The departure from St Peter’s of our Deacon Chris, as he moves to Worcester, has led to one question being asked by many different people. “Will we be getting another Deacon?” The short answer is No, but the reason why this is the answer is best explained if we look first at the Readings for today; and then hopefully all will become a bit clearer.
Why did the holy people of Jerusalem, the priests and the other religious leaders, get so angry with Jesus that they persuaded the Roman authorities to kill him? The answer is that he directly confronted them with their narrow view of God and religion. They were good people. They were very careful to keep to the 10 Commandments that we heard as our 1st Reading today (Exodus 20:1-17) and they punished those who broke them. They also, listen carefully, looked after the Temple in Jerusalem with great reverence, so that people could worship God there. “But surely not?”, you might say “What about all those stallholders that Jesus chucked out, as described in today’s Gospel?” (John 2:13-25)
Well the point is, that the Temple in Jerusalem at that time was an enormous complex of beautiful buildings. There were great covered walkways – porticos – where we hear of Jesus walking in the heat of the day – and places where anyone like Jesus could teach. Remember what he said at his trial? “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together.” At the heart of the Temple was the really holy area, and this was kept absolutely clear by the priests and religious leaders where the official worship and prayer took place. So the market stalls that Jesus overturned were not there in these holy areas, but in one Court at the edge of the Temple complex called the Court of the Gentiles or, as we might call it “The Court of the Foreigners.”
The holy people who ran the Temple were in fact making a distinction in their minds between holy areas of the Temple, and thus of their lives, that must be kept ordered and pure, and the rest of the Temple where it didn’t matter so much. Jesus presents things differently. He says “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:20) And what he means by that is that true righteousness is not what we do outwardly but what we are like within, what we are like as a whole, not just on the surface. Our whole life must be a turning to God for mercy rather than a reliance on our own outward holiness.
So the point of what Jesus did on that day. when he overturned the tables, actually relates to this central message that he repeats over and over again in different ways. It is a warning, a sharp criticism of all so-called holy people. He calls them “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful”. (Matt 23:27) And since it is a warning to all holy people, it is also a warning to all of us in Church today. Is our way of living and praying to God a surface thing, an outward observance only? We go to Church, we try to live a good life, to keep the 10 Commandments, just like the holy people of Jesus’ day, but is it only skin deep? When we are really called on to do something hard for God, to make some real sacrifice, will we do it?
Now we get back to that question about a new Deacon for the Church. Deacons do not appear out of thin air. They appear only when married men with their wives, like Deacon Chris and Margaret, are prepared to make some real sacrifice for God. Now there are married couples like that at St Peters, but at the moment they offer themselves to God in other ways. What we need is both someone with a deep commitment to Almighty God, plus a call to this particular work as a Deacon. To do this he then needs to give up various things he might have wanted to do, and instead devote most of his life outside work for several years to study and prayer; and he has to do this whilst still having a busy life of work and family (Deacon Chris ran his own small business). Only at the end of all this, only then, would he be ordained as a Deacon for this Parish.
So if we want a new Deacon for St Peter’s (or for the Church anywhere) then some man in St Peter’s (or in that particular church), supported by his wife, would have to do this. And since there is no-one doing this here at St Peter’s at the moment, there is little chance of us having a new Deacon. The only other way is if one arrives, as Deacon Chris did, unexpectedly. The point is that most Deacons continue to have full time employment, but of course if they move their job or they retire, and just happen to move their home into our Parish, then we might get a Deacon. And that is what happened with Deacon Chris when he and Margaret moved here many years ago. Now sadly we lose them, and another Parish gains them, and we will just have to manage without them.
There is just one more thing I want to say. There is a tendency for any man who might train as a Deacon here at St Peter’s not only to say “I am just too busy”, but more significantly “I am not good enough, or holy enough to do this.” The answer to this is in our 2nd Reading (1 Cor 1:22-25) where St Paul tells us all NOT to rely on our own strength or wisdom, but on God. He reminds us that what might seem as foolishness or weakness to the world is the way of God. And whatever God calls us to do for him and for others, that is the way that we should all follow even of that seems foolish.
For as St Paul writes : “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”