Monday, September 14, 2015

Are you ready to be sent?

Sermon notes for Proper 19B (9/13/2015)
(I rarely write my sermons completely so I don’t have a precise script of what I said during my homily. What I offer here are “Sermon Notes,” recollections of what I said, wanted to say, or should have said, all in retrospect.)

Have you ever made soup? It’s a simple process, really.

  1. Simmer water or stock or cream with some spices and herbs.
  2. Add something to give it its character: vegetables, mushrooms, tomatoes, chicken and wild rice, beef and barley, clams and potatoes.
  3. Allow it all to simmer together, blending the flavors as it cooks.

Lest I offend the real cooks out there, I know it’s not really that easy to make a good soup. One thing that I have learned about soup or chowder, however, is that during the cooking process you have stir the pot. If you don’t stir the pot all the ingredients settle to the bottom. If those ingredients settle and remain there too long they will burn, becoming charred, bitter, and useless in the soup.

I hope that you noticed that we have an addition to our Bema this week. The Reverend Raymond William Perica was ordained to the diaconate yesterday at the Cathedral Church of Saint Luke by the Right Reverend Gregory O. Brewer, Bishop of the Diocese of Central Florida. It was quite the ceremony – with lots of circumstance and, as the cathedral does so well, just the right amount of pomp.

During his sermon, Bishop Brewer addressed those about to be ordained, challenging them to “stir us up.” The bishop challenged the new deacons to stir those of us who might have become complacent, who might have fallen asleep in the institution (especially the bishops and priests). He challenged the deacons to fulfill the demands of their ordination, made explicit in bishop’s examination of the candidates,
As a deacon in the Church, you are to study the Holy Scriptures, to seek nourishment from them, and to model your life upon them. You are to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example, to those among whom you live, and work, and worship. You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world. You are to assist the bishop and priests in public worship and in the ministration of God's Word and Sacraments, and you are to carry out other duties assigned to you from time to time. At all times, your life and teaching are to show Christ's people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself. . (BCP 543)
I think that the bishop’s message to the deacons, as well as this examination, might be readily applied to all of us. After all, Ray’s ordination to the diaconate was not for him alone. While Ray’s ordination signifies Ray’s special attachment to the bishop in the task of diokonia or service, the sacramental character of the ordination demonstrates a similar notion of service for the rest of us. While Ray’s ordination marked him with the imprint of Christ as the servant of all, a similar notion is found in the baptismal mark of all the baptized faithful. In other words, Ray’s ordination was and will continue to be a sacramental sign – a visible sign of God’s presence in the community of faith, a model of sorts calling us to the very life of service into which Ray was consecrated.

So what might this mean today. Among many other tasks, the deacon is instructed,
You are to assist the bishop and priests in public worship and in the ministration of God's Word and Sacraments… (BCP 543)
As I reflected on this part of the examination, four particular liturgical moments stand out as uniquely diaconal, primary liturgical roles that stand as expression s of the deacon’s ministry.

  • The deacon proclaims the Gospel.
  • The deacon leads the Prayers of the People.
  • The deacon sets the altar, the table of the Lord.
  • The deacon dismisses the people, sending them out into the world.

The deacon is charged with proclaiming the Gospel. Notice, in the liturgy practiced here at Saint David’s, the deacon takes the Book of Gospels from the altar and processes it amongst the gathered assembly, proclaiming it in the midst of the people. The Gospel is taken from its stand, from its place of rest, and brought out. It is then proclaimed – not read or recited but proclaimed – for all to hear. This liturgical action of proclamation, particularly when added to the movement of the Gospel, is a beautiful reflection of the deacon’s task of taking the Good News of God in Jesus Christ to the world.

The task of taking the Good News and proclaiming the story of God’s love is not for the deacon alone. Assuredly, Ray will be a great example of such proclamation, carrying out the task with the earnestness that it deserves. But such a task must not just be left unto the deacon. Indeed not, it must be for all of God’s people, all of the baptized faithful, to share the Good News. The people are asked during the Baptismal Covenant, “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” The people respond, “I will, with God’s help” (BCP 304). Just like the deacon, all the baptized are called upon to take up the Gospel – the Good News – the story of God’s love in Jesus Christ, carrying it out amongst the people with whom we live and work, study and play. We are to proclaim the message for all to hear: “God loves you. God loves each and every one of you, with all your faults, in all your differences, with all your brokenness. Jesus beckons, ‘Come, follow me.’”

