The Joy of Giving and Serving Others
Fr. Luke A. Veronis
Jesus went about all the cities and villages preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God, healing every sickness and every disease among the people, and showing compassion whenever He saw the multitudes. We hear this beautiful description in today’s Gospel reading.
Our Lord was always giving to other and serving them however He could. This is the spirit of Christ Jesus and this is our call as His followers. Jesus once said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Now, some may raise their eyebrows at such a saying, thinking that they would much rather receive than give. Yet, one of the great secrets to a happy, meaningful life I have discovered is the joy that comes through giving and serving others. How many of us feel great when we have given a special gift to someone else? How many of us have tasted the utter joy when we do something for another person expecting nothing in return?
I have been blessed throughout my life to have experienced this type of joy in a variety of contexts. After I graduated from Penn State, I went on my first mission trip to East Africa and lived in a village in northern Kenya for one month. It changed the direction of my life living in this African village trying to serve the people there in some simple way. I was so inspired by the people I met, who themselves displayed such a spirit of sacrifice and generosity. I returned to Kenya the following year and lived in Western Kenya assisting my Kenyan counterpart in overseeing the building of a medical clinic, a mission center, and several churches. I discovered the joy of serving others. This experience actually led me to change directions in my profession and to become a Greek Orthodox priest. The center of the ministry that my wife and I have had over the past 28 years has been trying to serve other.
After my wife and I married, we moved to post-communist Albania, which in the early 1990s was considered one of the poorest countries in the world – devastated not only economically by a broken, corrupt communist system but desperately poor spiritually as the only country in the world where no religion was allowed for 24 years. We went there to live among these hospitable people trying to serve them in whatever way we could. We lived there ten years sacrificing the comforts of an American life yet discovering the beauty of another culture and people which reaffirmed to us the utter joy of living sacrificially and giving of ourselves to serve a people during challenging and sometimes desperate times.
We lived in Albania during unique times. In 1997 the entire country fell into anarchy following a Ponzi economic scheme that robbed 80% of its people from their life savings. People were desperate and conditions were dangerous – my wife, along with most Americans, were evacuated from the country by the US Marines. Yet I stayed there to try and offer comfort and encouragement, as well as aid, to many people who felt hopeless. During this crisis I came to understand in a new way “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
A few years later a half million refugees flooded Albania during the Kosovo war, and again we were in a position to offer life-saving aid to desperate and traumatized refugees who fled their homes from violence. Again during these difficult circumstances, I discovered in a new way the truth of Christ’s saying “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” We were in a position to offer help and to give to others who were in desperate need, and there was an incredible joy in being able to comfort and help others.
Following these exceptional experiences, my family and I moved to Central Massachusetts to serve the Saints Constantine and Helen Orthodox Church of Webster for the past 18 years. We’ve tried to instill this spirit of giving and service in our community. One of the ways we’ve tried to instill this spirit was by arranging for teams from our Church Family to go to Tijuana, Mexico and build homes for families in need. I shared a reflection in last week’s sermon about the joy of building nine homes over the past 12 years! We have taken more than 140 people on these trips, and each one of the participants comes back with a new appreciation of all they have, and a new understanding of what it means to be “more blessed to give than receive.”
Many express the joy of giving and serving and have come back to our church with a desire to continue serving others. This was the genesis of our Church’s monthly “Living Bread Luncheon” where we serve a meal and offer hospitality to the larger Webster community on the first Saturday of every month. This also led our Church community to creatively find other ways to give and serve our community – like when we paid off $3.5 million in medical debt for 2,200 families in New England, or like when we gave out $30,000 to our church members and asked them to go out and find ways to share this blessing with those in need all around us.
Actually, from these various experiences I’ve learned that when we give generously and sacrificially to others, we actually do receive so much more. We receive the deep, inner joy and satisfaction of helping others. We receive a new understanding of what life is all about. We realize that life isn’t about what we can accumulate and amass for ourselves. The secret of a happy, meaningful life is realizing that “I” am not at the center of my life. Life is not about ME but about US, each one of us.
A full, rich and authentic life is all about realizing how connected we are to one another and how we can help one another. We all are a part of one global family. Our purpose in life is to love our Creator and to love all His Creation – to love one another. When we truly and deeply love one another, serve one another, and give to one another, we discover an inner peace and happiness that makes life all the more beautiful.
A central teaching of our faith is that we are blessed so that we can share these blessings others. God gives us all that we have so that we can share our gifts and talents, our possessions and wealth, with others. I love the saying “All that we have is God’s gift to us. All that we become and all that we do with what we have is our gift back to God.”
Yes, Jesus revealed one of the divine truths about life when He said “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” Find small, creative ways to reach out to others, to give generously, to serve compassionately, and to love others joyfully. Here is the secret to a deep, meaningful, and purpose-filled life.
That is just the reality of sacrificially giving. May we all find ways in our daily lives to give generously and to serve sacrificially, discovering that it is truly “more blessed to give than to receive.”