Friday, July 3, 2009

Deacon Sermon 1

Ordination.Diaconate.09 St. Paul’s, Elko
Ordination means ordering.
Ordination places a person in a particular order of ministry.
Order is shape.
The orders of ministry are the shape of the Church.

Today’s ordination is, hands down, the most important thing
that has happened since I have been in Nevada
to get the church in shape.
The Church is meant to be shaped like God.
It is meant to be shaped like a holy life.
It is meant to be shaped for our mission.
Getting the Church in shape is deeply important.

So what is the holy shape of the Church?
I have come here directly from Camp Galilee.
For generations, campers have ended each day
with Point Prayer.
They gather in a circle around a rough cross
set into a mound of stones near the shore.
They hold hands, give thanks for the day’s blessings,
say the Our Father, and sing,
“The day thou gavest Lord now is ended.”

As they pray and sing, they cross their arms across their chests
to hold hands so that they can end the prayer
in a special way.
While still holding hands, they each turn 180 degrees,
so instead of facing inward with arms crossed,
the circle faces out with their arms open Christ-like
to the world.
When the church is truly being the church,
that’s what it looks like
– circling in toward each other for prayer and mutual support
-- then circling out to share God’s love with a hurting world.

The church is the shape of Christian spirituality.
Spirit is breath. We breathe in. We breathe out.
Breathing in. Inspiration.
We come into the church to be inspired, rejuvenated.
We inhale grace.

Then we breathe out.
We extend God’s life giving, healing, energizing Spirit
outside these walls into the world.
We exhale grace.
Our mission to the world is as essential
to our own spiritual health
as breathing out the air we breathe in.

Grace has to flow.
We let it enter us; then we have to pass it on
to make room in our hearts for the next grace
God wants to give.

In First John, Christ says, “if we love one another,
God’s love is perfected in us.”
“Perfected” means completed. The circuit is closed.
God’s love is like electricity.
It only flows if you complete the circuit:
God to the Church to the world and back to God.
If we don’t actively spread grace in the world,
the grace we have received gets stale.
We get stale and spiritually atrophy.
Christianity is just this: Breathing in. Breathing out.
To preserve and balance this spirituality,
we have leaders for both movements.
The priest leads us in. The deacon leads us out.
The priest calls us to prayer. The deacon calls us to action.

Prayer and action must both be there to make the church work.
They must be there and they must be balanced.
So what does it say if most of our churches have priests
but do not have deacons?
What does it say if I have ordained 7 priests in my short time
in Nevada – but today is my first time to ordain a real deacon
and if I have 3 more priests lined up to ordain this summer,
but there won’t be another real deacon until April?

It says the church is misshapen.
We are trying to breath 10 full inbreaths
to one good outbreath.
We clearly cannot be healthy doing that for long.
We are too focused on getting our own spiritual needs met
to engage in service to the world.
The tragic irony is that self flocus keeps us
from getting our spiritual needs.
We have to pour out some grace
to make room, to create a capacity within ourselves,
to receive grace.

The church has been out of shape for way too long.
The balance of prayer and action, inreach and outreach,
is there in the Bible.
That balance was preserved and practiced in the Early Church
for hundreds of years.
But in the Middle Ages, the church changed.
The clergy hierarchical,
manipulative salvation sellers.
The laity became passive dependent spiritual consumers.

We are struggling mightily
to get the church back in shape
and we are not there yet.
We will not be there until a parish without a deacon
feels as incomplete as a parish without a priest.
We will not be there until parishes are as concerned
about feeding the hungry on weekdays
as they are concerned about being fed on Sundays.

Today’s ordination is the most important thing
that has happened since I have been in Nevada
to get the church in shape.
We are ordaining a deacon to lead St. Paul’s
in service to God’s world.
Jews call it tzedeq, meaning righteous action;
or tikkum olam, healing the broken world.

Whose job is this ministry?It is first and foremost the ministry of the laity.
Kens’ job is not to do the ministry.
It is to inspire, encourage, and if necessary nag
you to do the ministry.

If Ken does something for a hurting person,
he has served that person.
But if he gets you to do it,
he has served you both, because you will be the better for it.
You will have passed on the grace you have received,
thereby opening your heart to receive new and stronger grace.

This ministry can take many forms.
Broadly speaking, it takes acts of mercy and words of advocacy.
It should be both local and global.
It should be an investment
of both your time and your money.
But the specific mission projects are up to you to discern.

Ken has already begun making connections between St. Paul’s
and the local Communities in Schools program.
He is doing this because it is simply not acceptable that only 44%
of our children graduate from high school.

We can argue about whether or to what extent
any particular adult is responsible
for their own poverty
– but there is no room for argument when it comes
to children without shoes in September or coats in November,
children who go hungry on the weekends,
children who have no one to read them stories
or help them learn to read.
A deacon can lead St. Paul’s into being Elkos’ premier church
that cares about the children.
Ken has connected St. Paul’s with Bread for the World
-- that’s a voice of advocacy to alleviate hunger
and disease around the world in the name of Jesus.
Human nature is to take care of our own.
But Christian nature is care for all God’s children,
including the ones dying of malaria
whose lives could be saved by a $12 mosquito net.

Ken’s job is to find the needs of the world
because those are the places open to grace.
He is to find world’s wounds and bring them
to you for healing.

The holy shape of the church,
the mission of the church
depends on a team.
The best quarterback in the NFL can’t win
if the line doesn’t block and the receivers
don’t receive.

Mission in the world depends on a complete team
with players in each position.
The mission will fail without
Christian education programs, fellowship,
stewardship, evangelism, hospitality, preaching,
and pastoral care.
People cannot give what they have not received.
Your ministries to each other are the foundation
for your mission in the world.

You already have a lot of that going at St. Paul’s.
You have a lay pastoral care team.
You have good inquirer’s classes – and more.
That’s a great start but it is only a start.

We move forward by equipping
more and more people
to lead more and more ministries.
When we are not moving forward,
time will drag us backward.

Today is the beginning of new stage of the journey into mission.
It will be an exciting journey.
You have had a long history of good ministry here,
but all of that was just the forerunner
to the best ministry.
It isn’t here yet, but it is coming.
And today is a milestone on the way.