Encountering God in sacred service to God’s creation.
Rev. Kirsten sermon on 10.2.16
This week, I’ve been pondering this idea of service, willing servanthood, because we are following God’s call. In the Gospel of Luke, we have this parable of the servant juxtaposed with the parable of the mustard seed. Service, obedience and faith are connected. How are they connected. I find myself drawing diagrams—faith comes from God, it is a spirit within me. I discipline myself to hear the spirit and follow that spirit rather than my fleshly desires. And as I obey, I am called to serve God’s creation. As I tried to draw these relationships, I couldn’t really map a progression, instead, I found myself thinking about nature, God’s natural world and the relationships in it.
I see in my mind a pool of water—that pool is all of God’s creation, a single rain drop comes from the sky—the raindrop lands in the pool, creating a ripple. The ripple brings every drop of water, every aspect of the pool into relationship with every other drop.
This image of the raindrop helped me to feel the relationality of God’s creation. But it misses the “service” aspect of our parable, or Paul’s letter to Timothy, calling for obedience and self-discipline. But following this nature theme, I got thinking about St. Francis’ theology.
Today is St. Francis’ feast day, and we celebrate St. Francis’ faith, his vision and his service. We bless animals today (at 9 a.m. by the outside altar) in celebration of St. Francis’ awareness that all of God’s creatures are connected, in relation to one another. But St. Francis didn’t just co-exist with other creatures. We think of him praying in the woods, reaching out to animals, earth and weather as brothers and sisters. But we must remember St. Francis’ extreme ways of serving the poor. He gave up all of his worldly belongings and committed himself to care for the weakest.
Today, we bless our pets. And I’d like to suggest that in our relationship with our pets, we can really begin to understand this parable of the servant. When we care for our cat or dog, our horse or snake or rat—whatever pet, we put our own needs second. We don’t say, “I don’t want to get up and feed you today, I’d rather stay in bed”. We don’t complain that the dog needs a walk. We don’t resent the kitten who needs to be bottle fed, or the horse who needs its stall cleaned. We serve because it is the right way to be in relationship with this sister or brother creature. We put ourselves in the slave position, happy to eat after we’ve fed the animal because we are motivated by a spirit of love.
In this relationship of service to a weak and helpless creature, we have a knowledge of God’s spirit working in us. In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he reminds his hearers that they must “rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” We can know in that love of a pet, the spirit of love that may sometimes be diminished by the sense of bad people, bad actions, bad circumstances. Many of you may have heard me talk about my bad kitty—a kitty who greets me in the morning by ambushing me from under the table, jumping up to bite my thigh as I make my way to the kitchen. But in spite of her badness, I love her. I am never really angry with her, even though she has been shredding the furniture, or spraying behind the front door. I love her, I care for her. I spend hours preparing her food, cleaning her litter box. I spend money on her flea treatments. From the time I found her starving and so sick in Bosnia, her very existence has been a source of pleasure for me—a pleasure that is expressed in service to her.
For those of you who are gardeners, I see a similar sense of relationship to God’s creation and service that is an expression of faith. We have faithful people who work in our gardens here, or many of you who work in your gardens at home. You never wake up angry that the flowers need water, or upset with the leaves have blown across the path you made. Your relationship to your garden is one of service. You put your needs second, not expecting gratitude or “payback” from your garden. You enjoy the garden and the service that you give to it. You take pleasure in helping the plants to grown. You find satisfaction in trimming the tree so that its beauty can be enjoyed by others. You place the rock so that its perfection can be observed. Your service to creation is a response to a love that you feel for a place. I would say that you do your gardening work in obedience to the spirit that is moving within you. For true gardeners, the motivation comes from within—you don’t garden because you are going to get a prize for the most spectacular garden. You garden because you are called to garden.
And this brings me to the extension of care of creation to the care of all beings. When we serve the poor, we serve not because we expect recognition or reward. We serve without regard to the failings of the poor people we meet. We serve as an expression of faith. The faith we have been given, rekindled within us, grows like a mustard seed. That spirit motivates us to obey God’s commandment to love one another. In that power of love, we put the other person first and serve them as a servant provides the meal for his master’s family. Our pleasure is in caring for the other. Our power is in giving, not in taking for ourselves.
I listen each month to the caregivers who come to our Thursday morning support group. They talk about the difficulty of seeing someone they love decline, the challenges of memory loss, physical failing and sometimes hostility or aggression from the person they love. But it is in the service to the person, that they find satisfaction. How many times does someone in the group say, “I can’t leave them. I want to do this for them. I am trying to figure out what is best.” And they make hard decisions about care giving, sometimes putting someone in a memory care facility or putting them in a respite care facility, because these choices really are best for the person, even if the choices come with guilt or social condemnation.
Jesus, Paul and St. Francis are teaching us today about faith—faith that is expressed in self-sacrifice, obedience, and service. Faith that grows in our most intimate relationships—relationships of self-less service. Whether we express that faith in care for our pets, our gardens, our loved ones, or the poor that we meet in prison, on the street, or in our ministry . . . With this kind of faith, the mulberry tree can pick itself up and plant itself in the sea. Things that seem truly impossible can grow. God’s spirit within us is powerful, it can be rekindled and nurtured in service to others.