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I love watching a good tennis match. For me one of the things tennis brings to mind is the flow—the give and take—of the game. It is a game where serving is everything.
I have an old T-shirt that says, ‘Tis Better to Serve Than to Receive. The scripture reference here is Bjorn (Bjorn Borg) 6-2, 6-3, 6-1. If you know anything about tennis, you know what that is all about.
It is better to serve than it is to receive, in tennis and in life. We all know it is better, but how is it better?
Psychologist and consultant, Peter Block, wrote the book, “Stewardship: Choosing Service over Self-interest.” I want to read a portion of that to you now.
He says: “Ultimately, the choice we make is between service and self-interest. Both are attractive. Fire and intensity of self-interest seem to be all around us. We search, so often in vain, to find leaders we can have faith in. Our doubts are not about our leaders’ talents, but about their trustworthiness. We are unsure whether they are serving their institutions, or themselves. When we look out at our peers and our neighbors, we see so much energy dedicated to claiming entitlements. The nuclear family now includes a parent, a partner, children, a financial consultant, and a lawyer. We are no different. We were born into the age of anxiety, and became adults in the age of self-interest.
“The antidote to self-interest is to commit and find cause; to commit to something outside of ourselves and be a part of creating something we care about so we can endure the sacrifice, the risk, and the adventure commitment entails. This is the deeper meaning of service.”
When we are called to service, the issue comes up for us. It is a tug of war between two different parts of us – a part of us that is interested only in ourselves, and part of us that truly wishes to help and care for others.
In the Bible when Jesus was hanging on the Cross? There were two robbers on either side of Him.
One of the robbers looks over at Jesus through his pain and says (paraphrased), “What are you doing here? If you are so great, why don’t you save yourself?”
But the robber on the other side of Jesus says, in effect, “You’re the Son of God. My friend and I are guilty; we deserve to be here. But you haven’t done a thing.”
Jesus replies to the second man, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
These two men represent two parts of ourselves. The first man represents that natural, normal “looking out for #1” self-interest who can only see through his own eyes of pain and suffering. He can only feel a certain kind of mocking quality toward the Divine.
The second man looks up a little higher and sees that the sacred part of life that we call the Christ is totally innocent and recognizes it. He calls out to it, and then the Christ, that sacred part, assures him, “This day you will be with me in paradise;” just by making that conscious contact with God, with spirituality, he was saved. The second part represents our willingness to become larger than the little parts of ourselves – to give, to commit, to become great. Until we become fully in the state of the Christ, I think we are always in a kind of conflict or war between these two parts of ourselves.
In spirituality, life is about our service to others.
The reward of service is that when we turn our attention to help someone else, we forget our own misery, which was created by our own willingness to dote on it.
Service gives us the opportunity to look beyond ourselves. But we have to make that choice. Who are we going to be? Which man on the Cross are we going to be, today?
“Each person’s work will become manifest.” 1 Corinthians 3:13
There is a story about a conversation overheard when a group of school children were talking about sharing. According to one boy, sharing is what you do when you only have one of something and the teacher is looking. Which voice is that speaking? It is the voice of the first man—looking out for #1.
St. Francis wrote a prayer that captures the essence of what I am saying here today. He said: “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; not so much to be understood as to understand; not so much to be loved as to love.”
The world, as is commonly understood (as in worldly wisdom), is looking out for #1. This has its value, its place, and its purpose. We all know that we have to take care of our own needs. I’m not speaking here of some type of total sacrifice, where we give up everything we have and lay on beds of nails.
We are to seek to satisfy our own basic needs; to find ways of nurturing ourselves and keeping ourselves healthy; and providing means of expression of our gifts.
But beyond that healthy self-interest, there lies a subtle trap that we all fall into. At some point, we have to stop trying to satisfy the ego and start surrendering the ego. And surrendering is the last thing the ego wants to do.
What do we do?
What happens is we eventually find ourselves in a cage of our own making. We do everything we already know how to do, over and over again, until the suffering becomes so great that we are willing to burst out of that cage and do whatever it takes. It seems like what is being offered to us as an antidote is to serve.
