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DeacoNote 42: Send In The Clowns

October 4, 2023

Back when I was a corporate manager, I used to recommend that my fellow managers read Michael LeBoeuf's book, The Greatest Management Principle In The World. The basic premise of the book was that we ought not to give people extra awards for just doing their jobs. That is what their salary was for - a contracted rate for a completed service. The extra, above and beyond awards, he said should be reserved for something else.

Sometimes it was extraordinary performance beyond what was reasonable to expect for the contracted salary. But also, it was argued, managers should give awards to people who perform their jobs in ways you would like others to emulate. In a corporate environment this often meant exceptional work, but done so while mentoring others and fostering teamwork with other functions within the organization. Its primary purpose was to highlight examples of the way you wanted everyone to do their jobs. If we apply this concept to a church environment, we do not have fancy awards, framed certificates, or engraved plaques. We do find it useful on occasion, however, to point out behaviors that others would do well to emulate. People whose leadership, sacrifice, reaction, or service in a given situation showed the rest of us what living a good Christian life was, or should be, all about. We do not usually give them awards, but in some circles, we call them saints. Such people come in all sizes, shapes, ages, and forms. The only thing they have in common is that for some moment in time, or in some aspect of their life, we get a glimpse of Christ within them. For when I think of a saint, I do not necessarily think of some historical figure on which an organized church has bequeathed an honorific title. No, I grew up in the Lord reading the King James Version, where the term saint can refer to almost any of God's people, that are called and set apart for service. As Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome

Romans 1: 7 To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Or to the Christians in Corinth,

I Corinthians 1: 2 Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Jesus Christ, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord

Whether we live in Rome, or Corinth, or Vermont, we are all called to be holy and set apart for God's service - that is to be saints. And yet,

I Corinthians 12: 4-6 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

And these different forms of service and workings combine in a complementary way to create one fully functioning body, with each saint doing their unique part.

I Corinthians 12: 1, 2, 24-27 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we are baptized by one Spirit into one body ... But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a part of it.

It strikes me that sainthood is not confined to monks who copy manuscripts in a mountaintop monastery, or preach to lost tribes in the jungles. Sainthood is service of all kinds offered for the glory of God, be it mowing the church lawn, cleaning its toilets, harvesting its garden crops, greeting visitors at the door with a smile, or offering a prayer, reading a Scripture verse, or preaching from the Word. It is all part of a properly functioning body of Christ. And so, when the question came up the other night as to who was our favorite saint it was not someone I have only read about that came to mind. I started with Paul's words to Philemon,

Philemon 1: 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you have refreshed the hearts of the Lord's people.

and asked myself, whose living example of some aspect of a Godly life has brought me joy and encouragement, and refreshed and inspired me to grow toward sainthood in my own calling as one of the Lord's people? My first thought is of my maternal grandmother. I remember her mostly through the lens of my childhood, beaming with joy, surrounded by her eighteen grandchildren at one of our reunions. It is this picture that is the model I use when trying to imagine Jesus calling the children in

Luke 18: 16 But Jesus called the children to Him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them for the kingdom of God belongs to such as those"

It might be easy to assume I was biased because she was my grandmother, except my father told me in later life, that his mother-in-law was one of those people everybody loved. She belonged to a little church, not unlike our own. And she was one of the women who toiled behind the scenes in cooking and serving and cleaning and bringing joy to everyone with whom she interacted. When she passed on, her church friends published a cookbook and dedicated it to her loving memory.

And as sometimes happens in large families when a loved matriarch dies, some of her personal belongings get distributed to her descendants on a semi-random basis. My mother had selected a few things for her family and decided to give me a small Bible that had belonged to her mother. It had clearly seen some use. Its covers were falling off and the whole thing was held together with a rubber band to keep from losing any pages. As I later flipped through the pages, I found a five-leaf clover pressed flat at the 23rd Psalm. It was the passage my grandmother had been reading when I, as a young boy, had presented the clover to her as a gift over a quarter of a century earlier.

Psalm 23: 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.

While this was perhaps my grandmother's words to me, it was in my mother, her daughter, that I saw them lived out. For my mother lived on death's door a good deal of her life in her quarter century battle with cancer. My wife, who never knew my mother when she was not fighting cancer would say, she never saw my mother utter a single word of complaint or bitterness or ill will, even as cancer robbed her of what many consider a life worth living. We live in a culture that finds it easy to excuse rudeness and bitterness, when someone is having a bad day - when things are not going their way. Some only find it easy to praise God in the sun, and fall silent on the dark days. My mother's brand of sainthood lay in her ability, or maybe just sheer determination, to be loveable on really bad days. I recall a time when my mother's cancer attacked a lung, slowly suffocating her. When her surgeon came out of the operating room to tell us how she was doing, he said, "If I had known how bad it was, I never would have attempted the surgery. But, on the way into the operating room, I fell in love with your mother and refused to let her die on my watch." It took her a long very ugly year to recover from that surgery, but recover she did. Because on one of the worst days of her life - a day where cancer had robbed her of her dignity, her outward beauty, her peace, and even her breath - cancer could not take her joy, or her ability to be loveable. And isn't this exactly what Christ did? On his worst day. When he was beaten, bloodied, and hung up to die - when it could be said by all human standards, he was having his worst day ever, he remained loveable. He forgave his oppressors, he saved the thief. It would be easy to say, but He was the Christ - it was probably easy for Him. But we know it was not.

Matthew 26: 42 He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."

And Paul, who was repeatedly beaten and even stoned in service to God, persevered, but did admit how difficult it was at times, when he wrote

II Corinthians 12: 7-9 I was given a thorn in my flesh ... Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me, But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

In life my mother never complained of her fate - to have reached the prime of her life only to have it filled with cancer. Yet, after her death, I inherited a music box that was said to have played one of her favorite songs. It turned out to be, Send In The Clowns.

It tells the story of a mis-matched pair whose timing is always wrong.

Isn't it rich? Losing my timing this late in my career? And where are the clowns? There ought to be clowns Quick send in the clowns Don't bother, they're here.

Nobody said sainthood was easy. Your Brother in Christ, Warren Please feel free to share this DeacoNote with a friend, or post a related thought in the comments below.

Warren J. Ayer, Jr. Chairperson, Board of Deacons United Church of Colchester

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