Can you remember a situation in your recent past when you needed help from someone to complete an important task? Perhaps you were planning a new business venture and needed a partner? Or maybe you wanted to change jobs and needed a career advisor or mentor to help you and provide some reliable advice? Could it be that you just needed to know what to do to become a better Christian? Or maybe you are going through a challenging time and just wanted some advice from a good friend whose honesty you rely upon!
In today's lesson,1 Corinthians 3: 1-9, Paul tells us about the challenges faced by the early Church in Corinth. He tells members of the congregation bluntly that they are still like `infants in Christ` despite the efforts of Paul, Appollos and other servants to nurture them in the faith. Because of their jealousy and constant bickering they are not ready to live spiritually and learn from those Servants who are workmen of God! Their worldliness has made it necessary to give them milk to drink (basic teaching) rather than solid food to eat (more advanced teaching) - They can`t even comprehend food for thought! How then can we move from being infants in Christ to becoming ``spiritual`` people. Paul talks about behaving according to human inclinations rather than spiritual discernment. He advises that only when one has been instructed by the Holy Spirit can one interpret spiritual things in spiritual language. The people of Corinth seemed incapable of comprehending this.
What comparisons can we draw between the parishioners of our modern day churches and those referred to in our reading this morning? Are we still challenged by infants in Christ who put worldliness ahead of faithfulness? Does their faith rest not on the power of God but on human wisdom? I personally received my early Christian education in a small Lutheran parish in rural Saskatchewan many years ago. Since that time I have traveled extensively , lived in many communities and attended many parishes. Each one has enriched my life and my spiritual knowledge. I would hope I have progressed from basic teaching to more advanced teaching BUT I still have much to learn before I would consider myself a spiritual or spirit-filled Christian - but I am a believer in life-long learning!
The Apostle Paul further discusses with the people of Corinth the Servant/Master relationship essential to building the Church on a solid foundation - God's foundation that is!
How do we define a servant? The Oxford Modern English dictionary defines a servant as a devout follower. We think about waiters and waitresses as servers/servants or a maid or valet as servants. Or a devout follower of a particular political leader or as servants to royalty. But there are better illustrations of servants within a religious context - many described in a variety of Bible stories. In this particular reading Paul and Appollos are referred to as Servants through whom the Corinthians came to believe in God. Who did these servants serve - the people of Corinth? God? Themselves? Let us consider servant hood and what it means in this context.
Servants refers to all who serve the Lord. Servants of Christ can also refer to Christian ministry. They are God's fellow workers. Their work is given to them by God! Ministers, ordained or lay, are servants who tend to God's creation. In today's church they work together with the Vestry and members of the parish, as well as Diocesan leadership, under the Bishop, and help perform the duties assigned to them by Our Heavenly Father. But servants do not work alone. They are part of a team that guides and directs our worldly efforts to serve our Master, that being our God!
Paul says in verse 6 - "I planted, Appollos watered but God gave the growth." His explanation is simply that the role of church members is in planting the seeds and watering them so they will grow! We may, as servants, plant and water but ONLY GOD can make them grow. Unless the people of God follow His direction nothing will happen. The seeds will wither and die and no new growth will appear! As servants and followers of God we can all help with the Church's Vision and Mission in this world but we cannot expect it to work without the Master's help and direction.
I have experienced this in areas of my personal faith journey. I recall participating in a Visioning process in a parish in Calgary where the Vestry was developing the future direction for the parish using a process that lasted for several months. We had been struggling unsuccessfully for several meetings to produce a Vision Statement. One Saturday morning one of our vestry members stated:
I think our Vision should be:
" Opening Hearts and Minds to God's Grace"
Everyone sat in wonder and amazement! Two things then became apparent:
1. These were the words we had been seeking for the past several meetings, and
2. The Holy Spirit was in the room with us!
This Vision continues to guide the direction of the Parish 10 years later!
I had a somewhat similar experience when I decided I wanted to become a lay reader. One of my greatest apprehensions was preparing and delivering a sermon. While I have done public speaking many times in my life there is something about presenting to you, my peers, that makes me nervous. I have never been known to PREACH!
I initially struggled preparing this sermon today and prayed to God many times in the past three weeks that it would be to His Glory. I only hope that you and God accept it in that light! How can we as members of this parish develop a lasting Servant/Master relationship that will further God's work in this place?
During the past year we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the establishment of St. Margaret's Anglican Church. We acknowledged the contributions of many servants - clergy and lay - and the work of all past and present parishioners in obtaining this site, building this church with their own donations and sweat equity and planting the seeds of this new parish in south west Edmonton. We gave thanks to God for Tim, and all previous Rectors, for their leadership during the past 30 years in making St. Margaret's what it is today - OUR CHURCH HOME! We also thanked God who has led and blessed our growth over the past 30 years and will continue to do so into the future!
During the past year some of us also participated in the Diocese of Edmonton's 62nd Synod. The theme of this spiritual gathering was - LOOK AROUND---the FIELDS ARE RIPE FOR HARVEST! This theme celebrated the work done Diocesan-wide over many years by many servants in planting the seeds and watering the fields. The celebration and worship praised God's leadership, support and direction of the Diocese's growth and development over the past decades. We all know that planting, watering, growth and harvesting are an annual cycle repeated in perpetuity!
I mentioned earlier the Vestry Visioning Process in a parish in Calgary during our time as members of that parish. Our Vestry here at St. Margaret's has worked and continues to work on a similar process. We, like all parishes in the Diocese of Edmonton, have a MAP - Mission Action Plan. This Plan defines actions that will be taken to ensure our Vision is achieved.
Our current Vision within that Plan is:
" To help our congregation grow as an all age community of followers of Jesus, reaching out together to change lives within the Church and beyond"
Let us think for a moment about the future of St. Margaret's and how today's reading from 1 Corinthians might impact our growth and future development.
In a recent letter to all parishioners Tim stated that our average Sunday attendance has risen over 11% in 2010. He also noted what a joy it is to welcome new members to our congregation! I know of many urban and rural parishes that would welcome our growth in place of their declining attendance!
New initiatives like Preschool Sunday School, Back To Church Sundays and Spaghetti Church, in addition to book and Bible studies, have been developed. These new initiatives need new servants of God to assist current and future parishioners organize these and other new initiatives they might want to develop. To paraphrase Paul's letter - we need more of you to help plant and water! But we also need all of us to ask God, in prayer, to continually bless us and give us continual growth in our own lives but also in the future growth of St. Margaret's.
This part of our city is one of the fastest growing residential areas of Edmonton. The University farm across 127th avenue from us will soon cease to exist. There are plans unfolding for new communities to the west and south of us that will house 150,000 people and the supporting infrastructure. New schools, libraries, LRT lines and commercial establishments will change forever the face of our environment. St. Margaret's will need to consider our future. We may not be able to continue as a "rural" parish but become a suburban parish. This may mean expanding the programs we offer and the potential for an expansion of the church building. It may mean some exciting opportunities but some challenging times as we consider how we continue our current ministry while thinking about the future! It will mean that we must plant and water and seek God's help and prayerful direction in our future growth!
And what will the reward be for this planting, watering and growth? As our Vision Statement says:
CHANGING LIVES WITHIN OUR CHURCH AND BEYOND!
In summary, I believe there is much we have done in our past 30 years at St. Margaret's but much more to do in the years to come! We must all be servants - devout followers - of God! He will use all of us to bring the message of truth and love to others, to plant the seeds of hope and water them but it is He alone who wakes the hearts of men to new life - a life of caring and sharing! We must learn from today's bible reading that "Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything without God who gives the growth"
Thanks be to God!