Monday, June 15, 2009

Sermon: Monday of Trinity 1, Consecration of Latif Gaba as Deacon

15 June 2009 at Holy Hill, Milwaukee, WI

Text: 1 Tim 3:8-13, Luke 12: 35-38

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Reverend Fathers and Brothers, brothers and sisters in Christ, Reverend Deacon Gaba, family and friends.

When Deacon Gaba recommends a book, it is generally good advice to read it. In one such book, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, the narrator often relates horrific accounts of our fallen world, of our sinful nature, of what St. Augustine called our “lust for domination.” And at the end of each depressing anecdote comes the matter-of-fact line: “And so it goes.”

We have become so used to sin, evil, temptation, cruelty, man’s inhumanity to man, tyranny, and all such things that lead to death, as to barely elicit a shrug. And so it goes.

The first of a very long chain of deacons in the history of the Church did not have what our church bureaucrats would today call “a successful ministry.” Not long after his consecration, St. Stephen suffered and died a painful summary execution by stoning, because the religious authorities of his day were hard of heart. And so it goes.

Our patron, St. Polycarp, the aged bishop of Smyrna likewise died a cruel death at the hands of the enemies of the cross for the sake of his confession of our Lord Christ. And so it goes.

Another Stephen, a man of our own times, Br. Latif’s now sainted spiritual father, was not stoned to death or burned at the stake, but he too suffered for the sake of the Gospel by those in authority – being forcefully removed from his ministry and being injured in reputation and livelihood, and all for such grave issues as the wearing of a cassock. And so it goes.

When I first met Latif as a seminarian, we became fast friends. I found him to be not only theologically astute, but devout, indeed “grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre, holding the mystery of faith in a pure conscience.” I also found his wife Ruth to be “grave,” and not a slanderer, but rather “sober,” and “faithful.” I looked forward to the day when Latif and I would go out together to serve as pastors. I was honored when Latif served as the subdeacon at my priestly ordination. I looked forward to impressing Latif into service as my father confessor upon his own priestly ordination. Many of us were to be disappointed, and terribly so. We were given a terribly bitter and painful pill to swallow. And so it goes.

And in this continuity of the fallen world, the seemingly never-ending parade of bad news, the relentless assault of the devil upon those who strive to serve the Triune God – here we are today, placing the same burden of St. Stephen’s office of service to our Lord and His Bride upon Br. Latif. And so it goes.

But unlike when uttered by Kurt Vonnegut – the refrain “and so it goes” does not, for us, reflect an indifferent lack of hope. Far from it. To the contrary, the expression “and so it goes” reflects continuity, the sense that no matter how bad things get in this fallen world, the Church, the faith, the Gospel, the ministry of Word and Sacrament, the forgiveness of sins, and everlasting life go on and on. And so it goes!

For St. Stephen did not die in vain as the world might see it, but died confessing his Lord, bound for glory, with the beatific vision and life that has no end, singing with angels and archangels, now and forever. And so it goes!

St. Polycarp likewise went to eternal glory, to where old bodies are made new, where the pain of sword and stake gives way to the joy of song and praise. St. Polycarp gave us a saintly example of humility and faithfulness, leaving us a legacy that is as fresh today as it was in the second century. And so it goes!

And Blessed Stephen Wiest, far from being a failure, his brief ministry on this side of the grave brought Christ to many people, and brought many people to Christ. As a priest, professor, and preacher, he was equally at home in a cassock among the Jesuits, or playing a harmonica on a barstool at a blues club. And in eternity, he no longer suffers the indignity of injustice or the agony of cancer. He too joins with St. Stephen the deacon and St. Polycarp the bishop in eternal glory. And so it goes!

And dear brother Latif, though the Lord has not seen fit to place you into presbyterial ministry at this time, he has, in His own due season, placed you under holy orders, bound to a faithful pastor, in the service of a faithful congregation, called to be a faithful servant of Jesus Christ, given to “purchase to [yourself] a good degree, and great boldness in faith which is in Christ Jesus.” And so it goes!

The 20 centuries of continuity from Deacon Stephen to Deacon Latif is a testimony to the continuity of the Church. On the one hand, it is tragic that our synod does not recognize diaconal ministry – at least not for men. We have feminized and emasculated the concept of diaconal ministry, even as we have somehow placed works of mercy and compassion entirely into the sphere of “women’s work” usually pulling women out of the home and away from their husbands and children to do so.

I’ve been told “we don’t have deacons in the LCMS.” This is simply untrue. While the office of deacon is officially a congregational office and unrecognized by our synod as a rostered form of official church work – there are indeed deacons in the LCMS. I was consecrated a deacon myself while on vicarage – and it continues to be a blessing to me as a deacon today.

I once saw an Anglican friend being consecrated a deacon. The preacher was a bishop who told the candidate: “You will always be a deacon. No matter how far you rise in the Church, you will always be a deacon. You might become a priest, a bishop, or even a primate – but you will always be a deacon, a minister, a servant.” I never forgot his words, and now I pass those words on to you, Deacon Gaba. Whether you eventually serve as a presbyter or not, you will always be a deacon, a servant of Christ. And so it goes.

We who serve as pastors in the Church would all benefit from being consecrated into this holy order as a reminder of our call to compassion, to love, to humility, to hard work, and to a martyr’s death if need be. Every pastor should wear his stole to the diagonal on occasion.

