Sermon 17/04/01 Lent 5: Sources of Transformation: Diakonia (Service, Stewardship, Evangelism) Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45
As a chaplain working in a secular context, in which the importance of spiritual care is often marginalized as “that fluffy, non-medical stuff”, I have appreciated the words of Pierre Teilhard du Chardin who said,
“We are not Human Beings in search of a spiritual experience. We are Spiritual Beings immersed in a human experience.”
His words come to mind as I reflect on the wonderful images from our readings:
The “dry bones” of Ezekiel’s vision, reanimated by the “Ruah” – the breath and Spirit of God – bringing a message of hope and new life to the people of Israel in exile.
Paul’s description of the “indwelling Spirit” that fills and motivates us, and gives us fullness of life, regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
And Jesus calling Lazarus forth from his tomb, long after the spirit had left his body and he should have been no more than a rotting and foul-smelling corpse.
Two things strike me about this reading that I believe are of importance to us as we discern God’s purpose for us at St. John:
When Jesus called – Lazarus responded. He chose to leave the grave behind and risk ‘new life’!
And Jesus instructs the community to remove the grave cloths that have bound him in death.
Our response to God’s call to new life is essential; and our life in the community of the faithful helps us to remain free, unbound, to serve God’s will.
When Spirit and flesh are united in Christ, there is Life and the wholeness of God’s Peace. When Spirit and flesh are separated we live always in the shadow of death, where fear and despair are our constant companions.
This spiritual death makes us more like mourners at a wake. We dwell on past glories and fond memories, longing for things that are long gone. In this state we are unable to see what God is doing to revive and bring new life to us, and to the Church. We are incapable of responding – unable to be the People of God in the world. We are in danger of becoming nothing more than dry bones.
But, just as Jesus called Lazarus forth from his grave, we are being called from all that threatens to entomb us and render us lifeless – the attitudes and fears and judgements that are not of God, and threaten to destroy the body of Christ.
We too have a choice: to respond to the voice of Christ, to leave our tombs, and to remove the grave-cloths that bind us to our old lives of sin and death. Or to cling to what is ‘safe’, familiar…
In our Sources of Transformation series we have been speaking of the fundamental ways in which we are able to grow as people of faith so that we are able to respond to Christ – to live in the Spirit, and be his body in the world.
Whether we are able to see it or not, God is at work, reanimating and renewing the Church for the work of the Gospel.
And I believe that one of the signs of the ‘dry bones rattling’, is a renewed understanding of Diakonia, and the recovery of the sacred order of deacons in our modern church.
For me, growing into an understanding of Diakonia has been an on going and ever changing journey.
The Sources of Transformation calls it Action, which it is but also much more.
What we do as Christians in the world is based on our commitment to following in the ways of Jesus.
We will be reminded of this in two weeks as we participate in the Maundy Thursday service then we will follow in the action of Jesus as he washed the feet of the disciples and says to them
‘So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.’
One of the challenges people have while reflecting on ministry and their lives in EfM is in trying to sort why what we do as Christians is any different to what other good people in the world do. I have come to my understanding that the main distinction we have as Christians is that we are doing what we do in response to God’s call to us following the example of Jesus. When we serve the other in our world we should know we are doing so because Jesus said ….
‘You also should do as I have done’ …..
During my formation to ordination I spent much time reflecting about the place of a deacon in the financial world. I had read so much about the work of the Deacon
as one who serves the poor, the widowed and the orphaned. It took me awhile to realize that this is service to the marginalized and the disenfranchised. I came to understand that in today’s world these two words clearly spoke about people
who had to deal with large institutions. If I could bring a little bit of caring and compassion to that environment I would be doing the work of a deacon in the world.
The week before my retirement I was having a conversation with a customer in my office about what I was going to do in retirement. I explained to him that I was a Deacon and what that meant. He paused and looked at me and said….
‘now I understand why I have felt so different about talking with you rather than other managers …… he said ‘there is a bit of salt in this corner of the bank ..
referencing Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth”
This is about a deepening awareness that as Christians living out our Diakonia, we are not called to serve only within the gathered community but in the wider world around us.
It is in the 3 statements of IF’s in this gospel …..
– “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.”
– and as both Martha and Mary say ….
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
that we are given the opportunity to see whom Jesus is, he takes these statements of IF’s and turns them into opportunities for people to see more clearly.
“Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’”
During my formation I too would use the word IF, as in I can only respond to this sense of call to ordained diaconal ministry if …… this or that happens. It was when I stopped putting up this argument that I was able to hear and follow where God was clearly calling me.
We are all called to serve in the world, we are called to respond to the needs of the world out of gratitude for all that we have been blessed with from God…. (stewardship).We are called to be witnesses through word and action to God and in sharing the love of Jesus with others in our daily lives (evangelism) ….. We are called to serve all whom we encounter in the world as Christ served. (action)
It would be remiss to not offer an understanding of why the Deacon is important to the community as a participant in worship. The Deacon has primary roles in liturgy that are symbols for the community of Diakonia.
As we read the gospel we proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ as the one who shows us how to use our gifts from God in serving people with whom we walk daily.
We set the table as a symbol of all the servants in the community who serve God
and also to quote my fellow Deacon, Trudi ….
‘we set the table so as to make sure everyone has a place at the banquet….’
Finally we offer the dismissal for all to go out to bear witness to Christ through their presence, deeds and words.
As deacons, to share thoughts about our ministry focus in the world, we are also authorized, on rotation, to preach and to lead the prayers of the people as a way of bringing the cares and concerns of the world to the church.
Many of us are blessed to experience St. John’s as a welcoming and loving community. We enjoy being and working together. But if that is all we are, we are no more than a Social or Service club and “there is no breath in us”.
God calls us to be a ‘Spirited community’ – alive in Christ. We are transformed – and are agents of transformation – through our service to others, our careful use of the gifts God has given us, and our willingness to share with the world, the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The call to Diakonia begins for all of us in our baptism and is a life-long commitment we make in response to God’s commitment to us.
A quote from our Diocesan Website reads: “Thus our deepest and most fundamental spirituality springs from our baptism, the event in which an indissoluble bond is created between us and God, through which we receive a new identity and a new purpose.”
So let us take a moment this morning to remember the promise of God – to animate our ‘dry bones’; to unbind our spirits; to call us from the tomb of fear and despair – so we might experience the fullness of our New Life in Christ.
And let us renew our promise to God in our Baptismal Covenant.
Anne and Trudi:
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? I will, with God’s help.
Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? I will, with God’s help.
Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ? I will, with God’s help.
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? I will, with God’s help.
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I will, with God’s help.
Will you safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth? I will, with God’s help.