Don’t Worry: Planting Seeds

Don’t Worry: Planting Seeds
A Message on 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Nov. 8, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

1 Corinthians 3:1-9 (NRSV)

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4 For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?

5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9 For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

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I was at a preacher’s meeting this past week with other pastors in our area discussing the challenges we face as United Methodist pastors during these unusual times. One pastor, whose identity will not be disclosed in order to protect the innocent, talked about walking into a parishioner’s home and seeing a small, strange looking, box-like contraption sitting on a small table in their living room.

Curious, he asked the parishioner what it was, thinking it might be some form of an Echo or Alexa or one of those voice activated devices. It wasn’t. It was a Joel Osteen Inspiration Cube. Seriously. I’m not making this up. A Joel Osteen Inspiration Cube.

Here’s a photo of it. See, it even has his name, “Joel,” across the top of it.According to the Joel Osteen website, “The portable Inspiration Cube gives you over 400 encouraging audio messages, personally selected by Pastor Joel! This audio device doubles as a Bluetooth speaker with high-quality sound and optional headphone port.” It goes on to say “Our thanks for a gift of any size.”

But wait, there’s more! For a gift of only $150 or more you get a gift package that includes not only the inspiration cube but also a “blessed serving board plus custom greeting cards of hope.”

Now let me be clear that I’m not a Joel Osteen hater. I have some serious disagreements with him both theological and otherwise, but I give him a tip of the hat for spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ through his ministries. But really?

The reason this came up in the discussion among us United Methodist pastors was that during this pandemic we are finding it very challenging to keep our church members who have to restrict their out-of-home activities connected to the church. The in-person pastoral care methods we have practiced for years, the personal visits to homes, hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living centers, are no longer possible because of the coronavirus. Those places where we could meet with a person, hold a person’s hand, kneel beside them and pray for them, or just simply be present with them, are for the most part not possible now.

Instead we are wearing out our cell phones with phone calls and text messages, frustrated because we know that God’s message of hope and courage isn’t communicated as well this way. It’s kind of like being a chef trying to work without cooking utensils and having to serve Lunchables instead.

And while not necessarily a competition, my colleague finding a Joel Osteen inspiration cube in one of his parishioner’s homes does point out the fact that people are drawn to personalities in ministry just like in other areas of life. And if we are not careful, we begin to worship those personalities instead of Jesus Christ.

In the scripture we read today from Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, a city which still exists today in south-central Greece, we find that the early church had challenges with leader personalities back 2,000+ years ago.

As humans we are competitive. We see this even in little kids as they compete over little things such as being at the front of a line.

Back in the ancient Middle East the early Christians were competitive as well. Quarrels and arguing broke out among followers of Jesus Christ over which apostle was the best to follow.

Word of this had gotten back to Paul, who, ironically, was one of those that peoples were following. And this greatly disturbed Paul. Paul’s preaching, Paul’s theology, Paul’s life all were focused on one thing: Jesus. Paul never intended to be a “rock star” apostle with a group of fans following him.

Now I think it’s important to remember the religious environment of the area at the time. In the first century the city was at the crossroads of trade routes, and while the city had Greek origins it was under Roman occupation and control. Just as the city had different cultures it was also composed of different religions.

Both Greek and Roman religions worshipped multiple Gods. If any of you were forced to study Greek Mythology in school (I always wondered why it was okay to study Greek religion in school but not the Christian religion, but I digress…) you’ll remember that the Greeks had a god for pretty much everything. The Romans were polytheists as well, not only believing in multiple Gods but believing and worshipping the Emperor and his family as gods as well, creating what is known as a“cult of personality.”

So the concept of worshipping multiple gods and even religious or civic leaders as demi-gods or even full fledged gods was pretty common at the time.

In the 14th chapter of Acts we find Paul and Barnabas traveling to Lystra, which is located in modern-day Turkey. While there they are sharing the Good News when they come across a man who had been crippled from birth. The man had never walked. Paul perceived that the man had the faith to be healed, so he told him to get up and walk, and he did. People were amazed at the miracle and, as a result, said that the gods had come to earth and began to worship Paul and Barnabas.

They were claiming that Paul was Hermes, the god of language (among other things), and that Barnabas was Zeus, the ruler of all the gods on Mount Olympus. The people started bringing gifts to these two “gods” including oxen and garlands of greenery and flowers (“Bring me a shrubbery!”) and wanted to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas.

