ETHOS // SERVICE
Speaker: Katie Jenkinson
This morning I wanted to carry on from where Olivier left off last week and explore our ethos topic of service. Obviously, this is something that is close to my heart. But today I wanted to look at things from a different perspective, as well as demonstrating some of the service that goes on at Trust House.
So, for those of you who may not know me, my name is Katie and I run a project in Whitefield, which is part of this wonderful church, called Trust House. We are a community centre, open to all, offering a free community café, food pantry and advice and guidance. Essentially, we aim to be a refuge to anyone in the local area who needs help and support. Our mission is to transform our community by building relationships and breaking down barriers. We want to see real and long-lasting change in the heart of our community.
To start with this morning, I want to share some of the stories from Trust House to highlight what it is like to serve: what service looks like on the surface as well as how it feels to serve, as God intended us to.
At Trust House, the work that we do can certainly be described as service - we serve the community - but often those outside of the work find it hard to describe it as ministry. Someone recently said to me that they thought that Trust House was all about giving out food – it’s about so much more.
The slide below shows the ways in which we serve through Trust House.
Although this is important and vital, this is merely scratching the surface of the needs of the people we serve. Our work at Trust House actually goes underneath this surface. As we build loving and caring relationships with our clients, via our 'surface' level service, we encounter what's underneath:
This morning I’d like to turn the idea that service and ministry are separate on its head. And maybe, in challenging those perspectives, I may encourage you to serve and for you to understand that service is ministry – part of ministry that is a natural part of our walk with Jesus.
I want to introduce you to some of the people that we work with at Trust House. Perhaps when you think of the people we look after you might think they are miles away from you, but really their stories aren’t so far away from our own.
'E' lives alone and suffers from severe anxiety and depression, her mum tries to support her the best she can but she lives an hour away. Following her sister’s suicide, 'E' didn’t know where to turn. She was recommended to visit Trust House. We have now worked with her to get the financial help and support she needs as well as assisting with her PIP assessment. 'E' needed support with her benefit assessment and it was then we found out the extent of her drinking problems and how she rarely visits anywhere other than Trust House.
'A' really struggles to make ends meet, he often goes without food in order to feed his dog. As well as attending Trust House 4 times a week to access community café, he is also a member of the pantry scheme and has also benefited from advice on managing his money and accessing benefits.
'J' had a baby right at the start of the first lock down. As a first time mum with no family around her, she really struggled during the first few months. She found out about Trust House through a neighbour. We have been able to support her with parenting advice as well as signing her up to pantry, accessing baby clothes and toys and providing a listening ear. J has now returned to her university course and is looking forward to being able to provide for her family.
These are real people – with real and complex problems, problems that they have no one else to share with. They have often come to the end of themselves, with no where to turn. We are blessed to have people are around us – to have our faith – imagine how hard your struggled would be without that.
Just last month in one week we heard about 4 suicide attempts from our visitors, one of which was a 14 year old girl.
Can you even begin to comprehend how that feels for us a team? in serving these people we grow to love them, to hear of their suffering, to experience it with them first hand is heart breaking. That week I cried out to God time and time again, I felt adrift, useless, small and pointless.
As a team we take on our visitors pain and sufferings, often they only want to share with one person and often I can hear 4 or 5 stories which are absolutely heart breaking in a single session. That takes it’s toil, service isn’t easy, I suffer with them.
Sometimes what we do feels like a drop in the ocean. But at least it's a drop! It's something.
Service isn’t easy, I struggle, the team struggle – sometimes the last place we want to be is in Trust House, with all its complexities and messy human emotions, but the context of our faith helps us to make sense of it.
Proverbs 19: 17 says, 'Mercy to the needy is a loan to God, and God pays back those loans in full.'
For me this service, ministry however you chose to wrap it up – is part of what God put me here for. It’s an act of worship to a God who sees all my faults and failures and yet still loves me – still sees my worth and value. I not only want to show that same grace and compassion to others but also, in serving, I know that I am serving my Lord and Saviour!
