Today we wrap up a series that we have been working on as pastors for the last few months all about “next steps”: some of the simple acts, traditions, and sacraments that make up the Christian life. We’ve touched on salvation, baptism, and joining the church body, but today, things get a little bit broader. We are wrapping up with the idea of service. You have been saved, baptized, and entered into a community, but to what end?

          I find this is a question people often think little about. With a lack of connection to our shared story found throughout the Bible, salvation, baptism, and church life largely are viewed as what Dallas Willard called the Gospel of “sin management”, saving us from hell, curbing our bad behavior for a time, and working toward the end of getting us to Heaven when we die. Within this framework, what is service really all about? Why go further?

          In order to make sense of Christian service, we have to make sense of how us Christians fit into the story of the Bible.

          The story begins when Adam and Eve, the representatives of all humanity, are placed in the garden of God and given a task: bear the image of God, rule with him by taking his Garden creation and extending that creation project over the whole Earth. The story of Adam and Eve was not one of the two of them sipping non-alcoholic pina coladas in beach chairs like we sometimes might be taught to imagine. Instead, they were given royal roles and responsibilities to carry out, with the Garden as a model of what all of God’s world could be. (Genesis 1:28)

          Obviously though, after rejecting this calling, the world fell into chaos. From there God called the family of Abraham to pick up this creation project, and despite their failure, Jesus, the new representative of humanity, would fulfill Abraham’s family’s role and begin the process again of bringing God’s good kingship over the whole world.

          It was into this story that the first followers of Jesus, the church, saw themselves entering. They did not see themselves as saved so that they could go to the good place when they died, instead, they saw themselves as saved so that they might pick up where Jesus left off. (Eph 2:10) They would follow him into the new humanity. They would continue to create, ruling with Christ wherever they went.

          With a worldview like this, we can begin to make sense of what this next step of Christian service is all about. You have been saved for a purpose- tasked with praying that God’s kingdom would overtake the whole world, and advancing it in your own community. We are taking hold of God’s kingdom alongside Jesus and bringing it into our world today.

          Service is exciting. It is us finding our true calling, connecting with our purpose, and finding communion with each other and our creator. It can also take on many forms.

          There are a number of ways to serve within the church. The community of the church is meant to be a microcosm of what the whole world will look like when Jesus reigns. What can we do within our community to help foster that? It may take on the form of teaching kids- passing on the stories, traditions and sacraments that are so meaningful for us as we commune with Jesus. It may take on the form of being a small group leader in youth group (hint hint*) reminding struggling students that there is a community in which they are valued, loved, and freed from the demands of their world to follow the true king. Perhaps it is cooking so as to welcome in the family, or organizing in the food pantry to make sure there is abundance for all who enter our doors. All of these create pockets of Jesus’s kingdom here and now, spreading the goodness of the Garden until the Garden-city comes with Jesus (Rev. 21-22).

          But don’t let it stop within the walls of the church. Ministry is not primarily what we do within our own community. How can the kingdom of God invade your community through your partnership with Jesus? What struggling neighbor can you welcome to your table? What community can you serve through local soup kitchens, crisis pregnancy center, etc. What park can you clean up in order to restore beauty? What grieving family can you bring a meal to? There are so many ways to serve inside and outside the church.

          This is what the Christian life is all about. You are called so that others might benefit from your calling. This is not optional. This is the Christian life. This is how you will find communion with Jesus- by doing the things he does, loving the people he loves, and building the kingdom that he is building.  

Dan Vandzura