Monday, June 6, 2016

Some Deacons I've Known--A Sermon of Sorts

"I slept and dreamed that life was joy.

I awoke and saw that life was service.

I acted and behold, service was joy!"

     --Rabindranath Tagore

I want to talk to you today about some of the Deacons I have known. I thought about talking to you about some of the Deacons I wish I had not known. In every church I have ever had there has been someone who just made things difficult. I don’t know how many hours sleep I have lost just dealing with some of these difficult people. But, you know I have discovered something in looking back. I don’t remember much about those that gave me and the church difficulty. What I do remember are names and faces of those that carried the church along and made it work. 

There was Mr. John in my first church. Must have been in his mid-seventies. He had worked for REA all his life and helped bring electricity to Daviess County, Kentucky. He had been a member of our church for as long as anybody could remember. He had buried three wives with cancer and he had not lost his faith. He was going steady with Miss Pauline who taught the first grade and never been married. When people asked her when they were going to get married she said: “We’re not. I’m not going to be the fourth wife he buries.” I was young and green and needed a lot of help. I would sit on Mr. John’s front porch and pour out my heart as he smoked his little pencil thin cigars. He was a wise old man. And he helped me immensely. “Preacher, I’ve been around here a long time and seen all kinds of crazy stuff. It’s going to be all right. We’re going to work together.” And when he stood to talk in business meetings people listened. For years I kept a picture of Mr. John underneath the glass on my desk.

In my second church Charlie was just wonderful. I never knew a man who loved his church more. He sold insurance, or at least he went around to houses collecting the way they used to do. But he visited the hospitals more than me. He was always singing in the choir. He was always there and would sidle up to me and say, “Preacher, we’re praying for you.” When Charlie died it left a great big hole in that church.

In my third church Edwina had been ordained a deacon. It was 1969 and not many women were being ordained. But I remember her because of her deep spirituality. She kept reminding the Deacons and the church that this was a spiritual body. That we had to bathe everything we did in prayer. She would look out on Sunday from the choir and see what she called, “troubled faces” and pray for them. They never knew that. But she gave our church a richness without which we would have been poorer.

Ed was head of the local Nuclear Power Station. Had an important job with many demands. But he was always at the church and you could always count on him. When I had things I could not handle I would turn to Ed. He never broke a confidence. He was never one to love the spotlight. But his integrity just came through and everybody respected him. 

Spence was President of a large corporation. You would know the name of it if I told you. But he gave a lot of money to the church and never made a splash. He didn’t have to be in the spotlight. He just served. He built Habitat houses, he gave of himself and his means. And when I got into serious trouble, he stood by me all the way. And when I retired, years later, he flew a whole plane load of my friends from that church I had once served. This Deacon helped save my life in a terribly difficult time. 

Bill owned a paint store. He was a charter member of our church. He and his wife opened their home to all those that moved in from somewhere else. Everybody loved him and his wife. He stuck with the church through some hard, hard days. He never gave up. When I knew him he was an old man but still there every Sunday. The day we dedicated our new sanctuary he came out the door and hugged me and said, “I never thought I would live to see this day—it is just beautiful.” And when he died, I talked about “Pillars.” Pillars that hold the church up.

I could name fifty others whose lives have made an indelible impression on me. But as I thought about today as ordaining these four here before us, I wondered back there what it was that those that I so fondly remembered had in common.

They all knew what the word deacon meant. Diakonia means to serve. It does not mean to be served. But Jesus did say when we give ourselves away—it comes back to us. Everyone of these people, in their own way served their Lord through the church. They rolled up their sleeves and were not afraid to work. They could all be counted on. 

They all loved their church. As I look back on these men and women every single one of them loved their church. You could count on them. There was no question about their loyalty. More than one would say, “Pastors come and Pastors go, but this is our church.” And they didn’t leave. They were all deeply committed to their local church. And what they taught me was that the more you invest yourself, the more you love something. I never heard one of them say: “If the church does not do so and so…I will leave.” They did not believe in divorce from the church. They never threatened or held their church hostage. They just kept coming and doing their part. And it always made those little all-too-human churches stronger.

They could all be trusted. Everybody in the church knew this. Even their enemies. For, you see, they lived lives of integrity. They didn’t whisper behind people’s backs. What you saw was what you got. Cecil Sherman was asked one time what was the most important quality a Search Committee should look for when they called a Pastor. He said, “Character.” And you know, I think he is right. For without that quality—which is always sterling silver—leadership in church goes sadly lacking. 

