In 1979, Herb Brooks, the coach for the University of Minnesota hockey team, began assembling a list of 20 men who would represent the United States in the Winter Olympics. By the time he whittled down a number of amateurs from high schools and colleges across the country, he had assembled the youngest composition of players to ever play in the Olympics from any country in any Olympic event, ever. After finishing the pre-Olympic exhibition season, it was clear Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Czechoslovakia were the favorites to win medals in the Olympics. But, by the evening of February 22, 1980, unknown American kids pulled off what commentators said was “The Miracle on Ice!” The US beat the highly-polished Soviet team, and two days later defeated a pumped-up Finnish team. Very few of the under-sized, and under-experienced US players went on to professional hockey careers. But, Coach Brooks chose youngsters who knew their position and played it well. When the final buzzer sounded the end of a hard fought game, Herb Brooks left the bench, ran to the locker room and wept. He chose the right men for each position. Everyone had played their position well… and won.
But, sports isn’t the only place where playing one’s position takes place. It happens in business, in the community, and it happens in the church. Positions in the church are varied, but more critical than any “game,” anywhere. The church is full of people who are uniquely gifted for the positions that the church needs them to “play.” Faithful volunteers step up and say, ‘Yup! With God’s help, I can do that.’ It’s not off-the-charts miraculous or super-spiritual. Serving the church covers more than teaching Sunday School, singing in the choir, or sewing quilts. There’s always a need that’s being filled. Volunteers either see a need, or ask if they can take the opportunity to be a part for the greater good of God’s kingdom.
Why did the early Christian Church grow…because the preachers preached better; or they finally sang songs the people liked; or because the church served the best potluck dinners? No, the early Christian Church flourished because it was blessed by God for the people who heard God’s plan of salvation – the goal He offered through His Son, Jesus. The early church’s members quit being spectators, and became the “players” – to “play” their position. They took the gifts God gave and used them for the work of the church.
The church is us! Christ is the Head – we are His body in this world. We’re fed on His Word and Sacraments. We’re led by the Holy Spirit in a sanctified life and our love for people. We’re receivers of what God pours out in abundance by His grace for the good of His Church and His people. But, simply “doing church” isn’t “being church.” St. Peter reminds us, “You like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ… [B]ut you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous Light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people…” (I Peter2:5, 9-10a, ESV)
Yet, volunteers have a life!… real jobs, real families, real bills, and real homes to keep. Their time is their most precious commodity. That’s what makes volunteers a people we need to recognize and celebrate. They come to serve… in our congregations, in the District office, or on a mission trip. They show up to work. Volunteers recognize a need to help one another. They seek their best position and stick with it. St Paul writes,(I Corinthians 15:58), “You be steadfast, immovable. Keep abounding in the work of the Lord because your work is not in vain.”
For example, Jesus had three friends: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. They all “played” different positions, but out of their love for Christ. Martha was a working servant for Jesus – everything had to be done just right. Mary was a total worshiper and friend. Lazarus eventually had a powerful testimony about his “play” in Jesus’ story. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, so at a dinner party to honor Jesus, each one worked together with one purpose. Martha served, Mary worshiped and anointed Jesus’ feet. And, Lazarus had a story to tell.
Three people… different gifts. Every church needs their Martha’s to cover the details. We need Mary’s to sit at Jesus’ feet in worship, pouring out a fragrant sacrifice of worship for the Lord. And, we all need the Lazarus’ to share the message of grace in Christ Jesus and His love and hope in life everlasting.
We need volunteers at every level of the church’s ministry: children’s ministry, youth, singles, elderly, women, men, retired, outreach, choir, missions… the list goes on, and even applies to the work of the volunteers in the District’s office. So, volunteers, hear it well: We thank God for you! You’re not a spectator in the pews, you go into the field, being fed by God for this good work and give it your all for Christ and His Kingdom. Thank you, and thanks be to God!
Message from Rev. Dr. Roger Paavola, President