Pastor Shawn Hannon
Hope Lutheran Church Arcade, NY
I love a good metaphor. It helps me learn. One good analogy can connect dots a million other words fail to communicate. Perhaps that’s why I always try to find an illustration to accompany my sermons. That, or perhaps I seek illustrations out of necessity. Perhaps it is because when it comes to God and God-things metaphors are about all we got. God is beyond our knowing or comprehension, and no amount of study or explanation can ever fit the divine into a neat little box. So we do our best to understand God and our relationship with God using what we know. We call God Father and address one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s metaphoric imagery, and it helps us understand our relationship with God and one another.
This Lent we are going to explore some more of those metaphors. More specifically, we are going to look at some of the illustrations the Bible gives us to understand the church and our relationship with God. Paul, who authored more of the New Testament than any other writer, used rich language to help communities of believers understand the divine. Drawing on his imagery, each week we will take a closer look into what it means to be a Christian and a part of the church. His words may never fully explain the mysteries of God, but hopefully through our reflection together they will prove to be an excellent place to start.
So here it goes, week 1: “You are God’s field.”
(1 Corinthians 3:3b-9a)
Who is responsible for your growth as a believer? I don’t need to think long before my mother comes to mind. From birth she packed my brother and I up in our car seats and drove us to St. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church for mass each week. Bringing a newborn to worship can be hard work for any mother. Having twins, my mother got a double dose. Yet she persisted, and although we did not remain Catholic my mother made sure that her children grew up participating in a worshipping community (a reality we resented her for in the moment, but I am eternally grateful for now). But she is not responsible for my faithfulness alone. I had fantastic pastors along the way. From childhood through my seminary mentors, a dozen or so pastors have each left a permanent impact on me. As have a handful of particularly faithful older ladies who took me under their wings filling my belly with baked goods and my heart with love and support. I have been blessed. But, at least according to St. Paul, that still doesn’t answer the question.
Who is responsible for your growth as a believer? Paul first addressed people talking about this very question in a letter he wrote to the church in Corinth. They were discussing (actually they were bragging about) the impact different church leaders played in their faith journey. They wore their baptizer like a badge of honor. “Well I was baptized by Paul himself,” some would say. Others would respond, “Whoopty-doo. We were baptized by Apollos.” Like Sportscenter anchors commenting on Bill Parcel’s coaching tree, these Christians assigned their attributes to the pastor who splashed water on their head. And while it may seem trivial, it was dividing their church. Paul couldn’t watch it a moment longer. He wrote them saying,
“What then is Apollos? What is Paul?” Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God gives the growth.” (1 Cor. 3:5-7)
Who is responsible for your growth as a believer? Many people may have played the roles God assigned them, but God gave you your growth. It reminds me of a parable Jesus once told. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head” (Mark 4:26-28).
The metaphor of a plant is rich and helps us keep three facts straight.
First and foremost, God gives the growth. Our spirituality isn’t the economy. Everyone takes credit for the growth of the economy. God alone causes us to grow. God is at work in mysterious ways, and even when we see the growth we can find it hard to explain how. Yet we sleep and rise. Folks enter and exit our lives. And we grow and develop into the people God is making us.
Second, God uses people to make an impact on our lives. Plants will just grow if we let them, but a good farmer will always be able to out grow a bad one. So too, God sends people to make positive impacts on our lives, and that means that God just might be sending us to make an impact as well.
And lastly, this metaphor reminds us that growth is a part of who we are. We are God’s field (1 Cor. 3:9). What do field do? They grow and they produce. They are geologically designed to do so. And we are God’s field, created and designed to grow.
Who is responsible for my growth as a believer? My mom planted. Pastor Billy watered. Dr. Peterson helped weed. Countless others chipped in. But God gave the growth.
We are God’s field.
We are God’s creation.
And this Lent, may God keep us growing.
For more inspiration and insights from Pastor Scott and Pastor Shawn’s past columns, please visit www.jamestowngazette.com and click on the Faith Matters page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.