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Posts Tagged ‘deacon’

Lessons:  Acts 16: 11-40;  Acts 9: 36-43;  Romans 16: 1-2

Prayer 

 Filled with thy Holy Spirit, gracious God, thine earliest disciples served Thee with the gifts each had been given: Lydia in business and stewardship, Dorcas in a life of charity and Phoebe as a deaconess who served many. Inspire us today to build up Thy Church with our gifts in hospitality, charity and bold witness to the Gospel of Christ;  who livest and reignest with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 These women were exemplary Christians who demonstrated their faith by their material support of the Church. Dorcas (also known as Tabitha) was well-known and much loved for her acts of charity in the city of Joppa, especially for her making clothes for the poor. When Dorcas died suddenly, the members of her congregation sent to the neighboring city of Lydda for the Apostle Peter, who came and raised her from the dead (Acts 9:36–41). Lydia was a woman of Thyatira, who worked at Philippi selling a famous purple dye that was so much in demand in the ancient world. She was also a “worshiper of God” at the local synagogue. When the Apostle Paul encountered her in prayer among other proselyte women, his preaching of the Word brought Lydia to faith in Christ. She and her friends thus became the nucleus of the Christian community in Philippi (16:13–15, 40). Phoebe was another faithful woman associated with the Apostle Paul. She was a deaconess from Cenchrae (the port of Corinth) whom Paul sent to the church in Rome with his Epistle to the Romans. In it he writes of her support for the work of the early Church (Rom 16:1).

“One can say that in Christianity the extraordinary has become ordinary, but also the ordinary has become extraordinary, usual unusual, the common uncommon,that what all do has been transformed into priestly work and to a sacrifice that is offered to the most high God…. [T]he Lord Jesus was followed by a number of women whose names have come down to us. Kings are forgotten, emperors have fallen into the dust and there is no one to remember them; the names of these women, however, are still being mentioned. There are only a few things we know about them, and what is said seems insignificant to us. They made offerings  to the Son of Man from what they had …provided such little services, as he deserved before all others.  But because the common uncommon, thus these names are written in the Book of books.

…I said that because of Christianity uncommon has become common and the common uncommon the Spirit and the purpose and way it was done…. I point to Matthew 25. What does he say there by separating the sheep from the goats? Whom does he praise? Whom does He reproach? Whom does he call to inherit the kingdom of his Father? Does he call the heroes, who accomplished great things, the kings with their crowns and those who struck with their great swords and brought about great changes upon earth? What does He do? He names and praises the same common things that I have said Christianity has made uncommon. He says: “I was hungry” and so forth—”come, you blessed of my Father” (Mt 25:34)…. Thus, he asks for the food, for the drink, for the gift of oil and wine. He asks for all these common things, which I have said have become uncommon through his Spirit.—J. K. Wilhelm Loehe  (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

One More Reflection:  Do great things.  America will be number one again.  Be a winner.  This is the way the world thinks and we do as well.  Serving is not natural, that is, according to fallen human nature which is self-centered and ego driven, and so self-serving, damaged in the Fall, damaged beyond all human repair. When I re-read Pr. Loehe’s reflection above, this is not the Christianity I want. I want successful and powerful Christianity especially in our mission here.  I think all the lamentation, “America is no longer a Christian nation”,  is the lament over lost power.  The Church had no political power and authority when Dorcas, Lydia and Phoebe lived upon this old earth. When it does boast political power, then the dangers abound.  As our Lord said to Pilate, “My Kingdom is not from this world.”  The Church did have power, though:  the Word and Deed of Jesus Christ in the lives of His faithful people.  Kings and the mighty change the world according to their will and things get worse. They make news but it is really as “old as Adam”.  The faithful women did good things in Christ Jesus and Faith, and they were salt of the earth, and people believed in the Lord.  We think our smartphones are just wonderful and adorable, the gadgets of power and we listen to them.  We need to listen to our Lord in His Word Who alone can change our souls day by day  to love as He first loved us.  

These holy women, who were made holy by Faith in Jesus, are acknowledged in the prayer above in their various vocations:  business woman, charitable worker and  deaconess. For instance:  Lydia was the first convert to the Faith in Europe.  And as a business woman who sold the dye of royal and costly purple, she might have been quite well-to-do.   I am struck by the non-judgmental listing of “business’  alongside with a “churchy”  sounding word, “deaconess”.  These are all vocations from the Lord, yes, even business!   If it weren’t for business, there would be no jobs.  There is no occupation that is displeasing to the Lord, except those occupied with evil…or vocations used for ignoble ends with sinful means.  Even a ‘churchy’ vocation can be used to serve self and not the Lord and can become evil as witnessed by clergy sexual sins.  And business men and women can serve the Lord and His people, and not the self.  Daily repentance is turning toward the Lord our whole lives to serve Him and His people.  It is in our daily vocations that we can serve and love our neighbors as to Christ Himself, not to save ourselves, as Jesus has already done that, but that our neighbor be served and be pointed to the Savior.  Dorcas, Lydia and Phoebe did so by charity, hospitality and serving, not waiting for suspect government to help the poor, the stranger, the widow, but actual acts of of corporate mercy.  

