This last term we followed a sermon series on understanding and appreciating the different ways God has wired us to connect with him. We used the metaphor of a braided river and noted how we may seem to flow in different streams that follow different pathways to the destination, but that we are actually the same river with same source. The series is aimed at interpersonal understanding that can help us feel more natural talking about faith together. First, we looked at people whose main pathway is the mind, or thinking. Then we contrasted that with folk for whom experience is critical to feeling God's presence. The third part of our series zoomed in on people whose partnership in the work of God is what inspires and fulfills them. In Being the Christian Story (OOP), Gordon Turner calls this "participation in the ministry of the faith community. He points to Moses, a sheepherder who discovered the one God as he tended his flocks out in the desert, a man who did not regard himself as great speaker but whose connections with Egyptian royalty placed him well to serve as the leader of the soon-to-be delivered people of God. For some of us it is our daily work, or using our god-given talents that enable us to feel part of the Creator's purpose.
Preacher John began by pointing out how God created work to enable his followers to bless others by serving them. Large groups of Jesus-followers, he said, express their faith best by working and serving. As well as folk whose connection with God comes from truth or experience, there are people who flourish spiritually by partnering in the work of God in the world. John's passion for architecture has often led him to describe to us his visit some years back to the amazing basilica in Barcelona called Sagrada Familia. Construction of this marvellous place of worship, designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, was begun in 1882, was led by kiwi architect Mark Burry for 31 years, and is still going today. Opinion on its aesthetics vary, but millions have found it to be a special place where God's presence is quite tangible. Is it still Gaudi's building? Is it Burry's?No, John says it is God's work, being built by thousands of ordinary people, carpenters, glaziers, brickies, workers who are designed by God to serve in partnership with him, and who get deep satisfaction from serving others. Those artisans, he suggested, are a metaphor for the many businessfolk, designers, entrepreneurs and craftspeople who encounter Christ in their daily work, although they might not see it that way (it takes us head people to articulate that!).
People who connect with God in this way may actually have come to faith via that pathway, as they engage in actively serving in church and community. They discover Christ as they undertake tasks they value, and play a small part in the work of creation - the theologians have dubbed this co-creation. Mother Teresa called it "doing small things with great love.' The apostle Paul described it as Christ present in you and me (Gal 2: 20).
The message was exemplified by two testimonies from people in our congregation -- a young engineer who designs innovative medical equipment, and his wife, a rehabilitation physiotherapist working in the community. The engineer spoke of an early desire to become an optometrist, and seeing Fred Hollows as a role model. At the last minute though, he gave up his place at optometry school and enrolled for mechanical engineering; he realised that what most inspires and motivates him is designing, making, and problem-solving, and that engineering would allow him to do that. He spoke of what he has been designing to help adult and babies breathe, and how the products do indeed minister to (serve) people. He also described a volunteer project in Nepal where he had designed a smoke hood to help villagers whose cooking fires are causing health problems.
The wife's testimony described her role as a community-based physio with rehabilitation of brain and spinal injury patients, and how that too helps people, not just physically but socially and emotionally. Helping them walk in the garden or get back to work, advocating for them with agencies, helps her clients thrive as God would want them to, and brings her deep satisfaction. She also volunteers in our church kids' ministry team, and described how she saw the need and just stepped up, to something that she valued deeply and that fitted her skill set. Ministry and mission are often seen as explicit faith brokerage, but for many of us 'what comes naturally' is used by God in serving his purpose in the world. His call is often to a workplace; just this week I was talking to a young woman who is passionately convinced God has placed her in a job in the NZ Customs Service, where she directly and indirectly serves and protects people; that is her mission. Both of our speakers that day felt that not to use their God-given skills would be a waste. The engineer said, "I was torn as a teen thinking there was no place in the Church for what I love to do; now I realise I don't have to go to Africa, just to East Tamaki!"
John summed up by reminding us of God's plan to bless the whole world, starting with Abraham. We are all part of that plan. Jesus put it into action, he came as one who serves. Our mission as his followers is to bring God's love to humanity, and we can do that because Jesus Christ is present in us. God continues to bless the world through Jesus in us. That's the meaning of incarnation. It means we take Jesus into all our situations of serving others, not just what we do on Sunday. We take Jesus into the world of health, engineering, teaching, border patrol, and parenting. Service is not always spectacular but it is spiritual. The Holy Spirit gives us insight and power as we see with God's eyes and help fulfill God's plan for the world. We are called into partnership in the work of God as what inspires and fulfills us is used to serve individuals and our society. "We cannot all do great things" said M Teresa, "but we can all do small things with great love."
Antoni Gaudi has been nominated for canonisation - to be named a saint - not because he preached or healed or worked wonders, but because he visualised a worship space with the eyes of God. We too can see the need and respond with the heart of God. That is one of the channels of God's grace as the braided river of his people's ministry flows down to the ocean of his purpose for the world. We finished with Galatians again:
Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. Be very sure now, you who have been trained to a self-sufficient maturity, that you enter into a generous common life with those who have trained you, sharing all the good things that you have and experience. Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.
Galatians 6:3-8 (Message)
To Chew Over: How do you respond to the idea that what you love to do can be an act of co-creation with God?
Take my gifts and let me love you,
God who first of all loved me,
gave me light and food and shelter,
gave me life and set me free,
now because your love has touched me,
I have love to give away;
now the bread of love is rising,
loaves of love to multiply!
Take the fruit that I have gathered
from the tree your Spirit sowed,
harvest of your own compassion,
juice that makes the wine of God;
spiced with humor, laced with laughter--
flavour of the Jesus life,
tang of risk and new adventure,
taste and zest beyond belief.
Take whatever I can offer--
gifts that I have yet to find,
skills that I am slow to sharpen,
talents of the hand and mind,
things made beautiful for others
in the place where I must be:
take my gifts and let me love you,
God who first of all loved me.
©Shirley Erena Murray, 1988