Deacon School

Last week I had the privilege of attending the National Deacon School, ably run by the Ven. Anne Russell-Brighty. It was a gathering of deacons from all around NZ, about 26 for the weekend reunion, and 12 of us continued for the next few days. It was an opportunity to learn, but also to let off steam. One of our number has written a paper about all the negative sides of being a deacon, and I thought I would explore this side of it a little. First, there are not many negatives about serving as a deacon. Not, that is, when you consider the vast privilege of washing people’s feet, showing our world how Christ would want them to live. But it’s not the calling itself that is frustrating. It is the misunderstanding of that calling in the wider church. The Vocational Diaconate is fairly recently arrived on the scene, having been revived from the 1960s. That is, unless you count the way the church operated  in its first 4 centuries or so. Nowadays, the church is very priest-focussed, very hierarchical, and people don’t know what to make of deacons. The understanding of the role is also muddied to some extent by experience of the Pentecostal church, where the Pastor has a combined role of priest and deacon.

Often the priests don’t know what a  deacon does, and congregation certainly don’t. Many of us have been asked when we’re going to ordained ‘properly’, or we are commiserated with for ‘missing out’. On being priested, that is. Maybe we should express our sorrow that someone has been ordained priest, and isn’t allowed to stay a deacon… Now I’m being naughty. That raises another point though. Many in the church have the understanding that a priest is still a deacon, but that is not the case. These priests had a year as transitional deacons, where they were being trained for the priesthood, with a nod at what a deacon is. The roles are very different. In the ordination service, candidates are asked if they are called to the work of a deacon, and those who are to be priested later blithely answer ‘yes’, although they have been discerned as priests in training. Our ordination services do not adequately reflect the different roles of Vocational Deacon, and priest-in training. It should not be called Transitional Deacon. This is where the frustration lies.

Being a deacon is not a way to have a glorious career in the church, adding more titles to your name, and more fancy copes each procession. We get to lead the processions in the cathedral, clad in our albs and crossed-over stoles. We stand apart for that reason, but we are also ready for action. Our stoles don’t flop all over the place when we are trying to do something. In a liturgical setting, we may be assisting with  the ablutions, or pouring the wine. We don’t need to be worried about our vestments. That’s a good reason why our stoles are tucked away. In the community, most of us are not robed, although wearing a clerical collar is always useful when you are trying to visit the hospital outside of visiting hours!

Most of us receive no payment for our work as vocational deacons, but that gives us freedom of hours and places where we can minister. Being a deacon is not about working in a particular place at a particular time – eg on a Sunday morning in a building with a cross on top of it. It’s much broader. Whenever we are present with people, we are doing Christ’s work. And we are called to be infectious, encouraging others to join us, loving and serving the Lord in our communities.

There is a different personality-type that seems to attract deacons too. It has been described as the grit that irritates the oyster, so that a pearl is formed. We can be a bit annoying, a bit in-your-face, a bit challenging. That’s part of our job – to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It’s not always an easy fit in the political world of the church, but I seem to recall a certain Carpenter who was a bit challenging too.

The wider church has a treat in store as it discovers more of the potential of the Vocational Diaconate. Several deacons in every parish would make such a difference to the world!

Advertisements

Sermon: Noticing

Sermon. 31 August 2014
Rev Felicity O’Brien
St Mary’s Whitby
Exod 3:1-15, Rom 12:9-21, Matt 16:21-28

Moses was a man who noticed things. Maybe this was to do with his upbringing – at first he was raised by his mother, in the Hebrew culture, and then he was returned to the princess who had adopted him when she took him out of the river. Imagine how different life would be at the court of Pharaoh for the young boy – he would have had to watch carefully to learn what to do, how to behave, even learn a new language. He was educated in all the Egyptian ways, and learnt a great deal. Continue reading

Sermon: Moses, the truth and following God

Moses, the truth, and following God.

