Ordination of Michael Shapcott to the Diaconate
Church of the Holy Trinity, Toronto, December 4, 2016
A Sermon by Maylanne Maybee
How glad I am on this Advent evening to be in this hopeful place with this prophetic company of people – gathered to remember the Human One, Jesus the Christ, in the breaking of bread, to commemorate Nicholas Ferrar, deacon, gathered to ordain our friend Michael to the diaconate in the laying on of hands, gathered to be nurtured and sent forth as agents of God’s transforming justice.
How glad I am to celebrate this evening with Michael and with so many others! I’ve known Michael off and on over the years. We have followed parallel and sometimes intersecting paths in the cause of housing for those who face homelessness. I was delighted when I first heard he was discerning a call to the diaconate, delighted to see him at General Synod this summer, delighted to be invited to be your homilist this evening on this wonderful occasion.
We commemorate in this celebration the life and witness of Nicholas Ferrar, an English deacon of the seventeenth century who was a remarkably gifted scholar, businessman and public servant, but who left this all behind in order to dedicate his life to building an intentional community with his family and others in need in a small village called Little Gidding.
Like another deacon, Francis of Assisi, he started out to rebuild a church brick by brick, and instead began a movement to rebuild the church at its spiritual roots by the simplicity and power of his witness. He lived out his values of loving God and neighbour in the daily martyrdom of patience and prayer and integrity, striving to balance the elements of discipline and joy in religion in an era when Puritans were pitted against High Churchmen and so divided the Church of his day.
We celebrate Michael and his ministry, and gather to remember Christ in a particular way. In the gospel passage we just heard, Jesus describes himself as the Human One who comes “not to be served, but to serve” and to give his life not for some, but for many.
But service has gotten itself a bad name. In North American culture and society, serving has an ambiguous reputation. The relationship of servant and master has a history of following gender and racial lines – white, male masters and an underclass of aboriginal, black and/or female servants or slaves.
In contemporary and urbanized society, serving is still considered the domain of people of low rank – people who polish our shoes, wash our cars, sling hamburgers, drive taxis, cater business lunches, cut hair or do manicures. Jobs for children, students, new immigrants, women of limited means – people who are going nowhere or going somewhere else fast. If one is cast as a servant, the idea is to get out of that role as soon as possible, church included. Aiming for rank and recognition is the commendable and common sense thing to do.
In today’s gospel, when a dispute arises between James and John about who was to be the greatest, Jesus patiently intervenes. (Bishop Mark MacDonald described Jesus’ disciples, especially in Mark’s gospel, as ones who just don’t get it, people who live in the “duh” zone.) They don’t understand that God’s commonwealth is intended not for some, but for all — for children and slaves, beggars and foreign women. They don’t get that Jesus’ kind of serving means creating spaces and communities that give invisible people new hope and dignity, even if this means turning tables, spending time with needy people who thirst for God, going to the cross.
I used to emphasize the “servanthood” aspect of that Greek word, diakonia, but have discovered a richer and more nuanced meaning. There’s a popular theory that diakonia means “through the dust”. It conveys the idea of a fast-moving messenger, a courier or go-between, someone who urgently carries important news from one person to another. Some scholars suggest that the diakon words of the early Church and contemporary society had to do not with being lowly servants, but rather with being a courier or spokesperson, an agent or ambassador, an attendant to a person or household, charged with a particular task or responsibility. It is not a coincidence that men and women in the diaconal tradition felt called to fulfill a particular task or mission…
And so we are here to give our consent to the selection of Michael as a candidate for the this diaconal tradition, ordained to remind us by word and example, in his life and ministry of the diakonia of Christ to which we are all called in our baptism.
In a few minutes we will sing a litany and observe, I hope, a substantial and profound silence as we pray for the presence and gift of the Spirit. The bishop will lay hands on Michael who will be made a deacon. After this we will clothe him with the traditional vestments of a deacon – dalmatic and crosswise stole (Google tells us a dalmatic is a wide-sleeved, long, loose vestment open at the sides, worn by deacons and bishops, and by some monarchs at their coronation.) We will assign him symbols and tools of his office – a Bible and a towel.
