Congratulations! You’ve just been promoted. You’ve just been promoted from layman to deacon. Hoorah!
Of course, it doesn’t entail a pay raise, and I should tell you that it does mean extra hours and little gratitude. You do get to add an extra title to your name: “Deacon,” or in churches that follow the ordination of deacons found in the early church, you even get the title “The Reverend.”
Of course, “deacon” just means “servant,” and this is what a deacon is. If you are found faithful, you might even get to be a priest or presbyter, and if you are especially capable you might even become a bishop. Of course, you still never stop being a deacon, a servant.
So you’ve just been appointed a deacon. The twelve apostles who were eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ have just laid their hands on you. You’ve just been promoted, and your first act as The Reverend Deacon Stephen . . . is to step into the middle of a dispute among a bunch of old women.
What a strange way we Christians have of rewarding those most full of the Holy Spirit, wisdom, and faith, and of a good reputation! And yet this is how we follow the example of the Son of God Himself, who made Himself of no reputation, took the form of a bondservant, and humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross. For if you want to be great in the Kingdom of Heaven, then learn you must learn to be the servant of all.
But this story of the first deacons should tell us a few things. First, we shouldn’t ignore the reason why the apostles appointed deacons in the first place: it was to help in the distribution of the alms to widows. In a church where no one said that any of the things he possessed was his own and in which the Christians had all things in common (Acts 4:32), it would be natural that weekly collections would be taken up for the poor, including the widows.
The practice of almsgiving is taken for granted by Jesus Himself: in the Sermon on the Mount, He teaches at length about three spiritual practices: praying, fasting, and almsgiving. In thinking about how much of the teachings of Jesus and practices of the early church apply to us today, I’m struck today by the attitude of the early church towards wealth and possessions. Their willingness to share out of love, and their concern for those who were weaker and poorer has a lot to teach us this morning.Just as impressive was the response of the church to a particular need, in which the office of deacon was created, with a particular emphasis on serving and giving alms. I look and wonder how far the contemporary church seems to have drifted from the early church. As I read church history, I find this “drift” from such love, unity, and almsgiving to be the sad norm, and not an American or modern anomaly.
Where are the deacons of today? Where are those willing to serve the Lord by serving their brothers and sisters? Where are those filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom?
All of you have been made deacons by the Lord, even if you have not been ordained to that specific office. By virtue of your being a Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ, one who follows His Master and has entered His Kingdom, you are a deacon, a servant. The question is where is it that the Lord has asked you to serve?
This requires thought and prayer, for we can’t directly translate Acts 6 into our lives today. Our local churches aren’t likely to be having a feud between Jewish and Greek widows over the distribution of alms. But your local church is likely to have Christians in need, and you have definitely been the ability to serve others by the Lord.
There are more ways to serve than by being the official distributors of alms. What ways to serve in your life are there which already exist? What needs have your church leaders laid before the congregation, waiting only for Christians filled with the Spirit and wisdom to come forward and continue the ministry of Christ in His Body?
That is your mission today. In case you need some extra measure of motivation, consider this: if even the unbelieving Jews looked at the deacon Stephen and saw his face as the face of an angel, how do you think that you, the servant of the Lord, will look to other Christians?
I can answer that: you’ll look like Jesus Christ Himself.
Prayer: Make us worthy, Lord, to serve our fellow-men throughout the world who live and die in poverty or hunger. Give them, through our hands, this day their daily bread, and by our understanding love, give peace and joy. Amen. (Mother Teresa)
Point for Meditation: In what way is the Lord calling me to serve Him? It might be a call I’ve heard for a long time and ignored, or it might be a new call. Or it might be a renewed call to do what you are already doing in a spirit of service.
Resolution: I resolve to wait upon the Lord today until I hear His call for how He would have me serve Him.
© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson