Tag Archives: deacon

In the temple and house to house

[The council] were convinced by Gamaliel, and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and [house to house] they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. (Acts 5:39-42)

It seems to me that this passage is a pretty convincing place to locate the beginning of the “priesthood of all believers.”

Every day …

… in the temple and house to house …

… those who were considered worthy
to suffer for the name …

… did not cease to teach and proclaim.

The apostles were flogged, and they rejoiced.

They were ordered not to speak, and they did not cease to teach and proclaim.

Here’s an example of their proclamation, a song we still sing at Morning Prayer more than 2,000 years later:

A Song to the Lamb Dignus es
Revelation 4:11, 5:9-10, 13

Splendor and honor and kingly power *
are yours by right, O Lord our God,
For you created everything that is, *
and by your will they were created and have their being;
And yours by right, O Lamb that was slain, *
for with your blood you have redeemed for God,
From every family, language, people, and nation, *
a kingdom of priests to serve our God.

And so, to him who sits upon the throne, *
and to Christ the Lamb,
Be worship and praise, dominion and splendor, *
for ever and for evermore.

As we continue reading the next few chapters of Acts, we will see the apostles appointing seven deacons to serve the needs of the Greek-speaking believers as well as the Jewish believers. The song they sing is for “every family, language, people, and nation” — for the whole kingdom of priests.

The deacon Stephen’s preaching — not his table service — gets him stoned to death. He is the next one to be “counted worthy to suffer for the name” (Acts 7:60).

The violence against all of the believers is mounting.

Saul begins to follow the church, persecuting the believers. As they are “every day in the temple and house to house,” so he is “ravaging the church by entering house after house, dragging off both men and women” (Acts 8:3).

But “those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word” (Acts 8:4). Eventually even Saul is “counted worthy to suffer for the name,” and his conversion leads him to travel widely, entering house after house again, only this time to form churches.

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, Christ the Lamb.

Worthy are you, when you suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. The church thrived and grew when the going got tough. Even today, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” (Tertullian).

Mideast Egypt The Christian Vote

A blood-spattered poster of Jesus Christ is seen inside the the Coptic Christian Saints Church in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria (CNS).

Worthy, too, are the priesthood of all believers, those who sing the Lord’s song “every day in the temple and house to house.”

Worthy are you, when you proclaim the good news of Christ not just at church, but also as you go about your daily life.

A Prayer for Mission

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.

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12 Steps of Christmas | St. Stephen, deacon and martyr

Step Two – “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

Morning Prayer for the Feast of St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr, can be found here.

My heart trusts in him, and I have been helped

December 26, on the Western Christian calendar, is the feast of St. Stephen, one of the first martyrs who witnessed to his faith in Jesus as Lord even in the face of death by stoning.

Stephen’s story, told in Acts 6-7, is about trusting in a new revelation of God. In this case, the revelation is that Jesus himself was God and was the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy.

His witness, the sermon Stephen preached indicting the Sanhedrin (the religious leaders of Jerusalem) for opposing the Holy Spirit, is a reinterpretation of Jewish history that they cannot stand for.

Stephen’s trust in the Son of God and in this new revelation is so complete that he is not afraid to die. He is filled with a power greater than himself.

Higher Power

Many people I have met in AA meetings talk about how difficult it was for them to accomplish  Step Two.

They struggled to believe in, let alone acknowledge the existence of “a Power greater than ourselves” — which (with a capital P, of course) would seem to refer to the God of Christianity, especially of the Roman Catholic or Lutheran churches so prevalent where I live.

I did not have that particular struggle. As a person brought up in the church and serving for 20 years as an ordained minister, I have always trusted in the existence of God.

But I’m not sure I ever trusted God to “restore me to sanity.”

What really struck me about Step Two was its suggestion that the AA group itself might serve as one’s “Higher Power” as far as recovery goes. The point is, the group has wisdom that I don’t. In that sense, they are greater than I am.

I do well to listen to their counsel, to their stories of “experience, strength, and hope,” to their trust in a Higher Power, as I deal with my own issues.

The wisdom of tradition

There are clear ties here, in my mind, to the traditions of the church and the humility that we might be called to exercise in the face of 2,000 years of the lived experience of the saints.

St. Stephen, the first to demonstrate such a powerful faith, is often pictured holding up a church. Perhaps we are sustained, held up, by the faith of those who came before us.

perseverar-em-Jesus-3We are not the first believers to struggle in our faith, or to suffer because of our belief, or to doubt the presence of God in our lives. We are not the first to face ridicule, or to feel dryness in our prayers, or to question the dogmas that are being pushed on us.

Humility simply means admitting that we might have something to learn from believers who have wisdom that we don’t.

Putting away all earthly anxieties

But more is needed than just learning from the AA group or the church’s traditions if our Higher Power is to  “restore us to sanity.”

What shines through the stories of recovery I have heard is transformed lives. People talk about a whole new way of living that is not based on fear or addiction, but on gratitude and sobriety.

