DMFE Paper Response 4: Diaconal Ministry and Theology of the Cross, Vocation, and the Two Realms

How does diaconal ministry relate to two of the following important confessional concepts: the theology of the cross; vocation; or the two realms?

The theology of the cross is the foundation of justification by grace through faith, and if we want to understand God we have to start where God is most fully revealed–the cross. Since diaconal ministry is a ministry that embodies the cross of Christ it is crucial that we are able to relate it to and articulate the theology of the cross, including contrasting it to what we refer to as the theology of glory. Ephesians chapter two reminds us that we do not DO anything to make this relationship come into being: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2.8-10 NRSV). Faiths origins are worked into us. God decided this on the cross and what has been termed ‘decision theology’ is not a theology of the cross, but rather part of what we call a theology of glory.

We embrace the cross and its paradox of being the center of God’s power, wisdom and glory, and yet at the same time being the height of human weakness, foolishness and shame. It is on the cross that God embraces powerlessness and those on the absolute margins of society. Our call as diaconal ministers is totally entwined with the theology of the cross in part because we are called to minister to the marginalized.

The cross is the epitome of of the enactment of divine live as God seeks to deconstruct human wisdom and all ideas of what God is and isn’t about are tipped upside down via the cross. Theology of the cross informs our ministry in three particular ways: first it gives us the proper evaluative point of view and work out pattern for ministry, second we minister as servants of Christ and to God’s agenda for others and not others’ agenda for others (we are called to do more than just help people), and third we are called to a ministry of love as we cannot embody the cross without love. To love is to make the cross real to another and embody God’s love as shown in Christ on the cross (Romans 5.6-8; Galatians 2.20; 1 Corinthians 12.31-13.13) . We are reminded that God so loved the world and God is sending the people God loves to us!

As explained when discussing the Biblical background for diaconal ministry Jesus came to serve (diakonia), and as a ministry that embodies the cross of Christ we also come to serve. Our call is to serve from Word and Sacrament (as well as to Word and Service). Every time we celebrate the eucharist we are celebrating diakonia, and as we carry out our call to diaconal service we are enacting eucharist. Our call to enact Jesus’ service is embodied in the Eucharist and now embodied in our service.

When thinking specifically about vocation I turn to the story of separating the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25.31-46) and am reminded that we find Christ in the hungry person (not in the sheep), and that the “sheep” do not feed the hungry and perform other service ministries in order to find Christ, but rather they just do it. The sheep in the story as equally as surprised as the goats are. The people we serve in our ministries cannot become simply vehicles for doing our “religious thing” but must be an end in itself. In order to keep this perspective I return again to finding Christ in surprising places on the margins of our world, and look through the lens of Christ’s love for each person as demonstrated in Christ’s death on the cross. When I look at an individual as someone Christ died for I am able to let the Spirit guide me in that love and in my ministry.

Concerning the two realms or kingdoms I relate diaconal ministry to this concept because it teaches us that God’s work is not confined to church. God is at work in the world. The two realms are not defined as church and world, but rather two modes of governance: gospel or unconditional love and promise) and compulsion or force (conditional). While force and compulsion have no place in the Gospel, God is also at work in places where governance needs to be exercised in other ways.

**Disclaimer? — please remember that I am sharing these as first response answers to questions to my Diaconal Ministry Formation Event and not as polished, researched essays. Although I welcome responses, please do keep this in mind when you respond (as well as the fact that my current schedule limits how often I can reply to comments) **

Additional links some may be interested in (I try not to assume readers know my background and yet cannot address this myself in my posts):

Luther’s Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms (Realms)

What do Lutherans Believe?

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DMFE Paper Response 3: Diaconal Ministry in Relation to Theology of the Trinity and the Incarnation

How does diaconal ministry relate to such important theological concepts as the Trinity and the Incarnation?

The Trinity as we express confessionally as God the Father, the Son incarnate in Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are the very foundation of any ministry, and I think especially of diaconal ministry. We are called to the boundaries of church and the world, and to minister with our perspective always on that boundary and those living on the edges or marginalized in our world. This call means that we minister neither fully within the church nor fully outside of the church. These are the same places we continually find God.

