Tag Archives: deacon

Speaking words of encouragement

The Lord has given me the tongue of a disciple
to speak a work of encouragement to the downcast.
Isaiah 50:4

Yesterday I visited the elderly and sick in two villages. What a blessing for me.

It is part of the ministry of the deacon to care for widows, orphans, and the ill. I don’t do as much visiting the homebound as I could, partly because one of the major ministries of our communion ministers is to visit the sick in their communities. I do work with them in their continuing formation but I try not to replace their ministry to the sick.

This Holy Week we have about fifty parishioners in mission to most of our villages, visiting homes and praying with the people there. I’ve come across some who are invigorated by the experience of sharing the Gospel in a simple way with people.

I have also worked with the communion ministers so that we can get communion to the elderly, the sick, and the home-bound during Holy Week. But there were a few villages that were left out – and so I arranged visits in two villages.

So often these visits are a time of grace for me – as I enter the lives of the elderly, the sick, and the poor. Yesterday was such a time of grace.

In the first village I visited a woman about 70 years old who can’t walk to church and so I was glad to share a time of conversation and prayer as well as Communion. She was very up-beat, despite her weakness and aches and pains. Later, in another part of the village, about ten minutes in car from her house, I visited a ninety-two year old man who lives with his evangelical wife and often walks to church. He was much less talkative than the woman, probably partly because he is hard of hearing, but it was a gift to share Communion with him.

Both of these lived in poor houses with dirt floors. But there I found Jesus (and did not merely bring Him there in Communion).

I later went to another village where a young catechist took me around. The four women I visited were all very talkative.

I had visited the first woman a few weeks and go and she was bed-bound at that time. This time she was walking about. We sat down in the kitchen while her daughters and grand-daughters were busy mixing dough to bake bread.

In several places I made a special effort to speak to those who were caring for the elderly, encouraging them and letting them know that their work can be very hard but it is very important. As I speak with them I often tell them how important it was for me to care for my Dad at home in the last years of his life. I feel it is very important to give them “a word that will rouse them.”

This morning, while reading the third Servant Song of Isaiah (50: 4-9), I thought of how visiting the sick and ill has opened up for me a part of myself that I have not really appreciated. I am continually amazed how God’s compassion and God’s words of encouragement pass through me. This has become an important part of my life here and is one of the graces of being a deacon.

Where I got back to Plan Grande I went to the church to put the remaining hosts into the tabernacle. As I walked into the church I was moved by the light falling on the statue of El Nazareno, Jesus carrying his cross, before the altar.

DSCN2785 (1)

This helped make sense of my few hours visiting the elderly and the sick.

 

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Martha and diaconal service

And Martha served
καὶ ἡ Μάρθα διηκόνει
John 12:2

Martha all too often is seen as being less holy than her sister Martha, based mostly on an interpretation of the account of Mary and Martha in Luke’s Gospel (10: 38-42).

I, however, see that the problem is not that Martha’s serving of the Lord is less holy than Mary’s sitting as a disciple at the feet of Jesus; the problem might be that Martha was preoccupied with her tasks and failed to just sit, at times, at the feet of Jesus and listen as a disciple.

But in the Gospel of John (11: 19-27), Martha is the one who recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and professes her belief in the resurrection.

Shortly after, there is a dinner at the house of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary – just six days before the Passover, before Jesus would give His life up. Lazarus sits at the table; Mary anoints the feet of Jesus; “and Martha serves.”

Here there is no disparaging remark about Martha’s insistence on hospitality and service. It is stated as a fact.

In a sermon (103), Saint Augustine notes that Martha’s privilege can be ours:

Mary received Jesus as a guest…. But do not say. “How blest they who received Christ in their own home.” Be not saddened that you live in an age when the Lord is no longer to be seen in the flesh. He has not deprived you of Martha’s privilege: “when you did it to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to Me.”

We can all be deacons, servants of the Lord.

Make us great – servants and slaves

Whoever wishes to be great among you
must be your servant.
Matthew 20:26

In today’s Gospel for the feast of St. James, we hear the mother of James and John asking Jesus to give them seats of honor. Jesus explains what this would mean to her sons but the other apostles are a bit taken aback and complain.

In response, Jesus tells them:

but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20: 26-28)

I have heard many calling to “make America [really just the US] great again,” but is it the greatness of Jesus? Or is it the temptation to greatness that Jesus experienced in the desert – being acclaimed by all and having power over all? (Matthew 4: 1-11)

Many years ago I was introduced to Martin Luther King’s “Drum Major Instinct” sermon which he preached in 1968 on one of the parallel texts of today’s Gospel. It gives us an idea of what Jesus means by greatness.

… Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.  That’s a new definition of greatness.
And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.

Greatness is not power; greatness is not having the seats of honor; greatness is not being looked up to; greatness is not being over and above others.

Greatness is service; greatness is sitting at the feet of the poor and ill, washing their feet; greatness is looking up into the eyes of those one is serving; greatness is loving, being with others, accompanying them.

The words Jesus uses in the passage cited above are significant for me as a newly ordained permanent deacon.

Whoever wishes to be great must be your servant, your deacon – διάκονος;
whoever wishes to be first must be your slave – δοῦλος.

This is who Jesus calls us to be and, pointedly, he noted that this is not the way of the rulers of this world, even those who claim the mantle of Christianity.

And so today I meditate on my calling to be servant – and God keeps giving me opportunities to be a servant.

As I was writing this blog, a neighbor came to the door and asked me to take communion to her sister who just came back from the hospital after a stroke. With great joy I have been given a little way to serve.


The full text of Martin Luther King’s “Drum Major Instinct Sermon” can be found here.