What is even more remarkable is the way people long in recovery maintain their poise even in the face of repeated trials and the need to “keep working the program.” Some even make the astonishing claim that hitting rock bottom was the best thing that ever happened to them.

In the face of struggles and doubts, people in the group “completely give themselves to this simple program” (Big Book 58) which is laid out in the remaining Steps.

It may not be quite the same as facing death by stoning, but practicing recovery — especially coming to believe that a Power greater than ourselves will restore us to sanity — seems to call forth from people a willingness to face difficult situations and people head on but without anxiety.

May we, like Stephen, give ourselves completely to this Power greater than ourselves in trust that we will be restored.

Collect of the Day

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

A Collect for Saturdays

Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary, and that our rest here upon earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Ember Days: So what?

im_shrimp_tempura

The Ember Days are a strange item on the Church’s calendar.

They are “traditionally observed on the Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays after the First Sunday in Lent, the Day of Pentecost, Holy Cross Day, and December 13” (BCP 18).

The name comes, most likely, from the Latin Quatuor Tempora, or “four seasons,” so the Ember Days mark the four seasons of the natural year rather than seasons of the Church year.

Various sources link the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday observance to the early Christian practice of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays attested to in the Didache (ca. 60 AD) and to the Roman practice of fasting on Saturdays, too.

Since Pope Gelasius I instituted the practice in 494, it also became customary for the Ember Days to serve as days for ordinations. The faithful would join the ordinands in fasting on Wednesday and Friday, and the ordination would happen (as is still pretty common) on Saturday.

This association with ordination is expanded upon in the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer, and now the three collects appointed for the Ember Days (BCP 256) invite us to pray for:

I. Those to be ordained

II. The choice of fit persons for the ministry, and

III. For all Christians in their vocation

To mark these days in the Daily Office, it would be natural simply to use the first collect on Wednesday, the second on Friday, and the third on Saturday. You will notice that the third collect is the same as one of the Prayers for Mission (BCP 100) that we use regularly in Morning Prayer.

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So what? Why should we care about the Ember Days?

Well, let me bring it closer to home and give you some examples.

I am a member of the Commission on Ministry (COM) here in the Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac. Our job is to assist the bishop in the following ways:

  • to determine the present and future needs for ministry in the Diocese
  • to provide discernment processes for parishes and individuals seeking to identify and use their gifts in ministry
  • to provide continuing education for all people, lay and ordained, in their ministries
  • to support the development of the ministry of the laity in the Diocese and within parishes
  • to identify persons for Holy Orders, and to guide and examine seekers, aspirants, postulants, and candidates for the diaconate and priesthood in their journey toward ordination

Four times a year, the Ember Days specifically focus not just the COM but the whole Church on praying for all Christians in their vocation.

Today is Ember Wednesday, so we pray for those to be ordained. In our case, the next ordination in the Diocese is that of Fr. Matt Gunter, who will be ordained as our new bishop on Saturday, April 26. Today I pray not only for him but also for all who are working to make that ordination service a celebration of our life and ministry here in northeastern Wisconsin.

On Ember Friday, we pray for the choice of fit persons for the ministry. The COM just began offering a group discernment process called Circles of Light for all who are interested in seeking God’s will for their ministry, and of the 10 people in the group two think they might be interested in the diaconate and two in the priesthood. I’ll pray especially for those four people this Friday.

On Ember Saturday, we pray for all Christians in their vocation. This Saturday, I’ll be with the young adults of the Diocese at a Happening weekend, and I can’t think of a better time to pray for vocation than with high-school age Christians.

Who might you pray for during this Ember Week?

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Bonus Ember Day trivia!

I am deeply grateful to Michael P. Foley’s article on the Ember Days for this delicious — and I mean yummy! — bit of trivia:

Even the Far East was affected by the Ember days. In the sixteenth century, when Spanish and Portuguese missionaries settled in Nagasaki, Japan, they sought ways of making tasty meatless meals for Embertide and started deep-frying shrimp. The idea caught on with the Japanese, who applied the process to a number of different sea foods and vegetables. They called this delicious food—have you guessed it yet?—“tempura,” again from Quatuor Tempora.

So next time you’re out for sushi, take a moment to pray for those about to be ordained, for the choice of fit persons for the ministry, and for all Christians in their vocation. You’ll be glad you did.

Thanks for reading!

Unshakable witness

perseverar-em-Jesus-3

 

“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. (Acts 7:56-60)

The Seven — commonly called the first deacons — were appointed by the apostles to ensure that the ministries of care and preaching were extended to the Greek-speaking as well as the Hebrew-speaking Christians (Acts 6). Stephen was not running a soup kitchen; he was preaching the Word. His preaching having landed him in hot water with the council in Jerusalem, he also became the first Christian to die because of his faith.

Stephen is the prototype for those who trust completely in God’s assurance of salvation, who do not even fear death. That unshakable faith is probably one of the reasons that following the naming of the Seven, “the word of God continued to spread, the number of the disciples increased greatly, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).

Many icons of Stephen show the Church resting in his arms. Stephen saw Jesus face to face, and the Church must forever rest on the unshakable faith of witnesses (martyrs) like him.