May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts always be pleasing to you O God.
Poor Paul. The people of the Church in Corinth are at it again. Paul’s frustration and irritation are practically dripping from this morning’s text. Once again he has to try to sort them out and keep the Church from falling apart. We can sympathize with him. He is pointing out divisions and fractions in the community. We are all familiar with those - the things that divide rather than unite.
It might be disagreements over decor or differences of opinion on music or worship practices. It might be dissenting opinions on outreach or benevolence or salaries. It might be groups pitted against one another over leadership. It might be those insidious parking lot conversations. These things tear down the community - they fight against the kingdom. And they are unfair and hurtful. But they happen because the Church is made up of people. Different people with different opinions. It is when those differences become more important or significant than the similarities or what draws a community together that irreparable damage might be done.
Paul is trying to avoid that.
So what is going on in the Church in Corinth?
People have begun to identify with leaders. They are saying I belong to Paul or I belong to Apollos. It is as if we said - I belong to Bishop Susan or I belong to Bishop Mike - or if we were to expand beyond our Lutheran community - I belong to Billy Graham or the Pope or the Moderator of the United Church or the head of the Pastafarians.
It misses the point completely and that is what Paul is dealing with now in Corinth. The Spiritual or worship leaders are not what is important. The people of Corinth - like the people of Advent - like all humans belong to God.
That is it - we belong to God.
When we cling to someone or something else we alienate ourselves from God. We break the covenant relationship. That is sin.
Paul is very clear in today’s pericope. He and the other leaders plant the seeds and water but it is God who brings the growth. Paul and the other leaders are servants of God working together. In fact we all are.
God brings the growth.
We help but the heavy lifting - the hard work we must leave to God.
This can be difficult to think about and perhaps even harder to do. We like to be busy - we like to think that we are making things happen. We fool ourselves into believing that we can do God’s job.
This is especially true when we think about growing the Church or increasing membership or attendance. We play with worship styles or music - or we move the furniture or get rid of it entirely. We do these things in the belief that this will bring in more people or more revenue or make us a mega Church.
In the end it is energy wasted and a futile exercise.
If Paul is right.
If Paul is right then we can plant the seeds we can water them but we cannot make them grow.
If Paul is right then that is God’s job. It is up to God to grow the Church, to bring the growth in us and our faith.
It is a difficult job and I am relieved to leave it to God. I just need to get out of the way of myself and others and leave it to God. Trusting in God to know how and why and when and why and where.
How about you? Can we trust that Paul is right and believe that God brings the growth?
Our reading from Corinthians this morning ends with Paul describing The people of the Church in Corinth as God’s field, God’s building.
What part of the field are you? What part of God’s building? Are you the joists that support, are you the windows that are letting in the light? Are you the stairs that help take people places? Or are you the mold or dry rot that is damaging the foundation?
What part of God’s building are you? PAUSE
And what would you like to be?
Paul wrote to the people of Corinth saying:
“So neither the one who plants or the one who waters is anything, but only God gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labour of each. For we are God’s servants, working together.” (1 Cor 3:7)