Although I could talk all morning about the work of Trust House I want to share with you some thoughts from a wonderful book that I have been reading and studying recently called Generous Justice, by Tim Keller.
The tag line for this book is, 'How God’s Grace makes us Just.'
Olivier highlighted last week that service is part of our DNA, a part of what God put us here for – but I would like to extend that service to caring for the disadvantaged – again, something that isn’t just reserved for those in ministry like me.
So, what is generous justice and how does it work?
Before I delve further into this topic, I guess I should lay some foundations about what generous justice is. In Micah 6:8 the question is posed, “And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?”
In this short passage there are two words that I want to explore before I fully explain what generous justice looks like.
The first is mercy. The Hebrew word for mercy is chesedh (c-said) and is very much tied up in God’s unconditional grace and compassion. The second word is justice - mishpat, which puts the emphasis on the action of carrying out justice. The word mishpat is used more than 200 times in the Hebrew Old Testament and in its most basic meaning it is to treat people equitably, to give someone their rights.
In short, our bible verse is challenging us that to walk with God, we must do justice out of merciful love. We mete out justice to those who do wrong, but also to those who do not or cannot get the justice that they need.
In the instance of generous justice we are really thinking of the most vulnerable, poor and marginalised members of our society. Generous justice is not about the simple act of giving those in need, although there is value in that. Generous justice is about mercy and justice being hand in hand, it is about us displaying God’s compassion and grace, it is about making personal, long term sacrifices in helping to serve the interests, needs and causes of the most vulnerable in society.
Keller challenges us as Christians by asking the question if Christian faith and a desire to help the poor and vulnerable are connected? Well, the short answer is that they should be, but there are an awful lot of things that should be but they can often miss the mark. He claims that Biblical doctrine and involvement with the poor should be intertwined. He states that there should be a direct relationship between a person’s grasp and experience of God’s grace and their heart for justice and the poor.
Generous justice is rooted in the Old Testament
Now, I’m pretty sure that everyone in this room at some point has struggled over their Old Testament studies. Genesis, we know it through Sunday school before we can really understand it’s true import, the story of King David, Daniel, Jonah, Job, Esther etc. there is so much value in these books, so much that I draw encouragement from, but, let’s face it, when it comes to Leviticus and Deuteronomy, I can’t be the only one who speeds reads this during my Bible in a Year readings.
Spending time studying the subject of generous justice has totally turned that idea on its head for me. And the idea of mishpat and how entrenched it is in the Old Testament has brought these seemingly dead books to life.
Don’t get me wrong, I had always thought of these books as being full of talk of justice, but more of God’s justice being meted out on the unjust. But wow! These books of rules and regulations which may at first seem restrictive and irrelevant to us, are full of God’s heart for social justice.
With so many references to mishpat in the OT, it would be easy to spend time dwelling on them on but let’s look at three familiar systems that were part of Mosaic laws of social justice which are grounded in God’s never changing character.
Gleaning: Both Leviticus and Deuteronomy refer to the practice of gleaning, not gathering all the grain but leaving some for the poor to take. As someone who is interested in charity with dignity it is amazing to think how long this practice has been going on.
Tithing: Deuteronomy 14:29 tells us that a tenth of our income should be given for the upkeep of the temple and every third year this should be made available to the poor. WOW – how amazing would it be for churches to put this one into practice today. What an impact that would have on projects like ours that seek to offer holistic support, not simply filling a hole with a financial donation, but truly seeking to understand the root causes of poverty and in turn change old practices and habits.
Year of Jubilee: Again, good old Deuteronomy tells us of the year of jubilee where every 7th year is to be a sabbath year in which debts are forgiven and slaves are freed.
There are so many other examples of God’s justice being part of law, manna, was always distributed fairly despite the fact that some were able to gather more than others.