St Anne’s Porirua 24 August 2014
Exodus 1:8-2:10
Rom 12:1-8
Matt 16:13-20
The story of Moses in the bulrushes is a favourite from Sunday school isn’t it? The little baby, vulnerable in his cradle of reeds, set afloat on the river. It’s got all the features of a good story – there is tension and resolution. We worry about the child, but we know he will be ok.
But let’s back up the story a bit, to look at why this wee fellow was set afloat.
The Hebrew people were growing strong in the land. This is the same group of people that we heard about in readings from the last two weeks – Joseph’s family. Remember how they came out of famine into Egypt, to survive because of Joseph’s prudence. But we come forward a few generations, till the ruler in charge of Egypt no longer remembers Joseph and what he did for Egypt. Now there is just an annoying racial minority group in the land, who seem to pose a threat to the Egyptians. Continue reading

Sermon: Social Services Sunday

Sermon July 27 2014 Social Services Sunday
St Mary’s Whitby
Felicity O’Brien

Micah 6:8-12, James 2:14-17, Matt 25:31-45

Today is social services Sunday. This is a staid and somewhat self-righteous-sounding description of what is truly our duty every Sunday, every day of our lives, as Christians. What is social service? It must surely mean serving people. That can never be a dull thing to do. Serving others can led you to all sorts of places you may not have been – wonderful exotic locations like hospitals, mental health care facilities, hospices, rest homes – and these are some I have been in just this last week! You may even be fortunate enough to visit prisons, and private homes!
But hang on, you may be saying. Surely it’s not about the place, it’s about the people! Yes, exactly. We are called to love and serve people, no matter where they are. Whether they are in the most derelict accommodation, or in the swankiest hotel. We tend to focus on the former rather than the latter, but everyone is in need of Christ. Continue reading

Sermon: The Good Shepherd?

Sermon May 11 2014 St Mary’s Whitby Rev. Felicity O’Brien

Acts 11:1-18, John 10:1-10

Today we celebrate several things – Mothers’ Day, Good Shepherd Sunday, and an important event in this nation’s history – the coming of the gospel. Tradition tells us that this happened on Christmas day 1814, in Oiho bay, and while Samuel Marsden certainly did preach the Gospel first onshore on this date, New Zealanders had already started hearing about Christianity as they encountered sailors visiting their country, and worked on ships going abroad.

We commemorate Samuel Marsden tomorrow, and today’s featured guest is the person who made the whole new Zealand mission in 1814 possible – chief Ruatara, nicknamed Te Ara mo e rongopai, or the gateway of the gospel.He served on various ships between 1805 and 1809, when Marsden met him on board ship, as he was being sent back to Australia, unwell after being abused. Marsden had already met many Maori in Port Jackson, and after being very impressed by them and their potential was planning a mission to New Zealand. Continue reading

Greenpeace co-founder recants to U.S. Senate on climate change

Re blogged from wattsupwiththat.com 26 February 2014.

…Dr. Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, went before the U.S. Senate yesterday to tell his story as it relates to global warming/climate change. It is well worth your time to read. WUWT readers may recall that since Dr. Moore has decided to speak out against global warming and for Golden Rice, Greenpeace is trying to disappear his status with the organization, much like people were disappeared in Soviet Russia. (Update: Feb 27, 3PM PST Dr. Moore leaves a comment, see at end.)

Statement of Patrick Moore, Ph.D. Before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Subcommittee on Oversight

February 25, 2014

“Natural Resource Adaptation: Protecting ecosystems and economies”

Chairman Whitehouse, Ranking Member Inhofe, and members of the Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify at today’s hearing.

In 1971, as a PhD student in ecology I joined an activist group in a church basement in Vancouver Canada and sailed on a small boat across the Pacific to protest US Hydrogen bomb testing in Alaska. We became Greenpeace.

After 15 years in the top committee I had to leave as Greenpeace took a sharp turn to the political left, and began to adopt policies that I could not accept from my scientific perspective. Climate change was not an issue when I abandoned Greenpeace, but it certainly is now.

