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Glimpsing the Glory of God - 2 Corinthians 3:1-6,12-18 (Deacons Sunday; 18th Sunday After Pentecost)

Updated: Oct 16, 2022

Today, we’re setting aside a Sunday to think about and honor the important role that Deacons serve in our community – Deacons, those faithful folks elected to lead our care for each other. The Presbyterian church describes the role of deacons like this, “The ministry of deacons is a ministry of compassion and serving, sharing in the love of Jesus Christ for the poor, the hungry, the sick, the lost, the friendless, the oppressed, those burdened by unjust policies or structures – sharing in Christ’s love for anyone in distress.”[1] Deacons lead us in that.

I have a bold thesis for this sermon:

If you want to experience the glory of God, look to what Deacons do.

Let’s dive right in. Let’s turn to this Scripture from Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, which has Deaconing at the heart of it. Now, that may not be clear at first, so a bit of background:[2]

What we have in First and Second Corinthians is a collection of letters back and forth between the Apostle Paul and the community – the house church – that he helped form in Corinth. Paul is travelling the known world – the Mediterranean world – with urgent Good News of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. He is on fire. As he goes from city to city, he stops for a while – helps a community come together around that life-changing good news – and he lives in the midst of them – sometimes as long as a year or so. And then he moves on to the next town.

But the Apostle Paul stays in touch by letter – Paul and the communities, writing back and forth to each other. In First Corinthians, the Corinthians have written to Paul with a long list of disagreements that they have with each other – and Paul writes back responding issue by issue. In Second Corinthians, we have what appears to be several letters pieced together – letters that reflect disagreements that the Corinthian community has... with Paul – with the Apostle himself. Something has gone badly wrong – they’ve had a falling out. It appears that Paul’s opponents have been traveling behind him trying to undo his work. The opponents have showed up in Corinth, and trashed Paul and his teaching. And the Corinthians have turned from Paul and from this life they’ve shared in Christ.

Even before he wrote the Scripture we have this morning, we know that Paul wrote what’s called his “tearful letter” to the Corinthians; he’s distraught over their disagreement, and he’s poured that out in his letters. What he’s most upset over, though, is that they seem to have forgotten everything they’ve known about Christ. Paul’s opponents have them so stirred up – that they’ve forgotten the experience of God’s love that we have in Jesus Christ. They just aren’t living the abundant life we have in God’s New Creation in Christ. They are missing out.

In this morning’s Scripture, Paul is trying to mend what’s been broken. To recover what’s been lost. To help them remember. And so, ever so carefully, Paul points them back to Christ. Remember. He points them back to how they have experienced Christ in the life they’ve lived together.

And so Paul writes, “What do you need? Do you need a letter of recommendation from me? The best and only letter of recommendation I have... is you. You – are a letter written in Christ – God’s love, written not on tablets, but written on human hearts – written on your hearts by all the serving we did together, by our life together.” Christ, as near to you as that.

He writes, Remember when we didn’t used to think like that. Remember, Moses – and his experience of God. When Moses came back down the mountain, the glory of God shone so brightly in his face that he had to put a veil over his face. The people couldn’t handle an experience of God that direct. There had to be a veil to mediate the human experience of God. But now. In Christ, the veil has been removed. In Christ, we experience God face to face – the glory of God – face to face.

We do that, Paul writes, in our ministry together. We experience God – the glory of God – in Christ – in our ministry together. Now, “ministry” isn’t really a sufficient translation of the Greek word there.[3] Sometimes the word is translated as “ministry,” sometimes as “serving.” Here’s the Greek word – it’s all over the New Testament:

· There’s the verb form: diakoneo ( διακονέω ). Most basically, this word has the sense of serving at table. Bringing food. Supplying the needs of another.

· This is the noun form (διακονία) – what’s usually translated as serving or ministry.

· And this is the one who does it ( διάκονος) – the one who serves – the one who deacons. It also carries with it the sense that the person may be representing another – serving on behalf of another.

· And here’s our English word – deacon – that’s the descendent of this Greek word. Do you see it? The d. The a and o. The little v is actually an n. That’s nu.

This Deacon word – this Deaconing word – it’s the loving care and tender mercy that we extend to one another – in the life we live together in Christ.

· When Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, and she gets up and serves the disciples a meal – that’s the Deaconing word – she deacons them.

· After Jesus is in the wilderness tempted for 40 days, when he is weary and spent – the angels come and minister to him – tend his needs – that’s the Deaconing word – they deacon him.

· The women who are travelling with Jesus supporting his ministry financially – that’s the Deaconing word – they deacon him.

· Remember last week, when the disciples are arguing at the Last Supper, and Jesus stands up and says, “I am among you as one who serves.” That’s the Deaconing word. Jesus says, I’m among you as one who Deacons. When Jesus says that the leaders among them should be like ones who serve – that’s Deaconing – they should be like ones Deaconing.

The Apostle Paul writes to the community he loves in Corinth and says, “You are a letter in Christ, a letter written on our hearts, a letter written in all the ways we have ministered to each other – in all the ways we have served each other – in all the ways that we have Deaconed each other.

In Christ, the veil is lifted. In Christ, God has given us this gift of serving each other – Deaconing each other – and it’s in this Deaconing in Christ – that we see each other face to face – that we see God face to face.

If you want to experience the glory of God,

look to how we care for each other in tender mercy,

look to how we Deacon each other in Christ.