The deacon is charged with leading the Prayers of the People. In so doing, the deacon reflects the particular demand to “interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.” From the start, this means that the deacon must know the needs of the world. As such, Ray must engage himself with the world, discovering the needs, hopes, and desires of the community in which we find ourselves. Ray must then interpret those discoveries for the church so that we might respond. Ray’s leading the congregation in prayer is a sign of such a response.

The task of engaging the world and bearing it up in prayer cannot be the deacon’s alone. Like carrying the Gospel, I am sure that Ray will be a great example as he responds in prayer to the needs of the world. But all of the baptized faithful and all of us who worship here must also be engaged with the world, responding in prayer as needed. Prayer, however, is just the first fruit of our response – a righteous first fruit but only a start. The church’s response must be one of complete service, particularly among “the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely” (BCP 543). Bishop Brewer used an apt image for the Ministry of Deacon, indeed for all ministry, when he told us to do as Jesus did and take up a bowl and a towel. So it is that Jesus beckons, “Come, follow me.”

The deacon is charged with setting the altar, the table of the Lord. In setting the table, the deacon models the very servanthood which the title deacon bestows. It is important to understand that the setting of the table is not just about the Eucharistic celebration. Don’t get me wrong, setting the altar for the celebration of Holy Eucharist is important. It is a vital ritual act that makes ready the table for people to approach the throne of grace. It makes ready the table on which the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ will be made present. It is a vital ritual act that signifies the deep and wonderful welcoming of God for all who come to the table of the Lord. As we make know in our bulletin,
This is the table of the Lord. It is made ready for those who love God and for those who want to love God more. So, come, you who have much faith and you who have little, you who have been here often and you who have not been here long, you who have tried to follow and you who have failed. Come, because it is the Lord who invites you. It is God’s will that all who want God should meet God here.
But the setting of the altar is about more than just the Eucharistic celebration. It reflects the deacon’s charge to “make Christ and his redemptive love known” to all whom they encounter. The task of preparing the table for Eucharist is symbolic of preparing the church to be a welcoming body for all who might come.

Such it is that the task of preparing the church is not the deacon’s alone. Like carrying the Gospel and responding to people’s needs, Ray will be a tremendous example of preparing the church to be a place of radical welcome. But all of us who call ourselves Christian must be engaged in such preparation so that we might be free and able to welcome all who come to us calling upon the name of God. I was once chastised for using the term “radical” as a descriptor for “welcome” because it might “confuse us with the Muslims.” But I stand by the adjective, demanding that its use is not only proper but needed. Welcoming must be radical, it must be the “root” of who we are and what our mission is about. In setting the altar, the deacon becomes an example to us who must set our hearts and our church to welcome, fully and openly, without reservation and with no conditions, those who come.
Saint David’s is a reconciling, affirming, and inclusive Christian community striving through worship, love, and service to welcome all people just as God created you.
No matter your step on the journey or place in the story: our welcome knows no boundaries of sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, culture, gender, economic condition, physical or mental ability, or age.
We believe that God delights in the diversity of creation and so do we!
The deacon is charged with dismissing the people. Through the dismissal, the deacon sends those who have gathered to engage in their mission of proclaiming the Gospel, responding to the needs of the world, and welcoming all into the life of God.

Deacon Ray [speaking directly to Deacon Ray],
In your ordination the bishop asked you,
“My brother, do you believe that you are truly called by God and his Church to the life an work of a deacon?” 
I heard you respond, “I believe I am so called.”
So, are you ready now to fulfill your duty at Saint David's - to stir us up? Are you ready to be among us at Saint David’s to proclaim the Gospel? Are ready to lead this parish in prayers? Are you prepared to welcome all you come?

Are you ready to send us out?

Friends [speaking to the congregation],
Are you ready now to fulfill your duty here as the baptized faithful – to stir up this church and this community?
Are you ready to proclaim the Gospel?
Are you ready to respond in prayer and with other means to the needs of the world?
Are you prepared to welcome all you come?

Are you ready to be sent?

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