Almighty God, You stirred to compassion the hearts of Your dear servants Dorcas, Lydia, and Phoebe to uphold and sustain Your Church by their devoted and charitable deeds. Give us the same will to love You, open our eyes to see You in the least ones, and strengthen our hands to serve You in others, for the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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Acts 8: 26- 39
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place.And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
33In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Almighty and everlasting God, we thank You for Your servant Philip the Deacon, whom You called to proclaim the Gospel to the peoples of Samaria and Ethiopia. Raise up in this and every land heralds and evangelists of Your kingdom, that your Church may make known the immeasurable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

About Philip the Deacon:  Philip, also called the evangelist (Acts 21:8), was one of the seven men appointed to assist in the work of the twelve apostles and of the rapidly growing early Church by overseeing the distribution of food to the poor (Acts 6:1-6). Following the martyrdom of Stephen, Philip proclaimed the Gospel in Samaria and led Simon the sorcerer to become a believer in Christ (Acts 8:4-13). He was also instrumental in bringing about the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39), through whom Philip became indirectly responsible for bringing the Good News of Jesus to the people on the continent of Africa. In the town of Caesarea, he was host for several days to the apostle Paul, who stopped there on his last journey to Jerusalem (Acts 21:8-15). (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, cph.org)

 

Biblical Reflection Points on Philip in Acts 8: 26-40 (see caption above):

  1. Philip, like Stephen, was called to be a Deacon to serve the widows and like Stephen also preached and served the Gospel.  Philip administered the measurable riches of man for the widows and the poor and also the “immeasurable riches” of Jesus Christ and both are crucial stewardship.
  2. There are two Biblical Greek words for time: kairos and chronos.  The latter is measurable time.  The former is immeasurable time, the time of fulfillment, the eternal moment of God’s “today”.  Philip preached to the Ethiopian Eunuch but Philip did not button-hole the court official so he could give his “witness”.  It was the kairos, God’s time.  True preaching of the Word is according to God’s time. He knows best.
  3. The court official is reading Isaiah 53, prophesied some 500 years before Christ.  The chapter is almost a biography of His Passion.  I read a conservative rabbi’s understanding of Isaiah 53.  Basically, it made no Scriptural sense to him, because a veil was over his heart and eyes.  It won’t be removed  until the Gospel is preached and he so somes to faith in Christ Jesus.  It was removed for the eunuch. Isaiah 53 is preaching Christ and Him crucified.
  4.  Some people wrongly think that the Old Testament=Law and New Testament=Gospel.  This lesson, among thousands of passages, disproves those false equations!
  5. The Ethiopian did not understand the Scripture.  This is a perfect illustration of Romans 10:   14How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”                                                         Once again:  this was the right time.
  6. Please note the sequence:  Word, then Sacrament, specifically the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. The court official asks what is to prevent Baptism. Indeed!  The Greek verb for “prevent” is the same one Jesus used when the disciples rebuked the parents from bringing their children to Him for a blessing, when the Lord said, Do not prevent them from coming to me, for to such belongs the Kingdom of heaven.  This high court official of Queen Candace received the kingdom, freely given, in Baptism as a child.  Indeed, all baptisms are baptisms of children and infants, even for an adult. The man went away “rejoicing”. This old song illustrates the eunuch’s rejoicing:   “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so, little ones to Him belong, they are weak and He is strong. Yes!  Jesus loves me. Yes! Jesus loves me! Yes!  Jesus loves me, for the Bible tells me so.

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About Lawrence:  Early in the third century AD, Lawrence, most likely from Spain, made his way to Rome. There he was appointed chief of the seven deacons and was given the responsibility to manage Church property and finances. The emperor at the time, who thought that the Church had valuable things worth confiscating, ordered Lawrence to produce the ‘treasures of the Church.’ According to tradition,  Lawrence brought before the emperor the poor whose lives had been touched by Christian charity. He  jailed and eventually executed in the year AD 258 by being roasted on a gridiron. His martyrdom left a deep impression on the young Church because he was a Roman citizen tortured and executed by Roman authorities.  Almost immediately, the date of this death, August 10, became a permanent fixture on the early commemorative calendar of the Church.  (adapted from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH). The particular persecution that led to Lawrence’s execution began in anno Domini 257:

…the Roman emperor Valerian began a vigorous persecution of the church, aimed primarily at the clergy and laity of the upper classes. All of the properties of the church were confiscated and assemblies for worship were forbidden. On August 4, 258 the Bishop of Rome, Sixtus II who had just become bishop the year before, and his deacons were apprehended at the cemetery of Callistus where they were celebrating the liturgy, and all except Lawrence were summarily executed and buried in the same cemetery…Lawrence, who knew of the location of the Church’s treasure, was tortured and then executed on August 10.

Reflection: I would think Lawrence knew the location of the Church’s treasure! He knew exactly where it was as in the old pirate maps: when X marks the spot, that is the Cross of Jesus Christ.  He knew that the treasures of Christ’s grace is for the  poor, the lame, the orphans and the widows, for all who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the poor in spirit.   He did not “follow the money”: he followed His Lord and yours.  As a steward of Jesus Christ, His deacon, Lawrence maintained earthly treasure probably well but gold does not make the Church, only the blood of Christ.

When the Church and her Christians think the true treasures of the church are in the offering plates/big budgets  or our “creative ministries” or our programs, and not the Cross and Sacraments, Scripture and Service in His love, then, “…we are in danger of losing the things that make the Church in favor of those who claim to make the Church.  Church leaders only gain legitimacy when they are the delivery point of the divine gifts.” (Pr. Murray, A Year with the Church Fathers, CPH)  Lawrence and many others so delivered the divine gifts and were delivered up as martyrs and their witness heartens us.

We pray…Gracious Lord, in every age You have sent men and women who have given their lives for the message of  Your Gospel and all the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ.  Inspire us with the memory of those martyrs for the Gospel, like Your servant Lawrence, whose faithfulness led them to the way of the cross, and give us courage to bear full witness with our lives to Your Son’s ficotry over sin and death, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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