Text: Matthew 9:35 – 10:8
Volunteers for Jesus
There are different organisations committed to encouraging the act of volunteering across the Australia and New Zealand. They encourage organizations which are involved in any sort of service to invite volunteers to come and join them. They encourage people to look for opportunities to volunteer.
During National Volunteers Week you might read stories about volunteers in your local newspapers. National Volunteers Week is also a reminder to show appreciation to the volunteers who are often taken for granted.
It is hard to volunteer. To volunteer means that you are giving your time, and making a considerable effort, and maybe it is going to cost you some money too, because volunteers are not always well supported.
- Volunteering means letting go of your own commitments and giving something of yourself for the sake of others, or for the sake of some worthy cause.
- Volunteering means doing. Your hands are busy. But it goes deeper, to your heart.
- Volunteers are committed with a sense of love and care, and a willingness to commit yourself to others in some way because you see a need.
Volunteering can be a hard slog. But ‘National Volunteer Week’ tells us it can also be rewarding, with inner satisfaction and joy. Volunteering for something worthwhile can bring out the deeper satisfaction of life and can enrich you in relationship with others – others who work with you, or others you help and who laugh with you as you share together. Think of all the volunteers who touch your life. Think of how and where you volunteer.
One of the areas where many people volunteer is in our church life. Church volunteers are included among the volunteers in the community. In fact, figures show that church volunteers are more likely to volunteer in other organisations and causes as well.
So first of all, thank you. Thank you to all of you who give considerable time and effort in the life of your church and community. I know that doing some of the tasks which need to be done can be demanding and you can feel unrewarded. So, thank you on behalf of all who benefit. We do see, and we do appreciate. And I hope that through your voluntary work in your church and community you can live and enjoy life, and that you can laugh together and share together.
That all gives us a very good introduction to today’s Gospel text. Because Jesus is calling for volunteers, for willing workers to work for His Kingdom. And He is sending out volunteers into His communities.
Jesus went round visiting all the towns and villages. He taught in the synagogues, preached the Good News about the Kingdom, and healed people with every kind of disease and sickness.
The best way to enlist volunteers is by example. Never ask anyone else to do anything which you are not willing to do yourself. Jesus shows us how. Jesus was a ‘doer’. He was out there, out there moving from town to town and village to village. He was out there where the need was greatest. He spoke the Good News because He saw that the people were desperate and despondent. He saw the pain and suffering of the people, and He came with His healing power.
Jesus was on a mission. He came to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to the people of earth. That was not just a wonderful idea. It was bringing the grace of God into the real needs of people. He was out there, doing it. As He saw the crowds, His heart was filled with pity for them, because they were worried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Jesus was motivated by a deep compassion. He saw the needs on the outside. He saw broken bodies, and troubled life-styles. He saw the needs on the inside. He saw the addiction to sin, which is the deepest addiction of all. He felt the pain and anguish which it brought in the lives of all these people. He saw it in each person He met. He saw it multiplied in the crowds of people who came out into the streets hopefully when they heard He was coming. He could see that they were desperate, looking for something. They were like sheep wandering around, confused, defenceless, without a shepherd.
He was coming as the Shepherd. He was coming as the Good Shepherd, who had true care and compassion for each of His sheep, and for all of His sheep together, a true dedication to their protection and their welfare. He was coming with the mercy of God to lift the burden of sin and suffering and to bring these wandering sheep into the Kingdom of Heaven.
So He said to His disciples, “The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in. Pray to the owner of the harvest that He will send out workers to gather in His harvest.”
Now Jesus looks even further. He knows that the deep human needs are experienced everywhere all over the world. He changes the metaphor from a shepherd to that of a farmer. Now He sees a paddock of wheat, a vast paddock stretching beyond sight. He knows that a crop of wheat has to be harvested at just the right time, when it is ripe and before it is spoiled. He knows now is the right time.
But in those days harvesting was by hand with a sickle. To harvest a paddock of wheat you needed a team. To harvest a paddock this size you needed an army of workers. We need workers, Jesus says. We have so few workers, we need many, many more.
This is not just our task. This is God’s task. This is God’s world. So, let’s pray to our heavenly Father, who is the Lord of the Harvest. Let’s pray for the workers, so that we can do this great work. Let’s get lots of people in, all involved in bringing in this great harvest.
