Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus

Author: 
Fr Alec
Date: 
Sunday, June 29, 2014 - 6:30pm


 

The vow of poverty taken by a Franciscan friar, back in the early days of the order, was a serious thing. They would sit with their bowl on a street corner, and beg their daily bread. Understandably, this practise was not universally popular: though a mendicant friar in the neighbourhood may initially have been a novelty, the daily requirement to support him sometimes became a chore. Some condemned the begging as laziness and others complained that it was scrounging. Why couldn’t they just get jobs like everybody else?

But the answer to these gripes was a powerful one. This poverty, it was maintained, contained a double grace. The friar was blessed for having given up everything for the sake of the kingdom, and those who fed him were blessed for their generosity.

When we make ourselves vulnerable to others we create space for God to work through us, and when we give, we receive.

 

One is reminded of Portia’s words in The Merchant of Venice:

 

The quality of mercy is not strained, but droppeth like the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed. It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

 

In Jesus, God made himself vulnerable to us. The hope that we have from Christ comes to us through his weakness. By his wounds we are healed. He took on lowliness and fragility, poverty and obscurity, so that we should have a share in his greatness and glory, splendour and majesty.

 

This, it seems to me, is a sound principle of Christian discipleship: A principle that lies at the heart of all Christian ministry, lay and ordained. And it is true on a number of levels. Which of us has not at some time set out to teach people, and ended up learning much more? Or which of us has not tried to help someone in need and found ourselves receiving a gift? Or offered our forgiveness to someone, and found that in the exchange we are healed ourselves?

 

This is our Lord, who leads us out into the wilderness to feed us with manna from heaven. Who takes our five loaves and two fishes and by breaking them and sharing them, turns them into a feast.

 

Today at the cathedral Rachel was made a Deacon, which comes from the Greek word diakonos, meaning servant. She will serve at the altar, she will be a minister of the gospel, she will care for the people of the wider community. But being a deacon, a servant, is not a one-way street. An act of loving service creates a fruitful relationship that sustains the giver as well as the receiver.

 

She has been called by God to reflect Christ’s self-emptying service in her own life and, in serving others, to serve Him. This is the basis and foundation of ordained ministry. But we should not think that this self-emptying to which we are called is simply a kind of hollowing out – a giving until nothing is left. Christ emptied himself, but he was ‘full of the Holy Spirit’, ‘full of Grace and Truth.’ The Son of God laid aside his glory in order to take it up again. We are called to take up our cross, but we are promised life in all its abundance.

 

I remember once attending a church service on a very hot day at which a bishop was present. He was in full regalia, and by the end of the service he had turned a fetching shade of episcopal puce. As we disrobed in the sacristy afterwards, I noticed that on this sweltering day he had been wearing underneath his chasuble another garment – a dalmatic- the vestment of a deacon. This spoke volumes - before anyone becomes a priest or a bishop, first and foremost they are a deacon - a servant. He recognised this, and it was important to him to remember that leadership is rooted in humility; that what he had to offer was not from his own store, but from the boundless abundance of God.

 

Rachel, you come to St Mary’s blessed with all kinds of gifts – gifts of knowledge and learning, experience in life and skills in ministry. We look forward as a church and as a community to receiving you and your family, and all that you have to offer. But please be assured that we are also at your service, and that we have not forgotten our responsibility as your brothers and sisters in Christ, to serve and care for you.

 

Above all, remember that as we give ourselves in service, we make space for God to fill us with blessings and clothe us with grace. It is his work and his will that lies at the heart of everything that we do, and it is God who is in charge.

Remember Moses’ words to the people of Israel:

 

‘The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.’