Sunday, February 20, 2011

Working together as servants

A stained glass of St. Paul.
He had to keep reminding the Church in Corinth to stay on the correct path.

This is the sermon I gave the Episcopal Church of the Saviour in Clermont, Iowa on February 13, 2011.

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

The Corinthians self-image was of a spiritually mature congregation, endowed with all the spiritual gifts they needed, well taught and self-sufficient. In fact they were quite similar to some churches today. They thought their learning and their experience of the gifts of God made them better than others. But as Paul looks at them he says Mature? I think not! Spiritual? No! Not spiritual.

You could say they’re suffering from what you might call an adolescence syndrome. They think they’re mature, and in some respects they are, but in other respects they’re still acting like children. What they don’t realize is that mere lapse of time doesn’t bring maturity whether in the secular or the Christian world. Maturity has more to it than just age or experience or education. It has to do with an attitude to life, with an ability to deal with the real world, to accept the limitations of life, the variety of gifts that people have. And that’s how he knows that they’re not yet mature as Christians.

There’s quarreling and jealousy among them. How can they say they’re spiritually mature if they show that sort of worldly immaturity? Rather than being directed by love for one another they’re driven by competitiveness. They’re constantly comparing one with another to see who’s the best, who’s the smartest, who’s got the right answers, or the best pedigree.

And of course the major issue in this divisiveness is the issue of leadership. They each have their favorite spiritual leader that they place on a pedestal. It’s amazing how little we’ve changed isn’t it? They may not have had TV or the mass media that we have today, but they still had their favorite stars. So what’s wrong with them having their favorite spiritual leader? Why is this a sign of immaturity?

The problem is that this view of leadership comes from the world, not from God.

The world’s view of leadership is that the leader is the one who gives directions, who sets the agenda, who determines what’s important and what’s not. He or she is the most important person in the organization. They’re the ones to be emulated. That’s why big companies pay their CEOs million dollar pay packages. Because without them their company will flounder. And of course that’s why eyebrows are raised when those corporate executives still get paid even if their company does flounder. But that’s another discussion.

But this isn’t big business. This is the church we’re talking about, and the criteria are different. Mind you, we need to be careful here. We’ll see later that he isn’t saying we don’t need leaders, or that the apostles or the preachers of the gospel don’t have a place in setting the direction of the church. But the problem he’s addressing here is the status that these leaders are being given that seems to set them above even Jesus Christ.

So he asks what is Paul, what is Apollos? Not who, notice, but what? You see, this isn’t about personalities, it’s about function, gifting. What are they there for? Well, in the Christian economy they’re there as servants. In fact he uses a metaphor from everyday life to illustrate what he’s saying.

Paul says, one plants another waters. So which is the one that matters most? Well, neither. What matters is that God gives the growth.

Will the plant grow if it isn’t planted? No. Will it grow if no-one waters it? No. What if the waterer waters a different piece of soil and ignores the bit where the seeds are? The seed won’t grow then either. Both are vital tasks. Neither is more important than the other. They are in fact fellow servants of the one God. Equal in importance and value.

Look around you today. What do you see? I hope you can see not just an odd bunch of people (or maybe a bunch of odd people) but a team of workers called by God to work together to grow his church.

You see, we’re all important members of God’s workforce. There are no part-time Christians in the Church; at least there shouldn’t be. Some of us are the ones who plant the seed of the gospel, through our words or our actions. Some are those who make the last connection for someone when they finally take the step of faith in Jesus Christ. Others water the seed until it comes to fruition or nurture the plant after it’s sprung into life through our encouragement. But without all of those tasks being accomplished by you and me the plant won’t thrive. In fact it could whither and die.

But notice that the one who serves is not dismissed. This isn’t saying they don’t matter. God uses this servant leadership to do his work, to build his church. Leaders matter, but only ever as servants of God, never as gurus or figureheads.

So there’s a line we need to walk between raising up our leaders to a place above the community and merging them into it to the point of insignificance. All the time remembering that we’re each fellow workers for God, serving together on God’s project, the Church.

So who do you belong to? Not Paul or Apollos, not the Episcopal Church. In fact they all belong to you, because you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. Here is true wisdom. If you’re on God’s side it doesn’t matter who else is on your side or not. We are all working together to plant the seeds, water the plants and then after God gives the growth, help in the harvest.

So lets work together as servants, so as to build up the church in unity according to God’s wisdom, not human wisdom.

Let us pray,

Dear God, we may plant the seed of your faith, but it is you, God, that makes that plant, your Church, to grow. May we be careful tenders of the Church, so that your will on Earth be done. In the name of the Father, the Creator, the Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.


No comments: