Last Wednesday we discussed service in our class. Service is a hard topic. And I think part of that is because there is something in our society that people have come to believe is what God requires of us in regards to service. That this is community service. It's prolific in our society, people calling us down to soup kitchens on Thanksgiving and Christmas to serve dinner to those who can't afford it. Visiting nursing homes and bringing smiles to the residents. Helping small children and little old ladies cross the road. Schools have even put community service into their graduation requirements, colleges have an entire section to fill out on how you've served the community. These are all wonderful and needed things, but the problem is that community service is something you go do and then come back home and do something else.
I believe that the service that God calls us too is a little more mundane and day to day than community service. It's not necessarily going to have a large group going along with us or a story of how many potatoes we peeled down town. I believe that the service we're called to is much more quiet and unnoticeable.
Service that I'm thinking of is a discipline of noticing people and their needs. People tell us what they need all the time in the way they interact with us. Once you become aware of those needs, you do something about it. You don't just go "Man, Tommy Sue really needs someone to talk to right now" you actually take the time to sit and let Tommy Sue talk. That is what I believe service is.
There are not a lot of stories of soup kitchens and retirement communities in the Bible, maybe none at all, but there are lots of stories of hungry, thirsty, lonely, sick, naked, imprisoned people. Jesus interacted with people and served them as individuals and that is the main difference between the discipline of service and community service. When we serve individuals we are serving God (Matthew 25:40). This is not to say that community service is bad, but it is to say that if you participate in community service and do not connect with individuals that you serve then you have truly lost out on an opportunity for fellowship and growth.
By all means, put yourself in places where the community needs to be served, but don't treat people like they are cattle or another faceless being wandering through. Take the time to be with people, individuals, part of God's family. Those that we serve are not some good looking line on our resume, they are people created in God's image. They deserve more than our free time on Saturdays, they deserve our full attention and care.
I know that it is easy to slip into this idea of being some place to perform a task. We can do that in our very homes, making even the care of the dishes more important than the needs of our families. The need to have things just so can over take and run down the tender heart of a toddler who needs attention.
This morning, I'm reminded of a time I was serving at a community dinner. We had prepared a meal, the sun was starting to set and it was definitely time to go home, but the tables needed to be cleared and people were still eating. As the tables quickly began to empty, we started to wipe them down and set the chairs on top for mopping. A solitary man sat at the end of table, slowly finishing his meal. One chair went up on the table, then two and suddenly I was struck. I was telling him to get out, I had done my part of the service it was time for him to be done with his meal and leave me alone. I stopped, sat down and talked with the man while he finished his meal. I don't remember the conversation at all. I just remember that understanding of me saying with my actions "You are not worthy." When we serve others, we are telling them with our actions that they are indeed worthy. Worthy of God's love and affection. And that is what service comes down to is telling those we encounter over and over again "You are worthy."