Summary: Conflict surfaces in the church—the needy are being neglected. Stephen and others are chosen to serve the needy.
Acts 6:1-7 "Called to Serve"
Role models are important elements in our lives. We can imitate them, or we can aspire to be like them; to incorporate their values and characteristics into our lives. When we attempt to imitate our role models, we may lose our identity and not be ourselves. My role model was Superman. I didn't do well when I tried to leap over buildings with a single bound. I crashed and burned when jumping off the roof of our garage. Incorporating their values into our lives, though, may enable us to be grow toward being all that we can be. It was more helpful for me to capture Superman's values of helping other people and to caring for those in need.
I mention this as we begin to look at the early church. Our goal is not to imitate the early church. In other words to be identical to them. Rather, what we want to do is to identify their values and characteristics and incorporate them into our current life situations. This is what we want to do as we look at the early church today and see how they addressed diversity and dispersed power and the authority to serve.
ALL GOD'S CHILDREN
The early church was growing and it was becoming more diverse. Not only were there Jewish Christians, but there were also a growing number of Hellenists. These were Jews who born and raised outside of Jerusalem and Israel. Their primary language was Greek and not Hebrew or Aramaic. They were different. Apparently some "humanness" had seeped into the life of the church and there was some discrimination in the dispersement of goods for the care of widows, orphans and others in need. The Hellenists complained that their widows were being ignored.
The apostles and the members of the early church did a very interesting thing. They chose seven men to head up the distribution of care items. All seven of the men had Greek names and were Hellenists. The dominant group, the Jewish Christians, yielded power and control over to the minority group. The Jewish Christians were able to do this because they did not see the Hellenists as a threat and understood that they were all God's children.
Those in power usually have difficulty giving power over to other groups. In 1971 the predecessor church bodies that eventually became the ELCA, approved the ordination of women. It wasn't an immediate hit. Congregations didn't call women pastors. They didn't want to give up male domination. Even some women didn't want to have women pastors. Slowly, however, attitudes began to change. Now women pastors are accepted and the ELCA even has women bishops. In 2009 the ELCA passed a resolution that congregations could call gay pastors who were living in committed relationships. Many congregations and individuals rejected this idea. Still, we are discovering that giving this group power and the ability to serve has been a blessing to the church.
The fact that the early Christians were able to see everyone as God's children were one reason that the Jewish Christians decided to yield power to the Hellenists. Another reason was that the apostles understood that they were not called to do everything. They could not devote themselves to the word of God and to prayer, while being distracted by other responsibilities.
A HOLY CALLING
The early Christians looked for people in whom the Holy Spirit had been working. They called men in good standing--they had earned the respect of the community of believers. They candidates were also full of the Holy Spirit. In other words, they led righteous, faithfully obedient lives.
The people chose seven men. Their task was "to serve tables." In reality it was more than that. They were charged with the task of supervising the distribution of resources to members of the Christian community who were in need. Their task was both administrative and "hands on."
We might think that waiting on tables was a lowly vocation, but this was not the view of the early church. Once the men had been selected, the apostles prayed over them and laid their hands on them. The act of laying their hands on the new deacons was an ancient sign of transferring the Holy Spirit, spiritual power and blessing. The first deacons were being called to a holy ministry.
It is important for us to view our own ministries, or vocations, from this perspective. We may not have had hands laid upon us when we accepted the roles of parent, student, teacher, nurse, sales representative, or other calling, but that doesn't mean that ours are not holy ministries. Our jobs and vocations are holy and they are used by God to share God's love and grace and to spread God's kingdom.
A HOLY GROWTH