Summary: Ordination sermon for new deacons. God’s gifts are not found in timidity, but in the power to encourage, the touch of love, and the skill of self-discipline, all symbolized in the laying on of hands.
Of all the ways we can use our hands, none is more authentically human than touching. Touching, not grasping, for some of the apes can do that too. Touching, not hitting, for that is a perversion of our humanity. Touching, not taking, for that is part of our fallen nature. We are most human when we touch gently, carefully, gracefully. Of all the ways we can use our hands, none is more authentically human and none closer to the intent of our Creator than touching.
When our hands reach out to touch others, we do so because we want to share something, and find that it cannot be shared fully in words. When I meet my grandchildren, I want to reach out and touch them. I can tell them I love them, I can smile at them, I can even give them gifts. But nothing is quite as clear as the signal I send when my hands go out to them. Never mind that one of the girls teases me with a shrill little “No” and the other one head-butts me! At least the baby gives me a high-five, and I am satisfied. He is not yet sophisticated enough to mess with Grandpa’s emotions. There is in our human touch so much power. Hands touching.
And so when Paul speaks to the young Timothy and reminds him of the gifts he has received, he urges him to rekindle those gifts, given him by the laying on of hands. The laying on of hands, hands touching, is an ancient ceremony of blessing; it is a means of setting apart those who are called to spiritual leadership. But it is much more than that. The laying on of hands is no magic ceremony that transmits authority to those receiving it. Nor is the laying on of hands like a secret handshake that initiates someone into the fraternity of the privileged. The laying on of hands, going back as far as Isaac blessing his son Jacob, is a sign of the gifts that the faithful community gives to those chosen. Our hands will in a few moments touch one another and through a chain of connections touch those who are being ordained; so in our touch we affirm in them important gifts. Not offices, not privileges, not authority – none of those things are implied as Baptists practice the laying on of hands; but hands touching, giving from the church and for the church.
Paul is quite specific about these gifts. The apostle is clear what these gifts do not mean. “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice,” he says. It is not the gift of God if in timidity you refuse to step forward and serve as the Spirit summons. It is not the gift of God if you are so bound up with tradition that you cannot envision a new day for the church. Nor is it the gift of God if you are so bent on change you want to tear down everything accomplished in the past. God does not give us hands tearing away at the fabric of the church, nor hands pushing toward a reckless future. God does not give us the spirit of cowardice.
But when our hands touch, He will give three significant gifts. He will share three crucial blessings.
First, God gives, as we touch hands, a spirit of power. A spirit of power; not of force, not of constraint, but a spirit of authentic leadership. God will give you, His deacons, as we touch hands, that spirit that leads the church with encouraging power.
As a boy, I learned to play the violin. But I use the word “learned” loosely. Despite lots of practice time, despite good money for private lessons, I was never very good, and I knew it. So I resisted any expectation that I might play a violin solo in public. Most of the time that worked; my parents knew that the squeals that went up from those strings were not in the Heifetz or Kreisler class. So they never pushed me to play in public – with one exception. The annual family reunion.
Every year we would pack ourselves into the Plymouth and head for northern Indiana to see the family, and into the trunk would go my violin and my forebodings. For we were a musical clan, and it was expected that each of the cousins would demonstrate his or her musical skills. There was my cousin Harriett, whose thrilling soprano voice made headlines all over Fort Wayne for years; there was my cousin Richard, who sang musical theater and whose rich voice would ultimately be used for liturgies and sermons in the Lutheran Church. There was my cousin David, who ended up as principal clarinet for an orchestra in New York. Best of all, there was my own little brother, whose musical genius at the piano was apparent when he was only four years old. Prodigies all. And then there was me and my wailing wires.