Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | October 4, 2009

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 3:5-9

This sermon was preached yesterday (October 3, 2009) at St. Mark for the opening service of the Fall Rally of the Red River Circuit of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society.

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.  Amen.

Dear Friends in Christ:

This past summer saw another Synod Convention come and go.  Maybe you followed events closely.   Maybe you’re saying, “What’s a convention?”  But this convention had important issues to deal with, because it’s been rough in the Wisconsin Synod these last few years, hasn’t it?

Since 2001 the LORD has laid some stiff challenges in front of us.  Two terrible economic periods, including this “Great Recession” have left us, like many others, in a desperate situation.  The economic downward-spiral shrank the available resources of our members, our congregations, and some organizations that provide the support that helps us carry out the ministry of the Gospel – going out so that we can baptize and teach!

That shrinking of resources meant difficult decisions.  A lot of pastors, teachers, and missionaries are no longer pastors, teachers, and missionaries.  Some now serve in other areas, but some don’t.  Missions home and abroad have closed or restructured.  A mission field remains unentered – Mozambique – because we can’t afford to send in mission teams.  Enrollments at grade schools, high schools, prep schools, and our college have declined, leading to less revenue and questions about the viability of our educational system.  Ideally, we say in all this, “How can we best do what we need to do with what we have?”  The evidence, however, shows that we have acted a little bit like the Corinthians these past eight years.

It’s striking to be reminded that these words of Paul are a rebuke.  Paul’s angry.  It started in chapter 1:  One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? There were divisions in Corinth, based on personalities.  There was undue pride about whether Paul or Apollos baptized them, about whether Peter or some other pastor confirmed them.  So worked up is Paul that he calls them “babies” in chapter 3:  I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men? “I expect this from the world,” Paul says, “a world that is about ambition, jealousy, and rank.  I expect this from a world that is only impressed with power, might, success, and numerical increase.  But not from you, you who know that the ‘foolish’ message of the cross is the opposite of the world’s expectations, you who saw me come in my oh-so-unimpressive display, preaching Christ crucified, preaching words of the Spirit, not men’s wisdom.  I’m disappointed.”

Likewise, in these past eight years, and in reality, always, we’ve acted the same.  We heard Corinthian sounding debates.  “I’m a Missions guy, I love Jesus!”  “I’m a Ministerial Education guy, I love Jesus!”  “If you support Option A you hate missions!”  “If you support Option B you really hate worker training!”  We see large and growing congregations promoted as “doing it right,” as if a small ones aren’t.

Behind all this is a desire for heaven on earth, for success, fame, and acclaim.  It’s frustration with what appears to be failure.  It’s over-occupation with rank and title.  It’s voices that cry out, “We need a pastor who makes things relevant and meaningful!”  “We need a hip, with-it pastor, then we’ll grow!”  It’s the trace of disdain, “He’s just a parish pastor.”  “It’s a small mission.”  “He’s just a teacher.” while pridefully saying, “He does foreign mission work.”  “His mission is really expanding.”  Perhaps it’s even the voice that says, “Well, I go to LWMS rallies and fill my mite box…” It’s dissatisfaction with what’s before us and what we have.  It’s dissatisfaction with the God-given job and the God-given tools.  It’s not recognizing Corinth’s core problem:  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.  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Stunning words.  “What is Apollos and what is Paul?”  Only servants. A servant carries out someone else’s orders.  A servant has no choice but to carry out someone else’s orders.  The Church is filled with servants, servants appointed to a task.  There are servants appointed to the office of the holy ministry, like Paul and Apollos, like your pastors, teachers, staff ministers, Sunday School teachers, high school, college, and seminary professors.  Jesus appoints these servants to plant and water with the Gospel on behalf of you.  Jesus appoints them to nurture those gathered and to seek those ungathered.  Jesus appoints them to train the next generation of nurturers.  And they only follow orders.  Ideally, they are nameless and faceless.  That’s one purpose of vestments in worship.  Pastors cover the man to emphasize the message, the message through which you came to believe, the message by which God causes the growth, the message of Christ crucified, that foolish Word that saves because it displays publicly for you the means by which Jesus saved you.

But they aren’t the only servants.  Though Paul particularly discusses the public ministers who served the Corinthians and the way in which the Corinthians viewed them, we understand that Jesus appoints all Christians to tasks.  He appoints you to declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.  There are also your vocations, your callings.  Paul says that whatever you do, it’s done to the glory of God.  In Ephesians Paul makes it clear that whether we talk about husbands and wives, parents and children, bosses and employees, always keep in mind how those relationships mirror the relationship of Christ and the Church, always remember that your whole life is lived in the light of God’s grace, which plucked you from sinful disunity and made you one with Christ, reconciling you by the blood shed and the tomb emptied.

Okay, message received.  I’m a servant.  But Paul cranks it up a notch. Servants are nothing.  Planters and waterers are nothing.  Only God is anything, because God makes things grow.  When I’m proud of my work, my trophies of grace, the conversions effected through my ministry, the up-tick in numbers I in my statistical reports, the increase in gifts given for LWMS mission projects, I read this and am brought back down to earth.  I am nothing.  God is everything.  Luther expressed it well:  Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything. God causes growth.  As Paul says, No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit. Or, as Jesus taught, the seed spreader has nothing to do with the actual crop yield.  It’s the powerful message of Christ by which faith comes.  Therefore we rely on the Holy Spirit, ever blowing, ever nurturing, ever making that seed take root.  Ever causing growth.

But don’t get downhearted.  Paul does say I planted, Apollos watered. And so, while I am nothing, while God causes the growth, He puts the instruments of growth in my hands.  In the public ministry, I am that seed scattering farmer.  Christ gives me the message about the kingdom.  Christ gives me the message of Christ crucified.  Christ gives me the message of Easter to proclaim to a dead world.  Christ gives me baptismal waters to pour upon the spiritually unborn.  Christ gives me God’s holy manna to fill empty stomachs with that food offered for me on the cross, offered to me at the altar, and offered to you today.  I am nothing, and yet I am God’s middleman.  And so are you, though in different ways.  I, like Paul serve in this holy office, a faithful steward planting and watering Christ.  You, in your callings, also plant and water.  You are always ready to give the reason for the hope you have.  You witness silently with your charity and mercy, and not so silently with your words of encouragement, invitation, and even rebuke of sin.

And we need them all.  Paul says The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose. We need mission guys and ministerial education guys.  We need parish pastors and world missionaries.  We need the ladies at LWMS rallies and the ladies who are taking care of their families or at work.  We need it all, because, as Paul says, if we were all an eye, or an ear, or a tongue, how will the body function?  It won’t.  We need them all and have them all – those in the office of ministry, those not.  Though called to different offices, though doing different tasks, we work for the same goal.  Whether it’s the parish pastor visiting his shut-ins, the missionary driving through the bush, the prep school prof teaching Latin, we are planting and watering.  And so are you.  Plant and water the field in front of you in the ways God has placed in front of you.  And then be amazed that Christ causes growth despite you and through you.  Marvel that Jesus uses corrupted farmers to plant His uncorrupted seed and sprinkle His untainted waters.  No more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. Apart from Christ you can do nothing.  But by God’s grace you are not apart from Christ.  You are of Christ.  You are those for whom He died.  You are those for whom He rose.  You are seeds planted and watered.  You are God’s growth.  And, you are His servants.  Made by Christ.  Kept by Christ.  Amen.

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Responses

  1. Great sermon. Thanks for sharing it with us.
    Blessings,
    Mark


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