We don’t create the communities within we minister, rather God creates the community, and our call is to nurture and give expression to that community, and to extend community into the world. Yet, the world’s needs, those needs we find throughout our community of context, are not our prime motivation for ministry. Rather diaconal ministry addresses the hurts and needs of a broken world through the divine love manifested on the cross. As Diaconal Ministers we must discern, integrate and articulate how, within a particular context, our call embodies the cross of Christ. Diaconal ministry as an embodied reality of the cross of Christ must also remember that the Cross of Christ is about Christ’s whole life brought to the cross, and not only what happened on the cross. The particular life that Jesus lived is important and it can be dangerous to assume that others are remembering this life of Jesus that brought him to the cross. We need to tell the stories of Jesus, and not only the abstract theology. These stories of Jesus include Jesus going out into the community, and can be of particular use within our diaconal ministry contexts.

I also think it is very important to remember that Diaconal Ministry is a call to ministry of word and service (not just to service). A ministry of the word includes a ministry of Jesus Christ incarnate; John 1. 14 says “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (NRSV) As ministers we must be prepared to share the Word of God as we find it expressed in and by Jesus Christ incarnate, the Word of God as proclamation of God’s message to us (the living word), and the written Word of God as found in holy scripture.

Looking at the Pauline Epistles the foundation for Diaconal Ministry are found not in Paul’s linguistics, but in Paul’s Pneumatology. The Holy Spirit is at work in all Christians, and is at work in each person, including diaconal ministers, the same way the Holy Spirit worked through the Apostle Paul (and other scripture writers). This also means that there is no hierarchy in who is doing the work of the Spirit. Having no hierarchy between rosters holds us accountable for our ministry.

The pattern for ministry is found in Paul’s Christology. Looking at what Jesus had done forms and shapes our ministry. As we intentionally engage in cruciform leadership we remember that above all Christ acted in faithful obedience to accomplish righteousness (right relationships), redemption (liberation), and reconciliation (end of enmity). We are ministers of God’s reconciliation. This cruciform leadership must always be formed by the cross and in the form of the cross.

The Holy Spirit gives us gifts, grace gifts, for ministry in order to empower us to bring the reality of the Body of Christ into the world. Romans 12.6 tells us “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith.” While the Holy Spirit, in helping us discern our gifts, can harness our human talents as gifts these are not synonymous. Rather our gifts for ministry are given to us (we do not create them) to build the body of Christ and take Christ out into the dark and messy world. As diaconal ministers we embrace that role and acknowledge that our call to word and service is going to be more intentionally messy.

I am reminded that these gifts of grace are not given for our sake, but to help the body of Christ function. Also that justification by grace includes the gifts of the spirit for ministry, and that faith is that which the Holy Spirit produces through Christ crucified. It is through the cross of Christ that we are transferred from sin’s dominion to Christ’s dominion, and that my cruciform leadership began at my baptism. Through this message of Christ crucified the Spirit forms faith in us. I am reconciled to God and others in order to be given a ministry of reconciliation. I am no longer in charge of my life; Christ is in charge.

In addition to being gifted by the spirit we are fruited by the spirit:

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.
Galatians 5.22-26 (NRSV)

While the gifts of the spirit are intended for this age only in order to build up the body of Christ and its mission, the fruit of the spirit is eternal and meant for both this age and the next. Every Christian receives this fruit of the spirit as it is holistic and inclusively worked by the spirit in each Christian.

Remembering that I am ministering as part of the larger body of Christ and being led by the Spirit makes me bold as I minister on the edges of community and church and address the needs of the broken and hurting world. It especially makes me bold when I think of my ministry to those carrying grief and broken with the weight of loss in this world. There is not a cure in this world, and yet there is healing.

**Disclaimer? — please remember that I am sharing these as first response answers to questions to my Diaconal Ministry Formation Event and not as polished, researched essays. Although I welcome responses, please do keep this in mind when you respond (as well as the fact that my current schedule limits how often I can reply to comments) **

DMFE 2012 Paper Responses: 1: Biblical Sources of Diaconal Ministry

What are some main Biblical sources of diaconal ministry?

While there is little evidence for a formal distinct order of the diaconate in the New Testament, there is much evidence of the importance of diaconal ministry. Deacons are mentioned in the New Testament including in Acts 6.1-6, Romans 16.1-2, Philippians 1.1, and 1 Timothy 3.8-13. New Testament writings emphasize the importance of a variety of ministerial gifts and activities within a non-hierarchical, egalitarian spirit of imitating the example of Jesus and waited for his imminent return.

