When we meet each Sunday morning, it is an opportunity to be together as we lift praises to God. Of course, any of us can worship God alone, and all of us should do so. But since the early church began to gather on Sunday (with the earliest church gathered every day of the week – Acts 2.42-47) to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, Sunday has been a day to publicly and corporately meet to worship God for who He is and what He has done.
However, with the understanding that this time of meeting is really about God, we can also take time occasionally to honor men and women for their time of service to God. Today is one such day. Today is essentially a retirement ceremony for one of the deacons of Fairfax Baptist Church. To move someone to emeritus status is for someone to retain their position while acknowledging it is more of in an honorary way from this point forward. To be an emeritus is different than being inactive. To be inactive as a deacon, for instance, implies the person will likely become active again.
A deacon emeritus is still a deacon, and is also no longer active, though for different reasons. For instance, they are still welcome to come to deacon meetings, etc.; but they simply are no longer actively serving the church as a deacon. Usually this is due to health or age or similar reason.
By creating the Emeritus position, we, as a church still honor them by position and in, and for, their service, but likewise acknowledge they may not serve actively again. Today, we honor Melvin Miles by moving him to Deacon Emeritus after nearly 40 years of service (he began serving as deacon in 1983) to God as a deacon of Fairfax Baptist Church.
For the next several minutes, I would like to offer you, the church and Mel’s family an opportunity to share some memories of Mel as a servant – whether serving the church, the community, or his family. After this time of sharing, I will share a brief homily on the first few verses of 1 Thessalonians 1.
Paul writes to the church, at large, in his first letter to the church at Thessalonica. But I believe two principles in these first few verses are what we are doing today.
We are giving thanks to God. (v. 2)
God’s choice was to ordain the church as His vehicle to advance His Kingdom. Verse 4 says that He has chosen, or elected, us. And He chose some for a special type of service such as we find in Ephesians 4.11. A deacon is another type of servant specifically mentioned (cf., Acts 6, 1 Timothy 3). 1 Thessalonians 1.5 says that He has provided the power, in addition to His Word, to sustain us as individuals, and to sustain and empower us as servants.
Mel, we give thanks to God as you stand before this congregation today because they know the manner of a man you have been for their sake as part of your service to God.
Secondly, we are remembering the work of Mel. (v. 3)
Paul writes of:
- the Work of (or by) Faith
- the Labor of (by) Love
- and the Patience (or Endurance) by Hope
Although the wording is in a different order, Paul describes these same three elements of life – faith, hope, and love – he mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13. There, in verse 13, he wrote that faith, hope, and live will remain, but it is love that prevails (1 Corinthians 13.13).
It is love which is the greatest. Love is what leads (truly, compels) us to respond to the grace we have been shown through the death and resurrection of our Lord.
Like many others before Mel, many have served as deacons at Fairfax Baptist Church. Some of those fellow deacons are here today. Others, like Doyne and Ferd, have passed onto glory after their time of service on earth was complete. But we all are called to serve. And most everyone in here has served in some way. But, as Paul, reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13, without love our service means nothing. It was Jesus’ love that gave us everything.
- We work by faith, but it is because of the love Jesus has shown us (John 15.12-14).
- We endure with patience by the hope we have only through the resurrection (John 14.27).
- We labor in love, in part, because of our desire to be obedient to Him (John 14.15).
And Mel, we recognize your service to this church, to this community, and most importantly to God, as a part of this service today.
But even as we honor Mel, and even as we talk of Mel moving to emeritus status as a deacon, let us be certain that nowhere in Scripture does it speak of one retiring from serving the Lord.
We all have a responsibility to serve. As a follower of Jesus, we have all be given a gift to serve. In our culture we speak of going to church, but it is better stated that we are to be the church. As believers, the commendation that will come from our Lord is not, “Well done good and faithful attender;” rather the Master’s words are, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” followed by the invitation to, “enter into the joy of the master,” because of our faithfulness.
As we honor Mel for his time of service to God on behalf of the local body of believers identified by the name of Fairfax Baptist Church, let us remember our own call to work by faith, to labor by love, and to be patient by hope while serving the One who first served us.