Faith and Service: What Do They Do for Each Other?
Faith is not simply something we have; it is a fullness of life we experience, and one of the ways we experience it is through service to others. This Sunday we will explore what faith and the experience of faith can mean to each of us.
Speaker: Rev. Chris Kell
When available, a revised transcript of this week’s talk is provided below for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Prayers, readings, and songs from this week’s service are also provided below.
Community Circle Zoom Meeting/Discussion: Wednesday, November 3, 2021. Click here for log in details.
Thank you for blessing us with another day.
May we live this day with love, kindness, gratitude, and forgiveness.
May we be a light unto others.
May we meet our sisters and brothers with joy and openness.
May we honor you by how we live this day.
~ Linda Goodman
We give thanks for places of simplicity and peace; let us find such a place within ourselves.
We give thanks for places of refuge and beauty; let us find such a place within ourselves.
We give thanks for places of nature’s truth and freedom, of joy, inspiration, and renewal,
places where all creatures may find acceptance and belonging.
Let us search for these places; in the world, in ourselves and in others.
Let us restore them.
Let us strengthen and protect them and let us create them.
May we mend this outer world according to the truth of our inner life,
and may our souls be shaped and nourished by nature’s eternal wisdom.
~ Michael Leunig, Australian cartoonist, philosopher, poet, and artist
Faith and Service: What Do They Do for Each Other?
I hope you are enjoying the fall weather. In the Twin Cities it is sunny and cool; a beautiful autumn day, just right for taking a walk and letting nature soothe your heart and mind.
Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal priest, theologian, and professor of religion, wrote in her book Holy Envy that: “Preachers learn early on that we preach the sermons we most need to hear.” When I read that sentence I was very happy, not to mention more than a little relieved, because this is exactly how I approach my talks –– as a learning experience for myself and hopefully for those who listen. Not that I equate myself to an accomplished speaker, minister, and author like Taylor. I consider myself an amateur in the world of ministers and speakers, someone who maybe has a good idea now and then and passes it on to others.
Today, I want to talk about what I learned about faith and service: how they are connected and what they do for each other.
In service, we participate in the holy, finding it in both ourselves and in others.
We have heard about service from both Melanie and Asha the last three weeks as part of this month’s theme about service. We have learned over the past weeks that, in service, we participate in the holy, finding it in both ourselves and in others.
But what motivates us to be of service in the first place? Where does the impetus for being of service originate within us? What is it that compels us to offer ourselves, our gifts, our experiences to others in the hope that somehow, because our lives have become better, we can help their lives to be better, too. As both Melanie and Asha have mentioned, through our service to others, our own healing continues, transforming into joy, happiness and peace.
But does this mean that being of service is purely motivated by self-interest, just to make ourselves feel good, to be seen and valued, or because it looks good on our resume?
“Faith” . . . is a just and generous way of life.
I think we would all answer no to this last question. A true desire to serve involves more than simply wanting to look good. So then, why? Why serve?
Well, if you noticed the title of this talk, “Faith and Service,” then you probably know my answer to this question. I believe we are inspired to serve by our faith in the Divine, the Universe, our Creator, or whatever is Sacred to us.
According to Merriam Webster, faith is a “firm belief in something for which there is no proof; complete trust; something that is believed, especially with strong conviction.”
Speaking from the Christian tradition, Fr. Richard Rohr says “Faith” is not an affirmation of a creed, an intellectual acceptance of God, or a system of beliefs. It is a just and generous way of life, rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion as a loving way of life. It is “a foundational confidence or trust that God cares about what is happening right now.”
“Basically,” he says, “there are two paths you can walk: faith or fear. It’s impossible to simultaneously trust God and not trust God”.
The Rev. Charles Stanley puts is another way: “Basically,” he says, “there are two paths you can walk: faith or fear. It’s impossible to simultaneously trust God and not trust God”.
And many centuries ago St. Paul taught that, “The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love” (Galatians 5:6).
The Qur’an states that nothing in this world should be dearer to a true believer than faith. The Quran also directs its people to help one another in acts of piety and righteousness. Muslims believe they must be compassionate because everyone is a special creation of Allah. Giving to charity and helping others are considered good deeds and there should be no expectation of anything in return.
“Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof.”
The poet and mystic Khalil Gibran wrote that, “Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof.”
In Buddhism, practicing generosity is believed to help train the mind in a way conducive to attaining enlightenment. To this end, Buddha dedicated his entire life for the cause of others, for the uplifting of humanity at large.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “There is nothing that wastes the body like worry, and one who has any faith in God should be ashamed to worry about anything whatsoever.”
