Sermon for the Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women 1984 Epistle Lesson: Acts 6:1-7
Do you think the early Christians ever complained about the way the holy apostles were leading the Church?
Can you imagine someone saying, “That St. Peter plays favorites in the community. He talks to the same few people and always makes sure his ‘friends” are taken care of first.”
O how about, “There’s St. John, he’s a good Gospel writer, but he never has time for anything important and he doesn’t even teach in the church school!”
Well, today’s Epistle reading, Acts 6:1-7, shows us exactly that people did complain about things in the church from the beginning – even when the original hand chosen disciples of Jesus were leading the church.
“Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a murmuring against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution” (Acts 6:1).
With such a complaint, how were the Christians to handle the problem? Ask Jesus for a new set of apostles? Quit the church and join a different one? Demand the disciples do more work?
As the text indicates, the problem was brought to the attention of the apostles, and once aware of the problem, what did the apostles do?
They tell the people, “We have certain ministries to which we have been appointed (preach the gospel, teach the Word of God, pray), and it would not be pleasing to God for us to give them up. Therefore we are going to set up a new ministry (deacons) with which to serve you and appoint new ministers for this task.” In effect the apostles both expand leadership by creating a new ministry and share power with more members in the church so that the church’s mission can continue and grow.
The Apostles recognize the essential nature of both the human needs of the believers and of the additional ministry required to meet this need. (Putting the situation in modern terms we might say they recognized the importance of the fellowship hour after the liturgy – the membership’s human needs must be met).
The apostles set out 2 principles of church life:
1) There is a division of labor in the church. There are some who have special assignments to carry out – to pray, teach, preach, distribute food, wait on tables. This insures that people with special gifts, talents or assignments can concentrate on the work to which God has appointed by freeing them from other responsibilities.
2) When needs arise, appoint new worthy people to meet these needs. Multiplying ministries also helps the community to grow. This is an important principle for our parish.
In the life of the parish we have to find the ways to free all of the ministers of the Gospel to do what they are specifically equipped, gifted, trained and appointed to do by freeing them from all extraneous responsibilities – help the priests to be the priests, deacons to be deacons, teachers to teach, council to administrate, choir to sing, and all the committees and volunteers to do their appointed tasks. If everyone steps up and becomes an active minister and takes responsibility for their role in the parish community than all others are freed to take on their own roles.
If there are any people within the community who feel neglected by the priest or the parish council, it is OK for the community to arrange for new ministries to emerge to tend to the needs.
The apostles understood that they could not minister to every need of all the people. Their response was to have good people – people of wisdom and full of the Holy Spirit – chosen and ordained to carry on the ministry to meet the emerging need. Every parish has good members – people of wisdom and full of the Holy Spirit – which God provides for the parish to fulfill its mission.
The end result of what the apostles did was that they were freed from being responsible for everything so that they could concentrate on what only they could do in the church. And new people became involved in new ministries and more needs were met. As it says in Acts 6:7 –
“And the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly…”
So we are given an example by today’s Epistle lesson as to how to deal with needs and with complaints within the community. If we followed the example of the apostles and the first Christians we would find that the word of God will grow for us as well, and the number of disciples will be greatly increased.