Leviticus 5:11 tells us that a person could bring no more than a cup of flour and a confession of sin and still receive forgiveness.
These mosaic laws meant that within the nation of Israel, there should have been none among them in need. Israel was charged to create a culture of social justice because it was the way that the nation could reveal God’s glory and character to the world. What a commission! What a foundation we have for generous justice, what an eye opener for someone like me.
So does that mean that the New Testament and Jesus’ ministry is not quite as radical as it would first appear?
It’s funny that we often say that Jesus’ ministry was radical– and it was. But interestingly, the word radical actually comes from the word, root – so Jesus was radical, but radical in the sense that He was rooted in the Mosaic law we see in the OT.
Luke 4:17-18 is the passage that marks the start of Jesus’s ministry as prophesied in Isaiah 42: 1-7 ‘a servant of the Lord bringing justice to the world.’ (Check it) and it reads, 'He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.'
This is a great start to his ministry, showing how interested He was in this notion of justice.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry we see Him interacting with those that others see as unclean. Or unworthy. Jesus ‘moved’ and lived alongside the poor. What we call, doing life with them. There are so many examples of how Jesus showed a particular interest in those that others disregarded.
Come with me now for a whistle stop tour of some of these examples:
Matthew 9:13 Jesus eats and associated with the socially ostracised, making sure that those around Him know that He came to draw sinners close to Him.
Luke 7:11-16 Jesus raised the son of the poor widow. We are told that Jesus’ heart overflowed with compassion!
He shows the greatest respect to the immoral woman who was a social outcast in Luke 7:36. On top of this He was happy to speak to women in public – something that was rare.
He showed special concern for Children in Luke 18:15
The list goes on – he touched lepers, he ate with and spoke to tax collectors. I love the fact that, as Keller points out, the first to witness his birth were simple shepherds and the first to discover the empty tomb were women.
Jesus wasn’t like all the religious leaders, his gospel is all about love and service, about forgiveness and caring for people, regardless of their social rights. But none of this was new at all, Jesus has not moved on from the Old Testament’s concern for justice.
Good Samaritan/Great Samaritan
It is clear that God’s call for social justice comes about from His desire for the best for us, that Jesus came to continue that pursuit of social justice and that a real heart for social justice comes from not only understanding those mosaic laws laid down in the Old Testament but also a desire to wash the feet of the social outcasts and the unlovely, just as Jesus did.
There is one really familiar parable in the New Testament, which I’m sure you have been expecting me to mention that I’d like to hone in on and that is the Good Samaritan. It is always good to read God’s word together, so let’s turn to Luke and read: Luke 10: 25.
So this familiar passage starts with a question from an expert in religious law, a person who concentrated on complying with all the legal details of God’s law, someone who should have been familiar with those Mosaic laws that we were looking at earlier. Someone who was concerned with making themselves acceptable to God.
I have always loved Jesus’ response to this man’s question of how to inherit eternal life, he does what all the great teachers do, he counters with a question of his own – not only asking what the law of Moses says – but also asking, how do you read it? Essentially, what does it mean to you?
The religious expert answers with the most important commandment and Jesus confirms that this is what you need to live! But again, there is a further question, which really is at the heart of this parable 'And who is my neighbour?'
The question seems to demand a clarification to see how achievable this commandment is, how can I reach this law, how can I break it down so that it is another thing that I can say that I am doing.
Jesus’ response is the story of the Good Samaritan, a story where we see the definition of love as meeting material, physical and economic needs through deeds. More than that, it shows someone being sacrificially involved with the vulnerable: the Samaritan risks his life by stopping on the road, Jesus doesn’t want to us to limit how we love or who we love.
Keller points out that Jesus puts a Jew in the road as the victim in this parable, not a Samaritan. The listeners here are challenged to put themselves in that situation just as we should imagine what it is like today for those who face social injustice. Keller asks the question “What if your only hope was to get ministry from someone who not only did not owe you any help – but who actually owed you the opposite? What if your only hope was to get free grace from someone who had every justification, based on your relationship with him, to trample you?”
