Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity – morning
Sunday 6th October 2019
Trininty 16 – Proper 22 – morning
Lam. 3, 19-26
Luke 17. 5-10
Revd Preb Maureen Hobbs
How many of you can still remember Tony Hancock? And who has memories of the famous Blood Donor Sketch?
For any of you too young to remember or who have somehow never managed to see it on one of its many repeats, Hancock played a caricatured version of himself. And in this sketch he goes along to donate blood convinced that this act will mark him out as some sort of super-hero in the community. In the waiting room he congratulates himself and his fellow donors on their public spirited altruism, but then goes on to lament that there is no outward sign they can take away so that others might identify what a selfless act they have all just done! “Nothing pretentious,” he says, “just something like: He gave it for others so that others may live.” Of course Hancock was a genius of irony and pretentiousness was precisely what his alter ego was famous for!
We can all recognise the need for gratitude for the work we do, which is ludicrously exposed in this sketch. It’s a need we all share, even if most of the time we keep it well under wraps; the yearning for recognition, acknowledgement and appreciation. “Nice service Vicar!” is often the phrase we hear at the church door, and don’t get me wrong – I like to hear that as much as the next cleric. But i wonder if anyone would ever have the courage to say to me –“ pretty ordinary service today Vicar!” – and how I would respond?
It is especially relevant to think about this today of all days, when out there are tens of volunteers giving up their precious Sunday mornings to enable the Bells Run to happen. I’m not sure what the final figure will be, but by the middle of this week over 600 runners had registered, which is an amazing effort and owes much to the hard work of many people, but especially Tony and Lisa Ainsworth and all they and others have done to publicise the race this year – when it may well be the last Bells Run. I hope that all those taking part in whatever way will feel that their effort and presence is appreciated – but if we spoke to any of them I am sure they would say, that is not why they are running, or why they have given up a Sunday lie-in, or a leisurely read of the Sunday Papers, or even their usual attendance here. They are doing it for the greater good; for the good causes that will benefit; and for the sake of the runners themselves, turning out to run whatever the weather and state of the ground!
The servant in our Gospel reading was expected to turn his hand to all sorts – whether it was work in the fields or serving his master at table. But he would not expect to get much thanks if any for his effort – because that is what he was paid for. He was only doing his duty.
Too often we hear about the ‘entitlement culture’ – where the focus is on rights, rewards and recognition. Disinterested service, freely given, for its own sake, without any thought for reward is often belittled – although there are exceptions. I think those Thos.Cooke staff who have continued to work by showing up to man customer enquiry desks – even though they will not be paid and are themselves out of a job, have won the hearts and admiration of many these past few days.
Churches are often places where people give service, faithfully and unobtrusively, without much thought of thanks or reward for their effort. I hope I am never ungrateful for what others do to help keep this show on the road, but inevitably some folk may feel they are taken for granted. But ultimately of course I am under no illusion that what people do, they do for me. At least I hope that is not the case. For what all of us do – paid and unpaid – is ultimately for the glory of God. And it is only when hearts are set on serving God, that we are weaned off the entitlement culture. For we cannot make claims on God or build up credit before him. When we have done everything possible, we are still undeserving servants.
Instead, we should try to see ourselves as apprentices, offering our work to God, through service to others, through the action of our daily lives, through our worship here in church.
And the good news is that if we can really take that on board, the really good news starts. In and of ourselves we may be unworthy servants, but through Christ we become his friends, honoured, blessed and served by the One who, although a King, yet became poor for our sakes and offered himself to become the servant and host of all. Amen.