Sermon, Epiphany 6A, Sunday February 12, 2012. Pastor Adrian Kitson
1 Corinthians 3:1-9 Better Together: Working God’s Paddock.
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly – mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings?
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labour. 9 For we are fellow workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
While getting around this Valley I often come across teams of pickers, pruners and associated helpers out there doing their important work. I marvel at their hard work. I am guessing that it takes a lot of team work to tend the vines.
I come from a cereal crop background. I know that takes team work. I enjoy seeing a header operator at work while a chaser bin operator matches the header speed, pulls alongside so the header operator can unload grain from harvester to that chaser bin – all on the move. And then to see the chaser bin operator take the grain to the waiting semi driver so the grain is hauled to the wheat bin. It is a team effort. Both would be very hard to do all alone.
I know sport is about team. Playing in a team that is unified, focused and committed to each other is the attraction of team sport. It can be quite deflating playing in a group that is not a team – not interested, just going through the motions, not much focus, no commitment to each other, each playing for him or herself above team, not committed to a game plan or the coach. But with commitment to each other and the coach and the game plan team is real fun and really effective.
Here in his letter to the Corinthians Christians, Paul continues speaking about Christian community as team. He returns to his words about unity; about “speaking the same things together”, or ‘having the mind of Christ” together. Again he meets the trouble they are having in operating in a joyful, harmonious unified way in the challenges they face in their city.
He meets their trouble by using two images of team; local church as a farm paddock or vineyard that need to be worked, and church as a building that needs to stand and be built together. We hear the first one in our text today – St Petri as a paddock with workers sowing, watering and pruning and reaping.
It is a great image of church: Pastors, lay-leaders, staff; all people from left to right working together to grow people in the message of the cross. Paul sees us as a community with the ongoing task of growing people; maturing people around the Crucified Jesus; being a place in which we live through any challenge, any difficulty, any trouble with poise, promise and peace under Jesus’ cross.
But unlike a sporting, vineyard or harvesting team, we are not the key players in this team effort of growing together into ‘the mind of Christ”.
Paul says that he, Apollos, and Peter – all are “nothing” when it comes to the power that enables people to grow into the way of the Crucified Christ. The message of the Cross in the Spirit’s power is everything.
Jesus’ voice and actions on that cross are the ‘X-factor” for us and his mission with us. His cross is the mystery ingredient; the hidden power that makes people grow into his love and hope. But, in his grace to us he chooses us to work in his co-working team. So we are nothing, and yet we are chosen by him to be something – together with other nobodies now made somebodies!
So, Paul says that he, who was used by the Lord to plant this local church in Corinth and so is their “father” in the faith, faithfully did his work. Apollos came after Paul and did his watering work faithfully, Both of them and the others they trained in serving the community are all merely servants of Jesus through whom the people came to believe in the gospel of Jesus.
Can we see that we are very different team to team in business, school or sporting club>? We as church are all under Jesus’. We all live and operate under his promises, his vision, his direction and will. We are together as mere co-workers with him in his paddock, his vineyard, his community, his mission. We are his partners and partners to each other in him.
The Corinthian’s seemed to lose this truth. Their problem seems to have been over-reaching the mark and assuming more human importance and place in their mission as church.
They, like many a Christian or local community of Christian since, had this ongoing issue of taking matters for life and church into their own hands and thereby losing team, losing faithfulness, “going for gold” as they defined “gold”, leaving the message of the cross in the locker room while they went about ‘growing their church’ or living their life.
This is not so hard to do! In the search for the divine, or the help we need, the miracles we want to happen, the anxiety about life we experience, the answers to life’s many questions we seek, it is our perennial problem of going it alone out there in the vineyard, in the school campus, in that illness, that relationship issue, that career choice, that business decision, that parenting challenge…
As we ‘move on’ from the crucified Jesus, believing we are being more savvy, more wise, more in touch with our community and etc, we show our lack of trust in that cross, its power and God’s promise to heal, bless, love, accept, forgive and grow us in his self-sacrificing love in the Word of the cross; the Scriptures.
