Our faith tradition has a long history of calling disciples to compassionate acts of service. Our Mission Initiatives focus on action words: invite, abolish, pursue, develop, experience. Our Enduring Principles and inspired counsel often call disciples to pursue and work for the cause of Zion, God’s peaceable reign on Earth. We discern the movement of God’s providence and grace in the context of passages such as the parable in Matthew 25 about how the king filters the goats and sheep and the passage in James 2:17–18 NRSV:
So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith, and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works, will show you my faith.
Many of us object to a question asked in some Christian circles, “Are you saved?” not because salvation is unimportant to us, but because we leave judgment in the hands of God and do not accept a god with a narrow prerequisite for sharing divine forgiveness and compassion.
We do not prioritize salvation as an individualistic reality, but more importantly, understand it as a communal aspiration. Sincere disciples of Jesus Christ continually grow their relationship with God through spiritual formation and good works of service for the benefit of community.
My evolving understanding of, and appreciation for, faithful discipleship moves me toward a growing focus of receiving and sharing the immense nature of God’s compassion, forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing in community. This journey does not emerge from obligation or the need to meet criteria or reach specific goals and outcomes.
Healthy faith primarily is living with vulnerability to receive God’s compassion and grace, and then in response humbly sharing talents and resources for the benefit of others, our neighborhoods, and our world. Acts of service do not lead to personal reward other than an authentic joy in experiencing the essence of God. I believe this is what the author of the Epistle of James was beginning to point toward. But too often it is misread by people focusing on a contrast to salvation by grace.
Receiving and sharing God’s generous grace are at the heart of discipleship in Jesus Christ. Joyful service is not a cause but a natural outcome of receiving and sharing God’s compassion. I am fortunate to witness countless examples of disciples who respond to God’s gifts by serving others with no thought of reward or honor. Their joyful service is an instinctive response to being aware of the talents and resources given to them.
Examples abound of people dropping their immediate agendas to visit people in need and sometimes offering the sacrament of laying on of hands for the sick or providing transportation, housing, meals, or short-term financial aid. Sometimes visits include help with physical labor.
Other people regularly and diligently offer prayers for those who request them. These acts of service and compassion are not fueled by desire for acknowledgment or reward, but by simple and spontaneous response to encountering God’s grace.
Joyful service also is shared by groups. Many congregations, such as Gulfport, Mississippi, and Bellview, Florida, for many years sponsored monthly community food-distribution sites. Others, such as Pasadena, Texas; Cantonment, Florida; and Edmond, Oklahoma, regularly provide food and clothing for people who struggle to meet basic living needs. Many other groups provide aid and relief to victims of storm disasters or families and groups without the skills and resources for major property repairs.
Some impassioned people partner with organizations that relentlessly advocate for persons facing socio-economic, skin-color, sexual-orientation, and cultural discrimination or oppression. These acts of service and compassion continue, regardless of outcomes or levels of success. These groups work to create positive change in their neighborhoods and communities because they understand it is the right thing to do. They know that at its sustainable best, the right thing to do is energized by humble response to divine giftedness.
Everyone has a unique blend of talents, treasures, time, and testimony. No act of compassionate service is too small to be invaluable for the people served and the servers, themselves. These words A quote often attributed to Helen Keller continues to inspire me:
I cannot do everything, but still, I can do something. …I will not refuse to do the something I can do.
Community of Christ is invited and called to an ever-expanding faith journey of receiving and sharing the divine compassion of God. This is at the heart of Christlike, joyful service.