Greetings to all in this glorious Paschal season! This is the tenth Pascha that we have celebrated with St. Philip Antiochian Orthodox Church. What a blessing to be there with our children and grandchildren singing on Great Friday: “Every generation to thy grave comes bringing, Dear Christ, its dirge of praises.”
Wednesday, April 18, I spoke at the Neuman Center on the U Penn campus to the OCF. The assigned topic was service. We sat conversation pit style and I told stories. I thought it might be helpful to share the basic nuggets of what I shared in very abbreviated form here.
“Serve the Lord with gladness; come before his presence with singing.” We will be able to serve the Lord better if we are faithful in the services of the church. Worship and serving the poor are not right hand and left hand; they are hand in glove.
“Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Practical service ‘puts feet’ to this prayer. We are called to cooperate with Christ’s kingdom and ministry as laid out in Isaiah 61. God honors us by calling us to be his co-workers.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” God planned good works, then made us particularly suited to do them. We are most happy when we are cooperating with God’s plan. When we try to just live for ourselves, it is like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. There is no more joyful or interesting life than one lived serving others in Jesus’ Name.
“It is accepted according to what a man hath; not what he hath not.” The service is the Lord’s. The need or problem you are working to address is the Lord’s problem. You can’t give more than you have. Be obedient with what God has given you. Let him worry about the rest. If I am burdened down and wracked with guilt over what I cannot accomplish, I am no longer serving in Jesus’ Name; because his “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light.”
Dear Lord, please let me see what it is that you love about this person. God loves everyone I meet, because there is something uniquely lovable about them. Each person, no matter how difficult or twisted, in a special and unrepeatable way bears and reflects the image of God. Ask the Lord to let you get a peek at what that is. When God answers this prayer it breaks your heart and fills it with grace and mercy.
“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Trust God to provide for you and for the work that you are to do everyday. An hour before I left for the city tonight I got a call from the McGraws. Vicki said they were too sick to come or to make anything and there was no one to bring the sandwiches from Holy Ascension on such short notice. The folks at St. John Chrysostom showed up with a huge box of sandwiches and dozens of packs of apple sauce. No one went hungry. After more than 18 years of doing this, I have learned that God is a much better planner than I am.
Even Jesus lost Judas. Why should I think I can help everyone? I have to be honest about my own limitations. When a man’s own mother will not allow him into her house, I should not automatically assume that the fault lies with the mother. Discernment and wisdom come into play, but don’t let that become a guise for hardness of heart. This lesson is so much easier to grasp at 51 than it was at 31.
Don’t idealize the poor. Don’t villainize the rich. They share the same human DNA. They just grew up in different ZIP codes. People are interesting and lovable, frustrating and irritating, no matter where you find them on the economic or social scale. “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”
It is hard to steer a parked car. Each of us has particular works of service that we were made to do. How do you figure out what is right for you? Just do something; any good thing. “I, being in the way, the Lord led me … .” There is no reason to expect the Lord to guide you if you are not moving. I have experienced it in my own life and have seen it in many others; that once you start serving Him in what is right in front of you, He will then guide you to what is right for you.
Your works of service may not look anything like my works of service. There are plenty of different things that need to be done. Be creative. Try different things. Don’t think that if you start something, that is what you are committed to do for the rest of your days. if it’s right for you it will bring you joy.
If I can’t do it in Jesus’ Name, I don’t have time to do it. I refuse to be gagged and secularized. This doesn’t mean that we should make people listen to a sermon before we help them. Somehow that doesn’t speak unconditional love. But if an agency does not allow me to answer honestly the question of why I am serving someone, I cannot serve with that agency or accept their funds. The reason that I serve is that God loves the people I serve and He compels me to be there for them.
When you serve the Lord, you make great friends. I have been honored to know some lovely people. Some of them have made regretfully horrible life choices. Even so, they uniquely reflect to me the beauty and glory of the image of God. God doesn’t make junk. It’s like that bumper sticker says: “God bless the whole world: no exceptions.”
Be a peace activist by praying for peace. Prayer in faith really can move mountains. St. Seraphim of Sarov teaches us: “Acquire the peace of God and a thousand around you will be saved.”
We thank Thee, Master and Lover of mankind, King of the ages and giver of all good things, for destroying the dividing wall of enmity and granting peace to those who seek thy mercy. We appeal to Thee to awaken the longing for a peaceful life in all those who are filled with hatred for their neighbors, thinking especially of those at war or preparing for war. Grant peace to thy servants. Implant in them the fear of Thee and confirm in them love one for another. Extinguish every dispute and banish all temptations to disagreement. For Thou art our peace and to Thee we ascribe glory: to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
– from the Orthodox Book of Needs, St. Tikhon’s Seminary, Pennsylvania, USA
The number of people we serve goes up in the summer. Several of the shelters and a number of the meal programs in the city close for the summer. Also, with warm weather and extended light, there are more non-homeless people who will stop by to take a meal with us. Our numbers also increase as the month goes on; as those who do receive government assistance run out of money before they run out of month.
This means we need more sandwiches, peanuts, power packs, etc., in the summer months. We can also use more volunteers to help serve.
Years ago, we had several musicians who would come down and sing and play while and after we were serving. If you have a portable instrument that can tolerate outdoor use and don’t mind some rather lively improvisational help, it would be great if you could join us on a Thursday night!
You know what they say about music soothing the heart of a savage beast. Perhaps you can help bring peace to the streets.
The King’s Jubilee serves soup, sandwiches, pasta with meat sauce, fruit drink, fruit and goodies (if we have them) to between 50 and 175 men and a few women in Center City Philadelphia every Thursday night. This is in a park, year-round. We also share toiletries, blankets and season appropriate clothing with them.
We serve in the open air, because some of those we serve are paranoid and will not readily enter a place with which they are unfamiliar. Also, some of them are not homeless, but are on very low fixed incomes. They won’t go to a soup kitchen to take from a program just for the homeless, but they feel free to eat with us to stretch their food budget, so they can stay off the street.
We also try to gather resources for other ministries that serve the poor in Jesus’ Name. If we can’t do it in Jesus’ Name, we don’t have the time or the desire to do it.
Rev. Joses St. Phard was in an accident that totalled their van. It was an old van, so they did not have collision coverage. They need a new (or used) van or mini-van to facilitate their ministry among the poor and homeless in Philadelphia.
They also need an inexpensive, color printer/photocopier to use in their tutoring program. If you can donate either of these things or want to make a cash donation toward them or toward their other expenses, call Chantal St. Phard at 215-324-7665 for more information.
Both of these opportunities are for tutoring adults of all ages.
Let God arise and let his enemies be scattered, and let them that hate him flee from before his face.
Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.
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