Sunday, July 13, 2014

Commissioning of Jennifer Griffith, Deaconess

Commissioning of Jennifer Griffith, Deaconess – July 13th, 2014 – Mt. 25:31-46

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          To be a Christian is to be a servant.  Indeed, to be a human being means you were created by God to serve – Adam was created and placed in the garden to tend the garden, to care for it, to serve.  Eve was created as a helpmeet, to help and rightly serve Adam.  There is a reason why Paul begins almost every letter talking about how he is a bondservant of Christ.  It is who he is – it is who you are by virtue of your baptism.  When Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment, He says that it is to love God, but that a second one is like unto it – a second one is so tied up completely with loving God that you cannot mention loving God without mentioning it – love your neighbor.  Serve your neighbor.  Care for your neighbor.  And just incase we weren’t taking Jesus seriously, did you note how He describes the end, the final judgment?  “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me.”  Your service to God isn’t defined by some abstract thoughts, or how you feel about God – it is defined, shaped, shown precisely by your service to your neighbor.

          And of course, after the fall, that service to the neighbor is rather messed up.  Sin, your own sinful flesh, cries out for you to serve not your neighbor, but yourself.  And let’s face it, there are just some people we tend not to like, and we don’t want to serve them.  We want to turn the cold shoulder, be cold, be uncaring, insist on our own way to their detriment, shake our heads at them.  Use how mean they are as an excuse to be mean and cold and callous to them!   Or sometimes it’s just indifference, we can’t be bothered.  We are too important, we are too “busy” with things that really don’t *need* to be done but provide a nice sounding excuse.  Or sinful flesh calls out for us to look out for number 1.  You are Christians, you know you are to fight against those sorts of selfish desires.

          To help and aid the members of this congregation fight against their sinfulness and to help and aid the members of this congregation in their own works of love and service to each other and the community, St. John’s, Covington, has called Jennifer Griffith to be her deaconess.  Know what this is, what this means.  Deaconess Jennifer is not here simply and merely to do stuff for you.  While she is a servant – for that is what “deaconess” means, and while she will serve, her service doesn’t mean you here don’t have to serve anymore.  Consider it this way – if someone were to walk up to you and say, “Well, I don’t need to pray – we’ve got that Pastor Griffith fellow to pray – he can just do it.  I don’t need to study God’s Word – that there bearded fellow can just read the Word and I’ll go fishing instead” – if someone said that to you, that wouldn’t fly.  Likewise, you are not going to get to say, “I don’t need to serve the congregation – we’ve got Deaconess Jennifer for that – I don’t have to serve the community – the Deaconess does that for me.”  That’s not what a Deaconess is or what a Deaconess is for.

          All Christians are given the task of serving others.  You have been given by God various vocations, various callings.  Fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, neighbors, friends, workers, bosses, teachers, students.  Members of this congregation, part of this community.  You all have many hats to wear – and that can be a tiring, wearying thing.  We all know that.  St. John’s has called Deaconess Jennifer so that her members will grow and learn to wear those hats, juggle those duties better, learn to love and serve their neighbors better.  And your old sinful flesh will often… dislike that.  If I can give a simple example by way of analogy.  When I was in college I worked in the Athletic Department at OU as a writing tutor, and Bob Stoops was the newly hired coach.  And I worked in the evenings, and the players would come in after practice, and there were times they were a bit miffed at what Coach Stoops had just put them through in practice.  But it made them better football players.  When I’d look at their papers and make them rewrite this sentence or rethink that section, they’d be miffed at me (at which point I was kind of glad for that 300 pounder to be worn out by practice), but it made them better writers.  Likewise – Deaconess Jennifer has been called here not to “do” this congregation’s service, not to “do” the service you all are supposed to be doing – but to coordinate, to train, to encourage you in your service – and even to get on your case a bit if needed.  She is here for your good, for your blessing, to help you do better the things God has given you to do.  Remember that.  Show her the love and respect that is her due, and remember that when she asks you to do things, suggests things for you to do – that’s her job, and it is for your good.

          Likewise, Deaconess Jennifer – remember why you are here.  You are here to help and serve the members of St. John’s grow in love and kindness.  And there will be times that will be difficult – when your requests and encouragement don’t meet with the responses you are hoping for.  When this or that seems to stagnate, or when it would seem to be quicker and easier for you to just skip them and do things yourself.  You are here to help them serve and grow in service, not to be their replacement or substitute.  Strive to help them to see and know all the boundless opportunities God gives them to love and serve their neighbors, so that that they find joys in serving in ways of which they have no inkling of now – that is why you are here – to help guide and teach them the joys of love and service.  Even when they frustrate you.

          Now, with what I have just said, things may seem, daunting.  Ugh, this preacher just said that the Deaconess is gonna make us work.  Ugh, this preacher said that this congregation’s gonna make me work!  The reality is this – life in this fallen world is hard – that is what sin does.  It makes things hard.  And sin isolates us – Adam and Eve were created by God to work together, to serve together – but as soon as sin comes in, there’s finger pointing and hatred and isolation.  Sin looks precisely like someone being hungry, but given no food, naked but not clothed, sick or in prison and not visited… hurt and wounded and not cared for… sorrowing and not comforted… needing to learn but not taught… wanting to serve but left out.  Isolated, alone.  And our sinful flesh will try to deceive us, try to tell us that is a good thing to be on our own, to have our way – but it’s not.  I, as the Circuit Visitor, am pleased beyond the ability to say that St. John’s has called Deaconess Jennifer – because this will be good for this congregation, good for her/you.  You will have such encouragement to fight against that inertia of sin, you will get to see growth in people you love and care for – you all together will learn to see past the selfish and hateful lies of Satan more and more.  This is a blessing, a blessing I wish more congregations would realize and take advantage of – but our old sinful flesh can be stubborn and lazy and cantankerous.  And your old sinful flesh will act up in the years to come, that’s just the reality of life in a fallen world.

          Over and against that, in the midst of when things are hard and difficult, remember who you are.  You are the baptized children of God.  You are those who are washed and redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb.  Christ Jesus has died for you and all your sins are forgiven, they are no more.  Even as they rear their ugly head, Christ has already defeated them.  You are His – you’re the sheep.  He has claimed you as His own already, your life has already been consecrated unto Him, your hands already move at the impulse of His love.  This is the truth – You are forgiven, you are God’s Child, you are redeemed.  And you will hear this truth preached week in and week out by Pastor Griffith from this pulpit, you will sing out this truth week in and week out in the liturgy and hymns here, you will taste this forgiveness from this very altar.  And now, with your Deaconess, during the rest of the week, the fruits of that forgiveness will flow.  The Holy Spirit who has given you faith, who has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the faith – the same Spirit by whom you confess that Jesus is Lord has given you gifts and talents and skills, and He will work through you all together, deaconess and congregation, to bring those forth more and more.

          My dear friends in Christ – this is a joyous day.  God is going to work in you and through you goodness and mercy that none of us here can predict or see, the Spirit will use you as His instrument, making you servants.  In this, Deaconess Jennifer will be your aid, your guide – rejoice in this, and when those moments when it seems hard arise, return here to this place, hear Christ Crucified and Him preached and proclaimed to you and for you, be refreshed by forgiveness.  Christ Jesus who died and rose to give you life everlasting has in his great love for St. John’s and for Deaconess Jennifer brought you together to enrich your lives now, to enrich this congregation, to enrich this community.  All thanks be to God for His great and underserved love towards us, His unworthy servants!  In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit +

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