What does Super Bowl Sunday have to do with Christians taking time to worship before the snacks, parties, and the game of all games? Everything!
Eagles’ fans who checked out the Scripture for this Sunday in the Church Year are thrilled to know the Old Testament lesson read from Isaiah 40 ends with the verses: (28-31)
Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
And, the color for the last Sundays in the Season of Epiphany is GREEN... with apologies to Patriot fans, but, if it makes those who are cheering for them feel better: the colors of the United Church of Christ are red, white and blue; like the team, until recently changing the white to silver.
In this pre-game service on the “Fifth Sunday after Epiphany” – the sub-title of this Sunday is: “Ordination and Installation of Church Council Members.” They are part of our “Trinity team,” wearing the color for the symbol of the Trinity, and the Trinity season which is GREEN.
Now, before the Eagles and Patriots take to field, we look to four who are on our Church Council’s GREEN team:
Trina White, the newest member/team player,
and three who are staying on for a second term:
Amy Overholtzer, Scott Herald, and Scott Woodward,
whom we refer to as “the two Scotts.”
Like big name athletes, they were recruited through the vote of the congregation at last Sunday’s annual meeting; now, they sign on to playing under a contract which is based on terms spelled out in New Testament letters, and later by people like John Calvin.
Unlike sports teams, whose players may not play as a team but solo performers, the contract calls for each to be united in what is a ministry of the laity, a “priesthood of all believers,”
playing in one of two positions.
Originally, the title of one position carried over into our time is “elder;” as the name implies,
in the past, it was an older person respected for living a Christ-like life and being able to counsel younger Christians, who as a layperson assisted the pastor in worship and
ministering to the congregation.
I remember by grandfather, Pop-pop Bean, serving as elder at Wentz’s Church. On Sunday he and the other Church Council (there called Consistory) members sat in the benches in the chancel opposite the choir. They prepared the Communion elements and disposed of the unused portions – the wine or grape juice poured into the ground, the bread spread out for the birds – the mystical signs of the body and blood of Christ, sacredly returned to God’s earth – a practice meant to be continued into our time.
A portion was set aside for the pastor to take to the ill and shut-ins, and an elder went alone to help serve, as a sign of bringing the church to one who was not able to be at church.
What an honor that was for Pop-pop Bean to leave the store in the hands of others, wash up and dress up in his Sunday best – white shirt, conservatively-colored tie, and three-piece suit, and ride with the pastor to take Communion to a home bound member.
Now, made a by-gone memory by today’s work schedules and family obligations.
I also remember how competitive it was to become an elder. It was a hierarchy ascended with age; the two oldest, longest serving elders being “Primus” – first and “Secundus” – second. They officiated at the Table of Holy Communion by uncovering and then covering the plates of bread and racks of cups.
And then there were the deacons, some of whom stayed in that office while others, through nomination and election, were elevated to the rank of elder; raised from the hard work of looking after the physical and financial well-being of the church, from serving the hungry to fixing leaky pipes to budgeting to pay utilities, salaries, and mission work. The name “deacon” implies that work, for it comes from the Greek word for servant.
To remove that disruptive tension of a hierarchy of elders, and the lowly work of deacons as being the impression in this congregation, the two were merged during the pastorate of Dr. Creager, who combined them into “Church Council member,” eliminating one feeling superior or inferior to the other, and of spiritual vs material – making each a servant of the Servant Christ and whatever each does is done for the Lord, preaching Christ through service to others in Christ’s name. by serving Christ.
What Trinity’s Church Council members, our “green” team, now do as a team, carrying on Christ’s ministry as a weighty responsibility, taken on with the same pledge the Apostle Paul made:
… an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!
But also knowing how menial that work can be – less like an elder, more like 4th century deacons whose job had them taking on the work of keeping watch at the open door to prevent stray animals and rabble-rousers from disrupting the worship service.
Today’s Gospel sets that example as it tells of Jesus taking the fevered hand of Simon Peter’s mother…and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
She turned Jesus’ gift of healing into doing the menial work of a deacon; she became the first to take up that office before it had a name!
In our family’s many movings around this area, when living in a Philadelphia suburb, we attended the neighborhood church where we met Julius, a chef in an orphanage during the week, a sexton at the church on the weekends where he – like our wonderful sextons – cleaned every corner, including strenuously polishing the brass plates and handles on the church’s front door.
When one of the members questioned why he put so much effort into cleaning what would soon be smudged, he said,
“It’s got to be done, it’s the door into God’s house.”
That, for Julius, was the fine print in carrying on Christ’s ministry; the same print we read here today. Amen.