At the Ordination I attended on Saturday read the reading of Stephen, a Deacon, who ended up being stoned to death for his faith in Christ Jesus, and in his dying moments was described as having a face of an angel.
For a second I thought of the truth of the fact that sometimes us as mere human beings, can something reflect something of the image of our divine creator in a way that is truly beautiful, and often this is most evident at those moments of extreme endurance and suffering.
I thought that preaching this story at an ordination was brave, as normally they are happy occasions and so talking about martyrdom was a sobering note to strike.
Yet too our thinking around following Jesus is too warm and fluffy, forgetting that Christ himself said “if anyone wants to be my disciple he must pick up his cross and follow me”, Paul also says in his letter to Timothy “anyone who wants to lead a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”.
I was reminded that this is obedience to a call that may -and for some will- cost you your life, the greatest cause the world, may require us to make that ultimate sacrifice, but as the martyred missionary Jim Elliott said: “He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep in order to gain that which he cannot lose”.
As I began to think of the Deacon call, the call to serve, a call to follow the example of Jesus and wash the disciples feet, demean himself to bless others.
Too often the leadership I see represented in many forms of Church looks and feels more like Alan Sugars board room, than the upper-room of Jesus washing his disciples feet. we need to remember that our God is the Servant king, who “came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many”.
Paul writes in Philippians how Jesus humbled himself and made himself nothing… taking on the form of a slave (servant I a poor translation)… and became obedient unto death.
Leadership is marked by service to others, leadership is costly, leadership is painful, and leadership often causes us to make sacrifices. Leadership is lonely, isolated, leadership causes us to become unpopular and us and what we hold sacred is often rejected and scoffed at.
All this happened to the greatest leader humanity has ever known, Jesus Christ, whom Isaiah calls the suffering servant.
Service is at the heart of what it means to be a leader in Christ’s Church, if we are leading the people of Christ, we need to be leading them in a Christ-like way. we need to remember that God says that he “opposes the proud but lifts the humble”.
Pope Francis, and less know about former Archbishop Rowan, used to regularly as part of their own service help the poor and destitute in soup kitchens etc.
I worry that sometimes “service” or “deaconing” as the Church calls it (why do we have to give everything a fancy name) becomes something we do at the start of our career, something confined to our probationary year, like the newly qualified teacher having to clean the paint pots or make tea in the staff room, which we graduate out of an soon we become far too important to do this kind of thing!
I remember on one occasion finding Peer Huzzey the Team Rector (for non Anglican people this means quite an important person) -a Canon in Bristol Cathedral- cleaning some seriously disgusting toilets in our Church hall.
Someone ones said “If serving is bellow you, leadership is above you!” -if you aren’t prepared to serve, then you shouldn’t be leading.
I had a Vicar who once said “it is easier to find people to preach in the pulpit that to clean it”.
Shane Claiborne says “Everyone wants a revolution but no one wants to do the dishes”.
Service is a gift, and important gift, interestingly clearly Stephen had many other gifts, just read his sermon, possibly the best sermon delivered by one of Jesus’ followers in the entire new testament, and yet he knew his primary calling was the works of justice, feeding the hungry, caring for the widows.
Interestingly when Stephen and the other deacons took their role of service and began to administer the food fairly we read the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
when we serve, and give ourselves to the Kingdom cause, especially in a way that cares more about Christ’s glory and the Kingdom of God than our own ego, we see the Kingdom advance.
Perhaps, the reason why the Kingdom of God is not advance as we long to see it happen is because maybe we are too proud to humble ourselves and to put other peoples needs before our own wants and desires.