God Gives the Growth

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

It is a small moment I offer now.

It comes to mind because of this: last Sunday we offered a blessing to a young man as he headed off to serve in the Air Force.

He was in 8th grade. We were short an acolyte that Sunday and Logan — no doubt at the encouragement of his parents — stepped back into the robing room where we were getting ready, and volunteered. He put on his robe, picked up a candle lighter, and as he turned to go out into our worship space, he looked at me with a grin and said, “I’ve got this, Pastor.”

Last Sunday as we blessed Logan on his way I spoke of that moment from years ago and I reminded him that now “we’ve got him” and more than that? God’s got him now.

It’s the big picture I’m trying to hold close today as I consider the words of Paul to the people at Corinth so long ago. It is not an easy thing to do, not living as I do, as many of us do, in a world which encourages and expects us as individuals to share our gifts. Indeed, it is certainly not easy to do as many of us as pastors (as do so many other professionals as well), feel the pressure to perform, to do it all, to take it all on. To be sure, and here I only speak of what I know best, I do believe that many of us find ourselves in situations where it is expected that the success or failure of a congregation depends on us alone. Perhaps the people do truly believe this. Or maybe we have allowed ourselves to buy into it, even encouraging it in our unwillingness or inability to share it with others.  Maybe it is a combination of the two. Either way? It is awfully easy to forget the power and promise of Paul’s words today when he says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”

And yes, this metaphor offered by Paul still works, it seems to me.

For I find myself in mid-February with snow still on the ground beginning to dream about the garden I will plant just a few yards away in a handful of months.

If not that, many of us are a short drive away from open fields which soon will be planted and nurtured and watered and before too long, harvested once again.

All of us, I expect, will sit down at a meal in the very near future and if we are at all aware, we will call to mind all the people, the hands, the hearts, the minds, the tools, and on and on which it took to bring that particular offering to our plates.

So yes, many of us can deeply understand what Paul is trying to tell us here because one way or an other we have experienced it a thousand, thousand times.

It takes a lot of us to do what needs to be done, yes. Each one is called to do our small part. And yet, in the end? It is God who makes it grow.

And so I wonder now:

  • If we can understand it, can we also experience the grace within it?
  • Might we also begin to comprehend the truth that not to do so is less than faithful and actually ultimately dangerous? Dangerous to the health of the communities of faith we live in and serve and might I daresay, dangerous also to our own souls?
  • And can we also, somehow, begin to live like this is so?

And, oh, I would surely add that I ask these questions even as I grapple with the meaning of them for me.

Now this is surely so.

Many of us live and serve in places where people are not necessarily likely to step up and do what needs to be done alongside us. Some of this is borne of habit. Some of it surely comes from no longer being able to do what was once done. And yes, if we are honest, it is possible it is also because our own egos, our own fears, our own long ingrained habits simply do not make room for others.

  • I count myself among those who struggle with this — with remembering that there are others just waiting to be able to say to me, to us together, “I’ve got this.”
  • And yes, I am among those who forget — if not with my words, then certainly with my actions — that ultimately, “God’s got this.” That it has been given to me to do just a small piece of the work. And that ultimately, God is the one who will make it happen.

For a long time I had hanging over my desk the following prayer. It got misplaced in a move, but this seems an important time to pull it out again and keep it before me, before us, as we grapple with a world so very much in need of so much planting and watering and yes, weeding and harvesting, too. What follows are, indeed, good and important and empowering words for us as together we seek the courage  to step out and do our small parts to bring life and hope once more to a world so desperately in need of it. Written by Father Ken Untener, the following is considered descriptive of the life story of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Perhaps you have heard it, maybe you have even prayed it before:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit bring wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

Perhaps we do recognize the truth of this easiest in the young people we are called to mentor — whether as parents or teachers or pastors. We do our best to plant seeds and to water them as long as we can, but before we know it we are blessing them on their way — as we did with young Logan last week — entrusting them to God’s care in this life, knowing that ‘God’s got them’ and that God will make something of the efforts we have put forth planting seeds.

And yet, I wonder now:

  • What would it look like if we were to take this to heart in all that we do?
    • Would we in fact somehow do more and do better if we came to know more deeply that our part in all of this is ultimately pretty small, but as part of God’s Work it is still all there is?
  • Where in your life and work would the truth that it is finally only “God who gives the growth” make all the difference?
    • And how might you begin to live like this is so?