There is no scientific proof that human emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are the dominant cause of the minor warming of the Earth’s atmosphere over the past 100 years. If there were such a proof it would be written down for all to see. No actual proof, as it is understood in science, exists. Continue reading

Sermon: False and True Worship

 

sermon St Mary’s Whitby 9 Feb 2014

Isaiah 58:1-12, Matt 5:13-20

The title, or quick guide, to today’s Isaiah reading is False and True Worship.This is a very challenging idea – both for the Israelites and for us.Isaiah tells his people that they are very quick to follow the outward forms of worship, almost competing with one another to see who can be the best, most religious, worshipper. Their motives are good – they delight to draw near to God. But what happens? They fast, but end up fighting.

Now, any of you who have children will know what I have been slowly learning the hard way – you just can’t expect decent behaviour if they’re hungry. For our family, that means that I need to have something substantial, that they will eat, ready at afternoon tea time, and with school going back this week, we’re all readjusting to the timing of eating! If the kids have no food in their tummies, they are grumpy and make bad choices about what names they call each other, and what they do with their hands. Or fists.

It would have been the same for the Israelites. They had a good motive to fast, or so they thought. They were doing it to draw nearer to God! But if God didn’t want them to do that, they would not have had the Holy Spirit’s help to fast in a God-honouring way. There’s no point feeling virtuous for fasting, thinking you’re super-religious, if the Holy Spirit isn’t part of the deal. It will only lead to grumpiness and fighting. 

The Israelites have another idea – we should be humble and lowly and bow down our heads, covering ourselves with ashes. Well, there isn’t much point to this either, as Isaiah tells them. What they’re really doing is making a public show of being humble, of doing nothing but looking so dejected that they really must be religious… Maybe?

No, God has a better idea. Service to God, service that really counts, is service to God’s people.It’s interesting that feeding the hungry comes a little way down the list- it isn’t at the top. First we have the context for this serving -“loosing the bonds of injustice,undoing the thongs of the yoke, letting the oppressed go free,and breaking every yoke.

Now, lets pause at this point. If we take this small passage as a guide for how God wants us to live our lives in community with each other, we need to do some thinking, and work out the meaning for ourselves and our world.

Loosing the bonds of injustice. That’s a really broad idea isnt it, but it contains hope. It tells us that we can do something about injustice.Often our society encourages us to have a sort of fatalistic attitude to the world – things are unjust, there’s not a lot we can do about it. In fact, when Iwas a kid, my dad, who was a GP, had a quick rejoinder for any kid who whined that things werent fair. “Life’s not fair, get used to it”. I find myself saying it too.But surely here Isaiah is giving us from God an encouragement that we can indeed do something about injustice.It binds people up, but we can help. We can loosen those bonds. Maybe we can’t break them entirely, maybe we cant completely resolve the situation, but we can loosen the bonds. And when the bonds are loosened just a little bit, it will be easier for them to be finally cast aside by the one bound up. In fact, the next part of our reading guides us – after we have loosened the bonds of injustice, only then can we untie the thongs of the yoke, removing the heavy burden from the oppressed. We can let them, and us, go free, and not only that, but break every yoke, so no one else can be oppressed by it.

How can we do this in our world? We’ve seen an example recently on the news, where the police have broken a child pornography ring. The bonds of injustice have been loosened by the investigators putting their information together, the thongs have been untied as they have been able to find who is responsible, the oppressed are set free when the children are no longer abused in this way, and the yoke is broken when it is harder for these sorts of horrible behaviours to happen again.

When we look at bondage to sin though, we must be careful not to be too black-and-white. We must avoid a them-and-us mentality. In a situation like child pornography, it is not only the people in the photos whoare in bondage. It is also those whoare addicted to looking at, and thinking about, those images. Loosing the bonds of injustice will break many yokes, both of those who are victims of other people, and those who are victims of themselves.

