Rev. Frank Logue
Ordering Our Lives for Mission
I picked up a saying in seminary, I find myself using from time to time. Thatll preach. When someone tells a story or a joke that seems to have an obvious preachability, you say, thatll preach.
I dont really end up preaching those stories or jokes, because that would too often have me starting with a story or joke and trying to force the scripture readings to fit with it. I work the other way around starting with the Bible, wrestling with what the text means to our lives, right here, right now and then work toward examples or other ways to help us all understand the scripture better.
The problem is sometimes I get Bible readings where I cant honestly say, Thatll preach. It might be interesting in a way, but it just wont preach. At least it wont preach in a way that gets a hearty amen or preach it brother. But as King of Peace is not an amen kind of church, maybe I can get away with looking at an important little story that just wont preach.
In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles this week, we get the story of grumbling in the early church. Jesus has not been resurrected and ascended into heaven a full year and the church folks are already fussing about one another and saying some very unkind things about their pastors.
One group in the church insists that the pastors are playing favorites in the congregation. Some of the widows are not getting cared for properly and they have noticed that it is always the Gentiles who converted to Christianity who come up short, while the Jewish converts to Christianity are never lacking. For their part, the pastors, who are the 12 disciples of Jesus, say that they need to concentrate on the word of God and they dont need to get bogged down in waiting tables.
This is the making of some real division in the early church. If the people were good Baptists, they could hold a meeting and vote the disciples out and hire a new pastor. If the congregation was Methodist, they would grit their teeth until they got a new pastor, which would be three years or so at the most. If they were Episcopalians, they could call the Bishop and complain, but he would only listen intently and sympathize with them so well that they wouldnt remember why they were mad until after they hung up the phone.
But they were none of those things. The congregation was made up of the very first Christians and they were still figuring out what it meant to be church. So here is what happened. The disciples called together the whole community of disciples. Thats what a church is by the way, a community of disciples. In Greek, the word for church is Ekklesia, it means assembly, congregation though literally the expression means called out. The church is a group of people called out.
In Acts, the 12 disciples call together those who are called out and they suggest a solution. The disciples say that they need to concentrate on sharing the word of God, but as the distribution of food to those in need is an essential part of what their church does, then they need to assign that task to some folks. The disciples charge the congregation with selecting seven men of good standing with the group who are full of the Spirit and wisdom. The disciples lay hands on the seven and ask God to empower them for service in the church. The word to serve in Greek is diakanos, and so these seven become the first deacons.
Notice what a master stroke of diplomacy. The first seven deacons all have Greek names. They were Gentile converts to Christianity. There was dissension in that group charging that the disciples, who were all Jewish, were playing favorites. The disciples charged not just the Gentile converts, but the whole congregation to pick deacons, and they chose seven from among the underrepresented group to take up service on behalf of the church. Its the first evidence that if you complain about something, you will be placed in charge of the solution.
More than that, this little scene marks the beginning of ordained ministry. Before the evolution is complete, just beyond the time of the New Testament, you will find four orders of ministry in the Christian church: bishops, priests, deacons, and lay persons. This selection of the first seven deacons is the first step in that direction of ordering the churches common life through orders of ministry.
As we see in Acts, those ordained as deacons are not exalted to some position theoretically closer to God. Instead, they are pushed toward the center of the common life of the group, taking on a public role on behalf of the whole assembly.
The solution worked very well. How do we know? The same way we know whether any solution is blessed by Godby the fruit it produces. Here is the fruit of the disciples solution to the problem: The word of God continued to spread and the number of disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem.
So the decision to order their common life by ordaining persons to be deacons was blessed by God. The apostles solution to the church crisis caused the Gospel to spread even faster. The deacons took care of the distribution of food, while the twelve remained faithful to prayer and serving the word.
The disciples solution reminds me of a newspaper column by Bob Moon, my predecessor in writing for the Tribune and Georgian. Brother Bob wrote that he had gotten a sermon of his almost right. He had preached that the lay people of the church were to work to support the ministry of the church. On later reflection, he realized that it was his job and that of the church, to support the lay people in their ministry. That is the same understanding we have in the Episcopal Church. Let me show you what I mean.
