16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[b]consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“Take my life, that I may be consecrated, Lord, to Thee, take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.” These words and others found in our Hymn of the Day, this morning, perfectly illustrate what it means to be part of God’s beloved community. As Christians within that community, we are called as believers to live out God’s love through our very being. It’s a calling that each one of us possesses by virtue of our faith, where through our vocation, we purposely use our lives in humble service to God and to our neighbors.
As part of God’s beloved community, we are all called into vocations that allow us to continue the work of serving God and neighbor throughout our lives, no matter what our occupation might be. There is no one job description for Christian Vocation. Because God promises to be ever present in even the most minute of situations we encounter, our vocational calling too expands to every facet of our daily lives. Luther once wrote, “For [God] will work all things through you, [God] will milk the cow through you.” Devotion to one’s calling is, in reality, a devotion to love, since our calling, whatever it is, should be dedicated to caring for the well-being of our neighbor, in love. And so, according to Luther, our vocation and God’s presence within it, is not limited to work done solely within the church, nor what we might do for a living. Instead, it is a spiritual practice that expands to our every interaction and relationship with one another and the care that we provide in those relationships. So everyone in their daily lives is capable of furthering God’s love in all that we do, with the promise of God’s presence all along the way.
In our Gospel this morning we hear Jesus address another spiritual practice: fasting, which was a method of humbling oneself before God in repentance of sin. Jesus cautions his hearers against showboating their practice in public, warning them to make note of ulterior motives behind their fasting, motives that have a desire to have their would-be devotion seen or praised at their core, rather than humility Such motives twist the experience from one of profound and worship-filled self-control whose purpose is to place the practitioner in solidarity with God and with the community to one of self-centeredness and pride.
Instead, Jesus turns his hearers’ focus from self to treasures and rewards, found in relationship with God and with others, that are beyond themselves in heaven. It is a treasure that is not lost like earthly possessions but endures forever. And so, Jesus draws our attention to our own motivations for humble service, asking us to look at whether or not we too give of ourselves for the sole purpose of looking generous or faithful and asks us to return our calling and stewardship of self to a motivation of love, where our hands and feet are used, not to make our actions stand out, but for reaching out in love to those around us, offering ourselves both inside and outside the walls of the church building. “Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of thy love; take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for thee.”
One of the most recognizable communities that we are a part of is our church community. Here we offer not just our silver or gold to financially fund the ministries of Emmanuel Lutheran Church, but we are able to use our creativity and intellect to evaluate the needs around us that this church feels called to provide for. Martin Luther said that reform did not stop when he defiantly nailed his 95 theses to the doors of the Wittenberg Castle Church 500 years ago. Instead, Luther boldly declared that the church is always in a state of reformation. And so as Christian congregations we are called to constantly evaluate the ministries of our churches to see if they still share the love of God the way we once thought they did, it means developing and participating in new vibrant ministries that more readily match our gifts as a community and serve our neighbors as well. But these ministries do not only exist at Emmanuel. We can also fund and support organizations and other causes who are also working to care and welcome God’s children into loving community with one another. Money isn’t the only way we can share God’s love as a congregation. We can share God’s love as a congregation by welcoming new people to be part of the community with us, especially those who may not look or sound like us. Giving of self as a Christian means not only inviting, but listening to the stories that are found both in and outside the community for the wisdom contained in diversity. Only when we embrace that wisdom can we truly create spaces that are welcoming of all. “Take my silver and my gold not a mite would I withhold; take my intellect and use ev’re pow’r as thou shalt choose.”
“Take my voice and let me sing always only for my King; take my lips and let them be filled with messages from thee.” We can use our voices both locally and globally to deliver messages from God in the form of advocacy, speaking truth to power, just as Jesus did in his life and ministry when one of God’s beloved children was individually or systemically oppressed. With Jesus’ ministry as an example, we can be vigilant of oppressions in our own time, learning when we need to speak and when we should use what privilege we have instead to lift up and amplify the voices of those who are often silenced in their cries for basic civil rights, clean, drinkable water, housing, and food, or any other justice issue until all people are welcome to be fully part of our churches and our communities. Advocacy, especially in the public sphere can feel incredibly intimidating. However, just like learning to speak a new language, the work becomes less frightening with the practice and support of our siblings with experience. When we lean on others for support, the burden of speaking truth to power ceases to fall on a single person’s shoulders, and with a community singing out in harmony with us, our words are magnified all the more.
Our Stewardship of Self does not only exist in large group interactions. In fact, one of the greatest gifts we are capable of offering is purposeful time spent in our individual relationships with one another. The final verse in our hymn intones “Take my will and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine; take my heart, it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne.” The simple act of sharing our hearts with our neighbors is one of the most powerful ways we can live out our vocation. Simply sitting with another person who is going through a difficult time, truly and deeply listening to what it is they are going through has the power to make an immense difference in someone’s life. Noticing if a classmate, neighbor or coworker does not seem to have many friends and intentionally welcoming them in no matter where you are is sharing God’s love. Sitting in silence with someone as they grieve a painful loss speaks more volumes than any platitudes you might offer ever could. I’ve often said that offering a friend a hug in a moment of need is one of the most profound forms of ministry anyone can offer, and you don’t need to be a pastor to do that ministry. You don’t need to be an adult, or a child to do that ministry. There are no age, or gender, or experience requirements to meet and that is what makes God’s calling for our lives so incredible. We are all able to participate actively in God’s call to love one another.
When we give God our lives, moments, and days to share God’s amazing love, as exemplified through Jesus Christ we are capable of changing lives, our communities, and our world. I was reminded of that fact on Friday afternoon when I read a post by my friend Curtis. He said “God made 7 billion people on this earth and not one of them has your thumbprint, which means you’re called to lay your hands on some things that nobody else can touch.” When we give of ourselves as people of God, we each have the truly awesome ability to leave our fingerprints all over this world. And the incredible thing is, that like a fingerprint which is only clearly seen under close inspection, our humble service when done out of love rather than a self-serving need for recognition, is capable of leaving a subtle mark on every relationship we encounter.