In the Jewish tradition, our soul is believed to be spiritually predisposed to a spiritual nature –– an inborn faith and love of God inherited from our forefathers. The most important teaching of Judaism is that there is one God, who wants people to do what is just and compassionate. Judaism teaches that all people are made in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
Faith, trust, love, service –– they all go together, and faith is the foundation.
I could go on like this for quite a while, but I think you get the idea. Faith, trust, love, service –– they all go together, and faith is the foundation.
Understanding what faith means is important to me, and I want it to be important to you, too.
When I was much, much younger, still a teenager living at home, my father left us; as I saw it, he just decided he’d had enough and left his family, all six kids and my mother. I always thought he felt like life was passing him by and he was afraid he’s miss all the fun.
As an adult I understand there was more to it than that, but at the time I could not fathom how or why he would make such a decision. Life was not easy for my mother after that. She never had enough money to quite make ends meet, and with so many children it seemed like there was always too much demand on her time for her attention to get around to all of us. She drank too much, and she was understandably stressed, tried not to show it, and so was stressed even more. To make it worse, Mother was quite distraught about being divorced. We were Catholic, and divorce was not condoned by the Church.
“I have my faith,” she said.
Well . . . I remember asking her one day, how she was able to handle everything and still believe God was looking after her. Mother’s answer was really quite simple, and yet it encompassed the whole of her life: “I have my faith,” she said.
Of all the things my mother said and taught me during her life, that one sentence, “I have my faith,” has stuck with me the longest and most profoundly. Even as a kid, although I didn’t exactly comprehend the depth of her statement, I understood the breadth and conviction, the realness that her trust in God was complete, enduring, and sustaining.
And with those four simple yet compelling words, my life was changed, though I did not realize it at the time.
And with those four simple yet compelling words, my life was changed, though I did not realize it at the time.
Since that day, during all the ups and downs of my own life, I’ve had many chances to remind myself that “I have my faith.” I don’t pretend that my own trust and confidence in the Divine Presence never wavered; there’ve been many times I doubted anyone, anywhere was looking after me, much less some benevolent, invisible, man in the sky. I have argued, blamed, despaired, and almost given up on there being a compassionate Higher Power either without or within myself on whom I could depend.
Almost, but not quite. My faith might have died down to embers at times, but, even buried in the ashes, the spark always stayed alive long enough for me to eventually let it grow into a steady, abiding glow that was stronger each time it was fanned into new life.
Faith is not simply something we have; it is a fullness of life we experience
Over the years I have learned that faith is not only the foundation for spiritual growth, but also that spiritual practices strengthen and grow our faith. Faith is not simply something we have; it is a fullness of life we experience, and one of the ways we experience it is through the spiritual practice of sharing ourselves in service to others.
There is a Bible story that you may have heard before that directly speaks to both faith and service. It is the story of the blind man who is healed by Jesus. In Luke 18 it goes like this:
As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him: “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” Then he shouted: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly: “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, Jesus asked him: “What do you want me to do for you?” The man said: “Lord, let me see again.” Jesus said to him: “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.” Immediately the man regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.
What is truly important is blessing the lives of others by serving them in whatever way we can.
So what does this story tell us? I can see three things. First, and most obvious, is that the blind man’s faith in God allows his eyesight to be restored. Second, Jesus shows great love for this man in his willingness to be of service to him by healing his eyes. And finally, Jesus teaches us to focus on what is truly important, and what is truly important is blessing the lives of others by serving them in whatever way we can.
Barbara Brown Taylor wrote that faith is being certain who God is, and what God wants of us. I believe that being of and in service to others is the way we come to know both who God is and what she wants of us. This became clear for me when I attended seminary. Each of us are called to use the gifts, skills, and abilities we have been given. Through serving, I have learned that great joy comes from serving others.
Looking into the face and eyes of another person –– that is when we see the Divine.
When we are sharing ourselves with others, taking our focus off ourselves and placing it on others, we are standing on holy ground. Looking into the face and eyes of another person –– that is when we see the Divine and experience the kind of joy we were made for. As Rev. Melanie has said, “In service, we participate in the holy, finding it in ourselves and in others.”
I believe our life purpose is to be happy, and the way we can be happy is by being a visible expression of the image, the love, and the compassion of the Divine. Contrary to the conventions of our moralistic culture, this emphasis on happiness and selfhood is not selfish. Each of us is a unique aspect of the Creator; our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks, we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.
Fr. Rohr’s organization, the Center for Action and Contemplation, was founded on the principle that we learn and are healed by committing ourselves to others, especially those at the margins. All we have to do, he says, is discover our own gift, even if it is just one thing, and use it for the good of all.
