Selections from a sermon preached at the ordination of a Deacon, February 2019
A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. (Luke 22:24-27)
We often think that we are living in the most divided, rude, uncivil, uncompromising times in history. Perhaps there is something reassuring about knowing that Jesus witnessed the same defensive, boastful, and clueless conversations that we now enjoy.
Here at the table, already breaking into the bread of his body, sharing out the cup, the problem that Jesus’ disciples had was to submit themselves, their egos, their self-image to his mission, his passion, his kingdom, at the expense of their own ambition.
Submission, now as then, is whispered as a dirty word. We prefer to project strength. But submitting to God, literally to place ourselves under God’s sending authority, under God’s mission – submittere; there is nothing more dignified, nothing more humble, nothing more empowering than that.
By the way, if you choose to read on from our gospel, you will discover that in the next paragraph, ironically, Jesus promises the disciples twelve thrones, twelve kingdoms, sublet from the kingdom of God. Jesus has in one breath told his disciples to stop seeking power and glory, and in the very next breath, crowned them with it all.
Each of us is promised the challenge and the resolution, the crown that Jesus offers his disciples, those gathered around the table with him. We are challenged to submit our agendas, our fears, our defenses, our ambitions to the service of his mission, his love for the world, his undying faithfulness. When we do, we find ourselves anointed and appointed as Christ’s ambassadors for the gospel, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to discover for ourselves and for one another the healing power of love, and the deep rewards of God’s justice working among us, the crowning glories of God’s mercy and grace.
For the bishop, or the priest, or the deacon, the challenge, and the promise, become quite particular. The Examination prescribed by the prayerbook for those seeking ordination as deacons describes “a special ministry of servanthood … to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, … the lonely … the helpless.”
It is in serving the most vulnerable, the most easily overlooked, ignored, or exploited people that we learn the most about the love of Christ; because it is by the need to listen deeply, by setting aside our own agendas and letting ourselves be led by the pain of others that we find our way to the foot of the cross.
It is in the most intractable problems of the world and its children that we find ourselves unable to proclaim our own greatness, nor believe in our own glory.
It is here, at the end of hope, that we find ourselves gathered once more with Jesus at the table, with the people whom he most loves, the ones who are broken like bread, scattered like crumbs, poured out like spilt wine. I think that’s why priests, bishops, archbishops and all begin our ordained ministry as deacons, called to stand witness to Christ’s gradual, often painful transformation of the world’s leftovers into God’s feast of life, of fierce resurrection, fit not for kings but for saints. …
The Revd Rosalind C Hughes is the Rector of the Church of the Epiphany in Euclid, Ohio. Her sermons, poems, and other words are posted at over the water/rosalindhughes.com
Image credit: Association for Episcopal Deacons: https://www.episcopaldeacons.org/