Jesus asks a lot of his disciples. Follow me. Take up your cross! Do not forget widows and orphans. Let the little children come unto me. And on and on. One thing Jesus never asks his disciples is to be a good person. He never asks them to try their best. He says love your neighbor as yourself.
The Christian idea of service comes from the life of Christ. When we stray from this biblical foundation, it is too easy for us to turn service into a work to earn salvation rather than a grace-filled response to the free gift of love and forgiveness in the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
Jesus gives us a lot of images of what true service, service as a response to love, can look like. The primary one for me comes from John 13.
Jesus knew the Father had given everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was returning to God. So he got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Peter doesn’t understand. Footwashing is dirty. Not footwashing like a special service where people take a shower ahead of time. I mean washing the feet of someone who has worked in a field all day barefoot and stepped on all manner of gooey substances that retain an odor. This is not an easy thing to do. This is service. This only happens if you love the other person more than you love your own comfort. I remember trying to do a foot-washing service with youth and nobody would do it. Nobody would take their shoes off. Nobody would wash another's feet. If our primary concern in life is maintaining our comfort and hygiene, the love of neighbor will not look like the of Jesus.
“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
This is not the love of romantic comedies or past-times. It is the love of the God who became human so that we could be free from sin, to give of ourselves sacrificially to God and to each other. The love God speaks of is love our neighbor more than our comfort, more than what is easy, more than what is convenient. We cannot do this alone. We cannot do this if it is a burden. We can only act in such a way if we truly believe God has acted for us. If we truly believe that God is with us.
The vow of service is a vow to not be so settled in your faith that you cannot see the need of your neighbor, the need of your church, the need of your Lord. It was we hold each other up to because in truly serving, no matter the challenge, God gives us joy.