“Service is opening a door in what looked like a wall.” (Taylor)
“Service is opening a door in what looked like a wall” (Taylor). Your kindness may make all the difference to someone who is suffering or going through a difficult time. I’m not going to get into listing all the ways we can be of service; however, I do want to mention one spiritual practice that is so simple we can do it anywhere, anytime, for anyone. And that is the practice of encounter.
For this practice, all you have to do is make eye contact with the people you meet, family, friends and strangers alike, acknowledging them with just a look and a smile –– seeing, recognizing, and accepting both the humanity and divinity looking back at you.
Love of stranger. According to Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of Great Britain:
“the Hebrew Bible in one verse commands, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ but in no fewer than 36 places it commands us to ‘love the stranger.’”
Encountering and seeing another human being is as close to God as we may ever get.
Taylor teaches that encountering and seeing another human being is as close to God as we may ever get. This is where the divine presence shows up, in the unique presence of the person standing right in front of us. To serve the other in this way, to treat each encounter as sacred and holy, can change us. Loving our neighbor as if that person were our own self, with all the shortcomings, imperfections, peculiarities, loving-kindness, generosity, and compassion that make up who we are ––that love and sacred service will teach us everything we need to know.
As humans we share physical, mental, and emotional commonalities while also being spiritually unique. As Taylor writes,
“In one way or another, every one of us has gotten the message that God made us different that we might know one another, and that how we treat one another is the best expression of our beliefs.”
When we serve other people, we are not only able to see outside ourselves . . . we are able to see the beauty and good that takes us beyond ourselves.
When we serve other people, we are not only able to see outside ourselves . . . we are able to see the beauty and good that takes us beyond ourselves. Moreover, on a more practical level, serving others is good for our mental health, our emotional well-being, and our self-esteem. And the laws of the universe have shown time and time again that those who serve others are more successful themselves.
St. Francis of Assisi told his brothers, “No one showed me what I had to do,” and then, at the very end of his life, he told them, “I have done what is mine.”
You do not need me or anyone to tell you what is yours, or how to do it.
You do not need me or anyone to tell you what is yours, or how to do it. I have no authority over anyone but myself on this earth, so I cannot be anyone else’s voice of authority, their spiritual leader, or even their teacher. But I can be your friend, your companion, your servant. And my loving service to you today is simply to remind you of some things you have heard before and that you already know –– or that you can discover for yourselves –– because they are already in your heart.
We are on this earth to be happy, to love and be loved, to live in relationship with other humans and with the earth, and to grow into the fullness of being both human and divine. As for me, as Taylor puts it,
“I have decided I will keep . . . faith –– in God, in God’s faith in me, and in all the companions whom God has given me to help see the world as God sees it –– so that together we may find a way to realize the divine vision. If some of us do not yet know who we are going to be tomorrow, then it is enough for us to give thanks for today while we treat each other as well as we know how.”
Thank you for letting me be of service to you today.
About Rev. Christine Kell
Rev. Chris Kell is an Interfaith/Interspiritual Minister, an ordained graduate of One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, a graduate of the Priestess Emergence Process, and a Certified Life Success Consultant. She has a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, with concentrations in Women’s Studies and Small Group Communication, and post-graduate studies in Feminine Spirituality. Rev. Chris has a deep appreciation for the aspirations of the human spirit. She has been fortunate in discovering how nurturing and supportive a positive environment can be, how it encourages spiritual strength and expands the possibilities for living a good life. Her goal is to be a catalyst for others in envisioning and discovering for themselves a spiritually enriched life. She can be reached at Rev.ChristineKell@gmail.com.
This reading is adapted from the book The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See by Richard Rohr and read by Ellen Rich-Fox.
Faith and Belief
Like “prayer,” “religion,” and so many other words, the word “faith” means different things to different people. As we recover the lost tradition of contemplation, here are some clarifications for what I mean by “faith” and why, understood in a nondualistic way, faith is not blind assent, or even reasoned assent, but an essential part of spiritual transformation.
Faith points to an initial opening of the heart or mind space from our side. Foundationally, this is all that faith is, but its effects and implications can be enormous. Faith is our small but necessary “yes” to any new change or encounter.
Such an opening or re-opening is necessary to help us make fresh starts or break through to new levels. We normally have to let go of the old and go through a stage of unknowing or confusion before we can move to another level of awareness or new capacity. This opening up and letting go is largely what we mean by faith.
The movement through unknowing is necessary in all encounters, relationships, or intellectual breakthroughs, not just with the Divine. Human faith and religious faith are much the same except in their object or goal. Our faith is not a belief that dogmas or moral opinions are true, but a faith that Ultimate Reality is accessible to us—and even on our side.
Surrender written by Michael Gott
Over That Mountain written by Debbie Schrodt
This service aired on October 31, 2021