Dismiss Me Not
"Now, Lord, you are dismissing your servant." Old Simeon accepted the fact. He had lived a good life, he was ready to go. And now he had held in his arms this child, through whom God's salvation would come to all the world. God had honoured His promise. What more could there be? "Lord, you are dismissing your servant, in peace."
But not all servants are ready to be dismissed.
The writers of the New Testament epistles introduced themselves as servants - slaves. Paul: 'a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God' (Romans 1.1). James: 'a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ' (James 1.1). Simon Peter: 'a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ' (2 Peter 1.1). Jude: 'a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James' (Jude 1.1). These men of note in the church considered themselves as slaves and messengers.
Could such persons be dismissed? Can the servants of Christ today be dismissed? (We are thinking of dismissal by God, not dismissal by our fellow human beings.) Not, necessarily, to loose from their present life as Simeon did, but to lose the special privilege of serving in a particular way. There was one preacher who had this fear, and he wrote the hymn 'Dismiss me not thy service, Lord'.
Thomas Toke Lynch from the age of about thirty was the minister of a small congregation meeting in London, in the area around Euston station in the mid eighteenth century. He preached thoughtfully, and was the writer of hymns, which show his high aspirations: to speak words that help and heal, revealing Christ's life within; to be truthful, wise, kind and clear; to shut up his heart against temptation; to be quiet within; to be strong and persevere; to be holy, separate from sin, and give all his talents to Christ. On the other hand , he suffered illness all his life, his body was weak and emaciated. He was apt to feel a deep sense of injustice when people did not understand him. Even his hymns were the subject of bitter controversies. For three years he was too ill even to serve as a minister. It was against this background that he prayed, and wrote, that God would not dismiss him from his service. Surely there was something he could be doing for God?
In the New Testament it was not only the leaders who called themselves servants. All believers are servants of Christ, including those who may never be known to us. The Holy Spirit was poured out generally upon 'menservants and maidservants' (Acts 2.18). Believers were urged to live as free... but as servants of God (1 Peter 2.16). Believers who were slaves were urged to behave 'as servants of Christ doing his will' (Ephesians 6.6). It was to people who were Christ's servants that the Book of Revelation was given, through his servant John (Revelation 1.1). Indeed, our Lord himself took the form of a servant (Philippians 1.7).
In this service there are many varieties of duties. For example, in Romans 12.3-8 we have the classic analogy of being one body in Christ, each part with a different bodily function. The functions mentioned are preaching, serving others, teaching, stimulating faith, giving, leadership, helping those in distress [J.B.Phillips version]. These are general categories, but in our lives we apply this teaching to our own particular situations, e.g. giving leadership in my own fellowship group, helping my next door neighbour. There can be no dismissal from this obligation to show love in serving. But someone who is ill - or weak - or frustrated by other people - may find that they cannot do the things they were used to doing. Are they 'dismissed' ? or may there be for them another way of serving?
Thomas Lynch, it seems, was facing the possibility of having to serve God in a different way. He wanted no reward, only to keep on serving. And he reflected on the wider context of service, the broad fields that were open. In his day literal 'broad fields' required a large number of manual workers. Many served, many would come to serve in future (and he may have thought of the students from the colleges in London who had listened to his preaching). He thought of the biblical picture of the vineyard, the work of tending the Lord's vine. He thought back to the country life of his own youth - young men who had gone to fight in the wars, leaving children (and women) to cope with the mundane duties of daily life. All of these, in differing ways, were doing their job, and it was a picture of the different aspects of Christian service.
He had to come to terms with the fact that it was not only the eloquent, or those well versed in Scripture, or those who believe they have a confidential knowledge of what God is doing, or the deeply spiritual, who are servants. As John Milton the poet realised, when he became blind, 'They also serve who only stand and wait'. The bent and curled toe on an aged foot is still part of the body. The 'little ones at home' in his hymn have their own part to play.
What makes service acceptable is when it is done in love. That is what God blesses, and our Master has set us the perfect example. Those who serve in love are not merely His servants, they are God's children, and children are not dismissed, for they are part of the family.
"For now that you have faith in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God. All of you who were baptised 'into' Christ have put on the family likeness of Christ. Gone is the distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free man, male and female - you are all one in Christ Jesus.... God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts to cry 'Father, dear Father'. You are not a servant any longer; through God you are a son." (Gal. 4.26-28; 5.6,7)
Dismiss me not Thy service, Lord,
But train me for Thy will;
For even I, in fields so broad,
Some duties may fulfil;
And I will ask for no reward,
Except to serve Thee still.
How many serve, how many more
May to the service come:
To tend the vines, the grapes to store,
Thou dost appoint for some;
Thou hast Thy young men at the war,
Thy little ones at home.
All works are good, and each is best
As most it pleases Thee.
Each worker pleases when the rest
He serves in charity;
And neither man nor work unblest
Wilt Thou permit to be.
Our Master all the work hath done
He asks of us today;
Sharing His service, every one
Share too His Sonship may:
Lord, I would serve and be a son;
Dismiss me not, I pray.
T.T. Lynch 1818-71