I'm listening to an audio book called Light From Heaven. I ran across it in the library and it's part of a series of books by this author, one of those Rated G sweet kind of stories that just feed and quiet your spirit. In the book, Father Tim Kavanaugh has been given the position of reviving a church in the Appalachian Mountains that has been without a pastor for many years. His right hand in this endeavor is Agnes, an elderly deaconess who founded the church as a missionary many years ago with another young woman (now deceased) named Jessie.
Agnes is talking to Father Tim about the church's beginnings as they travel through the ridge visiting people to tell them that their church is finally going to re-open its doors. Jessie and Agnes came to the ridge as young missionaries to the poverty-stricken region. They built the school and the church with the locals as a place of community, worship and help. Agnes tells Father Tim that "Jessie always served people for God's sake. I served them for their own sake. It took me many years to learn her wisdom." Agnes came from Chicago to the poorest place in America drawn by her compassion for the people of the mountains. She dedicated her entire life to not only their spirits, but their physical and emotional health. But she learned that serving them from her own heart of compassion was not enough; because she too was flesh. Her ability to be continually humbled and continually available to be pulled from her bed into the freezing Appalachian winters to care for the sick had its limits. Jessie taught her that service for God's sake was without flaw; it can be done despite aches, pains, tiredness, anger and the realization that the recipient is not worthy. It can be done when doors are slammed and when there is no reason to believe that one's efforts are making an impact. It is a kind of blind service; I will do thus and so because I am commanded of God. No dependence then on human flesh to cooperate. There is nothing so remarkable about the person who is touched by anothers need who tries to help. God is truly in the midst of the ones who will admit to themselves, "I don't want to!" and do it anyway. Holiness is there when it is completed by obedience between Christ and his servant without announcing the whats and the whys to the world. And in fact, the glory of God can only shine on the one being served if the servant is all but invisible. Then will the poor and the sick look up in their moment of help and say, "God truly came."
Agnes learned that she spent far too much time telling her congregants that "God sent me." instead of Jessie's way of quiet service and then withdrawing to allow the Lord's to be the greatest presence.
Agnes tells that she and Jessie did the same work on these slightly different paths for many years. But only when her spirit saw the truth of service to God and not to man did she truly accomplish the work of God. Until then, she was doing the work of Agnes. Lovely and good and important though it was, it was for the Kingdom of Agnes.
Agnes teaches Father Tim that this was not sin in the early years, but simply a child growing up to do her Father's business. All the joy of the beginnings remained with the addition of glory when she finally understood what Jessie had always known.
Perhaps this seems no lesson at all to you; but it was like a sermon to me. I just thought I'd share it.