With these gestures and symbols, he will not be made any more diaconal than the rest of us. For we have all been baptized, not ordained into Christ’s priesthood and diakonia. You and I, through the waters of baptism, have already been immersed into the priestly and diaconal character of Christ. We have all been sealed with the sign of the cross, and bear Christ’s character of service in our souls, like amoeba bear the forms of life within them. That character is imprinted in us for life. It does not get superadded to some and not others at ordination.
So what exactly is going on here? Through selection and solemn prayer and the laying on of hands, we are choosing from among us this person to take on the dalmatic of Christian leadership, to equip and encourage us in our mandate to be a diaconal people sent forth as agents of transformation and justice.
Michael, we are asking you to set an example, paying special attention to those at the edges of our social systems in this city: the poor, the weak, the sick and the lonely- those who are homeless and disenfranchised.
We are choosing you to remind us of the story of our people, and asking you to be an interpreter of the needs and hopes of “the world”. Here at Holy Trinity, that is an urbanized world of commerce and finance, a world of extreme wealth and poverty, where the prevailing housing policy is one of speculation and profiteering that leaves an underclass of people who live constantly in a cycle of having and losing housing. We are asking you to ground yourself among those who have lived their lives in the prophetic tradition – those like Jeremiah and Micah or Nicholas Ferrar, were called to articulate God’s vision, often at great cost to themselves and their reputation. We are asking you to work with us to facilitate dialogue, understand advocacy, engage in theological reflection on our urban mission activity, ask questions about what we see, and help us see how to act beyond direct service.
Sherman, we are asking to give place to Michael to stand alongside you and your bishop, to include in the prayers any who are at risk, prisoners and travelers, the sick and the dying, to serve at the altar, to administer the sacraments, to proclaim the gospel and dismiss the people. Yes, these are done by any baptized Christian, but do not forget your deacon!
For by doing these things week in and week out, in life and liturgy, we pray that Michael will become for us a living reminder of our diaconal calling to kick up dust, to become creators of beloved communities that includes those who are invisible, in danger and at risk of displacement and brokenness,
Bishop, by laying your hands on this person, you give him your blessing and ours, you give him your designation and ours, you hold him accountable to you and to us. Use your deacons, bring us with you when you go out to preach or confirm or ordain.
Consult with your deacons when you settle parish conflicts or attend budget meetings or when you’re trying to decide whether to close a downtown parish. Our presence beside you tells the church that your oversight of the diocese includes those who are vulnerable and at risk in our cities and communities. Think of us as living maniples, reminders that when you preside and oversee the diocese, you are not to forget those who are vulnerable and at risk in our cities and communities; you are not to forget that the treasures and resources of the church are for the poor.
And you, God’s people… let me call you parishioners. Without your ministry beyond or outside the household of the church, we cannot claim to be the Body of Christ. The very word parish, literally that which lies beyond or outside the household, identifies us as a community of people focused and working on behalf of those who live outside or beyond the Household Economy of God. A community of people who are following the Way and living the diaconal ministry of Jesus.
So you, God’s people, exercise your lives as messengers and ambassadors of the gospel of justice and reconciliation. Pray for and work with and challenge and use your bishops and presbyters and deacons.
In this season of Advent, we remember that Christ will come to be our Judge, and in the judgment of the sheep and the goats in Matthew’s gospel, we learn that what will matter is how faithful we are in the towel ministries of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, providing water for the thirsty, visiting prisoners, welcoming strangers, visiting and healing the sick. We learn that we are judged by whether we respond with compassion and justice to our fellow human beings: those dealing with food insecurity and poisoned water, those vilified and rejected as immigrants or refugees in a strange land, those enduring inhumane working conditions that we might buy cheap clothing, those stigmatized and secluded by mental or chronic illness, those incarcerated by a system that criminalizes the poor and segregates us from one another along racial lines.
May you, Michael, and we people be dressed in the dalmatic of one who reigns with justice and the towel of one who serves with compassion – to whom Source of Life, Eternal Word and Holy Spirit be all honour and glory. Amen.
With grateful acknowledgment of the thoughts and words of:
Ormonde Plater, deacon
Susanne Watson Epting, deacon
Louise Williams, deaconess
Carter Heyward, presbyter
Wesley Frensdorff, bishop
Alan Lawson Maycock, author: Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding