“Dear Lord, help us to hear with our ears, understand with our hearts, and speak with our tongues.” Amen.
First, I want to say that I am honored and pleased to come to your retreat and be asked to talk about who and what a deacon is and does. As seminarians, although you are transitional deacons for a brief of time, that does not really give you any idea about what those of us who are called to the vocational diaconate are. Later today we will be working in small groups to explore ways that deacons can and do serve churches, dioceses and the community-at-large. But first I want to speak to you about some thoughts I have about clergy and today’s gospel. We are not following the rubrics of the Revised Common Lectionary, but I am sure you were instructed that abeyances could be made if they were made for a very good reason – and because the Feast of Martin Luther King, Jr. relates to our lives as clergy.
Luke 6:27-38 is one of the most often quoted pieces of scripture, and most would say it contains the very essence or heart of Jesus’ teachings. It is the ‘Golden Rule’ with examples. From early childhood we have heard and learned about the ‘Golden Rule’; interestingly enough, it is not the sole property of Christian teachings, but exists in some form in all religious and faith traditions.
The Jewish rabbi Hillel said, “What is hateful to yourself do not to someone else.” The book of Tobit in the Apocrypha teaches, “What thou thyself hatest, to no man do.” The Jewish scholars in Alexandria who translated the Septuagint advised, “As you wish that no evil befall you, but to be a partaker of all good things, so you should act on the same principle toward your subjects and offenders.” Confucius taught, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” The Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “What you avoid suffering yourself, do not afflict on others.” The Stoics promoted the principle, “What you do not want to be done to you, do not do to anyone else.” Even a remote tribe in African has a version: “Before you poke a baby bird with a stick, stick it in your own eye”.
We often think of the Golden Rule as a sort of ‘tit-for-tat’; if I am good to you, you will be good to me. But Jesus is calling us to love others, to treat them well, regardless of how the others respond back to us. We are to be sensitive to the needs, feelings and concerns of others and seek to meet those needs and concerns.
I realize, that you have all been called to be ministers of the gospel – to be shepherds of the flock, a pastor to the people, the imam or spiritual leader, the rabbi or teacher, the shaman or wise man, the Episcopalian rector (from the Latin regere meaning ‘to direct’), the director of the people. It is a huge responsibility and it is a wonder to me that anyone is willing to take on this responsibility if he or she looks beyond the fine robes, referential titles, and ‘smells and bells’ to the heart of what it is really is to ‘pastor’ and direct the people.
A priest is also to be a servant, a healer, a caregiver, the one who inspires and uplifts, comforts and consoles. At the heart of it all, it seems you are to stand where Jesus stood,
lead and teach as Jesus led and taught,
withstand as Jesus did –
You will be called to churches, large and small, some endowed and some unable to make a budget, with many or no staff to help you; you will be asked to be a pastor to people rich and poor, kind and bigoted, generous and greedy, proud and broken. You will be needed not only in the joy and celebration of births and marriages and baptisms and blessings. But also in times of sorrow, and grief and misery and despair. In short, you will be called to pastor human beings, like Jesus knew and Peter and Paul knew . . .
- and Saint Francis, . .
and Martin Luther, . .
and Gandhi, . .
and Bonheoffer, . . .
and Martin Luther King, Jr. . . . .
you get my drift.
Like Jesus, you will be maligned and criticized – you will never be able to please everyone, especially if you stand for His principles. Some will disagree with you, some may leave the church or withhold their pledges. If you compromise or keep quiet, some will say you are passive or without character. If you actively teach what Jesus truly taught, you will likely be called a ‘rabble rouser’ and some will say you are ruining the church.
Oh, No! you say.
Well, were you at our Diocesan Convention two years ago, when in an attempt to save our environment and the water and air of Ohio, the Diocese of Southern Ohio tried to pass a resolution urging individuals to just CONSIDER not investing in companies engaged in fracking? As we pillage our earth and ruin the natural resources God gave us, is it so brazen for Christians to put the health and safety of the planet above some financial gain? I almost didn’t escape with my life from one of the pre-convention hearings in the southern part of Ohio! Well, it didn’t pass and caused great hard feelings in the process.
Have you noticed the righteous, educated Bible-studying Christian leaders today who ask God to bless America in one breath and urge us to ‘bomb, bomb Iran’ in the next breath? Likely some of them might be members of your parish!
Have you been in a casual discussion lately with some of your church leaders as they complain about their personal taxes being used for food stamps and Medicaid and healthcare, for lazy and shiftless people who refuse to work? There is currently legislation in Missouri would prevent food stamp recipients for buying beef or seafood, or going to the movies. Dare to preach with gusto and insight on being our brother’s keeper (as we are instructed in Matthew 25:35-36), and see how many doctors in your parish are upset with you for not understanding the economic dangers of ‘Socialized’ Medicine.
There were, thankfully, a goodly number of church leaders who spoke out strongly this past week about what ‘religious freedom’ is and is not in the face of the legislative debacles in Indiana and Arkansas. So far, however, I have not heard any church leader in Columbus doing so. It will be interesting to see what appears in Easter homilies this Sunday about just what religious freedoms Jesus died for on the cross, since, as you may recall, it was his own religious officials who helped put Him there.
I am the only person assigned in the Diocese of Southern Ohio to work for social justice. My position is a non-paid, almost afterthought on the Diocesan Staff, but not officially on the Diocesan Staff. The Diocese of Southern Ohio used to have a paid staff member who lobbied for social justice issues, but no more! To me, working for justice in our society should be the daily, active, aggressive work of every Episcopalian clergy and lay person if we are to follow our Savior. But is it complicated to do so, and messy and controversial, and likely will get you criticized by someone every day, – maybe even crucified.
Are you willing to do it anyway?
I know you are here because you are called by God to do this work; only clergy can be foolish enough to have faith given everything they see and experience day-by-day. Beyond the pretty liturgy and prayers, the flowing robes and elaborate crosses, the power lunches and conferences, the pageantry and ecclesiastical pomp, they commit their whole life to walking with people, regardless of what it brings, regardless of the faithful and the faithless, and regardless of where it leads. Are you willing to be that pastor? A pastor dedicated
- To loving those who curse you?
To doing good for those who hate you?
To turning the other cheek?
To giving not only your cloak but your shirt as well?
Are you willing to stand up for Jesus’ teachings and example, regardless of what is popular or politically correct? Are you willing to
- ‘Walk the walk’ as well as ‘talk the talk’?
To lead the people to the Kingdom of Heaven rather than to the kingdom of earth?
To do it every day,
All the time?
You do not learn this fully, I am sure, in a class. No ordination can give it to you; it is harder than you can possibly imagine right now. You will fail at times, but thank you and God bless you for wanting to carry this cross, if you really do.
- Jesus needs you,
we all need you,
we all need each other.
And nothing less is good enough to truly be the Vicar of Christ on this earth!
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, as we reach the pinnacle of this Easter season and the celebration of your resurrection, the heart of all we believe and the reason we can live, fill us with your spirit, your courage and your truth that we may love others as you have loved us, unconditionally and without ceasing so that we may be worthy to be your hands, your feet, your voice and your vicar on this earth. Amen.
Delivered at Bexley-Seabury Seminary First Friday Retreat, 10 April 2015