“So neither the one who plants or the one who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow.” I Corinthians 3:7
Paul wrote these words to deflect attention away from his work and toward God. You see, the church in Corinth was falling prey to the age old problem of picking winners from among themselves – who contributed the most to the church was being bandied about almost to the point of exhaustion. Wealthy folks gave, musicians played, preachers preached, folks with gifts of prophesy kept congregations spellbound with their pronouncements, the compassionate were doing all sorts of acts of kindness that would make people shake their heads in wonder. They were getting noticed, admired even. That was the problem. Even if on the surface it seemed the church appeared to be clicking on all cylinders. In fact, their success was their greatest weakness – for pride finds its way into our thoughts about as easy as air into our lungs. Once in place, pride of accomplishment starts the rating game – it looks itself in the mirror, likes what it sees, and then notices others who aren’t quite up to snuff. Before you know it, the competition to the top is on – except it is actually a race to the bottom – for the church at least.
In addition, the members at Corinth had picked their favorite pastor and did a lot of comparing. Apollos was known as a charismatic preacher and seen by folks as the biggest “competition” to St. Paul whose sermons/speeches were probably much more like lectures by a professor of Systematic Theology – great in content but oh so boring! Paul was not at all pleased with such comparison because it took away from the focus, the reason, the goal of what it meant to be a community of faith: Jesus Christ. Apollos can’t do a darn thing for you when it comes to your salvation and I am not much more than a schmuck who got lucky because Christ rescued me from myself and the devil – that is basically Paul’s argument at the beginning of the letter to the Corinthians. So, people, get a hold of your emotions and focus on what is important. You can see, Paul had his hands full with these Corinthians!! Paul had “planted” the church there – equipped others to “water” it through patient and intensive teaching yet insisted it was God alone who made things develop and grow.
And that is still the very case today, my friends. As you look at the history of Emmanuel, each one of your pastors fulfilled a particular role. Some planted, others had to do some re-planting; some simply picked rocks and some certainly watered; a number of your pastors pulled weeds, some fertilized and others sprayed to prevent further weed-growth; some, of course, were able to do a bit of harvesting and even enjoyed the fruits of their labor and the labor of others.
And, as parishioners, as brothers and sisters in Christ, each one of you does one or the other or perhaps a bit of various activities. You all come with your unique and individual gifts and I know that some of you are great at watering, others never get tired of picking rocks. Some of you sing, some of you teach, some of you administer and take the burden of responsibility, some of you cook and bake and clean up, some of you make sure the checkbooks are balanced, some of you literally pick weeds (we could use more of that gift –ha!), some of you console and comfort and sit and cry with others.
Together, with pastors of old and with me, you have been working in this plot of fertile ground in which the Gospel of Christ grows. Has it been – is it – easy? Nah. Have we seen good results? So la-la. Are we committed to keep on working? I pray it.
Most and foremost: let’s keep the focus on Christ. It is Christ who makes all things possible. It is Christ who calls us to use our abilities. It is Christ whom we proclaim and who encourages us that together, each doing his/her part, we will continue to build the Kingdom of God in our corner of the world. We need each other and we need to recognize that God is not into favoritism. So, let’s keep on keeping on to the glory of God and for the healing of the nations. Amen