It’s Time To Grow

Today we read a little snippet from one of Paul’s letters, Paul is responding to one of several points of division within the growing young church in Corinth. This whole letter from Paul is full of his attempts to help them sort out their problems while he’s traveling to other places. It’s likely that Paul thought there wasn’t much time until Jesus came back. So, he had to keep moving to spread the gospel.

The issue they’re having now is that some of them call themselves followers of Paul, and others are calling themselves followers of a guy named Apollos. For people with a Jewish background this was pretty normal. If someone followed a Rabbi back then, they would have identified themselves as a disciple of that specific Rabbi and literally followed them around a while. So, Paul has kind of thrown a wrench in the traditional way of doing things by introducing these people to Jesus, and then leaving the community to figure out how to live what they’d been told. There was no New Testament of the Bible yet to rely on. As Corinth tried to live this new and mostly undefined faith, it’s no surprise that divisions began to form in their church.

We only know a little about this other guy, Apollos, his story can be found in Acts ch. 18, where it says. “There came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos from Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord, and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.” The author of Acts goes on to describe how Apollos was a passionate speaker in the synagogue, which was a place where a lot of religious conversations happened. That’s how he met Prisca and Aquila, the original ministry power couple. Those two take Apollos under their wing and teach him what they know before he goes off to teach others. The book of Acts says he ends up going to Corinth while Paul was ironically on his way to Ephesus where Apollos just was.

Though there are times in the Bible where Paul writes about false teachers and gets protective over his flock, this is not one of them. According to this letter, Paul has no issue with Apollos. Paul knows that God uses many teachers and coworkers to do God’s work. Paul wanted to spread the gospel to all the gentiles, and he was wise to know that he couldn’t do that alone. He could never be in all places, to oversee the growing faith of everyone who converted to Christianity because of him. Though, he did try through his letters. Based on what we read, I think he trusted God to grow the faith of the Corinthians and others. Even when he was far away from them. Even through other teachers. Which is a very healthy mindset for any religious leader to have. We need different voices to guide us in different ways. Think of every teacher and mentor and pastor you’ve had. We need many kinds of leaders in our lives.

Paul uses plants as a metaphor to explain this. He tells them that he planted seeds, and apollos watered them, but they only grow into thriving, living plants because of what God does. He and Apollos are just God’s coworkers. The Greek word he uses is “synergos” from which we get words like synergy. It’s a word that means collaboration between co-laborers, people working together. He’s not worried about their loyalty to him. He is a worker in the field alongside of them, one of many people whom God has gifted and called to build the kingdom of God. Even though he hasn’t met Apollos, and likely only knows what Prisca said about him, their relationship is one of collaboration, not competition.

The interesting thing about his metaphor is that we are both a part of the garden and called to be gardeners ourselves. Seeds of faith were planted in us, and we are planting seeds in others. Or maybe we’re watering them. Or doing any of the other stuff that plants sometimes need. You know what I’ve been doing a lot of lately at my house? Weeding. And you know what I’ve learned? Weeding is rough. Satisfying maybe, and necessary, but definitely not comfortable. You have to get on your knees and stick your fingers in the dirt. And it’s so slow when you do it right, and pull the weeds out by the root. We are gardens who need tending, and gardeners who tend to each other, and growth is the miracle that God works in us and through us.

Now, you could say our Paul is on sabbatical. For the summer, you’ve got your Apollos. I don’t know how God is going to use the next three months in your life and mine, but I do know God does not stop working while the pastor is out of office, and that is good news. What I’d like to do this summer with you all, is think about growth. How do we grow? What does it take for us to grow? How can we grow even when it’s uncomfortable, and why should we? We’ll talk about all of that, taking inspiration from the nine practices expanded on in the book Fierce Love by Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis. Personal growth may seem trivial in such a time as this, but I don’t think it is. I think that if we want to see a world transformed by compassion, we have to keep growing in fierce love. As Rev. Lewis writes in the introduction to her book:

“All of us must face and embrace the urgent need for deep social change. No matter your age, race, faith, gender, or sexuality, I hope these nine practices give you a new sense of the power you have to be good and to insist on good; to care for others and insist on being cared for; to stand up for the vulnerable and stand against injustice; to love and be loved… The world doesn’t get great unless we all get better.”

I believe that if we want to end the violence and terror we see in the world and to stop the greed that is rotting us from the inside out, it will take many courageous people, wise enough to work together, and brave enough to love in the face of hate. This is the slow work of weeding that makes the garden thrive. We all need to grow in fierce love, and ferocious courage, and rule-breaking kindness to mend what has been broken, and to hold accountable the powers and principalities who cause and benefit from human suffering.

So, start asking yourself now, how do you need to grow? And what spiritual practices, and intentional choices, are going to help you to do that this summer? What can you do on this sabbath, and all the sabbath days ahead of you? Can you find God in rest, or lean into something new that might scare you a little bit? What is God doing right now to help you grow?  And as you think about that. I’m a big believer in religious practices that engage the senses, and mark threshold moments. If that’s something that you are in the mood for today, I’d like to invite you to remember your baptism.

Water is life. It’s inside all of God’s creatures, even the plants, and in us. It is even in the air we breathe. If you have been baptized, then the waters of baptism have blessed you and have drawn you closer to God. If you have not, then you have still gone through the waters of your mother’s womb along with the water of every God given lake, river, and ocean you’ve dipped your toes in. So, I invite you to remember the sacredness of water. Remember your baptism if that applies to you. Remembering regardless that you are loved, and that God is sending the life-giving rain that soaks your roots and makes you ready and able to grow. It’s as easy as dipping your fingers in some water and sprinkling it over your own head. If your spirit is feeling dry, my friends, water it like the soil of God’s garden you are. Amen.

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