Sunday, October 21, 2012

Spotting the Deacons

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis, Rochester on the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity 2012.
This was the text of one of my Canonical Examinations which I submitted to the Bishop. My Parish Priest thought it expedient to ask me to preach it here early in my Diaconate.

Other than here in this place, when was the last time you saw a deacon?

Serving food in a restaurant?

Behind the counter at the Post Office?

Helping you on with a jacket in Marks and Spencer’s?

 Perhaps you don’t recognise these people
                as being deacons,
                             yet in a very real sense they are.

What do you understand a deacon to be?




The modern idea of what a deacon is
                   seems to be that he is a trainee priest.

 He is ordained as a deacon for a year,
             learns his priestcraft,
                       and is then ordained priest.

 However, this doesn’t really do justice
                 to what a deacon really is.


 What the world understands as a deacon
             is very different from
                   how the Church sees the role.


The word comes from the Greek
           diakonos which translates as “servant”.

One of the earliest biblical uses of the word
          comes in the book of Esther
                   describing ministers of the King.

The word can rightly be applied to anyone,
           even you,
                   when you act as a servant to assist someone else.

Literally, diakonos means to throw oneself into motion:
        a command is issued and
                at once the servant scurries away to perform it.


We witness many diaconal acts within the pages of the Bible.

Most notably we see Our Blessed Lord
       washing His disciples’ feet[1].

 He speaks to them about serving one another
             and how a slave is not greater than the master.

But it is the King acting as the servant here.

There is much nobility in being a deacon!

However, it is St Luke’s account of the Acts of the Apostles
       that we find the beginnings of the deacon
                as an ordained minister.


Just think back to when the Church was really young.

More and more people are joining the Church daily,
       and this puts an awful lot of pressure
              on the Twelve Apostles
                    who are trying very hard to teach
                            and provide for the needs of their new flock.

Is it right that the ones
         who have spent their lives with Jesus,
                   listening to Him speak,
                            watching Him perform miracles,
                                  have to divert from sharing
              this wonderful teaching to deal with important,
                       but less specialised tasks?

The idea is clear: appoint people
        to perform the administration,
                 to throw themselves into motion
                     at the direction of the Apostles.


They choose seven men,
          Stephen and Phillip among them,
                    to act in this capacity.

What is very interesting is that
       they are not just appointed
            like picking a football team at school,
                but they are carefully selected
       and then the Apostles lay their hands upon them.

In Acts, this usually means that
          the Holy Spirit is at work making an important change.

Why are these men chosen?

St Luke tells us that the first deacons
         were men “
of honest report,
               full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.

These deacons are men of Spirit
          and wisdom as well as men of action.


Later on
        as the ministries of bishop, priest and deacon develop,
             St Paul writes to St Timothy,

                 “Likewise must the deacons be grave,
                        not double tongued,
                              not given to much wine,
                                not greedy of filthy lucre;

        Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.

And let these also first be proved;
      then let them use the office of a deacon,
             being found blameless…

Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife,
      ruling their children
                 and their own houses well.

For they that have used the office of a deacon well
         purchase to themselves a good degree,
              and great boldness in the faith
                  which is in Christ Jesus

 It is clear that God sets deacons apart for their service.

They may not all have the same gifts.

 St Stephen could preach
        and was called to die for his faith.

 St Phillip could also preach,
           baptise and explain the Gospels.

Baptising, preaching and reading the Gospels
     – these are things that deacons have been doing to this day.

       Baptism really needs to be performed
              within the Church community
                   and it is proper that only the priest
                        as Father of that community baptises.

A Deacon may baptise but only in an emergency.


Now it’s important not to get confused here.

There are several others in the New Testament,
       like Phoebe,
            who are described by the word diakonos.

Remember that the word simply means
     a servant or assistant.

In order to understand how the Church views deacons
         we have to look at how the Bible was interpreted.

 If we read the Early Church Fathers,
           we see that bishops seldom went far
                    without deacons.

Bishops and deacons often get mentioned in the same breath.

When the bishops found that they needed deputies,
         they created the priesthood
                   and gave the priests deacons to assist them.

According to the Apostolic Constitutions,
       a deacon is “
in all things unspotted,
           as the bishop himself is to be, only more active

We’re back to throwing ourselves into motion again!

So you see that these deacons are necessarily affiliated
        with bishops and priests.

 It is the job of the deacon to administer
         and to put into practice what he hears
                from the priest and the bishop.

 This is true even in the liturgy.

 In many of the old liturgies
          it is the deacon who tells you when
             to arise from prayer or that the Mass is ended
                  while the priest deals with more spiritual devotions.


 This is why it is a calling and why a deacon has to be ordained.

 Not everyone can be a deacon
           but only those whom God has called.

 St Ignatius of Antioch says,
let all reverence the deacons
                   as an appointment of Jesus Christ

While anyone can serve
     – indeed Jesus tells us that we must serve
           – not everyone is called to serve in the way
                    that a deacon serves.

A deacon may indeed become a priest after a year
       and possibly a bishop after that,
               but the priest and the bishop never stop being deacons
                     and no ordained minister stops being a layman!

Women can be deaconesses,
    but never deacons because the deacon acts
         as an icon of Christ the servant.


Do you remember why deacons
       came about in the first place?

 It was because the Church was growing so much
       that the Apostles needed help.

So the deacon is a sign of growth,
       and we should be glad when someone is ordained
                 to the diaconate. 

At such an ordination,
      we should pray for these men that they receive energy
         in order to put the word of God into practice,
              understanding that they might read
                  and preach the Gospel clearly and with reverence,
                       wisdom that they may know
                          how to administer their time in service,
                            and joy that they might find fulfilment in what is,
                                   after all, a hard task.

Callings are always hard work,
        but they are good work.


You might not think that you’re called to be a Deacon,
          but how are you being called to serve God?


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