Writing this during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, a time when churches of all denominations across the world come together for joint services and events. A week to voice a common belief, albeit expressed in different ways.
Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending an event for healthcare professionals (albeit I’m not one anymore) organised by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference (albeit I’m Church of England).
Arising out of their mental health project, this day of reflection and recollection took as its theme, ‘Gifts, Service and Faith’.
We reflected on the talents, skills and abilities we all have. “What is our motivation to use our gifts?” asked Bishop Paul Mason. “Some think ‘If I do this… God will look after me’ – but that is not the way. If we are always doing the good we feel we should be doing, we may be missing out on the good God wants us to do.”
“God loves, knows and serves us so we might love, know and serve him,” he said. “We are to express the exuberance of our love for God in how we live.”
This exuberance can be expressed in part through our love for and service of other people. But as another speaker recognised, what we practice doesn’t always equate to what we believe. “Theology isn’t written, it’s lived,” said Jim McManus, as he drew our attention to the words of St Paul in a letter to the 1st Century church in Thessalonica:
‘But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labour among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 13 esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 15 See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:12-15)
In using our gifts in the service of others, Jim’s challenge was to ask: How true are St Paul’s words in your team and in your workplace?…
- Respect those who labour among you (colleagues) and have charge of you (managers)… and admonish you (everyone & anyone, maybe)
- Esteem them very highly in love because of their work
- Be at peace among yourselves
- Admonish the idlers
- Encourage the faint-hearted
- Help the weak
- Be patient with all of them
- See that none of you repays evil for evil
- Always seek to do good to one another and to all.
… Umm. Marks out of ten for where you work?
The late Catholic Archbishop Basil Hume once wrote, ‘The motive for service must be love’and the 17th Century priest and theologian, Ignatius of Loyola is accredited as writing that we are ‘To give and not to count the cost.’
Fact is, though, such service and giving is often very costly. You probably know how it is: those times when it all gets too much – and all we can do is count…
Or as St Paul wrote in a letter to the church in Corinth, ‘Love does not keep a record of wrongs’ (1 Corinthians 13:5). This love doesn’t keep a record of rights either…
It is an honour and a privilege to use all we have been given (for everything is gift) to love and to serve other people. By using these gifts and through faith in God, we can demonstrate the exuberance of God’s love for all people.
“Living faith works through love,” added Bishop Richard Moth at the event. “Faith is a gift: a living relationship with God. The Lord does not force it upon us nor are we to force that gift on someone else. We are to witness – often it may be silent: but it is often in the still, small voice that we hear God speak. Christ has shown himself to us, so we are to show him to others.”
What an honour and a privilege.