Spiritual people always look out for #2.
It is true, when we are thinking of someone else, we take our minds off our own pain, and it seems to magically disappear. What a great thing that is! When we actually begin to give of ourselves, we suddenly feel larger.
Why is that?
Because when we give, we literally do become larger because we experience, maybe for the first time, how great we are. We realize the God power of love inside of us. When we touch it, tap it, and give from that Divinity, we start experiencing God in the world.
For all our talk in Christianity about prosperity and abundance, we are still often trapped by our concepts. We are still that first man on the cross looking out for #1 in our prosperity. We are trying to see how we can use affirmations and visualizations to capture more for “me,” and we think we will give a little bit back, later. We don’t get the big picture of prosperity, which is simply to know that God is here. Prosperity is to experience that. When we do that, the world is different. We feel so prosperous. We know that abundance, but the ego doesn’t like it too much.
There is an old Jewish story of how God decided where to put the temple in Jerusalem. The story goes that there were two brothers. One had a family and one didn’t. They loved each other very much. They were in the grain/flour business together. Every night, the brother who had a family would look at his wife and children and say, “When I grow old, I’m going to have my family to take care of me, but my poor brother is all by himself.” So, he would take as much of the grain he had taken home for personal use, and he would put some flour back for his brother.
In the meantime, his brother who was at his house by himself would think, “I’m just fine. My poor brother has a whole family to feed, so I need to help them out.” So he would take some of his flour back to the business for his brother. Unknown to the other, they both would continually give back some of their personal flour.
One day, they met on the road on the way to their business, and they realized what they had been doing for all those years. That is where God chose to build the temple.
That is a sweet story. Behind it is the simple message of where divinity dwells – in the openness, the giving, and the sharing.
When a great teacher of prayer was asked, “How can I feel the bliss of God?” He answered in one word: “Service.”
There was an extraordinary article in the Toronto Star some years ago. The headlines said: “Girl Weeps as Jet Passengers Give.” Let me read you a little piece of that story.
“The little girl wept as big-hearted passengers on a jumbo jet raised the equivalent of $97,000 in a mid-air collection to pay for a lifesaving operation. Four-year-old Marian Kadash who suffered from a serious liver condition, was flying to Britain for tests at a top London hospital. She will need a liver transplant. The pretty, dark-haired child and her mother burst out in tears as the 450 passengers and crew who heard about her plight emptied their pockets. Everyone on board threw money into a suitcase being carried around the jet as it flew over the Mediterranean toward Heathrow Airport. The suitcase, which was filled after it went around once, was carried around a second time to cheers and applause. Astonished crew and passengers gasped with disbelief when the collection in a dozen different currencies added up to $97,000. The flight was flying British holiday merrymakers home from Tel Aviv, and a group of British millionaires helped bump up the fund raising to its final tally.”
What was going on in that place? People were stepping out of their self-interest and serving and giving. How did they feel? One of the great secrets to service is the experience you have when you give.
The writer, Alan Cohen, tells of a time when no one would do the dishes at his house. The dishes would just pile up in the sink. Everyone had the attitude of “Ugh, dishes . . . work . . .drudgery . . . chores.” He had the idea of putting up a little list in the kitchen. He called it “self-less service to God or knowing the bliss of God through selfless service.” He found that his roommates liked putting their names up there. Pretty soon the dishes were done and the sink was clean.
Service is really more of an attitude than it is a job or a specific role. You can do service wherever you are with whatever you are doing. In fact, you can do the same stuff you do every day, but shift whom you are doing it for. Are you the man on the right side of the Cross or on the left? If you can start seeing God in the people you work with, and seeing God’s expression in everything you do, then all of your chores become blissful prayer. What a secret. Then you start experiencing and feeling the presence of God.
I don’t know how many of you are new to church or how many of you have been coming to church for many years, but there is a lot to learn in spiritual truth. However, the basics are really rather simple. You get them all within a few months or so. After that, there really isn’t anything essential you have to learn. You’ve got it. Then you have to take it and apply it in your life, or it becomes more of a burden to you. You would be better off not knowing about it if you don’t put it into practice.
