Servant Leaders: Deacons, Disciples & Dragonflies


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This Earth Day Sunday we explore how following the ways of Jesus includes love, prayer and service. Jesus heals with a touch, comforts with a word, counsels the mistaken, and pours himself out selflessly. How can we serve the Good Shepherd who loves us all, so unconditionally?

Sermon Video

This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

1 John 3:16-24

We know love by this, that [Jesus Christ] laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

 

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O Ecclesia!

This is my last Sunday to preach as your Acting Co-Head of Staff.[1] Rev. Joann will preach next Sunday, assisted by the talents of our friends, The Bernal Hillbillies, a San Francisco bluegrass band. Then, May 1, we’ll hand over the reins to Rev. Calvin Chinn. I want to thank all of you who have shown kindness to Joann and me since last September when our former head of staff, John Weems, left us. Many of you have stepped up to do more than your share, but all of you have shown up, and for that I am truly grateful to each and every one.

Over the past months, and especially since the session voted to declare Calvary part of the sanctuary church movement, I have sat down with a number of people with whom I disagree on matters procedural, moral and theological. Now hear me: we have risen from each of those dialogues with a better understanding of one another. We no longer see ourselves as characters in someone else’s play. It’s difficult letting that authenticity emerge, but to a person we have discovered unexpected similarities and even common goals. Dare I call it the miracle of the household of faith? I’ve learned that this Christian love is often activated by risking conflict and buffered by common decency. The Holy Spirit will take it from there.

For those who are waiting for the messiah to come and unify Calvary, it’s time for you to face reality and do your part. Unity will come when we see one another as children of God. Yes, we are diverse and sometimes a little wacky, but God loves us unconditionally, no exceptions. Unity will come when we act on that gnawing instinct inside: the yearning for connection, the parts of you that want to be known and listened to by me, the parts of me that want to be understood by you. So, thank you for this unrequested opportunity to grow. I would say may it happen to you, but it already has. If you’ve pushed it away in favor of waiting for a pastoral messiah, there’s still time to get woke, turn around and be transformed. It’s never too late to show up, to engage by speaking your truth and, then, release the outcome to the Holy Spirit.[2]

 Servant Leaders: 1 John 3

The three letters of John were written by John the Evangelist. Do I mean John the Beloved Disciple? Since the writing style of First John mirrors most of the writing of the Gospel of John, we assume similar authorship. Scholarship’s best guess puts the epistles of John around the year 100, written probably in Ephesus by the  Beloved Disciple’s legacy community.[3]

These letters address an unnamed female benefactor of the Early Church and asks this matriarch to throw her weight around in order to restore a love of service in the congregation.[4] The Evangelist wants her to (re)ground the community in the life-giving message of Jesus, to acknowledge Jesus as the head of the church and to “make [their] joy complete.” To restore our joy, says this epistle, we must strive to become more like Jesus. If words like fractured and divided have become your daily refrains when referring to this congregation, today John the Evangelist calls us to unify around Jesus, the one who ‘laid down his life for us…[for] we ought to lay down our lives for one another.:” The Evangelist speaks to our Faith in Action ministries. “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? …Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

That’s how this scripture relates to today’s themes: stewarding the environment, caring for our world out there, caring for one another in here, service as the highest form of leadership. The text convicts our use of money, reminding us that our budgets reflect our faith. Budgets and pledge campaigns are moral activities that illustrate trust in God or, at the other extreme, distrust and even fear. What’s our goal: to preserve our holdings or to serve God’s children in need?

Servant Leaders of the Forest

On this Earth Day, a lesson from the forest, as told by environmentalist Stephen Harrod Buhner.[5]

…[W]hen scientists enter a forest and girdle one or more trees—which would theoretically kill the trees because girdling disrupts the nutrient flow from the leaves, where photosynthesis occurs, to the roots—neighboring trees, and other plants, will feed the girdled trees through the mycelial network—that’s the fungal network that acts like an enormous internet throughout the soil.[6]

My father and I used to know when it was time to leave coffee hour and go home from church. My mother would lean over and say to us quietly, “I have to get home and get out of this girdle.” When Mother said that, it was time to go. When my Aunt Phyllis said that, it was too late for all of us. What girdles you? What has you bound? What cuts off the flow of life in your personal ecosystem? What is choking you? This is a valuable image to examine in prayer and mindfulness. Then, shed that girdle! Let someone care for you. There are people standing by to help you to get your groove back.

Buhner claims:

…that other plants literally send nutrients to the deficient [girdled] trees [through mycelial networks]. You see this type of behavior all over the world. Increasingly, we are learning that [plants are] community-oriented beings, who don’t tend to get aggressive unless they’re treated badly[7]

Calvary’s Servant Leaders

In this church, we also activate the healing, network of prayer and service, maybe not as instinctually as mycelial fungi—but intentionally, powerfully and lovingly.

Over four years ago, because of my clinical training in spiritual care[8] and integrative medical education[9], I was called to serve as Calvary’s Minister for Spiritual Care. My duties include supporting the work of the Board of Deacons. This church has a large group of deacons, around 30. Unlike other denominations, Presbyterian deacons are ordained leaders, like our elders (board of directors) or pastors (ministers of the Word).[10] We share that same ordained status. The constitution of the PC(USA)[11] says this:

The ministry of deacon as set forth in scripture is one of compassion, witness, and service, sharing in the redeeming love of Jesus Christ for the poor, the hungry, the sick, the lost, the friendless…[12]

Sounds good, right? Wait, the list goes on:

…the oppressed, those burdened by unjust policies or structures, or anyone in distress.[13]

I feel it’s important to claim this description publicly, how the deacons are charged to minister to the oppressed and those burdened by injustice. This has always been the command of unconditional agape love, simpatico with the exhortations of John the Evangelist.

