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Tabernacle United Methodist Church

Thursday Thoughts
January 11, 2018

I found myself pushing a mop into the corners of the church kitchen last night after supper. I learned the skill a long time ago from Mr. Bill Holladay, in one of those jobs I had in high school. It was in the kitchen of the Earle’s Market in Great Bridge - now it’s a Farm Fresh. The cooks were sloppy, I thought, leaving globs of dough on the floor everywhere, along with sugary doughnut filling, bits and pieces of pastry, and trash everywhere! Mr. Holladay frequently reminded me that cleaning up after themselves “wasn’t their job;” it was mine. So I learned that mopping a large floor late in the work day was something like dancing.... a stationary right hand stationed near my shoulder held the end of the mop handle, while the other guided the mop’s head where it needed to go, accompanied by a rhythmic shifting from one foot to the other, keeping time with some unheard accompaniment. Soothing, in some ways; stressful in others, I was reminded as the beads of perspiration trickled down the back of my ears last night!

Leaning temporarily against the wall of my church study is a certificate that says on an evening in the middle of June, 1979, Bishop W. Kenneth Goodson and an assortment of Elders of the Virginia Conference, laid their hands on my head, and began a charge to me that goes: “Take thou authority to be a Deacon in the Church.....” In Greek, the word “Deacon” is written “Diakonos” which means “Servant,” or “One Who Waits on Tables.” The term first appears in Luke’s recollections in the Acts of the Apostles, where the church begins to designate some among its membership to be sure that the widows and orphans and everyone at the fellowship dinners were served ‘til they had (what Grandma called) “a sufficiency!” Others were set aside, by the laying on of hands, to ministries involving preaching and teaching and being sure that the grass was cut, and the right liturgical colors were in place.... all the other things that have been a part of church-life since antiquity. But deacons were waiters, making sure that some of those “behind the scenes” roles, like mopping floors and cleaning up after the babies and being sure that everyone had plenty of fresh water to drink, were met.

As I was pushing the wet mop back and forth in the kitchen last evening, I remembered an episode of the M*A*S*H television series in which everyone in the camp had come down with food poisoning, except Father Mulcahy, Majors Winchester and Houlihan, and Dr. Pierce, as all had eaten elsewhere. As you might expect, Hawkeye Pierce was singlehandedly treating all the wounded and the sick staff, enabled by the head nurse, Margaret, and both of them seemed to be “everywhere all at once!” Father Mulcahy and Major Winchester were serving as the orderlies, changing soiled sheets, emptying bedpans, and mopping the floors. At one moment, the priest cheerily observes how good it feels to him to serve a useful purpose.... it was met by a growl from the skilled surgeon (believing that he was having to do a job that was far beneath him) that should have wilted him! I wonder, how many times do we find ourselves feeling (at least secretly) that we’ve been tasked with something that we deemed somehow “beneath” us, and resent the ignominy of the setting of our service....

Rev. Jim Holloman, my first post-seminary DS (who passed into Glory in the last year or so), loved to tell the story of the young, accomplished musician who felt himself called into the ministry and joined up with a church whose band played on the street corners in the city. Someone asked him one afternoon, how it was going, and he replied, “I thought God had called me to preach and save folks and baptize them in the River, but all this church lets me do is bang this #&$@?%+ drum!”

Along the way since the late 1980's, I’ve been to Ghana in West Africa, Central Mexico, southeastern North Carolina, Tennessee, Honduras, and a site near Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, with groups that went, plausibly, to bring the gospel. I got to help at the Lord’s Table once, and preach once, but mostly, I took that Deacon’s role seriously, making mortar for building walls, moving trash from the corners where folks had thrown it, building a couple of wheelchair ramps, and mangling someone else’s first language while we worked and sweated and helped some beloved kin in Christ with the challenges of their everyday lives. And folk came and blessed me, gave me gifts, kissed my hands, and hugged me like I was someone important. But it wasn’t about me; it was about the Christ whom I re-presented, and with whom I worked some long, hot, sweaty days, looking for all the world like brown- and black- and white-skinned children of His own heart.

You see, those stoles I wear on most Sundays are a personal reminder of that Waiter/Server/Deacon role; they are intended not only to represent the “yoke of Christ,” but to call to heart and mind the towel which Jesus used to dry the just-washed feet of the 12, on the evening of the Seder, just prior to His betrayal, arrest, suffering, trial, and execution. Sure, sometimes it’s colorful and celebratory; but sometimes it’s quite plain. My favorites include those with hand-stitching done by the Sisters of Charity in Jerusalem. They make and sell them to generate money to be able to teach the “3 R’s” to the Palestinian children of that great international city, who would otherwise grow up illiterate and unschooled. Every one of my stoles has a story, a memory, and a responsibility attached, and I wear them with great humility.

What’s your role? On Sunday, I’ll be at First Baptist Church of Ahoskie, NC, helping ordain my oldest cousin, Peggy, whose mother, my Aunt Margaret, I helped lay to rest last fall. I’m planning to take a long piece of table covering, and ask to be allowed to put it around her shoulders, as a sign of her calling, her gifts, and her authorization by her congregation to help lead it by her service.... just like her mother and our aunt before her did. In the last couple of weeks, some of you have taken up the mantle of responsibility to lead our congregation by teaching the children and adults, by singing the Lord’s songs, by helping put out/away chairs and tables for meals, and making sure that our financial household is sound and vibrant and trustworthy... and in a thousand other ways, too! Bless you for your service to our Lord; it’s all important, even if it just looks like a #&$@?%+ drum! Truth is, that it’s God’s drum, set it the midst of God’s people, and played with the gift of love in the midst of His people. So play it well, beloved. Play it well. “Take thou authority to be a Deacon....” and serve God’s people in ways you may have never expected.


Responses? Send a note to asap!

One more thing.... Please take a moment to jot a note or letter to the Tabernacle pastor and/or congregation of 2042 (25 years from now) and bring them to include in our Time Capsule, which we’ll dedicate and position in the wall just outside the Welcome Center before the end of this month! Bring your gift to the office, or to me, asap! Thanks.

Jim Earley, Pastor


Last update: January 14, 2018 7:45 AM