We need to ask ourselves, in seeking to do social justice, to reach out to our communities and those in need, do we only want to help those people that are like us, people who came to poverty or to their situation through no fault of their own? Ask yourself, how would your life be now if this is how Christ had seen you, how Christ continues to see you. Christ finds us in that same condition, yet His justice knows no bounds.
Keller concludes his study on the parable of the good Samaritan with a sub section entitled the GREAT SAMARITAN!
I absolutely love this – it’s not hard to see who that is referring to. At the end of this parable Jesus asks the question “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbour to the man who was attacked by bandits? The man replied “The one who showed him mercy. Then Jesus said, 'Yes, now go and do the same.'
This would have been a huge challenge for that religious expert, as it is for us today.
However, 2000 years ago, that religious expert did not have the vantage point that we have today. Just like the man dying in the road, we are told in Ephesians 2:5 that we are spiritually “dead in trespasses and sins” Romans 10:5 tells us that our relationship with God was restored “whilst we were still his enemies.”
Jesus came to save us, not just risking his life, but at the cost of his life – paying the debt that we could never pay ourselves. Listen to what Keller writes, 'Jesus is the GREAT SAMARITAN to who the Good Samaritan points.'
Again, what a commission, what a challenge, what a call to be more Christlike, to echo his ministry on earth.
So, we have looked at what generous justice is, where it comes from, how it is done, finally, let’s think about the why.
As I have just said, we have a great commission from Christ to love one another because we are loved beyond measure, without prejudice, without boundaries, as one of my favourite praise and worship songs says, there are no outsiders to His love. Generous justice should be all of these things as a response to God’s grace and we should act on this through our deeds and actions.
Although our life experiences may teach us that not all are worthy of justice – what does that say about our own salvation? In receiving salvation through Jesus, we seek to be more like Him, so let’s be more rooted in that OT interest in mishpat, sacrificing ourselves in order to restore equality, not, like the old religious experts, in order to tick off another law from our long list, but to live the full lives that Jesus wants for us all.
We should also practice this generous justice in what Keller calls joyful awe before the goodness of God’s creation – wow! What a powerful statement. I’ll say it again, joyful awe before the goodness of God’s creation.
Man was created in God’s image, in treasuring each person we come across it is a way of showing respect to our creator. Keller tells us that in this way, we both resemble and represent God – what a privilege!
As CS Lewis puts it, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. It is immortals who we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit.”
Generous justice is about serving the Lord as we serve each other, it’s about giving of ourselves, our time, our lives. Jesus came with no possessions, no money and yet those He walked with, those He impacted were blessed beyond measure. We are challenged to do the same, not to hide behind charitable giving but to give of ourselves as Jesus did.
When I first started Trust House, I spent time with God, thinking about his response to me and how I could translate that to my response to those that we would meet at the centre. I was given a clear idea of the values that God wanted us to fulfil at Trust House, and these are We Care, We Listen, We Act.
My daily challenge and my challenge to you today is to adopt Trust House’s values when we think about serving, we need to care – to have a heart for everyone. To truly live by that amazing verse, Love thy neighbour. We need to listen, not just hear. We need to truly open our hearts to the crys of those around you, be that your family, the church, your work or school colleagues and your community and finally we need to act. To act as Jesus did with compassion and love, not with ulterior motives or to tick a box on your good deed for the day list. But to act and to continue to act, with God’s strength, showing the great love, justice and mercy that we have been blessed with.
Thank you so much for listening today, let’s pray.
Father God, we thank you that you are a God of justice and mercy. We thank you that you gave your son for us that we may learn from his teachings, follow his example and give of ourselves to build your kingdom here on earth. May you continue to bless and encourage this church as they walk in your paths and bless those around them. Amen.