Our first lesson is about God’s servant
whose identity is ambiguous.
Sometimes the servant is an individual
with a mission to Israel;
other times the servant is Israel.
For Christians, the servant is Christ.
Jesus is the servant who raises us up
like the tribes of Jacob.
But that same double-meaning carries forward
because St. Paul says we are the Body of Christ,
and that makes us the servant.
Do you know this true story of an old Italian village
with a lovely Renaissance statue of Christ
in the town square?
For centuries that stone Jesus extended his hands
During World War II,
bombs demolished their beloved statue.
After the War, restoring it was the village’s top priority.
Money was raised. Sculptors were hired.
Eventually the statue was perfectly rebuilt
– except for one thing.
They left it without hands.
Fascism and war had taught them a lesson to remember.
So they left the statue without hands,
and inscribed at its base these words
from St. Theresa of Avila
Christ has no hands on earth but yours.
The full quotation goes:
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which
he looks compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses
all the world.
Yours, the hands; yours, the feet; yours, the eyes.
You are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
We come to Christ for our own healing and restoration.
We bring our grief, our shame, our addiction, our loneliness.
Maybe we find acceptance here. We feel safe.
That’s the healing grace of Jesus.
But our healing and restoration isn’t complete
until we ourselves
become the Body, the Servant, the agent of hope.
Our transformation starts with supporting each other
in a faith community.
The Church is the training ground where we practice
respecting each other’s human dignity.
We practice being Christ to each other,
and that changes us little by little
into the likeness of Christ.
But we are an all-too-human assembly.
Our practice of mutual respect is hit and miss.
We try to serve; then get responses that just deflate us.
They call us practicing Christians
because we haven’t yet mastered it.
Sometimes we get discouraged
like the servant in today’s lesson.
He said, I have labored in vain.
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.
30 years of ordained ministry may not teach you much,
but it will teach you the meaning of that verse.
So the servant tendered his resignation to God.
Instead God multiplied his job duties. God said,
It is too light a thing that you should
. . . raise up the tribes of Jacob
and . . . restore the survivors of Israel.
I will give you as a light to the nations
that my salvation may reach
to the ends of the earth.
The nations means everyone else, the gentiles,
the pagans, the foreigners.
Up to now, Judaism thought God was on their side.
Israel first, they said, and the rest of the world
could go to the dogs.
But God wasn’t having it – not anymore.
The servant was to become a light to the nations,
Led by the individual servant,
Israel was to become such a light.
Anti-Nazi martyr and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said,
The Church is the Church only when it exists for others,
not dominating but helping and serving.
Our own Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple said,
The Church is the only society that exists for benefit
of those who are not its members.
Plenty of unchurched irreligious people do good things.
But our motive is different.
That’s important because the motive changes how it feels
to be on the receiving end of mercy.
Christians don’t serve people to prove how good and generous we are.
We don’t serve people because we feel sorry for them.
We serve people because when we look at them, we see Jesus.
God bless the secular service groups
for all the good they do.
But we are up to something different.
Our mission is rooted in the old, old story of Jesus
and his love.
Our outer mission flows from our inner work
-- our individual inner work of prayer and study;
and our congregational inner work of mutual care,
faith formation, praying together,
worshiping together, and sharing the sacraments.
Being a light to the nations,
starts with the deeply engrained habit
of respecting the dignity of every human being.
We learn that here. We practice it here.
We pray our way into it here.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said we live in two realms:
the internal and the external.
The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed
in art, literature, morals, and religion.
The external is that of complex devices, techniques,
. . . and instrumentalities by which we live.
Dr. King’s point is we need Christ in both realms.
If we remain stuck in the internal realm
of private spirituality,
we are what Jesus called a tree that does not bear fruit.
Our life is disengaged, fruitless.
But if we live only in the external realm,
even doing good deeds,
our actions are shallow, often unwise,
and easily twisted
by our unconscious ego-agendas.
As St. Ignatius Loyola said of service
disconnected from spirituality,
we do more harm than good.
Psychoanalyst Michael Parsons says
the ability to move back and forth
between the inner and outer realms,
turning inward for wisdom, then outward for justice,
is the key to our own emotional health
and being fully alive.
The path isn’t one way. It loops back.
After we have engaged the world,
we take that experience back into prayerful reflection.
It’s the raw material for our spiritual project.
Elizabeth O’Connor was the spiritual teacher
for The Church of Our Savior, the flagship of Christian social engagement in Washington, DC.
In her books, Search For Silence
and Journey Inward, Journey Outward,
O’Connor called it a spiritual law
that if we look deep into our souls,
it moves us to serve others.
Donna Hicks says that spiritual law is hardwired
into our neurology.
But we have to tap into it
through prayer, study, and practice.
Notice how our Gospel lesson is about paying attention
in the interior realm.
He watched Jesus / He exclaimed, “Look”/
The . . . disciples heard him / Jesus saw them/
He said . . . “What are you looking for?”
He said . . . “Come and see.”
It goes on. We start by looking for
what Quakers call the inward light,
so that we can become that light for others.
If we don’t first see the light of Christ,
we have nothing to carry but our own moral pride
and we do more harm than good.
We have to hear the old, old story before we can tell it
-- not just with words,
but tangible acts of love and mercy.
So, brothers and sisters,
study, pray, know Christ so you can be Christ
for a world that needs Christ today more than ever.
Christ has no hands on earth but yours.