The Reverend Margaret Legg
God is good! Point up and then do a thumbs up!
Looking at Dan, our new Deacon, reminds me of this refrain that crops up at one of my two and a half year old grandson’s playgroups. It is indeed good you have been sent here, Dan!
But what is a Deacon? The question was once asked at a primary school assembly. After a pause, one hand went up – an older boy, who asked: ‘Is it something you put on a hill and set fire to?’ Only one letter out!
Two hallmarks of being a Deacon are Servanthood and evangelism. Servant ministry 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 Dan 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!
In one sense we are all servants of Christ, and Dan has been for many many years, but at his Ordination last Saturday, when Bishop Sarah laid her hands on him, it was a public and sacramental recognition and transition from being a servant in general, to being a Deacon in particular. Dan became a marked servant of the kingdom. And he became a marked servant for life. As Bishop Sarah reminded us in her sermon: ‘Once a Deacon, always a Deacon!’
Much of this service will be in the public eye and much will be unseen. Some may be glamorous, a lot will be routine: helping with the car park, fixing the office internet. Some will hopefully be fun – well I’m sure Bryan has already earmarked you for his birthday cake rota and some will be totally unexpected. I wasn’t here the day, earlier this year, I think, when we’d had the Georgian high level guttering removed and were waiting for the new ones to be fitted. It was of course then that the heavens opened and rain poured down the South walls. Even the Vicar, I believe, was to be seen with mop and bucket trying to contain the damage from the flood.
Just as Jesus sent out his disciples into the unknown, not knowing what they might encounter, so you will find yourself in all sorts of different situations. In each of them you will be viewed as the one who models Christ, through your demeanour, your words, your actions. Sometimes with scepticism, sometimes with affection and sometimes with irrelevance. Always you will be serving, just as Christ served. That’s why your stole is worn across your chest. It’s a tangible reminder of Christ’s actions at the Last Supper, when he washed his disciples’ feet. The Deacon can wash them with the ends of his stole.
Mission – mittere and Evangelion – Good News
Service is one of the hallmarks of the Diaconate. Another is mission and evangelism. Not words we hear a lot of nowadays: sent to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. By the good news I mean that we are each loved by God, each precious in God’s sight and that through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection we need no longer be afraid of death. There is life after death. Evangelism is what Jesus was doing in our Gospel, when he went to his home town and they took no notice. Perhaps that’s why Deacons hardly ever go back to their former churches once they are ordained!
Earlier this week I met someone who’d just been evangelised. She’d been offered a bible – Arabic, French, Spanish… English please! It reminded me of a church notice I once saw – you know, those great big ones you see on Noticeboards in church grounds. In very large dayglow letters it said: ‘Are you tired of sin? Then come inside.’ And some wag had added in felt tip underneath: ‘If not, phone Bayswater 2372.’ Well, I dare say one of your diaconal tasks will be to design the posters for the porch and the noticeboard in Connaught Street. There’s much more to Evangelism than handing out Bibles and tracts. In essence it’s brokering a meeting between those who need God and a God who loved the world so much he gave us Jesus his Son. It’s identifying the needs of the world and bringing them to God in prayer. So Steve encourages us to read the daily newspaper and the Deacon leads the prayers at our weekday Eucharist. It’s mingling with those on the margins of society, and showing kindness and respect to them.
To go back to those beacons burning on hilltops, we are not to hide our light under a bushel, or inside the four walls of our churches. A lot of time is spent out and about, darting across the Edgware Road in the local cafés and pubs, with our church school and at the playgroups. Remember ‘God is good’? That particular playgroup is run by an evangelical church and to my mind it is a model of how to do evangelism. It’s super friendly. The helpers smile, they talk to everyone; the coffee/tea is excellent and at story time there is a very soft, interactive biblical story. The good news is spread in a way that engages young and old. It’s all part of doing the work of an evangelist.
Service, mission and evangelism: the planks of the Diaconate and the calling of all of us who love and follow Jesus. Dan may you set us all on fire with your ardour and zeal as a Deacon!