For the Corinthians, the symptoms of this mistrust of Jesus, came out in what Paul calls “jealousy and quarrelling”, and “not speaking the same things together” – not being team under coach Jesus.
Friends, Paul is not trying to guilt the people into getting along better. That only has very limited effectiveness and quickly defeats the very thing the Lord wants for us. No, Paul beautifully just tells his loved people again that they are still loved and still team under Jesus’ cross, despite their over-reaching.
Can you sense the Spirit of Jesus calling you back to the message of the cross, so that you experience the satisfaction and joy of being a co-worker in Jesus’ mission? He longs to help us all live in mutual affection, respect, and the fulfillment of being a team doing his people-growing, paddock work!
Did you hear it? We are all equal co-workers in his mission. At school, at work, on the farm, in the shop, at home, in business, in government, and especially so in mission community (church), we all have our contribution to offer in this noble enterprise of growing people into Christ – helping people receive what Paul calls “the mind of Christ” – a mind of self-sacrificing love, wisdom borne of God’s word, the gifts of his Spirit – peace, patience, faithfulness and the like. These are his gifts that grow people.
Yes, he chooses you. Yes, he chooses us. The message I am hearing today is that no one person is more valued by the Lord than another around here. When I over-reach and make this team all about me, this is a godly challenge to my pride. I need to turn back and say sorry and trust I am still his holy man or woman for the job.
When I am the trodden on or unheard, I need to speak with him and others because my words count because I count as much as anyone else around here.
ALL serve the mission together in their roles using his gifts, receiving his gifts. Every person plays their rightful part. When you are aware of the task (you now know); when you are willing to learn the skills (by trial and error mostly) and seek the benefits of Jesus’ powered team work, everything in your life matters, your church community matters, your work matters, your marriage matters, your parenting matters, your friendships and serving others matter. You matter because in Jesus’ paddock work, everyone is always better together.
Better get your watering can out. Better charge up battery pack. Better service the harvester, assemble the team. Better allow yourself to be assembled in this team called church and school. There is people work to be done. In God’s paddock work Coach Jesus is calling us to prune, reap, sow, water people into the message of the cross. We do this as team because under the cross we are better together.
Lord Jesus, bind us together as we trust you for the growth of each person and our church. Amen.
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Read the text and include to verse 23 slowly and deliberately (out loud if possible) and not what catches your interest – not down those interests. Briefly share them…
How would you describe yourself at the moment in terms of a paddock of grain crop or a vineyard? Why?
If you were in one of these 3 or four factions that seemed to have grown within the Corinthian congregation (Followers of Paul, Apollos, Cephas [Peter] or ‘Christ”) and you therefore thought that you and your faction were more ‘spiritual’ or more ‘mature’ than people in the other factions, how might you react to these words of Paul in Verses 1-4? Share your thoughts….
What Paul uses words like “infants”, “milk”, “solid food”? Share your perspective on what he referring to for each.
Could it be that the ‘solid food’ he speaks of is what he has named as the very centre and most important spiritual gift, understanding and knowledge that a Christian need – ‘the message of the cross of Jesus? If so, what would that mean for anyone who is seeking ‘deeper’ knowledge or ‘more spiritual’ power or ‘greater wisdom’?
How are ‘worldly’ as against ‘spiritual’ people defined here?
In choosing to follow one of these pastors/leaders, how well did the people understand who these men really were?
If a friend asked you to sum up what Paul is really saying here in verses 1-23, what would you say?
What is the point of Paul’s two pictures of a church as either a paddock/vineyard to tend to produce growth (v 5-9) or a building to be built strong (v10-15)?
The “you” in verse 16 is plural “all of you”. What is Paul saying we are and whose we are as a community?
What is the difference between respecting a Christian leader and the problem Paul is naming here?
How does Paul speak of being “worldly” differently than how we mean when we say someone is “worldly”?
In what ways are you or could you fulfil your calling to be a “partner” or ‘co-worker’ with Jesus in his mission to share his love and hope with and through us, his people?
Lord Jesus, bind us together as we trust you for the growth of each person and our church. Amen.