Disciples and Volunteers, June 18, 2017
Matthew 9:35-10:8 Last month I shared a blog article with Parish Council titled “Your Church Does Not Need Volunteers.” The article was written by a pastor who was writing a note of thanks to her parishioners for all the labour given to prepare the church for Holy Week and Easter. She found herself questioning if “volunteer” was the right word to describe the work done at the church, drawing an analogy from her family life: “I know I’m not the only one who cringes when someone sees me, without kids in tow, and asks if my husband is ‘babysitting.’ Well, no. I mean, yes, he is at home with the kids tonight. But I do not think you can effectively say ‘babysitting’ when it is your own dang kid. I’d say we could just call that parenting.” She concludes: “I feel the same when people talk about ‘volunteering’ at church. And yes, I know it’s just a word. But it’s the wrong word, for a lot of reasons.” (Link below) The article came back to mind early this week as I was reading some commentary about our Gospel passage and reflecting on the spiritual transition we finally complete today as we settle into “ordinary time.”
Our Gospel passage today is itself transitional. It begins by concluding one section and then continues on into the beginning of Jesus’ second major speech in Matthew known as the “Missionary Discourse.” “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.” This verse with which we begin today summarizes the previous 5 chapters of Jesus’ early ministry, including the famous Sermon on the Mount. In fact, part of the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount reads: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” (4:23) The summary we hear today repeats, almost verbatim, Jesus’ mission and provides a frame for those 5 chapters of the story.
What is significant for us today is not just the summary of Jesus’ work, or the compassion he expresses for needy people. It is not even his observation that “the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few…” Rather, what is most significant is Jesus’ turn in chapter 10 to summon “his twelve disciples and [give] them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.” Notice how closely the mission Jesus authorizes for the disciples mirrors his own. The story is told in a way that “emphasizes the continuity between the mission of Jesus and the mission of the disciples.” (NIB, 241) The disciples are to continue the work Jesus has already begun, though in a somewhat limited way at the moment. At this point, there is no command to teach and as we will soon hear, it is limited to the people of Israel. Both those restrictions are lifted, however, at the very end of the Gospel with the Great Commission in chapter 28. Nevertheless, by this mid-point in Jesus’ own ministry, he calls and empowers the disciples to follow in his footsteps and gives them instructions to that end. We will hear more of these instructions over the next couple of weeks. For today, we will focus on what it means for us, along with our ancient ancestors, to be called to discipleship.
At parish council last month, inspired by the article “Your Church Does Not Need Volunteers”, we considered a contrast between belonging and ownership. We attempted to draw out some of the subtleties of how we relate to and within various organizations, including the church. More than semantics, the difference between things like owning and belonging very much impact our actions and attitudes, particularly around accountability, responsibility and resiliency. In light of our Gospel today, we’re going to build on parish council’s work with a focus on discipleship. Let’s think together about distinctions between what it means to be a volunteer and what it means to be a disciple of Christ. I’m going to record our work in a dichotomous way, but as we discussed in parish council, these ideas aren’t opposed or strictly mutually exclusive. Rather, it is a way of drawing out a deeper understanding…
SO… talk to me about volunteers and disciples…
Here are the notes from our discussions at 8:00am and 10:30am!
What would you add? How are acting as a volunteer and acting as a disciple of Christ distinct? How are they similar?
Here is a link to the above mentioned article: Your Church Does Not Need Volunteers