If you will find a red Book of Common Prayer in the bookrack of the chair in front of you, you can turn to the answer key in the back of the book. Turn to page 855 of the prayer book. Page 855. It is the section on ministry in the catechesis. The whole catechesis is pretty interesting stuff. It gives answers to questions you may have wondered about and also answers a number of questions you probably would not have thought to ask.
Here is what the catechesis says about ministry:
Q Who are the ministers of the Church?
A The ministers of the Church
are lay persons, bishops, priests, and
Then it spells out, in question and answer format the ministry of each of the four orders, starting with the most important, the laity. The laity, by the way is yall. Laity is from the Greek word laos, which means people, folks. But well jump over that for now and save your part for last. First, Bishops, Priests and Deacons:
Q What is the ministry of a bishop?
A The ministry of a bishop is to
represent Christ and his Church,
Q What is the ministry of a priest or presbyter?
A The ministry of a priest is to
represent Christ and his Church,
Q What is the ministry of a deacon?
A The ministry of a deacon is to
represent Christ and his Church,
Thats what those first seven deacons were called to do as well. They were called to serve as a servant of those in need. In our own community, we have Thom McPherson, who is a deacon at Christ Church in St. Marys. Thoms primary ministry is to take the ministry of the church out into the world. Thom does this through ministry to older persons and chaplaincy to the hospital. All over the diocese, we have deacons who are ordained to take the work of the church out in service to the world. They are icons of the servant ministry which we all share as Christians.
Now, heres your part, back on page 855:
Q What is the ministry of the laity?
A The ministry of lay persons is
to represent Christ and his Church;
According to the gifts you have been given, you are to join Christ in his work of reconciling the world to God and to take your place within a community of faith. Therefore, you are a minister of the Gospel. When did you get ordained you might ask? When you were baptized. At baptism, you take on the task bearing witness to Christ and his Church wherever you may be and to come together with others for worship. As it spells out on page 856, that is the duty of all Christians:
Q What is the duty of all Christians?
A The duty of all Christians is
to follow Christ; to come together
Thats why the standard of membership at King of Peace is that you will 1) attend Sunday worship services when you are in town, well and able; 2) give of time, energy and money to the church; and 3) have a ministry of some kind either in the community or within the church.
The reason it all works this way is that the church found in its earliest days, what has been proved again and again through the centuries. The work of the church is the work of all the people who are the church. No one person can do and be all the church needs to do and be. This church, like any church or every church, will never be all God intends it to be if the only work getting done is done by me. Instead, my job is to keep us all energized, motivated, and going about the task of spreading the kingdom of God.
Beyond all that, if your life during the week is completely disconnected from what we do here together on Sunday, then it will be hard for you to fully enter in to worship. If you never attempt to live out the words of scripture during the week, or if the only scripture you hear each week is the Bible readings here in our service, then this one hour on Sunday will not be enough to get you fully connected to God and other Christians. You will always be a spectator at an event where others are fully participating.
So, what next? How will ministry work itself out in your life? What is God calling you to do either within the church or out in the community? Rest assured, God may call you to something that may stretch your comfort level. God has a way of doing that. But God will never call you to be someone else. God works with each of us as the unique people we are. God has given you gifts that will best be realized in service.
The key is to open your eyes. Look for the possibilities around you. Dont say, Someone should do something about so and so. Realize that God may have brought it to your attention so that you can be part of the solution.
I know this stuff wont preach. I havent heard a single amen during the sermon. Its not that kind of a rousing message. But sometimes we need to learn the truths that dont have us wanting to shout amen.
Know this. Ministry is not about making your life busier. The last thing you need is another to do list. All of us have plenty to do already. The goal is not having you become unpaid staff for King of Peace. The goal is to release you to live out the ministry God is calling you to do. God does not call everyone to preach and teach in the church. Nor God is not calling everyone to cut the grass at the church or fold the bulletins. It is not about the needs of King of Peace. Nevertheless, you are a minister of the Gospel and God is calling you to live that out in your day-to-day life. Look for the ways God is calling you to offer your gifts in service to others.
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526