Service is the finest way of practicing the presence of God. So, when you are doing service, whether it is washing your dishes, or balancing your checkbook, or working in your office, or sweeping the steps, you are really sweeping out the dust from inside your own heart. You are really cleaning up your own life when you serve.
This is how service rules in the language of Murphy and Luke Yenson. Service rules because it gives you and me the opportunity to clean up our acts, to practice what we know, to see God in the world, to feel God rather than our own petty egos and our little concerns. What a great gift that is! Every person in prayer and meditation must eventually get up and begin serving God in the world.
I would like to close my talk with a parable that Bruce Barton tells that sums up very nicely what service is. It talks about the two different kinds of people there are in the world, and who live inside of us.
There are two seas in Palestine. One is fresh and fish are in it. Splashes of green adorn its banks. Trees spread their branches over it and stretch out their thirsty roots for a sip of its healing waters. Along its shores the children play as children played when Jesus was there. He loved it. He could look across its silver surface when He spoke his parables. And on a rolling plain not far away Jesus fed 5,000 people. The River Jordan makes this sea with sparkling water from the hills. Men build their houses near to it, and birds their nests, and every kind of life is happier because it is there.
The River Jordan flows on south into another sea. Here is no splashing fish, no fluttering leaf, and no song of birds, no children’s laughter. Travelers choose another route, unless on urgent business. The air hangs heavy above its water, and neither men nor beast nor fowl will drink.
What makes this mighty difference in these neighboring seas? Not the River Jordan – it empties the same good water into both. Not the soil in which they lie nor the country around it. This is the difference – the Sea of Galilee receives but does not keep the Jordan. For every drop that flows into it, another drop flows out. The other sea is shrewder, hoarding its income, jealously. It will not be tempted into a generous impulse. Every drop it gets, it keeps. The Sea of Galilee gives and lives. The other sea gives nothing. It is named Dead.
There are two seas in Palestine; there are two kinds of people in the world; there are two kinds of persons inside you and me.
Move from survival to significance.
Decide this day whom you will serve.
God bless you!
PRAYER / MEDITATION____________________________________
Allow yourself to sit comfortably in your seat. Take a deep and slow breath, in and out. Feel yourself relaxing in the bright presence of God.
Bring to mind the seashore; see the tide of the ocean coming in and going out. Notice the ebb and flow. See if you can feel the rhythm of that flow. The tide comes in and it goes out, again and again, ceaselessly ebbing and flowing.
There is a great secret to that flow. In Christianity, we call it the Holy Spirit, and there is a rhythm to its movement. Wonderfully, perhaps even miraculously, you and I have been given a physical complement to this ebb and flow; it is our breath.
Deeply relax in the silence of prayer. . .
Become conscious, now, of your lungs filling with air and then letting the air go. We can picture the ocean flowing in and out, as we breathe in and out. This rhythm, being conscious of the flow of breath, stills the mind and stops that endless chatter of thoughts. It brings us to that state we call the silence that lies so deep within us. Like the depths of the ocean, all is still, yet all is still vitally alive, the source of life.
I ask that we spend a few minutes or so, in the silence of prayer, following our breath in and out. If you wish, you can continue to picture the ebb and flow of the ocean as you do so.
We will rest together in the silence of prayer. . .
On the in breath allow the full love of God to come in. As you exhale allow all resentment and old disturbances of mind to leave you.
We are one in the great love of God.
On the in breath allow the full wisdom of God to enter your mind. As you exhale, you let go of old concepts and opinions that are not to the Christ standard.
On the in breath allow the full health of God to take residence in every cell. As you exhale you let go of any impurity that has been held within the body.
Rest in the silence of prayer…
We receive from God and we give. Dear God we ask a simple prayer that we can serve more. We ask that we can make a difference because of the difference you have made in on us. We are ready and we are willing to be of service now. Help us to give more and be less concerned about ourselves.
For this knowledge and experience, we are grateful,
In the name of Jesus Christ . . . Amen.
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