Posted: November 28th, 2012

Thank You for Saying 'Thank You'

By, Fr. Mark Sietsema

Why the Church has no volunteers ...

Dear Marge,  

I am writing to thank you for the beautiful Thank-You note you sent last week.  You always express your gratitude so eloquently and in such detail.  What a lovely card you picked out!  And as usual, your handwriting was exquisite.  How do you manage it, time after time?  Please know that I will treasure your Thank-You note for many years to come, and thinking of it will make me that much more eager to create new occasions for you to thank me. 

Gratefully, your friend,

Sally

 

Have you ever gotten a note like that?  Ever written one?  Do you think maybe Marge ought now to write a Thank-You back to Sally? 

I feel like I’m about to write exactly this kind of note right now, a “Thank-You for saying Thank-You.”  I would like to pause with this November issue and express my gratitude to all our parishioners who offer their time, talents, and treasures to keep the ministry of Holy Trinity going year after year.  It gives me great joy to watch you wrapping gyros, folding newsletters, pulling weeds, weaving palms, baking cookies, roasting lambs, putting up holiday decorations, … I could go on and on.  I am equally grateful for those who participate by pulling out their checkbooks and buying gyros, donating Camp scholarships, or supporting the general fund through stewardship contributions.

Why do you do it?  I trust you do it in the spirit of true Christian servanthood: that it’s your way of saying Thank You to God.  Your donations of time, talents, and treasures to the Church are a barometer of your gratitude for being saved from sin, death, and the Devil.  You don’t do it to be part of the gang; you don’t do it for recognition or power or tax breaks.  Like the woman who anointed the feet of Christ with her myrrh, you do it from a heart overflowing with appreciation. 

I trust that you do not pitch in expecting recognitions.  In fact, I worry that whenever we publicly acknowledge a faithful steward—with an icon, with a gift, or even just with a slice of Vasilopita—that we might be taking something away from the reward that you are laying up for yourselves in heaven (cf. Matthew 6:1-21).  I also know that for every faithful steward who is acknowledged, there are ten equally faithful stewards whom we fail to recognize.  So every “Thank-You for saying Thank-You” is an injustice anyway.  Maybe it’s time to stop and just let your Thank-You to God stand as the last word.

***

Perhaps you noticed that so far I have avoided the word “volunteer.”  I cringe a little every time I hear that word in the context of church life.  At the local library, it’s OK; at the homeless shelter, perfectly appropriate.  But at church?  Who around here is a volunteer?  I don’t see anyone except slaves and servants of the Savior, bought into His service at the price of His Blood.  Saint Paul says it plainly in Romans 6:18—“You have been set free from slavery to sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

Christ taught His disciples the spirit of true service to God (Luke 17:10).  “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”  We are like restaurant employees who eat up the owner’s profits as we sneak food all day long. Christ is losing money on us, but out of love He keeps us on the payroll anyway.  The least we can do (yes, literally, the least) is step up to help when He calls for our assistance through our parish.

I hope you don’t see yourself as a “volunteer,” as if you’re doing the Lord Who was Crucified for Us any favors.  Saint Paul shows us the right frame of mind: “Woe unto me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).  Paul sees himself as indebted to infinite love. He earns no bragging rights except to boast that he claims none of his “rights.”  He serves, not out of a desire for honor or glory or privilege or power.  He serves willingly out of a sense of obligation, to please the One who rescued him and made an enemy into a friend.  So may we all offer our service to Christ with hearts of gratitude.    

So thank you for saying Thank You!  … not that you needed it, my esteemed fellow-servant!

 

 




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