Although Acts 6.1-6 cannot be used to describe an official office of Deacon, in can teach us much about the importance of diakonia, including that addressing conflict within the community can create new opportunities for ministries, we are called to foster just structures in church and community, division of labor is crucial for both inward and outward mission, diaconal ministry is multi-dimensional, the qualifications for becoming a diaconal ministry include community discernment and the wisdom of individuals, and the Holy Spirit remains sovereign to direct our ministry as we observe in Acts 8 that these diaconal ministers were also called to teach and preach as needed.

The gospels also emphasize servant ministry in Jesus’ teachings including in Mark chapter 10: “but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (verses 43b-45, NRSV), and again in Luke when the disciples argue over who among them is the greatest, Jesus flips the order upside down and tells us that Jesus came as one who serves:
But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22.25-27, NRSV)

When studying diaconal ministry in New Testament scripture it is useful to go back to the new testament greek use of the words connected to diakonia. The noun form, diakonos, “one who gets something done, at the behest of superior, assistant to someone.” (BDAG) is the form used, for example, in Mark 10.43 “But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.” We translate this to simply servant; however, the meaning expands for me when looking at that translation of the Greek I quoted above and realizing that the superior I am serving is Jesus Christ. The verb, diakoneo follows this passage in reference to Jesus’ own ministry: “For even the son of humanity did not come to be served [diakoneo] but to serve [diakoneo], and to give his life as liberation for many.” (Mark 10.45; Rick Carlson translation handout). Diakoneo is defined as “to function as an intermediary, act as go-between/agent, be at one’s service” (BDAG). The same word, diakoneo, is also used in Luke 22.24-27 as Jesus refers to himself as one who serves. In Jesus I interpret this service as his work being an intermediary for us. When I think of this definition in terms of the service that a diaconal minister does I think of our role, sometimes seen as a bridge, between the church and the world. Although our role is not limited to being a “go-between” it does affect our world view as well as our church view, and is the lens we interpret our ministry through.

**Disclaimer? — please remember that I am sharing these as first response answers to questions to my Diaconal Ministry Formation Event and not as polished, researched essays. Although I welcome responses, please do keep this in mind when you respond (as well as the fact that my current schedule limits how often I can reply to comments) **

Experiencing my Diaconal Ministry Formation Event (J-term 2012)

Joyous New Year! I am currently in Gettysburg, PA at Lutheran Theological Seminary attending the 2012 Diaconal Ministry Formation Event (or DMFE). After being here for a week I am just now beginning to be able to articulate how this experience is indeed forming me. However, I am only beginning to be able to do that so please be patient with me throughout the next several blog posts. 🙂

Our free time is limited here, so I am not sure how many more posts I will get written before returning home next week, but I will try to do at least a couple more — one general update and at least one starting my evaluation of this experience as it will be reflected in the paper I write in order to get academic credit for this event as a 3 credit course. The paper must answer several questions, and I have decided to share my initial response to those questions here on my blog (my first draft so to speak). I will label the posts accordingly in case you don’t find them of interest (or if very much do find them interesting, which I hope many of you will as it should give you perspective on our preparation for ministry).

When I saw that the last post I published was on Spiritual Practices I smiled because we are continuing to explore additional spiritual practices while here at DMFE. There is most certainly a renewal happening in our wider church regarding spiritual practices (Thanks be to God!), and I am grateful to be a part of it.

Our days here have a rhythm to them as we start and end our day with worship in the beautiful chapel here at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg (8 a.m. and 8 p.m. respectfully), and between those hours we have a morning and afternoon block of “classes” (mainly lectures this past week, but that will vary a bit going forward), small group time to explore and process, and of course lunch and dinner. Additionally we also have some free time each afternoon in order to do the things we need to do to take care of ourselves (exercise, call home, etc.), and also to have time to do things such as prepare for worship when it is our turn to plan services.

