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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