prayer.
This is a spirituality that has content, structure and purpose – it is the kind of spirituality that can sustain a life of service.
It works both ways.
Spirituality that is interested only in meditation, peacefulness and getting your inner self right with the world, as an end in itself is worth nothing.
Spirituality that issues in service is the spirituality that is in the mind of Christ. That’s the kind of spirituality to cultivate and develop.
Quiet time in prayer, with a reading of the Bible, and a readiness to allow the mind to wander – in the direction of the needs of others. This is prayer that is important not just in its own right, but as it prompts and then sustains active service.
The needs of someone come to mind in that time of praying, the visit that follows is the outworking of the service.
But it also works the other way round. Service that doesn’t pause that doesn’t give time to prayer, reflectin, to worship, to reading those promises. That’s the kind of service that’s heading for burnout, that is difficult, impossible to sustain.
I have been drawn to those ‘rules’ of Christian life that map out such a way of life to follow. The rule of St Benedict, the teachings of St Francis. All recognise the rhythm of prayer and worship sustaining an offering of service.
Such a rule has been re-devised in the twentieth century into the Iona Community. Active service sustained by a programme of prayer.
Part of me is drawn to sign up.
But then I think again. To me this is what church is about. This is what we are part of as we are part of our church life. We have a rule of life.
It is a life of service, sustained by a spirituality of prayer and worship.
Let’s strengthen each of those three dimensions and build up the life of our church together.
Service without spirituality cannot be sustained.
Spirituality without service is worthless.
Service sustained by spirituality matters.