So, how do your deacons share the redeeming love of Jesus? Let me count the ways.

  • First of all, they show up. They show up, and they say yes. They say yes when asked to serve. Yes to one of our homebound seniors says what she needs more than anything is a visit and some oyster crackers. For her, a Big Mac is better than the balm in Gilead.
  • When flowers are donated to our worship services, the deacons take apart the lovely arrangements following worship, and they deliver bouquets to people who cannot get to church. At Easter and Christmas, they deliver special holiday lilies and poinsettias on behalf of this congregation. The ministry of the deacons is financed by the church’s general budget.
  • In September, the deacons create and host a Saturday morning spiritual retreat all through this building, prayer stations and spiritual practices, to ground us for all the busyness that the fall has in store.
  • A Sunday afternoon not too long ago, the deacons hosted Dr. Charles Garfield, founder of the Shanti Project, who taught us how to companion those who are sickest and even preparing for their final journeys.[14]
  • The deacons send out communications calling the friends and members of Calvary to come home, it’s Christmas, it’s Easter, there’s a concert, come and serve God’s people with us, come and drink from the living water, we miss you. We’ve saved you a seat.
  • Did you know that Calvary has a prayer request line? The deacons check it regularly, just as they check the three prayer request boxes located in the entryways of the church and the chapel. Most weeks, I send out a confidential prayer list, and the entire Board of Deacons pauses, reads it and prays each prayer request.
  • On communion Sundays, the deacons take part the bread and cup to those in the hospital or at home, who cannot attend church.
  • They usher, greet and help count the offering.
  • They cook, organize and host a giant Calvin Hall Thanksgiving Feast for anyone who needs a place to celebrate Thanksgiving.
  • Deacons serve on the worship team, Faith-in-Action (serving) team, membership and the SF Interfaith Council, as well as the nominating committee.
  • They get together most months, share a bite of food, catch up on what’s going on in the congregation, and brush up on deacon skills like praying out loud, making hospital visits and practicing realistic boundaries—letting our yes’s be yes’s and our no’s be healthy no’s.

If you are aware of someone who would make a good deacon, including yourself, please take time to write your name or their name on a piece of paper and place it in the church-wide nominating committee’s box at the reception area outside Calvin Hall. The same goes for elders (board of directors) nominations.

Who is your deacon? Please go to Calvin Hall to say hello to your deacon after worship. We have all but four of the deacons present today. If you don’t know your deacon, we’ll tell you who your deacon is. If you don’t have a deacon, we’ll assign you one.

Deacons are the hands and feet of Christ.[15] They are witnesses to the ongoing resurrection of Jesus, alive and healing the world. And our deacons are offering themselves to love you just as you are. When you let us know that something has you bound/girdled—a sickness, a grief, a restlessness to serve—the deacons activate their mycelial network, sending out God’s love to find you, to help heal what’s got you bound. Through this kind of service, we know love.

There’s an online survey that calls this the number one pop song for Easter.[16] Let’s see if you agree. It’s by Bob Dylan.

When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love

 When the evening shadows and the stars appear
And there is no one there to dry your tears
Oh, I hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love

 I know you haven’t made your mind up yet
But I will never do you wrong
I’ve known it from the moment that we met
No doubt in my mind where you belong

 I could make you happy, make your dreams come true
There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
Go to the ends of this Earth for you
To make you feel my love[17]

 

[1] I will continue to serve out my contract as Calvary’s Minister for Spiritual Care—and, God willing, serve well-beyond that contract.

[2] A variation on Angeles Arrien’s Four-fold path: http://www.angelesarrien.com/index-php/four-fold-way/

[3] A good discussion of gospel authorship and historicity: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel

[4] L. William Countryman, “The Johanine Letters” in The Queer Bible Commentary (London, SCM, 2006) 737-746.

[5]“The Intelligence of Plants” Stephen Harrod Buhner, Interview, The Moon Magazine, accessed online at <http://moonmagazine.org/stephen-harrod-buhner-plant-intelligence-2017-11-05/> (April 20, 2018)  The field of plant perception/neurobiology is new to me, and I find it completely fascinating.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Yearlong Chaplain residency in Clinical Pastoral Education at California Pacific Medical Center

[9] IME Certificate, Institute for Health & Healing

[10] http://oga.pcusa.org/section/mid-council-ministries/ministers/ordination/

[11] Book of Order of the PC(USA), current, G-2.02 “Deacons: The Ministry of Compassion and Service” accessed online at http://oga.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/oga/pdf/book-of-order2017-electronic.pdf (April 16, 2018)

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Dr. Garfield’s book, Life’s Last Gift, is an invaluable resource for anyone facing the loss of a loved one. http://www.charlesgarfield.com/lifes-last-gift.html

[15] http://liturgy.co.nz/i-have-no-hands-but-yours

[16] https://www.thoughtco.com/great-pop-songs-for-easter-4014966

[17] Adele singing Bob Dylan’s “Make You Fell My Love” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0put0_a–Ng

 

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