“Essential Services, Part II”
As you may recall last month I reflected on what constitutes what we term “essential services” for and by the State given the threat of a government shutdown that loomed large. I noted that the institution of government and those elected to represent and serve our ideals are called upon to serve the common good in our stated declaration in affirming life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Following my ruminations last month, I found myself wondering what it is that constitutes “essential services” for the Church, the subject of my reflections this month. Imagine the Church facing a shutdown and having to establish priorities in terms of the “essentials” of ministry and those aspects of our religious life that could be jettisoned. In short, what are the “essential services” the Church provides in serving the common good?
Since we are a Christian Church, let’s begin with Christ. If one examines the Gospel, that which is essential to the ministry of Jesus is prayerful obedience to God in establishing the kingdom of God through the ministry of reconciliation. In terms of substance, I suppose the short answer would be the Summary of the Law or Great Commandment (our mission statement): “To love God and God’s creation (which are inseparable) with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.” The esse of what Jesus preached, taught and lived and instructed his disciples (and us), guided by The Holy Spirit, to do after his resurrection and ascension. The great and new commandment (mandatum novum) is the distillation, the esse of Christian ministry in service to God and the common good (again the two being inseparable).
If one looks at Jesus’ ministry in terms of “essential services” or activities in ushering in a new reality that we call the kingdom of God, three essential activities can be discussed. First, prophecy, since Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy; prophecy understood as proclaiming (as in preaching) the word of God to the present situation as opposed to foretelling the future. Second, given the title given to him as Rabbi, to teach the meaning of the Torah (better rendered “teachings” and the prophecy and God’s desire for us and creation to be healed, whole and holy; in short, healing as the incarnation of God’s love and the basis for the essential ministry of reconciliation.
How does Jesus three-fold ministry as “essential services” pointing to participating in and embodying God’s kingdom define the “essential services” of the Christian Church since its inception on Pentecost and today?
Let’s begin with consideration of the notion of “essential service(s)” as applied to Christianity and the Church. Albert Schweitzer said it succinctly, “There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest need.” “Service” or “servant ministry” in following Jesus and the great commandment is the key. Consider the obvious, “Church Services” as locations for prophecy, teaching and healing, the basis for preaching, instruction and formation and the Church’s ministry of reconciliation. Said differently, the sacraments, as found in The Prayer Book and taught in the Catechism (Baptism, the rite of initiation; Holy Eucharist, the rite of intensification are the “essential worship services” and shape the other “essential sacramental services” of Confirmation, Ordination, Holy Matrimony, Reconciliation of a Penitent and healing. All are “essential services” as outward and visible signs of God’s love and grace.
But as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once noted, the essential services of the Church go beyond worship “services,” “In Jesus the service of God and service of the least of the brethren were one.” Following the example of Jesus, essential to our understanding ministry as servant ministry is feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, healing the sick and comforting the dying. The common denominator in worship and pastoral care is service, “essential services” and servanthood, even when it brings with it suffering. And in such service we realize existentially the old Latin proverb, “He (or she) who serves is preserved (for now and eternity).”
A final, but by no means exhaustive thought on Jesus and the “essential services” of Christian ministry. As articulated and more importantly made incarnate in Jesus, He “came not to be served but to serve” and to announce and embody that “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11).
In whose service is perfect freedom,