We Must Serve Or We Die
In 2007, while on an epic trip to London and Paris for our anniversary, Merideth and I found ourselves in the middle of a huge crowd outside the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Hundreds of police officers held the crowd at bay as large limousines pulled up.
"I think that is Jacques Chirac!" I stage-whispered to Merideth as the then President of France emerged from one of the vehicles. "What is going on here?" A lady turned around and said to us in perfect English. "It's the funeral of Abbe Pierre. He was a famous priest, a man beloved by the people for his work with the homeless."
We chatted together for a bit about his work, and she shared with us that almost all of the services and resources for the homeless in Paris had their origins in work that Abbe Pierre had accomplished.
I learned later that Abbe Pierre was born into a wealthy family, but dedicated his life to ministry and service. After World War II the streets of Paris were filled with thousands of displaced and homeless beggars. He mobilized them, gave them purpose, helped them create businesses, and formed an organization called Emmaus, which now has chapters all over the world.
In his book Reaching For The Invisible God, Philip Yancey wrote about how Pierre and his homeless workers from Emmaeus mobilized to build a hospital ward in a leper colony in India. When the workers in India thanked him, Pierre replied, "No, no it is you who have saved us. We must serve or we die."
Following Jesus is in many ways an exercise in downward mobility. Jesus exhorted his disciples to race each other to the bottom of the ladder of importance. He taught them:
"...and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”Abbe Pierre came to understand this and dedicated his life to becoming less than for Jesus. When popularity polls would be published in France, Abbe Pierre was always at the top of the list with pop singers, actors, and politicians. He would also always beg the publications who created the polls to remove his name.
I've never forgotten that chilly, grey January day as Merideth and I stood outside Notre Dame with thousands of French people--paying homage to a man who dedicated his life to following Jesus' example and caring for the least of these, and who believed he would die if he did not serve.
May you be filled with a sense of the true cost of discipleship as you seek today to serve rather than be served. May you draw closer to Christ as you discover that by giving up your need for the things of this world, you will discover all that you need.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.