The next portion of our reading is a bit more straightforward really – we are encouraged to share our food with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into our house, cover the naked, and not hide ourselves from our own kin.This sounds like straightforward charity doesnt it? But again, it isnt easy. We have to put ourselves out if we are to care for the poor. We have to share, to put our own needs second. Well, NZ is a great nation for charity, we areoften told. Street appeals do well, we arevery generous. But putting your loose change into a collector’s box, rattled under your nose outside the supermarket, is all very well, but it’s very impersonal. I believe we are challenged as Christians to get much more deeply involved. To get to know people. That means giving of ourselves. Bringing the homeless poor into our houses – oh dear, what if they’re smelly? What if they pinch stuff? What if they swear? Does God tell us to look after respectable‘ people only? No. And as for not hiding ourselves from our own kin – there’s a whole sermon just in that sentence!

Now, our country is organized very differently from ancient Israel. We have a social security safety net, so if we pay our taxes there should be support available for people who are hungry, poor, homeless. But there are times when people struggle to access these services, and we can help. Again though, often we need to really get to know the people we are helping, not just send them to the WINZ office with their form filled out. And do you know what? The blessing is a two-way street. We have an elderly neighbour who is struggling with life, and he’s often over for a coffee, or to borrow something. Yes, he always smells as if he’s smoked a packet every hour, and my hay fever flares up after he’s been. But he blesses us. He cares for us. When there was an earthquake recently he popped over to see of we were all right. That was really touching.

Isaiah tells us that when we treat God’s people kindly, our light will break forth like the dawn! Two weeks ago I preached here about the people who walked in darkness seeing a great light. Here we have the same image – the light of the presence of God in our lives and in our communities.Isaiah underscores the point with a similar passage of what we can do, which will again be rewarded by our light rising in the darkness.In this second group he has some more guidance for us – verse 9 jumped out when I was reading this passage earlier in the week –If you remove the yoke from among you,the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,(and there’s another bit about feeding the poor )– then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

This is an important point to consider. The yoke among us of pointing the finger and speaking evil. Yes, it is a yoke, one that can be loosed and broken. We have a choice how we regard other people. Pointing the finger, singling people out because they’re different. In our culture people who stand out are quickly noticed, and not usually in a good way. It’s called the Great NZ Clobbering Machine. Kids at school are ridiculed for tiny differences, be it in the type of lunch box they have, or what is in it, or when I was at school, it was for wearing old-style shoes. Kids are quick to point the finger. Adults are too, often point it in blame. ‘Speaking evil’ – that’s another word for gossip. Very tempting I know, but is it helpful? Does it build the kingdom? If we want our light to shine out like noonday, we can turn away, make better choices.

Some of you may be saying, yes, that’s all very well, but Isaiah wrote these words a long time ago. What relevance do they have? Well, Matthew’s audience certainly knew them. There are several times in the New Testament when Jesus is quoting from Isaiah, and Matthew, who was writing for a Jewish audience, reminds them, and us, that what Jesus had to say was in no way a replacement for the prophets of old. Jesus talks of salt and light. These are familiar images – light crops up a lot in this year’s set of readings. How about salt? It’s a bit out of favour if you have to watch your blood pressure, but try eating home-made bread without salt. It’s revolting. Just a teaspoon in the dough makes a huge difference.

And I think that’s a helpful image for us. If we are wondering how our small contribution to life around us could possibly make a difference, think about that tiny bit of salt. That little pinch that you put on your fried eggs. That sprinkle on your tomatoes. Just as it only takes a small bit of salt to bring out the true flavour of many foods, so it can take only a little bit of love to make a difference in someone’s life. Be encouraged by this – don’t think you can do nothing. Even a smile at someone, a kind word, an offer of help, a prayer, can start the ball rolling to loose the chains that bind.

As a deacon, when I give the dismissal, I say, “Go now to love and serve the Lord”. Be encouraged that when you leave the church today, you can indeed go to love the Lord, by serving other people, by being that salty flavour that brings life. The last bit of the dismissal is “Go in peace”. Don’t go feeling like you’ve been given an impossible task. Go with the peace in your heart of knowing that you can love God, you can serve God, and it’s not too huge. Just one sprinkle, one pinch of salt at a time.