The Revd Margaret Legg
Tomorrow Antonio and I will go into school for assembly and I'll be asking; 'Does anyone know what a Deacon is?' One time, when this was asked at a school assembly, after a long silence, a child finally raised their hand to reply. ‘I’m not sure,’ she said, ‘but is it something on the top of a hill that you set fire to?’
Well, I hope you will be set on fire in your ministry here as a Deacon, Antonio, but that is not the right answer!
A Deacon is a Servant! Not slave Greek of NT period – Greek scholars among us – doulos one who is owned by his or her lord and master – but a servant. The Greek diákonos comes from diá, "thoroughly" and konis, "dust" literally, "thoroughly raise up dust by moving in a hurry”. So when we see a breathless Antonio striding through the streets, sweat pouring off him, we will recognise that this is the Deacon at work! A life of self-giving in God’s service!
Hold on though, is this not Antonio the cabin crew person, the British Airways steward? Is this not Antonio who has worshipped among us over the last few years? As a member of British Airway’s Cabin Crew in a previous life, and his experience will hold him in good stead, particularly his experience with people. Antonio is well used to dealing with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations: the ill, the angry, the confused, the stubborn. This is nothing new - today’s readings show what a struggle it can be to serve God. Ezekiel, writing back in 6th century BC, in the 5th year of the exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, tells of God’s warning that the people of Israel are impudent and stubborn, that they won’t pay a blind bit of notice to what he has to say! Jesus finds his home town so hostile that he could only be of limited service.
In Corinth in 1st century AD the little Christian community is being enticed away to follow Paul’s rivals in leadership – Paul is even driven to defending his credentials, mentioning, in a very self-deprecating way, typical of oratory used at that time – that he too has had visions of paradise – but that what counts is what he says and does. We at St John’s on the other hand are accommodating and flexible, so long as the service doesn’t go on too long and the coffee is hot and plentiful afterwards!
So let us imagine that we are passengers on Flight 5715 from London (LHR) to Los Angeles (LAX). The first person we see as we climb the gangway and step on to the aircraft is the steward, Antonio, smiling broadly and saying ‘Welcome aboard. May I see your Boarding Pass please? Ah, you are a 1st Class passenger. Please turn left. Ah, you are in Business Class. Please turn right. Oh dear – you are …standard class. You have come up the wrong gangway. Please go back and use the other gangway at the far end of the aircraft!’
On an aircraft, the level of service you receive depends on how much you have paid for your ticket. Here in church you are welcome to sit anywhere, but come early if you want the back!! There are no ‘no-go’ areas in the parish. No boundaries for God, we are all equal, created and loved by him. It is we who from time to time create our own barriers, we tend to get lost and led astray from time to time. Antonio, in his ministry is charged to show God’s love in what he does and says in his daily encounters.
All passengers for Flight 5715 need to have paid for a ticket before they can check in. First Class service comes at a price: BA are charging £9757 one way to LA today!! Mind you, for that you are promised: your own private, spacious suite, a fully flat bed with mattress and duvet delicious and indulgent dining access to luxurious lounges and spa treatments exclusive and attentive service
There is no charge to be a Christian. It’s by invitation. God invites - everyone. Invites us to place him at the centre of our lives, to serve him through what we do and what we say, through our prayers, by helping those who are in trouble, by recognising thepotential in others and helping them to fulfil A friend of mine had always dreamed of being an accountant. She had a good job, well paid, but it was not her vocation. Then she fell in love and became engaged to a boy who recognised her potential, who encouraged and coaxed her to have a go; who stood alongside her when she came home from work each day and turned to her studies; who comforted her when she failed exams and persuaded her to resit them; who celebrated with her when she passed them. Now, fully qualified, she is applying for her dream jobs.
Some of the passengers on Antonio’s flights would have been to their destination many times. For others, photos and firsthand accounts from those who live there are readily available and give a clear picture of what it’s like. Our destination as Christians is to life in eternity with God and it is in many ways an unknown. No-one has come back from the dead to tell us what it is ACTUALLY like! We travel in faith, faith that we are destined to be united with God who loves us and who will continue to shape us so that we become more fully the people he designed us to be. Antonio is here to help us prepare for that time, by helping us to grow in faith, seeking out those who are searching and bringing them to God, leading us in prayer, expounding the scriptures and guiding us when we are lost.
Service is a two way process: unlike the passengers on board flight 5715 to LA, who have paid a hefty whack – some more than others - Christians are to be servants to those they encounter. We have a duty to support Antonio in his ministry and in his life among us, to care for him and uphold him, to pray for him, to let him see God at work in us all and to help him prepare for the priestly ministry that will be his for the rest of his life.
Antonio, may we all be set on fire to live and work in the service of God! Amen