Paul and Barnabas were horrified. They tore their clothes and said to the people, “Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.”

The scriptures go on to say, “Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.” But then the Jews showed up, the people who opposed those who followed Jesus Christ, and with their smooth talking won people over to their view that Jesus was not the messiah and that Paul was bad, and so they stoned Paul and left him for dead. They went from worshipping Paul to trying to kill him. Go figure. People are fickle, huh?

So Paul is experienced with people who claim to be followers of Jesus while also finding theological rabbit holes to go down that lead away from Jesus.

Paul says that the only thing anyone should focus on is Jesus. To emphasize this point Paul utilizes a metaphor: planting seeds.

Paul points out that it isn’t important who plants the seeds. It isn’t important who waters the seeds. The person that plants and the person that waters, if they focus only on what they are doing, will miss the truly wonderful and miraculous thing: the growth comes from God.

It is about humbleness.

I’ve said it before but I think it bears repeating: I have never met a farmer who is an atheist. I grew up in an agricultural area and even worked as a farm hand. Every year these farmers took great gambles with their ability to provide financially for their family. Drought, pests, and disease were always threats, and in those few years when they experienced a bumper crop they often found the price for their harvest to be lower as a result.

Yet in spite of those factors I didn’t know a single farmer (or rancher, for that matter) who didn’t have a strong faith in God. They may not share that faith publicly, but I could see it in their actions. They knew that they may have prepared the soil, planted the seed, cultivated the crops, worked at controlling the pests and the weeds, and fertilized the soil, but they never forgot that it was God who gave the growth.

Spiritually speaking I think it is important that we as Christians remember this as well. We are called to cultivate our spiritual lives by practicing spiritual practices such as prayer, Bible reading, meditation, worship, service to others, and even fasting. There are things that we are to do.

We are called to plant seeds as well. We are called to share the Good News with others. We do this by how we interact with others. Our words are important, to be sure, but we tend to forget that our actions, the way we actually live our lives, speak louder than our words.

You can practice all the spiritual disciplines regularly, but if you then go out to eat at a restaurant and treat the waitress or waiter rudely and leave a miserly tip, then your actions are speaking louder than your words. You are planting weeds instead of good seed.

(By the way: wait staff at restaurants will tell you that the shift they dislike working the most is the one that encompasses Sunday noon. So many of the people they wait on, people who have been to church to worship God and proclaim they are followers of Jesus Christ, are the pickiest, rudest, and poorest tippers. That’s not acting like Jesus, folks.)

We are called to plant. We are called to water. But we are always to remember that it is not us, but God who gives the growth.

Knowing and regularly remembering this gives us hope in times like now that are full of anxiety. There still may be some uncertainty and anxiety in who our next president will be, but we can find comfort that God is still on the throne that really matters. Our hope doesn’t rest in government or human constructs, but in our savior Jesus Christ.

The rise in COVID-19 cases and knowing those close to us (and maybe it is even us) who are battling the disease, or even those who have lost loved ones to the disease, can cause us to have fear and anxiety. But we can be comforted by knowing that “the ‘Rona” doesn’t win because Jesus Christ won the ultimate victory by shedding his blood and rising from the dead 2,000 years ago.

Social unrest. Economic uncertainty. Job security. Personal finances. Relationships. All of these things that we tend to worry about, that we tend to fear and agonize over, that take our time and our energy and sometimes even our physical health. In all of these we can find comfort and peace in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Savior.

We don’t tackle our troubles alone. Now don’t get me wrong. We are called to work on these things. We are to fight for justice (true justice, not a political ideology of justice), we are called to be good stewards with the gifts God has given us, we are called to support God’s church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. But we are not alone in doing these things.

Let us remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

We are not followers of Christ who become passive observers. No. We are to work, but we are to always remember that the growth comes from God, not ourselves. We don’t do it on our own.

So my challenge to you this week is to be like the Apostle Paul, a servant of God planting seeds of faith but always knowing that God provides the growth. May all we say, everything we do, point to Jesus. May we bear his yoke not for our own recognition, but to point others to Jesus Christ.

If you ask me, that’s much better than a Joel Olsteen inspiration cube.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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