Monday, December 18, 2017

Badges and Sashes

My baptismal certificate is superglued into this prayer book. A gift at my baptism at age 9. It even has the stickers that were on the paper it was wrapped in. As a cradle and professional Episcopalian I have been given or picked up enough of them to keep one in every room in my house. This isn’t my favorite prayerbook, strange printing that it is, thicker than a pew BCP, but shorter and narrower, it does not hold easy, open or closed. Yet I have kept it where I pray at home for many years, mostly because that certificate resides there. Baptism is the primary call to ministry for all practitioners of the way of Jesus. Baptism is the mark and fuel and commission of all ministry. As I was preparing for my ordination to the diaconate This was the prayerbook, that I chose to pray with.

Looking to bookmark the ordination rite I flipped the pages looking for one of the various items that seem to have found their way there. The first one I found was this card. A Girl Scout membership card. It says: I will do my best:
  • to be honest
  • to be fair
  • to help where I am needed
  • to be cheerful
  • to be friendly and considerate
  • to be a sister to every Girl Scout
  • to respect authority
  • to use resources wisely
  • to protect and improve the world around me
  • to show respect for myself and others through my words and actions.
Finding that card full of diaconal applicable promises it seemed like there was some sort of holy witness there, A voice from when I was very young, who are you to be and how shall we live? The last time I wore a sash - oops stole - frequently was in my scouting days. And I have found myself looking down over the last month at this “sash” and occasionally wondering where the badges are.

People of all sorts went out to see John the Witnesser. People made their way through strange territory to find this unusual John. Opponents and the curious. Folks who have sunk their ships of safety and those still well secured. The desperate, the heartbroken, the anxious and the cheerful. People seeking solace in what seems to be an untamed wisdom. Daring to hope for clarity, for release, for salvation. John the Witnesser echoes the demanding job description in our Isaiah lesson today. Bring good news to the poor. Bind up the brokenhearted. Release captives. Comfort those who mourn. The figurative clothes that God offers in our lesson today are the garments of the Isaian suffering servant. Elsewhere it is commanded - put on your splendid clothing, shake the dust off of your feet. Beautiful is the messenger who brings peace, proclaims good news, whose holy arm has comforted the people. People will see what they have not, and hear what they have never pondered.

The title of deacon comes from the Greek word diackonos which means servant, waiter, or messenger. It is suggested that the roots of the Greek word really mean ‘through the dust’. The dust stirred up by a busy servant on ancient floors or the dust created by a messenger on a mission along ancient streets. We currently, and quite unusually, are a congregation with three deacons. Ann, Pat, and most recently myself. Deacons are certainly the oldest clearly named Christian order of ministry. Yet I suspect most people are a bit mystified by the distinctions.

In some denominations, deacons are not ordained, but special appointed leaders. In Catholic and Orthodox and Anglican churches like ours, we are ordained. We have deacons who are deacons for always, such as Ann and Pat - vocational. We also have deacons who are to have deacons hearts forever, but are expected to be ordained to the priesthood after 6 months or more. Deacons like myself who are referred to as transitional. All Deacons all wear the same clergy shirts as each other, and as priests, and most of us, priests and deacons, are officially titled the same - the Reverend. Sort of odd that a tradition that loves extra titles and names for everything (!) in the hundred years since its reinvigoration hasn’t decided that vocational deacons deserve their own additional title. Most Reverend and Very Reverend are already taken. Maybe Rousing Reverend or Bustling or Invaluable.

The focus of diaconal ministry Is fourfold.
  • Servant leadership, 
  • Proclamation of Christ's redemptive love to all,
  • To interpret to the Church the needs and concerns of the world; 
  • To assist Priests and Bishops in their ministries.
Activities that are all rooted in the servant ministry of Jesus. Tasks that are called for by the prophetic word of Isaiah. Duties that are shown by John the Witnesser. Wade in the water. Speak the truth. Point beyond yourself. Shake the dust. I wonder what our most experienced deacons would want this church to know about the diaconate. In the context of real peril Jesus invites all of us to risk being a holy invitation for others. The way is made level by our union with him and all people and by making his actions real in our lives. Our Gospel passage makes it sound like Jesus is standing here with us in this scene beside the Jordan river. Standing with accusers and wonderers and messengers, Just like us. We pray that he may he be born in our hearts this Christmas, and look, he is already here.

What if we did give badges? Injustice undoing, speaking up for the outcast, served a meal. Tried a new prayer practice, gave generously, offered comfort. Dared to try going to church. Looking around at this crowd gathered to hear John the Witnesser: what badges would you award someone else in this scene or someone in the neighborhood? Are there faith practice badges you worked really hard for? What badge do you need some divine motivation to pursue? As we have done throughout Advent when you come up to communion take a green disc, which does look rather like a badge. Invite you to write or even draw the faith practice badge you would award to someone in your life or community. Our badges probably should be imagined, but as long as we are wondering, What would they be?

Beyond the human messiness of our wilderness is a way, a way shaped by Jesus that isn't just thought about, but enacted, performed and fleshed out. God calls us to seek the badges that the prophet of Isaiah and John the Witnesser declare. Reach out to the refugee, listen to the shamed, challenge the comfortable - especially if it is you. Scatter the ancient dust with service and good news. Risk yourself as an invitation to a beautiful someone who stands here among us, someone who is a way we want to call our own.

Let us pray.

Help me to be a beginning to others,
to be a singer to the songless, a befriender of the friendless;
of reconciliation for the divided;
to become a beginning of freedom for the oppressed,
of comfort for the sorrowing, of sweetness for the soured,
of gentleness for the angry, of wholeness for the broken,
of peace for the frightened and violent of the earth.
Help me to believe in beginnings, to make a beginning, to be a beginning,
so that I may not just grow old,
but grow new
each day of this wild, amazing life
you call me to live with the passion of Jesus Christ.


Prayer by Ted Loder

St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington

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