Summary: Deacon ordination service: deacons, like Stephen, must forgive and heal those who have chosen to close their ears to the truth.
When my son Bryan was small, sometimes he would go into a kind of daydream. He would sit there and seem to stare off into space, and if you spoke to him, he just wouldn’t hear.
He would get so far into himself that we would have to wave our hands in front of his face and shout to get his attention. Bryan had managed to close his ears and shut out the world.
In fact, his first grade teacher told Margaret and me, "You know, sometimes I literally have to take his chin in my hand and turn his face and make him look at me, just to get his attention.” He had closed his ears to the world, his parents, his teacher, everything. He was living inside that six-year old brain.
That is what deacons confront in the church: closed ears. Deacons confront folks who just are not listening, who have chosen not to listen, or who are listening to some kind of static signal that doesn’t make sense. Deacons work with people whose ears are closed. But deacons forgive closed ears.
You see, every one of us has chosen to close our ears to something. Most of us have simply chosen not to listen to some aspect of the Christian faith. If it’s not our thing, we don’t hear it. Some have chosen not to hear when the Bible says, “Do not forsake assembling yourselves together", and they have been erratic in their worship attendance. That’s not listening to one part of the faith; they’re closing their ears. And deacons are going to be called on to deal with that. I’d say, to forgive that.
Others have not heard the Lord Jesus when he commands, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Some church folks just will not hear that. And deacons are part of the means of forgiveness for those closed ears.
I could go on. I could speak of Christian folks who have closed their ears against racial justice, against sexual purity, against sacrificial stewardship, against a commitment to peacemaking. I could speak of many aspects of the Christian faith we choose to close our ears to. Every one of us has his deaf spots. But let me show you from the Scriptures what I mean when I say that deacons are called to forgive closed ears.
I asked that we read today out of both the sixth and the seventh chapters of the Book of Acts. Normally when we are ordaining deacons, we read only the sixth chapter, which describes the occasion on which the first seven deacons were selected. But seldom do we go on and read the seventh chapter, which describes the martyrdom of one of these seven. Now I admit that it wouldn’t work very well for the Nominating Committee to be reminding prospective deacons that one of the first deacons had to die for his faith; that wouldn’t sell very well. But it is a most instructive part of the Biblical account.
You see, after the first seven deacons were selected and got to work, one of them in particular, a man named Stephen, described as full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, full of grace and power, began to bear a bold witness for his faith. Every place he went, in the corridors of power as well as on the streets where the common people lived … every place Stephen went, he offered his distinctive witness.
And the only defense the men and women of Jerusalem had against a witness like Stephen’s was to close their ears. They just quit listening. They refused to hear the good news. And so toward the end of the seventh chapter of Acts you read that "they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.” Then Stephen the deacon "knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’"
Lord, do not hold this sin against them ... not only the sin of murder, but also the sin of closing their ears. The hardness of their hearts, the stubbornness of their spirits … that was the real sin. It always is. It always is. We simply choose not to hear the gospel when it suits us not to hear it. If it isn’t convenient, we don’t listen to it. And that’s why we have to have deacons.
Deacons are the folks who will help forgive closed ears. Deacons are the folks who will become agents of the grace of God, forgiving and empowering and making us new. Now they will pay a high price to do that, just as Stephen did. But we desperately need to have somebody help us be forgiven for our closed ears!