Spirituality for Today – August 2008 – Volume 13, Issue 1
In His Service
Every year the Sunday before the Fourth of July, our church celebrates a Patriotic Sunday where we honor the men and women who have served our country in one of the military divisions. The orchestra plays a medley of "The Caisson Song," "Halls of Montezuma", "Semper Paratus," "Anchors Aweigh," and "Off We Go into the Wild Blue Yonder." When each branch's song is played, anyone who has served in that group stands. Some of our veterans wear their uniforms, especially those who are currently on active duty. We applaud them for their generous gifts of time, talents, and energies they have given unselfishly so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today. What is especially moving are the stories they so willingly share when we congregate in the gathering area where coffee is served. A friend of mine who is one of those veterans shared with me an experience he had during this refreshment time a few years back.
My friend served in Vietnam, but he does not wear his uniform on our Patriotic Sunday. Instead, he wears a tie with American flags on it. After the service in which we had honored our service people, a man about his same age came up and shook his hand. My friend said the other man had tears in his eyes and thanked him for what he had done for our country. The man went on to explain that he'd never served our country and was sorry he had missed the opportunity. He also said he couldn't bring himself to wear a tie such as the one my friend had on because he hadn't belonged to one of the branches. My friend removed his tie and gave it to this gentleman.
This is a beautiful story on many levels. First, it reinforces what a wonderful man my friend is in every aspect of his life. I've long admired his dedication to church, family, and friends. I've watched over the years how many times in our community he has stepped forward, rolled up his sleeves, and pitched in. He's a quiet worker, often doing so much that is never even acknowledged. He doesn't do it for the recognition; he does it because there is a job to be done and he can help. He never judges others about what they do or don't do. As long as I've known him, he's just lived his life contributing what and when he can to wherever the need may be. He is a role model of a life dedicated to serving. Second, it illustrates how accepting my friend is of others. To my knowledge he has never compared what he contributes to the efforts of others. He readily welcomes all help when it is offered and makes others feel good about whatever their amount of commitment is. I don't know the reason the other man didn't serve in our armed forces, but by giving the tie to that man, my friend showed what a generous heart he has. Without judgment my friend extended what I consider a symbol of acceptance, in essence saying, "It doesn't matter that you didn't serve; we invite you to rejoice in the celebration." My friend is a role model of a life dedicated to serving freely and fully with what he's been given.
Finally, and the sad part of this story, the other man's remorse ate a hole of sorrow into his heart. It seems to me his grief came not only because he hadn't served, but also because he'd not accepted the opportunity to serve... an opportunity arose, was offered to him, has now passed, and it will not return. It reminds me that service should be viewed as just that, an opportunity… not an obligation. These opportunities are the occasions presented to us where we can glorify God by using what He has so lovingly entrusted to us.
Over and over again the Bible talks about service and servants. It is clear what we as Christians are intended to do:
"Just as the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:28 (NIV)
"Those who have served well gain an excellent understanding and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus." 1 Timothy 3:13 (NIV)
"Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms." 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)
Our purpose is to serve, whether it is in a church capacity or simply helping others as brothers and sisters in the human race. When I was younger, I believed that serving didn't really "count" unless it was something big, like teaching a Sunday school class. In our church that meant a weekly commitment on Sunday mornings as well as preparation time during the week. It also meant going to workshops for introducing new curriculums. Now that I'm older and have a background filled with a variety of service projects, I understand that "small" services are just as important. On those Sunday mornings before teachers began their lessons, individuals placed story booklets in the classrooms, made sure the supply closet was filled with the materials needed for craft projects, and brought in trays of refreshments for us to enjoy. It is the "small" services that insure a sturdy foundation for the success of larger projects.
Life is full of service opportunities, each day jammed-packed with times to extend a hand. That hand can open a door for a mother with a stroller, pick up a dropped pencil for someone with an armload of books, or reach up to get a grocery item for a senior who is bent with age. We can offer ears to listen, words to praise, and hearts to love.
When I was growing up my grandmother said people who entered the military were "joining the service." I like that phrase… it describes what each of us as Christians was created to do. I like to think of myself as "joining His service." I pray that my mind is attuned to recognize opportunities when they come, and my heart is open to accept those occasions to serve. I pray that when my earthly life is over, I don't find myself in the situation of the man who mourned his missed opportunities to serve. I pray that instead the first words I hear are:
"Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!" Matthew 25:21 (NIV)
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