If you want to experience the glory of God, look to what Deacons do.

We know what that looks like. We know what Deacons do – we experience what Deacons do in our life together here. Maybe freshest in our memory is the Memorial Service for which we gathered yesterday. We gathered together to give thanks for Ruth Sempell’s life, to surround her family with love, and to claim together the sure promise of Resurrection. And after the service, the Deacons provided a reception. They do this for every Memorial Service. Every time we have a Memorial Service, the Deacons reach out to the family, and ask if they can take care of the reception and the refreshments. They love the family like that – quietly setting out cookies, and punch, and cleaning up after. Deaconing.

You may know – each Deacon has a flock. They’ve taken the list of our congregation, and made sure that every family has a Deacon – someone in the church who knows our name – and the Deacon checks in from time to time. This Sunday is Meet Your Deacon Sunday – after worship, during coffee hour, you can meet your Deacon – face to face.

I remember in those first days of pandemic – seems like ages ago – but do you remember? We were thrust quite suddenly into mandated sheltering and isolation. And we had to figure out how we could stay in community with each other – how do we keep in touch? And the Deacons stepped up – Mary Kathryn sharpened up the phone list – and they set out to get in touch with their flocks – reaching across and transcending these new barriers that were keeping us apart.

Deacons provide meals. When folks are ill or recovering from a hospital stay or spending their days at the hospital caring for a loved one, the Deacons take meals to their homes.

Deacons help provide transportation – for those who can’t get to doctor’s appointments or to church.

Every Sunday there’s what’s called a “Door Deacon” – a deacon who watches at the front door to see if anyone needs help getting out of a car or van – helps them make their way into church.

You’ve heard me talk in worship about the collection for the Deacons Fund. The Deacons administer the collection that’s taken up; they receive requests for help; and provide financial support when folks are having a tough time making ends meet, when an unexpected expense comes their way. Deacons provide Safeway gift cards that we have in the front office, so that when people come in asking for help, we can provide immediate support.

And those are just the regular things. The Deacons also improvise, responding to the questions that arise in the course of life: “Is there anyway that you can help me with this?” Just a few weeks ago, I mentioned in worship that the Deacons were asking for volunteers to go over to Pat and Mike’s home and help move furniture to get it ready for Pat to come home after three months in the hospital. Evidently, a good number of people signed up and on the Tuesday before Pat came home – the Deacon team swooped in moved the furniture, made sure the hospital bed was in place, near a window – in about 30 minutes. And a week later, Pat is settled in – back home.

Oh, and maybe you’ve received a prayer shawl – knitted by folks in this church, and then provided by the Deacons during a time of need, as a sign of our community’s prayers. The Deacons gave me a prayer shawl like this to take to my Dad when he was in hospital and then in hospice care. This prayer shawl was never far from him, keeping him warm, or within reach. My Dad would talk about it now and then, show it to visitors, a reminder for him that people were praying for him – not just his church family in Florida, but his church family in California.

It is a tangible tender mercy.

You can touch it, and feel it – its gentle warmth.

A reminder of persistent prayers.

An embodiment of the love of God we experience in each other --

the glory of God, knitted together by human hands,

a soft and welcoming shelter for hard and challenging days.

If you want to experience the glory of God, look to what Deacons do.

The Apostle Paul writes to the community he loves in Corinth in the challenges of their world and in their life together. He speaks of Deaconing – of serving – of ministering to each other – all the loving care and tender mercy that we extend to one another – in the life we live together in Christ. And, he speaks of the glory of God – the very quality of God that draws forth our praise and gives us our life. In Christ, the veil is lifted. In the life we live in Christ, we see God face to face. We see each other face to face. And then Paul, writes, “and we, who with unveiled faces are reflecting Christ’s own glory, we are being transformed into the image and likeness of Christ” – the love of Christ alive in the world in our flesh and bones.

This is Deacon’s Sunday – a time to reflect on and give thanks for what Deacons do – all the ways they lead us in our life of loving care and tender mercy. So, after worship, if you’re here in person, go out on the patio and meet your deacon. If you’re online, spend some time with deacon Mary Kathryn – share some encouragement and refreshment – share some loving care and tender mercy.

And then, as you move out into the world this week – maybe do some Deaconing of your own –

extend a kindness –

give someone you haven’t seen in a while a call –

speak up for those who are hurting from oppressive systems –

set aside some of your privilege, to lift those who’ve been held low –

pray with those who are ailing.

Take time to see each other face to face.

“And we, who with unveiled faces are reflecting Christ’s own glory, we are being transformed into the image and likeness of Christ” – the love of Christ alive in the world in our flesh and bones – to bless, and heal, and set free the world God loves.

© 2022 Scott Clark

[1] The Book of Order, G-2.0201 (PCUSA). [2] This background is based on Udo Schnelle, Apostle Paul: His Life and Theology (trans. M.E. Boring) (New York: Baker Publishing Group, 2005): see also J. Paul Sampley, “The Secon Letter to the Corinthians,” New Interpreters’ Bible Commentary, vol.xi (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), pp.61-75; Mitzi Smith and Yung Suk Kim, “2 Corinthians,” Toward Decentering the New Testament: A Reintroduction (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018). [3] See Gingrich, Danker & Arndt translation of Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1979).

Cover photo credit: Hanna Busing, used with permission via Unsplash.

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