Today’s gospel is rich in meaning. It is often referred to as “Jesus Prays for his Disciples.” Personally, I wish that the next verse had been included in our reading. That verses says, “do not ask for these only,(meaning the disciples) but also for those who come after who will believe in me through their word.” Those coming after, are you and me. Jesus is praying for us.
Twenty-nine years ago in November I became a deacon. To reach this goal I had to study for four years at my own expense for a job that didn't pay. Yet I did this gladly as I knew that this was my calling. The word Deacon comes from the Greek and means one who serves. Long before my ordination and the right to the title of Deacon I was a deacon, just as long before I was married I was in love with Betsy.
I grew up in Philadelphia. My parents, siblings and grandparents all lived in a small house with only one bathroom. I grew up in the Catholic Church. Growing up I learned that we are all called to be Christ to one another. We are called to break down barriers, to reach out and to serve.
The Hymn “Anthem” speaks of this as we sing
We Are Called, We Are Chosen.
We are promised to tomorrow,
while we are for him today.
We are sign, we are wonder.
We are sower, we are seed.
We are harvest, we are hunger.
We are question, we are creed.
I have learned over the years that most of us prefer to live in boxes we create for ourselves. We believe these boxes provide us with safety, that they can protect us; but that is illusion I learned that lesson again this year. I was near death and during that time I was struck by the fact that we take millions of things for granted each day. Last Sunday as I listened to Fr Bob’s sermon I looked out the window and saw a lone bird on a wire. The bird became a symbol to me of our freedom. Our ability to make choices. Choices that can demonstrate our commitment to the belief that we are Christ to one another.
In our baptism we are anointed and we pledge to resist evil, to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves and to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being. It is hard to keep these vows if we are locked in a box of our own making. However, if we remember that we are children of God and that as such we are Christ’s siblings and that God has given us the freedom to make choices then how can we do less than strive to live up to these vows every day and to also thank God for all that he has given us. We need to work each day to be the person God knows we can be.
In formation for the Diaconate we learned that every Gospel reading is a call to action. We have the freedom to serve others. We have God’s love. We need to leave our boxes behind and serve others. The service does not always need to be grandiose. We might serve by acts of kindness, by helping our neighbors, by being more aware and looking around to see what needs to be done. It might be calling a fellow parishioner, volunteering in a prison, teaching a class, visiting someone in the hospital. The gesture might not seem like much to us but it would be a big deal to those who are in need.
In my final interview with the bishop before my ordination, he asked me what if I were kept from taking the final step because something had been discovered in my past that prohibited my ordination. The answer was easy. It would not matter because a deacon is a person who serves and regardless of the formality I would always serve God. I am reminded of this today, my last day as a formal deacon, because even though I am retiring I am not quitting. I will continue to serve God.
I want to take this opportunity to thank my wife Betsy. She has stood by me through good times and bad. She did not desert me in the days when I drank. She has supported me in my work. Thank you. Betsy. I also want to thank Fr. Bob and all of you here at Transfiguration. As I said, I may be retiring but I am not leaving. My call to action has merely changed.