Sunday, July 03, 2016

Sermon: Consecration of Deacon Richard Iverson

Consecration of Deacon Richard Iverson

3 July 2016

Text: Acts 6:1-6 (Ex 20:1-17, Rom 6:1-11, Matt 5:17-26)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen. 

There are not many things we can count on, but one thing we certainly can count on is that history repeats itself.

In the aftermath of our Lord’s ascension, the apostles found themselves with the difficulty of confessing and preaching the faith in a pagan culture.  On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came and thousands of people were converted through the Word of God.  Holy Baptisms took place as our Lord commanded the apostles: “Therefore, go and make disciples…”  The Lord’s Supper was administered every Sunday, with hymns and preaching and scripture readings.

But there were many things in the life of the early church that caused pastors to become so busy as to make it difficult to carry out the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

So, in Acts Chapter 6, in response to the needs of distributing charity, the pastors were overwhelmed.  So the apostles “summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the Word of God to serve tables.  Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.’ And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.  These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid hands on them.”

These were the first deacons of the church.  And the first one mentioned, Stephen, was to become the first martyr of the church.

Deacons were very important in the New Testament.  St. Paul always greets them with the pastors.  In fact, in First Timothy, Paul lays out the qualifications for deacons, and they are nearly identical to the qualifications of pastors.

Over the centuries, as the Christian Church became the dominant religion, the role of the deacon sadly became diminished.  Sometimes, it was just a hoop to jump through in order to become a pastor.

But in modern times, churches began to once again appreciate the service of deacons.  In our sister church in Siberia, a man must serve at least five years as a deacon before ordination as a pastor.  But a deacon may remain a deacon and serve in that ministry for his whole life.  Wherever pastors are spread thin, the Lord has raised up deacons to serve the church and serve the pastor.  In fact, the word “deacon” means “servant.”  And it is a fitting custom that pastors be deacons as part of their formation.  I was consecrated a deacon while I served on vicarage.

I was once at a diaconal consecration in an Anglican church, and the preacher told the man being consecrated to remember that even if he were to become a priest, even if he were to become a bishop, he would always also remain a deacon, a servant.  Those are indeed wise words.  Our Lord Jesus taught us to be servant-leaders, and diaconal service is a way for a man to be a servant of the congregation and to help his pastor even though he is not called to preach and to administer sacraments.

And Rick, you may be wondering what you have gotten yourself into.  You may feel unworthy of this holy office.  You may question whether or not you are ready to wear the stole and be placed into this holy order.  And that is completely normal.  Of course, it is only by God’s grace and the blessing of the Holy Spirit that any of us can carry out the vocations to which we are all called.  The Lord cares for His church through servants of every kind, all living day to day by God’s grace, fueled by the Word and the Lord’s Supper, empowered by Baptism, and re-invigorated  through the Words of Absolution.  We are strengthened by prayer and fortified by study.

Rick, you stand in the train of the thousands of deacons who have come before you, even as you stand within the great cloud of witnesses of all of our brothers and sisters from every time and place who, by God’s grace, confess Christ, and are transformed by His blood shed upon the cross and given to us in the chalice.

Today, dear friends, we are reminded yet again that the Lord works through instruments, and He has promised to preserve His church and provide for her needs until the end of time.

We have heard anew the Ten Commandments, knowing that we do not keep them, knowing that they convict us of our sins, and reinforcing the fact that we need men to preach the Word and to absolve us.  We also know that our pastors cannot be everywhere at once, that the burdens of the office are great, and that some men, like St. Paul, must make tents in addition to carrying out the Holy Ministry.  And we know that with our time being limited, it is a great blessing to have deacons and other servants of the church whose service makes time for us pastors to proclaim Law and Gospel to the church and to bear that prophetic voice of right and wrong to a broken world.

We have heard anew St. Paul’s beautiful discourse on the forgiveness of sins and how that free and full gift is delivered through being baptized into Christ’s death.  And we know that for our pastors to be able to baptize, to catechize, to teach, to hear confessions and absolve sins, to visit the sick and bear with our parishioners’ burdens, to carry out marriages and funerals and administrative duties in the church, we need brothers and sisters in Christ to help us.  We have many people in this congregation who have answered that call, those who serve officially and unofficially on behalf of our parish’s needs.  And to have a deacon in the parish is one more way for us all to live out the baptismal life to which we have all been called.

We have heard anew our Lord’s reminder that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.  We are reminded of the importance of the entire counsel of God, Law and Gospel, of the importance of the Christian life as laid out in our teaching and in our doing; in our doctrine, and in our practice.  We are reminded of our need to be humble, as servants, as always on guard lest we fall into hypocrisy.  We are reminded to be a people of peace and reconciliation.  Once again, having the assistance of a deacon greatly helps the pastor in that endeavor to bid the congregation to not only believe in the Christian faith, but to walk the way of the Christian life.

Indeed, there are not many things we can count on, but one thing we certainly can count on is that history repeats itself.  Even as the early church found itself in a pagan culture, and even as the pastors were bogged down in matters like making a living in the secular world, overseeing church programs, and providing care for the flock, and even as the early church laid hands on men of good repute, full of the Spirit, and consecrated them as deacons, so also we do this today.  The church will always need deacons, and the Holy Spirit, by God’s grace, will continue to raise them up, provide for them, bless them, and consecrate their labors for the people of God.

And as St. Paul reminds us: “Those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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

Investiture of Deacon Richard Iverson

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