Go

St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Amarillo, TX

"Lydia, Dorcas, and Phoebe": Sermon for the Diaconal Ordination of Courtney Jones

In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

What an auspicious  and wonderful gathering we join in this morning. What we are doing here this morning is one of the sacred and sacramental rites of the church. It marks the culmination of years of discernment and prayer. And it's also the continuation of a ministry that has been lifelong.

I love the fact that today we are celebrating the feast of Lydia, Dorcas, and Phoebe.

If I didn't know better, I would almost wonder if Courtney specifically called and begged the bishop to make this her ordination day, rather than it being about calendars and logistics and such... Or... perhaps the Holy Spirit is involved in these things!

All three of the women whose feast day we celebrate are mentioned only briefly in the Bible.

But all three, I contend, are powerful and important witnesses to the Gospel.

Let's take Lydia, for instance. According to the Book of Acts, when Paul arrives at Philippi ready to preach and spread the Gospel, he did not find a synagogue. So he went down to the river and started preaching to the women there.[i]

This is where Lydia comes into our story. Paul so inspires with the Gospel of Jesus, she wants to help. And she has the means and ability to do so.

You see, as a "dealer in purple cloth," Lydia is a self-sufficient woman.

Lydia offers to let Paul and his party operate out of her house for the duration of their time in the region.

This is radical hospitality. Lydia becomes a servant of the Gospel. And through her effort and hospitality, she makes available the public worship and ministration of God's Word and Sacraments in Philippi.

Kathleen Norris writes: "only people who are basically at home, and at home in themselves, can offer hospitality."[ii] Lydia was "at home in herself."

Then we have Dorcas. We encounter her only briefly in the Book of Acts. We are told that in the time after the Resurrection and Ascension, Peter is preaching and healing near Joppa. A woman named Tabitha has died.[iii]

We are told that the Greek name for Tabitha is Dorcas.

For our purposes this morning, I'll keep calling her Dorcas....

What's wonderful and amazing about the brief descriptions of Dorcas is this:

We are told that: 1) "She was devoted to good works and acts of charity."

But, 2) even more intriguing--and testimony about her life influence--is the fact that the people of Joppa SEND for Peter.

They have heard about him doing healing and acts of power and wonder in the name of Jesus.

They are so distraught about the death of Dorcas, they want Peter to come.

They say to Peter: "Please come without delay!"

When Peter arrives, the women of Joppa try to convince Peter of Dorcas's value... try to convince him of what Dorcas has done in life to serve others.

They crowd the room with Peter and her body. And weeping and crying, they pile up tunics and other items of clothing from all over that Dorcas has made for people in need. Throughout her life, she has been making and giving clothes to others who need them!

Peter sends them all out of the room. He kneels down to pray.

He commands: "Tabitha get up!" She does, and this miracle becomes known throughout the region...

Part of the reason the miracle is SO widely known, is because  of Dorcas. She is no ordinary woman. Dorcas is known FAR AND WIDE as a selfless servant. Dorcas has always helped those who are poor and in need.

Then we have Phoebe.

Paul introduces the Church in Rome to Phoebe with his Letter to the Romans. He calls Phoebe a "deacon of  the Church in Cenchreae" and a "benefactor of many and of myself as well."[iv]

This is quite a powerful introduction to have in a letter written by the Apostle Paul himself.

First of all, Phoebe is a deacon at Cenchreae. She is a minister. A leader in her local church community. Paul is testifying to this. But she has also used her gifts, her talents, and her wealth to help Paul's ministry and so many others.

But what is particularly powerful about Phoebe's introduction in the Book of Romans is that Phoebe is the one carrying the letter from Corinth to Rome on Paul's behalf. Paul is introducing her to his audience.

Phoebe is probably the person who first read aloud the Letter to the Romans to each of the house churches in Rome. Paul would have wanted to discuss the contents of the letter with the person he chose to read it-- and Phoebe is the only church leader one he introduces in the letter.

So picture this... Phoebe is reading this letter in each of these small house churches in Rome. And this means... that in her tone, in her stance, in her casual asides, in her follow-up responses, in her overall approach to reading--

This means that Pheobe was the first interpreter of the Good News of Jesus Christ in Romans.[v]

She was faithful.

Courtney, please stand:

I hope it's not too hard to see in all three of the women we celebrate today elements of diaconal ministry.

In a few minutes, Courtney, you will undergo an examination in which the bishop will read to you specific qualities and aspects of the life of a deacon.

It says, for instance that God calls you to a "special ministry of servanthood, directly under your bishop...." And later it says "You are to assist the bishop and priests in public worship  and in the administration of God's Word and Sacraments...."

Like Lydia, Courtney, to follow through on these parts of the call, you will need to be hospitable and be "at home in yourself." Lydia was hospitable. You are hospitable.

In the examination we will hear: "In the name of Jesus Christ, you are to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak the sick, and the lonely."

From Dorcas, Courtney, we can strive to achieve servanthood that is selfless and is known by others--especially those in need. Dorcas was a servant. You are a servant.

And finally, in the examination we hear: "You are to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example... [and] You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world."

Courtney, from Phoebe, we see both an example of church leadership and of bold courage in interpreting the good news of Christ's love to new audiences. Phoebe was faithful. You are faithful.

Today we heard from the Apostle Paul, "it is by God's mercy we are engaged in this ministry."

That's absolutely the case.

We are all here because, by God's mercy and grace, you have listened to God's voice in your heart and in your life.

God has told you, "Let the light shine out of darkness."

God's light shines in you Courtney.

Today, you take on the yoke of Holy Orders to become a Deacon in the Church.

I suspect you have been a deacon all your life.

Today, we are consecrating the action with the voice and sacrament of the church. As you know, as of today, you will never again be a member of any parish.

That's powerful stuff.

But you are truly a gifted woman and this is a blessing for the Church and for the community.

I have always admired your intellect, and your quirky sense of humor. I love your wonderful ability to grasp theological concepts and your compassion for others. These things are gifts. They will serve you well in your ministry and in your life as clergy.

Make sure you lean on Michele; let her lean on you. Your marriage is one of your greatest gifts.

  Make sure you continue to use all of these gifts that God has given you in your new role as deacon.

And remember especially to be hospitable like Lydia, be a servant like Dorcas, and be faithful like Phoebe everyday of your ministry. AMEN

[i] Acts 16:12-15, 22-40.

[ii] Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, 267.

[iii] Acts 9:32-43.

[iv] Romans 16:1-2.

[v] Beverly Roberts Gaventa, "Romans," in Women's Bible Commentary, 3rd Ed., (2012), 555.

Read More