July 31, 2019

John Lein’s Ordination to the Transitional Diaconate

Tonight we are here to ordain John Lein to the transitional diaconate. You’ll notice I said we and not, our Bishop Larry Benfield is here to ordain John Lein to the transitional diaconate. We are not here to be spectators watching a group of people in strange costumes dress a new member of their club, but to be participants in a divine mystery where God’s Spirit is the primary actor through all of us.

This Ordination service is a corporate work of the people, a liturgy of prayer, whereby we are asking God to do something new in our midst, but also something as old as the Apostles. We are asking God to make John a deacon in Christ’s Holy Church. And for John and us that is something new.

But what we do this evening found its beginning in the earliest annals of the followers of Jesus in the first century. Our second reading tells us that the Apostles gathered the whole community of the disciples and asked them to select from among them seven of good standing, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom in order to serve the needs of the community so the Apostles could continue their work of prayer and preaching.

Those chosen stood before the Apostles, as John will before our Bishop in apostolic succession, and they were prayed over and had hands laid on them, just as John will. And the result of those deacons being ordained in the early church was that the good news about Jesus continued to spread and the number of followers of Jesus increased greatly. And we expect no less each time we ordain.

John’s journey to be ordained in the Episcopal Church began many years ago, even before he and Miriam stepped into that Anglican church in Europe where they felt like they had come home. It began with a sense that something was not right, both in the church and in the world, and John’s search for where God might be leading him to help bridge that chasm.

This is the same calling that Deacons have experienced from the beginning, a need that only someone with a servant’s heart can meet, not for personal gain, or bolstering the ego, but through sacrificial love. Deacons help us bridge the gap between the world and the church, bringing the needs of the world to the church and taking the church out into the world.

But John’s calling is also to be a priest. Now for those of you unfamiliar with the peculiar workings of the Christian tradition and especially those most peculiar Episcopalians, Priests are first ordained transitional deacons, not permanent deacons like Gary Baird, before they are ordained again in about six months to be a priest. This peculiar ecclesiastical gestation period, or what I call the pupa stage of priesthood, doesn’t mean that there is some hierarchy in value. The church has three orders of ordained ministry, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, each with specific roles and responsibilities and without all three, as the early church fathers taught, there is no church.

But there is a fourth category, the most important ministers of the church are the laity; those who are fulfilling their baptismal responsibilities to represent Christ and his church doing the work of reconciliation and taking their place in the life, worship, and governance of the church. When our catechism asks, “Who are the ministers of the church?” the first group listed is lay persons.

That is where our ministry is always born, from the womb of the laity. One of the most important responsibilities of the laity is to identify and discern among us those who are called to these three orders of service in the church, to identify persons, ultimately confirmed by our Bishop, whom they believe are called by God to be Priests and Deacons.

So tonight we affirm that Grace Church, the Diocese of Arkansas, and the Right Reverend Larry Benfield, the thirteenth Bishop of Arkansas, through a process of discernment over many years, will ordain John Elliott Lein, to be a deacon in Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, by the grace of God.

May our ministry together with John restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Amen.