I have not been on a lot of mission trips during my life, and so it makes the ones I have been on more memorable. In fact I remember the first ever, actual, mission trip I ever went on. It was Spring Break my sophomore year of college. I went on a mission trip with the InterVarsity chapter at my college. We went to serve in Camden, NJ just across the river from Philadelphia. This trip was so memorable because of the work we did. Camden is the poorest city in the nation, and because of that fact crime runs rampant. The city used to thrive and is actually the headquarters for Campbell’s Soup. However, between the war on drugs that has ravaged this country and the movement of middle class to suburbs the city now suffers from THE WORST economy in the country. During our time there we worked with kids in the community through a community organization that keeps kids off the streets. The culture that has been created in Camden through the decades has become normalized life and the organization we worked with noticed that working through the kids in the community might help to revitalize the community. The amazing thing I noticed during my time there was how this worked. Kids were encouraged and uplifted by the help they received and in turn they would invite their friends. Essentially the service of the community organizations influenced these kids to serve and help their community as well. It did not fix all of the problems (and their were other initiatives to address other areas), but this was an area that I saw where a difference was being made through service.
As Christians, we are called to serve. We are called to serve God and serve others. That is the nature of the law as we talked about Jesus’ fulfillment of it last week. Service is the backbone of our faith. It is the manner in which we express the fulness of that which we believe, and it is an essential part of being a disciple.
As we bring our sermon series to a close we reflect one last time on that vision that was boldly given to us by our Bishop, Sharma Lewis, that we are called to be “Disciples of Jesus Christ who are lifelong learners who influence others to serve.” (http://www.vaumc.org/ncfilerepository/AC2017/CanyouSeeItClosingWorship.pdf)
Service is that last part, but it is much more than that because in that understanding of service is a wrapping of the entire vision culminating in this final thought. The idea that through our learning and influence others will be drawn to the work that we do as a faith is the crux of this vision. If we are truly embodying the image of discipleship, and fully living into God’s grace, then we cannot help but serve and through that service draw others to service as well. Therefore, as we close out our series this week we will look at the idea that as disciples we are called to make disciples, how do we do that?
Paul answers this question by giving us the Fruits of the Spirit. This week plays along similar lines that our discussion last week covered, but it takes it a step forward into actual, physical action. Last week we talked about our general, and natural, influence. That is the way we act when we are wandering through life. The idea that as we live our lives people see us as Christians and look at us in a certain way. Therefore, the nature of our influence is based on the way we carry ourselves. Essentially how, through our service, are we bringing others to serve as well?
Paul leads this discussion of discipleship by expressing the manner in which we experience freedom in Christ and the manner that we express that freedom to others in which we live out the commandment to love. Paul writes in verse 13, “For you were called to freedom, brothers, and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.” (Gal. 5:13)
Paul here attaches service to others as an essential of our life together. He uses the word douleuó which can be translated as to be a slave or to serve. Therefore, Paul roots this idea of service in his understanding of discipleship. Laying forth the idea that we are not just a group of individuals, but using service language to bind us together in a deeper communal relationship. This relationship expressed not in what we personally gain from helping others, but from what others may gain through our help. Service is not given to make us feel better, nor to further our own selfish desires. Rather service is meant to be a gateway for others to experience the Kingdom of God.
As Paul moves on in this discussion he addresses this idea of service in contrast between what he notes as “Desires of the Flesh” and “Fruits of the Spirit.” This juxtaposition of views provides for us the manner in which we are called to create disciples. It provides for us the full picture of discipleship, bringing together the idea of lifelong learning, influencing, and serving as we have been discussing.
The “Fruits of the Spirit” embody the life of Christ. They embody true servanthood and a life of giving…possibly even beyond our means. It paints a picture of everyone being deserving of receiving these fruits. This is the nature of service.
Paul lists the Fruits of the Spirit as, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22b-23a)
Paul calls us to take an intentional look at the way we are living our lives. He is calling into question all of the aspects of discipleship, especially those we have discussed this past month. This has called into question the way we interpret God’s vision in our lives. Because he causes us to pause and ask the hard question, “Is something a Desire of the Flesh or is it a Fruit of the Spirit?” A lot of times we may mistake the two. We may try to paint a picture of what the Fruits of the Spirit look like, when in actuality it may just be a personal self-indulgence. We have to remember that service to God involves embodying the Kingdom of Heaven. Questions of worthiness are thrown out the window, because we are not the gatekeepers. Rather our call to service is to that of service to all of creation. To build a kingdom involves putting away our selfish desires and serving, even serving those we may be uncomfortable around.
Paul is very clear on these characteristics. He says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:25) Essentially what Paul is saying is that if we live (exist) by the Sprit, which we proclaim in our baptism and in our continued covenant with God, then we too must be guided in service to the Spirit.
How do we serve the Spirit?
We listen and answer God’s call on our lives. We go on mission trips, we volunteer in local missions, and we serve in our local church, which in itself reaches out as the hands and feet of Christ. Service is the manner in which we take all of that lifelong learning and our natural influence as Christians and put it to work. All of our work hinges on what we learn in our followings of God, because unless we live the Gospel that Jesus lives then we are not producing these fruits, and those fruits that Paul listed are the marks of a disciple. To embody them and live into those fruits means that we are continuing to live into the sanctifying grace God gives to us, and it journeys us down that path of faith toward the understanding of Christian Perfection, that perfection in our love for God, creation, and humanity.
I want you to contemplate on how your service impacts others? Are you serving? Who are you serving? How you encouraging others to serve through your service?
That is how we create disciples! That is how we act like the disciples we have learned that God calls us to be!