Thomas Merton once wrote:
“…community is not built by man, it is built by God. It is God’s work and the basis of community is not just sociability but faith. This is what we need to see very clearly, because it is very important… what really starts fighting is possessions. And people get into fights by preferring things to people. This is well developed in Christian theology, and therefore, for us, the importance of detachment from things, the importance of poverty, is that we are supposed to be free from things we might prefer to people. You can extend that to any limits you like – wherever things become more important than people we are in trouble. That is the crux of the whole matter. Figure it out for yourself!”
Thomas Merton in Alaska, New Directions, 1989. p. 97
We are here, as a church, and as individuals, to serve God and to serve God in the community in which he has placed us. But there’s more... our church is itself a community, and we are part of a community of churches, both within the Vineyard (Anglican, Lutheran, Baptist – insert your own flavour!) community and as a church in our village, town, city, nation.
Jamie Watters, preaching last Sunday at Glasgow Westend Vineyard, made the point that servanthood is very far from merely trying to keep others happy... In Christ we cannot expend one ounce of energy on pleasing people. We are called to servanthood not subjection. We serve where the need is vital... we don’t wait for the opportunity to use our own special gifts. Living in the world is living in wartime, and all our service is emergency service.
How are we doing according to Merton’s and Watters’ criteria? Preferring people to things doesn’t just mean what value we feel we place on them, but the degree to which we are prepared to serve them, and to sacrifice our own interests for them. Do we choose service to our neighbours above the opportunity to make money? Do we choose service above position, kindness above reputation?
Jesus put it like this:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 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 20:25-28 (NIV)