Too often, we in the Church stress that which is exulted in the eyes of the world – being up front, being the pastor of a big and growing congregation, wearing a miter, having the title “president,” wearing a suit and a tie and occupying a big office like those who are deemed successful in the eyes of the world, even given the title “dean” of a religious society. But what does our Lord esteem?

He tells us that instead of seeking titles and the praise of men, we are to “let [our] loins be girded about, and [our] lights burning.” We are to manfully “wait for the Lord.” For “blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when He cometh shall find watching.” For our Lord will reward these servants by serving them. Interestingly, the Greek reads “deaconing them.” When the Lord returns, he expects us to be “deaconing”: serving, working, and confessing Christ. This is the work of every Christian. But it is especially the work of men like Br. Latif who have been consecrated to assist the pastor in his evangelical work.

Br. Latif, we’ve often heard the quip of our clever seminary classmate, who likewise served as a deacon, who passed his dalmatic on to me, which I now pass on to you. He said: “What the Missouri Synod needs are male deaconesses.” And so it goes. But we know exactly what he meant by that. What we need are deacons. We need men who assist pastors in their work. We need consecrated men who will teach, assist in visitation, pray, serve in the liturgy, perform works of love and mercy, men who confess Christ even to the point of martyrdom. We need men who understand that the sanctuary is a holy place, and that we, as Christians, are called upon to be sanctified through prayer, through formation of the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God and His Holy Sacraments.

Br. Latif, the Lord has seen fit to place you into the office of St. Stephen, serving in the congregation of St. Stephen. The Lord blessed you with the spiritual formation of your father in the faith, the Blessed Stephen, and has called upon you to confess in the manner of Deacon St. Stephen – speaking truth to power, “with boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus,” not in self-aggrandizement, but in love and diaconal service for the sake of the kingdom.

Whether or not you ever get to be my father confessor is irrelevant. For now, you are called upon to be a confessor of our Lord Jesus Christ, a servant of his Church, to “be proved” and to be “blameless”, with loins girded, with lights burning, waiting and watching for the Lord, busy with the work of the kingdom.

And so it goes, now and forever, world without end. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

Br. Latif Gaba, SSP and Fr. Tim May, SSP

[Note: For more pictures of the consecration Mass, go here.]


Mike Green said...


Joe Greene said...

Wish we had been there!

William Weedon said...

Amen, indeed!

Past Elder said...

Ad multos annos!

Related comments -- anyone see PTM's post on his blog about this picture? Also, seems like in some LCMS congregations "deacon" is used instead of "elder" -- or am I wrong, are they actually ordaining these guys?

Father Hollywood said...

Dear PE:

The funny thing (as you well know) is that in Scripture, elder (presbuteros) is a pastor/priest/presbyter. Our Lutheran forbears, when they adopted English, adopted the Reformed practice of using the term "elder" for non-pastoral parish administrators (which are ordained in the Presbyterian churches).

Our "elders" are really more like deacons - though we have a functional view of the office of congregational "elder." In my parish, for example, elders are installed for two year terms. They are not ordained for service, nor is there any ontological view of their service to me and to the parish.

I do think we would do well to have a revived diaconate, men who are assisting the pastor, but unlike the "licensed deacons" in the LCMS, are not playing pastor. We would also do well to reserve the biblical term "elder" for the pastors. As a result of this confusion, some churches actually have "elders" (elected laymen who help pastors) assisting in the laying on of hands at ordinations, and in some rare cases, officiating at "communion" in people's homes. I filled in at one church in which the elders vest in albs with a stole worn diagonally.

Latif's role at St. Stephen's is not to preach and administer sacraments (he was not ordained a presbyter), but rather to assist Pastor May at the altar and in acts of mercy and service to the parish. His role is more like that of a lay elder than an ordained pastor - which is historically what deacons have done.

Latif is in no way rostered by the synod - which I think is actually a blessing and frees him up to serve his pastor and parish without external entanglements.

To avoid confusion, we specifically steered clear of the word "ordination" even though that is the traditional term for placing a man into diaconal ministry. Maybe we can restore the ordained diaconate in the LCMS - although we don't even have consensus as to what the roles of lay people and presbyters are at this point.

In any case, Br. Latif will be a great blessing to pastor and parish in his ministry as a deacon. I wish I had a deacon to help me here.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to Mr. Gaba!

Past Elder said...

Yes. In the parish (WELS) where I was an elder, it was made clear that this role is not what the NT calls elder. But I've had people (EO, actually) from outside Lutheranism ask me on blogs if I am a priest or bishop. OTOH, deacons in that parish tended to the grounds, repairs etc.

In my experience, an elder may assist in the distribution of Communion or read a sermon written by the pastor in his absence, but to participate in consecration, ordination, or preaching -- no way, not called to do that.

Then again, in my first LCMS parish, they had a Ministry Action Team, fka elders. How's that for a little 1960s ablaze in the 21st century.

John said...

Congratulations to Br. Latif.

As regards "Past Elders'" comment, when I was mired in the WELS there was a conference sponsored by the synod for church council members/elders with the tag that their position "was one of the oldest in Christianity" this proved by alleged supporting texts (teh presbyteros ones) from St. Paul. So that confusion exists there if not at P.E.'s parish. But it doesn't matter anyway in that all those "offices" (sic) in the WELS are in the OHM.

Get a haircut, you hippie.

Fr. John W. Berg

Past Elder said...

To be sure, John. Mired is just the word. Part of why I left was confusion over what is church, what is call, what is OHM, the works. The upside is, my prior experiences in WELS and the RCC put our problems in LCMS in a larger perspective.