One of my favorite shows on TV is "Extreme Makeover Home Edition." Michelle and I often refer to it as our, "weekly cleansing." We watch as hope returns to a family in the form of a house and a community working together to provide it… and most often that family has lived in and through horrific circumstances. The design team and the hundreds of volunteers usually provide a house that is far beyond anything the family ever imagined possible for themselves, but most often it is not the house itself or their new found luxury that brings the most hope and to the homeowners. What brings them hope is the community of people that comes together to serve them… many of whom they will never meet face-to-face. I love that show because I think in many ways it inspires people who watch to imagine what is possible when we serve together as a community. Quite frankly, I feel like if watching it doesn't motivate you to go and do something in the community then you shouldn't waste your time watching the show. If watching doesn't inspire you to acton it is not much different than watching an exercise program while eating a Twinkie. The point is not in the watching. The point is what watching compels you to do.
As much as I enjoy watching Extreme Makeover, I think there is definitely a tension between serving in such a way that the world can watch (and does), and the kind of serving that Jesus describes in the opening verses of Matthew 6. The Message paraphrase puts it like this,
"1 “Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. 2 “When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. 3 When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. 4 Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out."
I don't really know how to say it any better than that. We are compelled to serve people in need because we are all part of the same family. We have the same Father in heaven, so the ones we serve are our brothers and sisters… and most of us would do anything for a family member in need. But let's be clear, sometimes a large platform such as Extreme Makeover can help open our eyes to what is possible, but doing good and serving others is not about good TV, or PR opportunities and photo ops. It's not even about the good feelings we get when we serve. As we are reminded in verse 4, we were conceived in love by a God who most often works steadily and quietly in our lives… meeting our needs.
I will continue to watch and appreciate the service of those behind Extreme Makeover… because what they do is amazing. Please don't hear what I'm not saying. My prayer is simply this: Jesus, give us eyes to see how we might serve our brothers and sisters in need, not because of how it will make us feel or how serving might be an opportunity to "attract" people to our church gatherings. May our service be quiet, unobtrusive and conceived in love.