During our recent travels, we saw a brief sample of a “Christian” television programme. We happened on it by chance, and, for five minutes, were mesmerised by the two speakers and the huge bank of phone operators.
The format was that one of the presenters was promising that God would send many blessings to viewers if they pledged a not insignificant amount of money. The second presenter kept chipping in with stories of others who had done so in the past detailing the tangible blessings they had received—money, goods, jobs. healing miracles. The phones rang constantly. When the presenter said, “If you pledge $43 per month for the next year you will be freed from credit card debt,” we pressed the off button. We had seen enough!
I do not know any of the people involved. I would not want to judge their motivation. Maybe, they truly believe they are serving people in this way. Yet, I admit to having a hard time reconciling it with genuine service.
One of the lectionary passages today is 2 Corinthians 12:2-10. The passage is talking about a spiritual experience the author had which may have made him feel superior to others. Yet, things had happened in his life to prevent that superior feeling happening. The author talks a lot about not boasting, even stating “I refrain from it [boasting], so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me.” (6)
I’m not sure why, as I read through all the lectionary readings, this one stood out to me. Or why on reading it I recalled that brief segment we had watched in an airport hotel room. Maybe because they were such opposites in ideas expressed.
I think what the author of second Corinthians talks about here can be applied to service. It is not about being seen by thousands. It is not about boasting in all of one’s successes, recounting those stories.
The passage ends talking about all the hardships that the author had endured —weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities (10).
I think many would identify with this pattern in service. And I include all forms of service to other human and non-human being. I think about those who are called to serving professions and those who work tirelessly for a cause. I’m sure each person could add other words to that list. Service is often not pretty, it is often hard and lonely, it often leaves one feeling too weak for the task.
But the passage does not end on hardships. It contains some good news. The author claims that as one serves, it is these adversities that make one strong. A strength of character is developed together with contentment. That is what enables people to continue to serve without wanting to be seen. To be as Christ to those they meet and to find Christ in them.