Image: Service group painting the church in Tsiigehtchic
On the second Sunday of Easter we read from the Acts of the Apostles how the early faith community, “had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Act 2.44-45) Today we hear how, despite their best intentions, the Christian collective soon ran into some practical difficulties with the fair allotment of those materials to the poor.
I hope that it was not due to any malicious intent or favoritism that some missed out, although there were accusations leveled that the Hebrew families were being looked after better then the Hellenists. No system is perfect and the point from today’s reading is that the community leaders, rather than defending themselves, quickly moved to find a solution to the problem.
As they gathered their best minds something became quickly evident. It did not matter how well they preached or how much they prayed, some problems in this world just take some good old-fashioned work to get fixed. They discovered that the Christian life is best modeled by a three-legged stool, the legs being prayer, community, and service. If any one of those three is missing the whole enterprise gets out of balance.
The solution for the disciples was effective, even if a bit bureaucratic. Seven men where chosen whose task it would be to focus on the practical needs of the community and make sure that no one was overlooked. This was the institution of the Church’s ministry of the diaconate from the Greek word diákonos, meaning Servant.
The call to service is a universal one which is part and parcel of our baptism. In a beautiful image from the letter of Peter we are all meant to see ourselves as living stones working together to build a spiritual home. Homes are not built on a prayer but rather through sweat and toil. In the Gospel Jesus reminds the disciples that those who believe in him will do the works that he does. This includes not just healing and preaching but the daily work of being available to those in need.
Too often, when we encounter people who are really struggling, we overuse the phrase, “I’ll pray for you.” Do not get me wrong, we should pray for people and prayer is effective, but it should not be our way of ending the conversation and washing our hands of our neighbor in distress. The best prayer often begins by rolling up our sleeves and getting to work.
We cannot solve every problem but that is not an excuse not to offer to help in whatever way we can. When I was pastor in Inuvik one of our parishioners was honored with an award for her years of volunteer service and I asked her what motivated her to keep helping others all these years when she had so many other things to do. Her response, “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness”, every little bit helps and if everyone helps its not so overwhelming.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge some real examples of service who we honor today on Mother’s Day. For most of us our mothers were the first and best example of selfless giving. Let’s make sure that we do not take advantage of that love and care but rather be inspired by it and do the same for others.