As I look back on the faces of the Deacons that I remember they had another thing in common: they all loved their Lord. I don’t mean they were pious. In fact some of them were downright impious sometimes. A few of them could not even pray in public. But nobody doubted their love for the Lord Jesus. Somebody has said that the definition of a saint is someone who lets the light shine through their lives. If you want to be a good Deacon I think you have to have a faith that runs deep. This is why Paul warned the church not to call immature people to serve. They needed to be seasoned.

Each one of these I remember supported their Pastor. Now these were strong people. You did not manipulate them. They could spot a phony a mile away. So none of them were yes people. They had their own minds. And when they would disagree with the Pastor, and most of them did from to time, they would come into my office or call me on the phone and we would talk behind closed doors. That’s the way it worked. Thinking back, I have never seen a church that did not stand by its Pastor that was strong. Can you think of a single one? Shoot the leader and what do you have? A leaderless church.

Reuel Howe, Pastoral counselor used to tell the story of a church that called a young man to be their Pastor. Early on they realized this was just not working. The natives were restless. People began to mutter and then complained out loud. So finally a little group of Deacons went to see him. And they told him of the complaints which he had not heard at all. He was absolutely devastated and offered to resign. But they shook their heads and said, “No. We will not accept your resignation. We want you to stay. We called you and it is our responsibility to make you the best Pastor you can be.” So they stood with him, held his hands up, prayed for him as he stumbled through some of his sermons. And Dr. Howe says looking back on that church’s history, the years that man served were the finest years in whole history of that congregation. Deacons support their Pastors. 

As I think of those Deacons I remember they were all different. They were as different as people could be. Some were introverts and some were extroverts. Some talked continually and some were very quiet. But I Corinthians says in chapter 12 that we all have different gifts. I don’t know how many people in the church don’t think they have anything to contribute. But God uses our differences for his kingdom’s work. Somebody said there were two kinds of people the alive and the afraid. Those people who say: “We can’t do that. We can’t do that. It will hurt the church. People will leave. (Or even worse) I will leave…”  But the others would say, “Pastor, let’s try it. We’ve never done it that way—but it may work. And if it doesn’t, so what. We will try something else.” They were all different but they were all alive. 

They all knew what to do with a towel. In the liturgical church the stole that goes around
photo by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. /
the neck of the minister was first placed on the arm as a symbol of the towel and service. But somewhere through the years the towel came to hang around the neck of the minister for decoration. These deacons I have mentioned all knew what you were to do with a towel. Sometimes they wiped away tears. Someone they cleaned up spills. Sometimes they helped keep things clean. Sometimes it was the church and sometimes it was to wipe the dirty smudges off people’s lives. As I think about all these, none of them were judgmental. They didn’t look down their nose—they just helped.

Another Deacon I remember was Louie. He must have been getting close to eighty when I first met him. He came into my office one day and said he had a problem. “They want me to serve as Deacon, and I don’t think I can do that.” “Why?” I asked. “Well, I have this habit. I know that Baptists don’t believe in dancing and Jewell and I go dancing every single week. How can I be a Deacon and still dance.” I asked him if he loved the Lord and his church. I asked him if this was the only reason he would serve and he nodded his head. I told him, “Louie, I think God is calling you to be a Deacon. If the only reason you don’t serve is because you dance I don’t think that excuse is good enough. I think this church needs some dancing Deacons.” The Sunday he was ordained I gave him a towel as a symbol of what it meant to serve. Several years I moved away and his wife called and told me Louie had cancer and was very sick. He wanted to talk to me. And she put him on the telephone and we talked. And I tried to encourage him. I asked him if he remembered his towel, he said he still had it—I look at it every day.” Not long after that Louie died and they asked me to come back and have part in the funeral. I asked Jewell if she could find his towel. And I held it up that morning and talked about Louie, the dancing deacon. A wonderful human being.

So friends, we come to set apart four folks who have never served as Deacons. I challenge them to remember that Jesus called us to serve. If you do that this will be a better church because of what you do. May God bless you in your work. And may God bless this congregation as they support what you do here. 

photo by peter skim / flickr

(This sermon was preached at the First Baptist Church, Pendleton, SC where I serve as Interim Minister.)

--Roger Lovette /

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