“By faith…” Abraham went out from a land not his own to a place he and Sarah were to inherit. And in that long journey they continued to move forward, against all odds and sense, but always in faith. That journey was not only of faith, but also of service. Three weeks ago our first reading was an example of how Abraham and Sarah welcomed three travelers with hospitality – and this but adds to the accounts of Abraham’s service – to his family and clan, to Lot and his family, to the King of Salem, and so many others. The story of Abraham’s life is a story told in the outlines of faith and in the outlines of service as discipleship.
Throughout these weeks of summer, the Gospel of Luke has focused on discipleship. We are in the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time. Here is a brief review of the gospels and their focus on discipleship, mission, compassion, and prayer – all constituent parts of stewardship:
- Mission into the world to proclaim the kingdom: trust, go lightly (14th)
- Good Samaritan: compassion and the universality of neighbor (15th)
- Martha and Mary: how anxiety can burden and impede discipleship (16th)
- The necessity of prayer – to pray persistently and boldly (17th)
- Parable of the Rich Fool – gather the riches of God (18th)
These are just some of the elements that describe a good steward, a good and faithful servant to the other servants. The steward as servant of the other servants. That image we recall each Holy Thursday when Jesus wraps an apron around him and as a sign of what discipleship should be, kneels before his servants and washes their feet. We are called to be servants to others – that is part of our stewardship as moms, dads, older brothers and sisters, younger siblings, godparents, grandparents, teachers, business persons, firefighters, police officers, first responders, doctors, nurses, salespeople, …. Yes, everyone.
OK, we know we are called to be servants – that is really kind of the easy part. A harder part is figuring out whom we are called to serve and how we are called to serve. That is sometimes not so clear.
Before life with the Franciscans I spent much of my life shuffling between client offices here in the United States, England, France, Spain, and Ireland. Sounds exotic, heh? Only for the first week. Then you get into a pattern where you arrive home on a Friday night, jet lagged, tired and only seeking the bliss of your own bed and good night’s sleep. Morning comes and it is then you realize – there is laundry to do, a house to clean, a lawn to mow, groceries to buy – and…. Well you know the list. It is at that point I decided I would hire someone to come in and do those things for me so I could have a weekend to see friends before I got on the next plane Monday morning. So I called an agency and they said they could absolutely help because they were “service oriented and client focused.” What? That’s why I should hire them? Heck, everybody says that. They say it so often we sort’a don’t pay attention. We’d be more likely to pay attention if they said something different like – “we’ll do what we think is best and you’ll like it.”
Anyway, in chatting with the neighbors who were local farmers, they recommended May Bell Curtiss. So I called May Bell and well, here I am, this jet setting executive – I guessed I should probably interview this person? Right? Seems like the thing to do. Well she sized me up in no time at all and simply said, “Yup I can take care of this house, and get my boy to do the lawn …. And you know why you should hire me?” Please Lord, don’t let her say “I am service oriented and client focused” May Bell said “You can trust me with you stuff, your house will be safe and I will clean it like you mother-in-law is about to visit.”
She knew who she was called to serve and she understood the real need. Cleaning is cleaning, but the real service was to assure me that I could leave the country 4 weeks at a time and it would not only be clean, laundry done and folded, lawn mowed – it would all be safe, sound, untroubled, and provide what I really wanted. To come home on a Friday night late and know the security of a house well provided for.
May Bell was a bible-believing Baptist who did not worry one wit about Judgment Day. [She probably be tickled pink she was being preached about in a Catholic church] She believed in Jesus and got up each morning to be that faithful and prudent steward. She served her family, her church, and her clients. She figured out the part that so challenges us: who are we called to serve and how are we called to do it.
I suspect just about everyone here is more educated, more sophisticated, more talented, and more of just about everything that the world values. We should recall the words of the Gospel: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (v.48). That should give us pause
If you had to write the story of your life as told in tales of who you served and how you served them – what would it read like? My clients were likely well served – good indication being that they hired us again in sole source contract awards. But I wonder if all the people who worked for me felt that I served them? Did I mentor their professional development? Did they have the opportunity for work which met that deeper need – like the one May Bell so instinctively knew. But that is my story to write. What will you write?
“You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Mission, compassion, prayer, and so many other elements of discipleship. Figure out who you really serve; how you serve them as a disciple; and be that faithful and prudent servant.