One of the hallmarks of post-modernity is the high volume usage of the internet to obtain information, to remain connected and to receive services. If you wish to participate in any of these "signs of the times" you must first read (which many of us don't do) and then check the "terms of service" agreement box. By checking this box you are agreeing to whatever terms the provider has laid down in exchange for the information, participation or services renders on that particular site and if you don't check "I agree" than you don't get to play. Really what you are agreeing to are terms of dis-services or better yet..."terms of servitude." You are agree to what you won't do and agreeing to what they are allowed to do with your personal information and personal data that you provide as part of participating in that site. It's public knowledge that sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google and Yahoo store, sell and disseminate your information to the highest bidder, to target you as a consumer and to better understand your internet "surfing tendencies" and you and I agree to all this digital abuse by simply checking "I agree" on the terms of service box.
On top of this 21st century breach of privacy we have a service industry, the "traditional" version, that is really not service anymore. Good examples of this is airline companies and gas stations. Now when you fly you are charged for everything including your lungage. You also pay for snacks and beverages when you use to get a full meal and even alcoholic drinks...all included in your fare. The stewardesses use to make you feel like royalty, now they just make you feel like crap! Gas stations use to check your oil, tiers and even pump your gas. Now you get to do all that yourself! My family has owned a services station in Northville, MI (a suburb of Detroit) since 1948. My Grandfather (may he rest in peace) opened this station after returning from World War II and after having worked for Ford for one week, realizing that factory worker life was not for him. He took his first and only weeks wages and purchased a Pure One Oil Service station. All of us boys took turns working as "pump jocky's", checking oil, pumping gas and gauging tires, during our high school days. In return for a day or two of hard work we got free gas. That station is still there and it's still FULL SERVICE. In an age where nothing is FULL SERVICE, our families little gas station retains its commitment to serving fully. Service use to allude to sacrifice in some way, in some way those who provided services gave up something in order to be part of the industry, now...GOD forbid it! Now professional service industries, everything from cable to hospice, is about the bottom line... are we making money and how can we make more money?
In the way of Jesus the only term of service our Rabbi ever taught was the term of love. When Jesus laid down the expectation of believers they were wrapped in terms of humility, compassion, sacrifice and love. This is seen in Johns version of the passover or Lord's Supper when Jesus stooped so low as to wash the feet of his disciples and told them that they will never be greater than their Master. Meaning that if the Master does the work of a gentile slave and is not above that service than neither are they! Again Jesus only term is love and it paid off drastically in the first 2-3 centuries of Christianity. Church Father Tertullian says that the reason for such growth had to do with Love. He remarks that the common response to or opinion of Christians in his day was "See how these Christians love one another." Houston Smith, a Methodist Missionaries kid and Church Historian says in his book, "The Soul of Christianity" that "it was for the sake of Love that people flocked to this new religion." He gives an example of how when the poor would die and not have enough money for a proper burial or a burial at all (the bodies of the poor would be thrown into a fiery pit called Gehenna which is the root of the idea of Christian hell, but thats another story) the church would purchase land or tombs so that their dead could be disposed of and remembered properly. It is for this love that the Kingdom of God is progressed upon and it is this kind of love that the church today really knows nothing about.
Our passage this week begins with Peter being ridiculed by the leadership of the church for not requiring new gentile converts to "check the terms of service box" before being allowed access to Jesus. That "term of service" was circumcision, a term that plagues the church all the way into the 2nd century of Christianity. The leaders of the church said "why were they not circumcised and why did you even go to them?" So in response to this Peter tells the leadership about his ham sandwich, bacon, lobster and crab nightmare that lead him to Cornelius's house and to the conversion of a whole family. He said at first he refused to obey God, but then was convinced that he should do what the spirit says. When he got to Cornelius's home and prayed for him to receive Christ he saw that the Spirit had the same gifts and responses to Cornelius as it did on him and the other disciples. Thats when he realized that God had no requirements for salvation other that faith in Jesus. Peter then responds to the Jerusalem gang that "Who was I to stand in God's way?"
Last week our nation was still reeling from the senseless violence that killed and 8 year boy and several others and wounded a great number of people. We live in a world where anyone and anything is apt to be recorded and the bombing was one of those things. As I watched the video of the first bomb go off I was amazed at the response of the first responder medical personnel that was on site. They heard and saw the blast and when others ran away they ran toward and begin helping as many people as possible and because of their quick response saved several lives. You see they reacted out of love, compassion and sacrifice, not under some pretentious terms of service agreement, they just did what was right. Man I wish more people, especially more church people where like that! One of the more heroic stories of the bombing was of the man whose tip led to the apprehension of the second boy. Apparently the man noticed that the tarp on his boat was bloody and torn and so he notified the police. He didn't stop there though. He also got a ladder and climbed up to his boat to look under the tarp and thats when he realized who was under there. If you ask me his actions amounted to see something, say something, do something, and be something. This is the way of Jesus.
We should all as christians see what Christ is doing in our world today. We should say what he is doing by preaching and proclaiming the gospel and the teachings of the church. We should be about doing kingdom work by joining in on what Jesus is doing in the world. Do actions that are compassionate, humble, and sacrificial..actions that reflect the love of Christ. And we should as Christians be transformed so much by the love of Christ that the world can't help but notice how different we are from the rest. We should simply be people rooted in the person of Jesus Christ.
Ever heard the phrase "scared the bejesus out of me!"? It's kind of an old timey way of covering up our profanity. Now a days people are more apt to say "sacred the hell out of me!" or "Scared the shit out of me!" But in Puritan England one could be arrested on the charge of blasphemy for using profanity so people would use the preface "by Jesus". They would say "you scared the By Jesus out of me!" Our they would say "By Jesus you will!!" to their teenaged sons and daughters when they would talk back :). What it really is saying is that something is so terrible or so frightening that is caused you to renounce the commitment to Jesus that you had made. The "by Jesus" eventually become "be Jesus" and is now "baJesus". The truth is we all as Christians are called to "be Jesus" and unfortunately we often act in such away that the "be Jesus" is scared or better yet tempted out of us as we try to serve God and the church and others on our terms. If the our terms of service box is not checked, we don't serve.
There's a story about a women who lost her husband to cancer. After his death she become very introverted and depressive. She was seeing a Psychiatrist to help with her depression and emotions. The Doctor noticed that the women was getting worse and more inter focused. Instead of prescribing more meds the Doctor told her she should take time once a week and go visit people in the oncology ward of the hospital. She was reluctant at first but then agreed to do it once, to get the doc of her back. She agreed to do it on her terms and her terms only, but after a few months of visiting her mood improved and she began to feel like he old self again. Why? Because she served unconditionallly. She let go of her preconceived notions and her "terms of service" boxes and served humbly, compassionately and sacrificially and God blessed her.
How many of us Christians are serving without terms? How many of you will only do something for your church if you get paid, or if you get a title? How many of you will serve without reward, without recognition, without notice? Unfortunately today most church people will only serve a church if it agrees to their terms of service. If the pastor preaches a certain way, if the music is done a certain way, if the denomination believes only certain things, if the leadership is all republicans. And if the church can't meet their "terms of service" then they just won't help and in fact most of them will just simply go somewhere else. The church is dying in North America not because of liberal preachers, pathetic programing and lousy music, but because of Christians and it's because of Christians that the indictment of recently passed theologian, Brennan Manning still rings true, ""The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. This is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable." God calls us to serve him, each other and the world without terms, but with sacrifice, compassion, humility and most of all...LOVE. Get ride of your useless "terms of service" and just serve.