For the past two weeks our reflections have focused on what comes from within. The first week we reflected on the message from Jesus that everything that defiles comes from within. Evil cannot come from anything that comes from the outside. Rather it is our heart that leads us and if we allow it to be touched by evil then we risk acting in an evil way. Therefore we should always protect our heart from influences that can defile.
Last week we reflected on another area led by the heart, judgment. We tend to filter our response to people based on how we might judge them. This judgment is influenced by our past experience of others we may or may not have met, yet judged. With every judgment we are deciding what filter to use when interacting with people. Jesus’ example is to take the deaf man aside to cure him and build a relationship. We should practice non-judgment so we can meet and get to know people before deciding they should sit at the lowest or highest seat. Always guard against judging the person standing in front of you.
The readings this week are from the Lectionary for Sunday the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary time; We can infer a common thread reading them together: Isaiah 50:5-9a; Psalm 116: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-8; James 2:14-18 and Mark 8:27-35. Cast in the idea that the Christian is led by what comes from within, the heart drives our direction, defining who we are and what we do as a disciple. These readings challenge us to look at service and how we serve one another.Cast in the idea that the Christian is led by what comes from within, the heart drives our direction, defining who we are and what we do as a disciple. Click To Tweet
The reading from Isaiah reveals a suffering servant. We see someone who offers them self for others. They receive insult and suffering without protesting. They remain fully dependent on God. They have no disgrace or shame, they remain steadfast receiving their suffering for others while standing with God.
In the reading from James we read that famous verse on faith through works. It is no good to say, “go in peace, keep warm, and eat well” to a brother or sister who has nothing to wear and no food to eat. What good is it to say you have faith if it does not come with works? It is through our works, through action, serving we demonstrate faith.
In the message from Mark Jesus is walking with his disciples and asks them a couple of questions, “Who do people say that I am?” and “Who do you say I am?” Peter says in reply, “You are the Christ.” Jesus continues teaching about his suffering, rejection and that he’ll be killed and raised three days following. Jesus calls together the crowd and tells them who ever wishes to come after him must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow. Whoever wishes to save their life, they will lose it, but whoever loses their life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, will save it. Jesus is the Christ, he freely goes to the cross. His message is those who call themselves disciples should serve others in His name, and they will saved, their life will be eternal.
Service from within
Service and doing for others is a common message seen in each of these scripture readings. Tying it to our topic theme “it comes from within” we look at service driven from within, motivating our giving. Why do we serve? The message from the readings speaks about service as works for others, standing in and with others and serving as a disciple of Jesus. In every case service puts others first, giving up one’s life to serve. Predictably, as Jesus informs us, if we serve with a loving heart we receive more than we give.
The verse from Isaiah is one of a group with three other passages commonly known as the song of the servant. It looks at a suffering servant who stands as an obedient disciple, not casting a word of complaint, in silence, becoming stronger and standing tall in the end. The prophecy is revealed at a time in the history of the Hebrew people after Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians and when Cyrus the Persian releases them to return home.
The servant image has often been seen as two possible characters. The most likely protagonist the prophet has in mind is Israel itself, a small nation serving God, who seems to get overtaken by every powerful force throughout time. Many times their destruction is due to their lack of faithfulness to God and is viewed as a type of example of what their life would be like if God abandoned them. However, they remain God’s chosen and God constantly restores them after their time of suffering. In this way the prophet speaks about Israel as a suffering servant.
Moving forward in time five hundred years, many see this description of the servant being realized in the person of Jesus Christ. One who suffered quietly, was obedient, never complained, in his silence he became stronger than his opponents and finally he stood tall as the resurrected savior.
The difference between these two characterizations is what comes from within. Israel as servant is more or less serving out of its own self-satisfying nature. They depend on God when they are in trouble but as soon as life returns to some normality and affluence they pay less attention to God and believe they are in control. As servants to God, their heart is focused more on self than others. Jesus on the other hand acts selflessly. His obedience in service comes from a heart filled with love. He acts out of love and seeks no personal gain from his servanthood. His heart is pure. These two characterizations reflect serving in self attainment as opposed to serving in self-denial.
Sometimes service begins as charity, donating and sorting food for the neighborhood food pantry, volunteering at church to help with coffee and hospitality, volunteering at Habitat for Humanity. It is a kind of service where you give a little as a sacrifice without truly denying yourself. Charity is wonderful and comes from a good place in the heart, but does not really measure up to the level of service we see in Jesus, especially during his execution. If you are charitable keep it up, and thank you, but Jesus calls us to go deeper than simple charity.
