September 3, 2012

Near the doorway into the building where my church meets there is a sign. It states the motto of our church denomination (and the mission statement of our local congregation): “reaching out with the transforming love of Jesus Christ.” An interesting statement. Interesting that a group of people would gather together to serve not themselves, but others. But there it is. And indeed, a large number of people in this congregation reach out in service to this community: volunteering with the local soup kitchen, the shelter, Hospice, prison ministries and much more. And why? Because we believe that part of the job of God’s people is to be a servant of the community.

It has been that way since the beginning of humankind. God put human beings in the garden of Eden “to cultivate it and to keep it.” And then God asked Adam to start naming animals (see Genesis 2:15, 19). God’s plan from the start was to involve humans in the creative and care-full oversight of this earth. But as the story unfolds, we find that human beings were not so full of care, except to care for our own selfish desires. God chose a particular people–the Israelites–to become a model of God’s way of life. God gave them a land, a leader, and a law to help them on their way. This is the reason for all those laws in the Old Testament, to clarify how God’s people were to serve their God, their land, one another, and become a light to the nations.

But again and again Israel failed God’s purposes. And in the end God allowed the Babylonian people to devastate the Israelite nation, capture most of their people and taking them captive. The prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter to those captives, giving them God’s instructions for their conduct. He tells them, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7). Their job was to be a servant to the city, even the city which had taken them captive.

Jesus modeled care-full servanthood to others. He went about healing others and delivering them from oppressive spirits. To some religious leaders he was harsh, but to many he was a very gentle friend. He said he came not to be served but to serve and to give his life for others. In the end he died for us all. His followers, filled with the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, took up these same values. “Let us do good to all people,” the Apostle Paul encourages, “and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” (Galatians 6:10). And in the last chapter of the last book of the Bible there is this fabulous description of God’s world as a magnificent city. There we read that after all is said and done God’s people will reign with God forever and ever (Revelation 22:5). In the end we find that human beings will be doing just what we were put on earth to do in the beginning: caring for the city.

So what is the job of the Church here on earth–or here in our local town today? I would argue that at least part of our job is to step into our destiny of caring service. The Church is to be a servant of the community. Of course, the Church is not the only, or even the primary, caring force in the community. Just like with the exiles in Jeremiah’s day, there are whole governments and such caring for the city. But it was characteristic of God’s heart to invite God’s people to join in caring service for others. I think that is how we should live today, reaching out with the transforming love of Jesus Christ.