The word most often translated as “serve” is the Greek word diakonos, which is where we get the word Deacon- our title for the rostered lay ministry of the ELCA. That word appears 37 times in the New Testament. It means something like servant, minister, one on the move actively waiting on others.
You ask some very good questions; how do we know when to serve and what service should we do and how? I think the answers to the what and how come when we answer the when and who. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says that those who are great among believers are the ones who are last of all and diakonos of all. Jesus himself reminds us that he came not to be served but to serve others. So, I think our calling as believers is to approach everyone and every situation with that servant, waiter, “How can I help you” attitude. It can be exhausting to think about but imagine if everyone were that way! If we all sought to make things easier for each other, if we all sought to be more helpful, polite, kind. If we helped each other with tasks from opening doors to holding groceries, to helping with kids. Things everyone can do for each other.
I think we also are each given specific gifts that we can use to serve others in particular ways. It might be a gift of making things with our hands that we can use to help people who don’t have those gifts and can’t afford to hire someone to care for their home. Or the gift of healing given to nurses, doctors, and healthcare providers who use those gifts to heal others, even when off the job.
We also need service- diakonos- to do the ministry of St. John. We need people to help usher, serve the communion, teach our children, keep up the building, lead our congregation. We also need folks who can help us get online and who contribute from their financial resources, so we can pay for our building and our staff, and give back generously to our community. So, we as a community can serve others.
To summarize, I think we are called to serve everyone we meet in whatever way we can. We are to approach the world in this way, to see ourselves and the general and specific gifts that we have to offer as something to be shared with others.
And what a wonderful world that would be!
Let me know if you have further questions by contacting me.