Service transformation in l’Arche
There is an international organization called l’Arche, a French word meaning “the Ark.” It is meant to be a safe place away from the storms of life. It was founded in 1964 by a Christian leader and author, Jean Vanier. It places at its heart people with special needs, particularly those with developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome, autism, etc. It builds homes around geographic locations for people who cannot live on their own, with others who wish to live with them and a third group who provide support externally; financial support, administrative support, or volunteering to cook a meal, etc. There can be several homes in one area, usually referred to as a community. There are about one-hundred and fifty communities around the world, seventeen of which are in the U.S.
L’Arche attracts volunteers who come for a certain length of time, for example a year, live in the home and work as an assistant for the people at the heart, those will special needs. There could be a stipend, or small salary but generally the assistant is seen as serving without equitable financial compensation. One such volunteer was Author and Catholic Priest Henri Nouwen. He agreed to become a chaplain for a l’Arche community and began his entrée into the community as an assistant for a particular young man named Adam. Henri tells the story of his journey with Adam in a book appropriately named Adam, God’s Beloved. In it he tells of his meeting and working with Adam, chronicling their morning routine; get up, get out of bed, clean up, dress, have breakfast and getting Adam off to his day program. As Henri tells it he was serving from his generosity, he would help Adam and afterwards go about a day he had planned and that he was good at. Henri’s heart was led to serve and he felt like it was a privilege. But it began as a service without denial of self.
Henri writes eventually their relationship changed, he began to realize that Adam and he were communicating on a different level, becoming closer. The morning routine with Adam became almost a prayer, the human touching the divine. Henri found great peace being with Adam and in fact throughout the day he could reflect on Adam and re-obtain a that peace. Henri cherished their time together. Henri began to realize that Adam was really there for him. This young man with no verbal skills, or any ability to really survive without aid was helping Henri become closer to God. Adam in a very special way had become Henri’s teacher of the heart. Henri became rooted in the community, he began to realize he was much more than his intellectual success and more than what people thought of him. He entered into a relationship of love with Adam. Their relationship deepened and from Adam Henri learned much about himself, how he was integrated as a whole person, not just an author or priest, but the beloved of God.
Henri’s transformation is not unusual for people who go to l’Arche to serve. Many go looking for an adventure and serve as part of a quid pro quo. They get a safe place to live away from home and assist in the house in return. But many begin to transform as Henri did, serving changes from mutual benefit to service with complete denial of self. It is the service Jesus asks of disciples. Founder Jean Vanier says, “people come to l’Arche to serve but they stay because they are being served.” The experience becomes a meeting of Jesus at the cross, people come together to simply live life, they meet Jesus in the ordinary actions of life, they fall in love and they deny themselves. What began as serving one to another becomes a mutuality of serving. It is a service led from the heart, it is no longer service done intellectually, or out of some desire to do good. Meeting the person with special needs who has no agenda, no ego, allows the one serving to drop their guard and be authentic, deny themselves and pick up their cross.Founder Jean Vanier says, “people come to l’Arche to serve but they stay because they are being served.” Click To Tweet Meeting the person with special needs who has no agenda, no ego, allows the one serving to drop their guard and be authentic, deny themselves and pick up their cross. Click To Tweet
The readings express serving precisely so the server experiences giving until they cross over to receiving. Jesus gave everything in service to us, and the Father glorified him for his service. It is a classic spiritual message, we must die to our self to live. Charity is nice, giving from our generosity is nice, but really Jesus asks us to serve and deny our self so that we truly meet God. We think we are doing for, but ultimately God is transforming us. It is not possible to describe what you will receive if you heed Jesus words of serving and denial of self, it must be experienced. But many who have served as Jesus asks are richly rewarded.
Dying to self and living forever
The l’Arche model is uniquely setup to facilitate, even expedite serving from within, because the people at the heart give themselves over very naturally. But, you will find this kind of transformation in any service if you lead from within. Lead with your heart, serve with denial of self, with humility. At a certain point you may feel your service is asking more of you than you can give, it is at this moment you meet the resurrected God in a new way.At a certain point you may feel your service is asking more of you than you can give, it is at this moment you meet the resurrected God in a new way. Click To Tweet
Jesus doesn’t call us to serve as a way of only helping others, he calls us to serve so we may love, dying to self and saving our own life. Love comes from within and is received within our heart. Jesus is always teaching ways we can go deeper into love, serving with a heart of love is one way. When you serve let it come from within.Jesus doesn’t call us to serve as a way of only helping others, he calls us to serve so we may love, dying to self and saving our life. Click To Tweet