Jesus called His twelve disciples together and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and every sickness. When you pray for something, you also commit yourself to being an answer to prayer. Jesus called on His disciples to pray for workers in the harvest. The very next thing He does is call them to be workers.
Jesus calls on us to pray for workers in the harvest. I hope that we do pray that God will provide the workers He wants for His harvest, for His mission, all over the world. I hope that we pray for God’s workers in every situation of mission and ministry all over the world.
But when we pray for workers, we pray that God will use us as His workers however and wherever He chooses. Jesus calls His disciples to be His workers. Jesus calls us to be His workers in today’s world too.
One of the principles of good human resources management is that if you give someone a job to do, you have to give them the authority to do it. It is no good expecting them to do a job, but not letting them get on and do it, because they have to refer everything back to you.
Jesus gives His disciples, His workers, His harvesters, His own authority. Just as He had been going around with the authority of God to proclaim the message, and to back up the message with the actions that show God’s power over all evil, He sent His disciples out with that same authority. They were to go out in His name, to speak His Word and to do His deeds.
Matthew then gives us the names of these twelve disciples. We don’t have to go through those names now. But we are talking about real people, each with their own family history, own character and now their own mission. Jesus calls people like us to do His work too.
These twelve men were sent out by Jesus with the following instructions: “Do not go to any Gentile territory or any Samaritan towns. Instead, you are to go to the lost sheep of the people of Israel.”
There would come a time when Jesus would send His disciples far and wide. Before ascending to Heaven He told them: “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”. (Acts 1:8) As we follow the story of the disciples, they started in Jerusalem and Judea and they travelled with the Gospel to many distant places. We can follow the story of those who followed, literally reaching to the most distant places of the world.
Initially Jesus was telling the disciples to work where they were. He was sending them back to their own people and then to the wider world. He was telling the disciples to look and see the needs right there, all around them. He had looked with compassion on the people wandering around aimlessly, like sheep without a shepherd. He was sending His disciples to more of these people in their own communities.
Today too, Jesus calls some people to go to distant places, to places and people who have not yet heard the Gospel. We support missionaries who are bringing the Gospel to people for the first time.
God is calling us to work for Him, to take His message and His love to the people in our own communities. That is where He has put us and that is where He sends us. Because there are needs right here, all around us, people in need, people wandering around aimless, hopeless and defenceless. There are people right where you are, who desperately need to hear the Gospel spoken into their lives. You are the best person to do that.
A volunteer is someone who acts voluntarily. That means you do something of your own free will. The word ‘volunteer’ means you are acting out of your free will or choice. A Christian volunteer is someone who is acting with a will that has been transformed by the Spirit of God.
If you ‘have to’ do it, you are not a volunteer. If you are ‘forced to’ do it, you are not a volunteer. If you do it because you are getting ‘paid to’ do it you are not a volunteer.
Jesus gives the very best reason to volunteer. You have received without payment, so give without payment. (Matthew 10:8b, ISV), or “Freely you have received. Freely give.” (Matthew 10:8b, NIV)
It is all about grace. God’s grace is the free gift of life with God, through the free gift of forgiveness and the free gift of God’s Spirit. Freely you have received. That is the very best reason for giving, for doing, for being willing to respond to call of Jesus, for volunteering in His service.
Jesus, with a wonderful free will, gave Himself for you, gave His life on a cross, out of compassion for you. He comes to you when you are wandering aimlessly and hopelessly and shepherds you into His Kingdom. This is the very best reason to give of yourself, freely and generously, to give your time and effort for His Kingdom.
We started by talking about all the different sorts of volunteering. People volunteer for many causes, and most are great examples of generous and willing service: serving people and serving the community in some worthwhile way. If you are involved in voluntary community service, I hope it brings you joy and fulfilment.
We talked about volunteering in your church life. We are here today sharing in this worship because many people have given of their time and effort. I hope and pray that as you serve in the life of the church that you find it fulfilling, and that you can rejoice because you share in this very special time with our God and each other.
Jesus calls you, like His first disciples, to give in a way that goes deeper. He calls on you to respond to the needs of the people around you with love and compassion, and to bring His love and the Gospel of His grace and care to people in every need.
Your volunteering may be in some sort of planned or organized way. It may simply be in your everyday life that no one organizes, where you act spontaneously.
Give freely, give voluntarily, give generously of yourself, of your time, with your efforts and dedication. Because God has given so freely and wonderfully to you.