We are also encouraged to spend time simply walking around the community — part of what makes this place sacred is what happened here — Seminary Ridge is a part of where the battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War took place. I spent some time Sat. morning (or day off) to explore and take pictures. I also simply walked and prayed, prayed and walked. There is still so much more for me to read, see, and learn (in multiple ways). For those now curious, here is one of many links that explore the Gettysburg battle and Seminary Ridge: http://www.brotherswar.com/Gettysburg-1f.htm

Today, Sunday January 15, we return together as a group for more small group time, lecture on liturgical practices, pizza (including Gluten Free) and worship. But first I need to go do laundry and a few other chores. 🙂

In brief closing I am so thankful to be a part of this event. It is indeed forming me. I feel my called to serve affirmed, and I feel a much stronger sense of call specifically to the church. I am beginning to understand the importance of call in terms of ministry (verus merely “doing the work”) and I feel a sense of community with other Diaconal Ministers within the ELCA (and those of us in the candidacy process) as well as the wider community of the church as we support each other and our ministries.

Love and belief —
Tami

Distinctive Lutheran Spirituality / Spiritual Practices (and some reflection on a semester looking at Spiritual Practices)

It’s the last week of the Fall semester here at Wartburg Seminary. I likely won’t be able to really reflect on the entire semester until the space of Christmas is between me and my last paper (likely to be finished Friday morning), but I am starting to feel a shift in things as the my first semester ends. I’m connecting lots of dots so to speak, and things are really coming together as many of the classes wrap up.

The last Spiritual Practices lecture was held this past Tuesday (small group finishes tomorrow, Thursday), and we ended as we began with a panel of Professors sharing their thoughts on Spirituality and Spiritual Practices. The intended focus was around the question — Is There a Distinctive Lutheran Spirituality? I am not sure we really answered that question, but the comments were interesting and thought provoking.

The connections for me can be summarized in Spiritual Practices being grounded in the Word of God, and that for Lutherans, Spiritual Practices will look like Jesus Christ. And, I think related to that, Lutheran Spiritual Practices are grace-filled practices (centered on life in Jesus Christ and bringing gratitude) that lead us to our neighbor, and these practices remain a struggle due to the reality of sin (so we shouldn’t expect perfection).

That little summary is really a lot.

During the semester we went through many traditional and untraditional Spiritual Practices (from lectio divina to fasting to deep listening in lecture … to labyrinth “walking” (or tracing) to praying the daily examen to play/laughter/fun as a Spiritual Practice in small groups… and many more introduced in our readings). Although I didn’t enjoy all of the Spiritual Practices we tried, I have enjoyed learning about them.

However, now that can “test” any spiritual practice for myself personally as to if it “looks” like Jesus Christ, it makes it much easier to know if it’s a practice I should spend my time practicing. Does it draw me to my neighbor and make me a gracious presence when with my neighbor (neighbor meaning all others in this context just as it does in the gospels)? Does the practice add to, facilitate or otherwise bring me towards a thankful heart? Do I recognize my own struggle within that practice? Is the practice truly grounded in God’s Word? Is it something that is, for me, truly woven into these distinctive characteristics or can I walk through it on a human level only? — if so, it’s not a true spiritual practice (for me; it might be for another).

Now I have to decide what I am going to do with this information. (Much of which I think I knew on some level before, but now can articulate at least a little bit.) I have struggled this semester with continuing a healthy personal spiritual practice. This is true in part because of having to re-learn my habits, rituals, and how I meditate and pray within my current space and time. But, I think I have also struggled because we have actively been trying so many specific Spiritual Practices, and I genuinely consider each one as something to possibly do.

Now it’s time to step back and appreciate most from a distance while actively doing those that will most allow me to participate in meaningful and tangible ways with Christ.

I cannot just immediately tell you what those will be, but I think it will be some type of centered prayer or possibly a combination of simple centered prayer and a return to the daily examen, and a near daily participation in some type of family Spiritual Practice. Ideally Shawn and I would return to a daily time of prayer and meditation on the Word as well as beginning some type of hands-on Spiritual Practices (or maybe trying a new practice each month until we have enough to just rotate through them with her — fun ones, like praying in color and praying the catechism with prayer beads are where I will begin).

What Spiritual Practices do practice regularly or appreciate?

Does your faith have a distinctive spirituality? If so (or not), please share.

(And if you read my list at all closely, you’ll realize that the actual practices we learned about or participated in are anything but distinctive to the Lutheran faith. 🙂