Sermon Notes for Diaconal Ordination
June 1, 2019
Scripture: Luke 12:35-38
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“…Be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks” (Luke 12:36).
Today we celebrate the ordination of a new deacon in Christ’s Holy Church. Another leader called, equipped, and now ordained from the midst of God’s people. Charles, the ordination which you receive today is a gift. Today, when Bishop John lays hands on you and consecrates you a deacon, he will do so for the Church. Through that apostolic authority, the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, will make you a deacon. You will become part of the order of deacons, and you will bear the responsibilities of the order. And everyone here will be reminded of the gift, and obligations they bear to God and God’s Church.
Our Gospel text gives us a good summary of part of that obligation: “Be like those who are waiting for their master… so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.”
This teaching is given to all Christians, but it is a particular call for those who are ordained to the task of helping all Christians honor it.
Our orders do not belong to us, even though to properly exercise them, we must embrace them, and let them shape us. In a way, ordination is the simplest thing in the world–if we didn’t have it, we would have to invent it, so central does it seem to the exercise of the church’s ministry–someone, after all, needs to lead services, to teach, to preach. In another sense it is strange. How, to paraphrase Stanley Hauerwas, can an individual be ordained to do what only the whole church can do? Hauerwas was speaking specifically of officiating at the Holy Eucharist, but the same question can be asked of each of the orders that make up the three-fold ministry. These orders are a gift from God for the benefit of the Church. Instituted by Christ and the Apostles, and later guided by the Holy Spirit in development, they are the means whereby the people of God have ordered our common life and ensured the apostolic witness, teaching, and ongoing faithfulness. They are particular embodiments of the way the church has pursued faithfulness to Jesus.
This important aspect of each of the threefold orders is highlighted in the preface to the Ordination Rites, which at the end says “It is also recognized and affirmed that the threefold ministry is not the exclusive property of this portion of Christ’s catholic Church, but is a gift from God for the nurture of his people and the proclamation of his Gospel everywhere” (BCP 510).
This means that while we are ordained in the Episcopal Church, our orders are not strictly of the Episcopal Church. but belong to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. While other traditions may disagree, we have never seen ourselves as doing anything other than continuing the means whereby the church set out, by the Spirit’s guidance, to organize itself.
Which brings us back to the strangeness. How can one person be ordained to do what only the whole church can do? They can, because it is impossible for the church to *do* anything except through the actions and example of particular Christians. Paul attests to the diversity of gifts given God’s people by the Spirit. Ordination is a recognition and expansion of that fundamental insight. The Church recognizes that we need individuals to serve in specific ways so that the Church as a whole can fulfil its mission.. They are the possession neither of us as individuals, nor of our communion within the Church Catholic. Yet we must own them in the sense of fulfilling their purpose and honoring their example–whether as lay or ordained Christians. A Bishop is ordained to exercise oversight within the body of Christ, to offer teaching, exhortation, and occasionally correction, because this is a service and obligation the church owes to itself corporately and to its members individually. A presbyter is ordained and celebrates the Eucharist by virtue of being in fellowship with the Bishop, and preaches, teaches, and upholds tradition because it is a responsibility that the Church owes to itself, and in order to fulfill it, someone must do it. tRe Spirit Calls.
Christians are called to love our neighbors sacrificially, and to work for the good of our communities. We are all called to serve, in imitation of Christ. And yet, we need examples of this love and service. and people who are especially equipped to encourage us in the fulfillment of these tasks. So we have the order of Deacons. In each case, the order exemplifies a call, an obligation born by the whole church, that must then be exercised by specific people within the church in order for it to be fulfilled, and to which people are called, having their ministries recognized and affirmed by the people of God.
A former professor of mine once said that he sometimes thought that those called to ordained ministry were called because God knew we needed a little extra help. Personal experience says that may be. But those called to greater intentionality, are called to serve the church that needs a witness and an encouragement. So your ordination is a gift to you, and to the whole church. Your ministry is your offering. Your call is to greater personal faithfulness, for the greater faithfulness of God’s people.
Be dressed for action, and have your lamps lit Jesus tells us. In this service, you will be dressed in the garments of a deacon, and you will fulfill the liturgical functions of a deacon for the first time. It is an honor. The work in the service is symbolic of the work to which you are called in the world and in the church. As a Deacon you will be tasked with searching out and interpreting the needs of the world and of the people of God, to those who are in leadership in the community. You will also have particular opportunities to interpret the Gospel to people in the world. Proclaiming the Gospel, preparing the Altar–these are important acts, and they are also illustrative of the way your ministry should be carried out beyond the liturgy. More fundamentally, they are examples of Christian service that when reflective all of our lives, can draw us to greater faithfulness as baptized people.
Be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. All Christians are called to be spiritually awake, to live in anticipation of Christ’s return, and to be observant of opportunities to follow Jesus. And yet, we know as human beings, we have a need for reminders and encouragement in order to do what we need or ought to do. So it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to the Church, that there would be Christians called to do just that. One of my favorite analogies for the priesthood comes from a little book by George Sumner, now Bishop of Dallas, where he refers to the priest as a giant finger pointing the people to Jesus. I’d like to expand that analogy. Once again, it is one that properly fits the witness of every Christian- in general-we should all be pointing others toward Jesus. In a narrower sense, it fits the call of those who are ordained. We are called to point others to Jesus, and to point our fellow Christians toward one another and their neighbors.
It could be tempting to be trapped by the imagery of the household, to think that the knocking of Jesus is just about him coming to where we are passively waiting, and opening the door to let him in. But we can expand the imagery of hearing Christ knocking–perhaps it’s hearing Christ knocking in our hearts. Perhaps it’s hearing or seeing Christ present in other people who are in need, or who are highlighting some needed action by the Church. Perhaps the knocking is actually our being willing to discern the eagerness with which Jesus hopes to encounter those who have never heard the Gospel, or to understand their need to hear it. In each case, it is our task to seek out the places where Christ is knocking, where the Holy Spirit is at work anticipating our engagement with what God is doing.
Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes…
We must be alert in our lives of faith, and in the exercise of our ministries. But I want to share a thought for you in particular Charles. Because you will be moving toward ordination as a priest. Because your vocational path lies in military chaplaincy in the US Navy, I think it’s fair to say that you could face the temptation, as you look ahead at schedules and requirements, and tasks, to allow this season of your direct diaconal ministry to pass by in a blur. I want to encourage you not to let that happen. Take time to explore this new ministry. Listen to what the Holy Spirit and the People of God are telling you. There’s much more to alertness than simply being awake. Being alert means being aware.
Take the time to be aware. To be aware of the people you are called to serve, to be aware of what God is doing in their lives and yours, to be aware of the work of God in your community, and how you can share that with your parish, and with the neighbors, Christian and non-Christian you encounter.
If you can do that. If we can all-take the time to hear and see what God is doing, where Jesus is knocking, we will be faithfully fulfilling not only our vocations as ordained people, but as the baptized–and if he comes in the middle of the night, or near dawn, in the Sunday liturgy, or the Wednesday bible study, the committee meeting, or the neighborhood gathering, in the hospital room, the family supper, or in the prison, or anywhere else Jesus might show up–and finds us so engaged in the ministry with which he has entrusted us, then we will all, indeed, be blessed. Amen.