Those Who Plant… Those Who Water… And How You May Invest In God’s Growth

June 20, 2011

First Corinthians 3:7

Only God who gives the growth… I’d like to focus with you this morning on growth and what it is that Paul means when he says, “Only God who gives the growth.” And as a follow up to what we’ve discussed so far in First Corinthians, it’s important to note that the GROWTH THAT GOD GIVES may not always be obvious. It may happen in the blink of an eye when the cameras aren’t rolling. The GROWTH THAT GOD GIVES may not be measurable in the same ways that we measure a person’s height or a company’s revenue. In fact, the GROWTH THAT GOD GIVES may require an agreement—a covenant agreement—on what kind of growth really matters. It may, as we said last week, require the on-going process of “interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.”

But just for the sake of argument let’s just say that Paul wants to make this simple comparison. He wants to compare the growth of a plant with the growth of the people of God. And like all of us the apostle has observed what’s necessary for growth. First, there needs to be a planter. Second, there needs to be a person who waters. And lastly, by some miraculous reproduction of cells, there is the growing thing itself, green and growing toward the sunshine and into the air. Where there was once nothing but a little speck in the dirt, there are root systems and the landscape is utterly transformed.

Now, everything that I’ve just described happens all the time at the literal level. Literally things are growing. Literally someone planted the tomato plants in our community garden and literally someone hooked up the hose and watered them. But let’s take the metaphorical leap that Paul takes in First Corinthians.

Latah Valley is GROWTH THAT ONLY GOD GIVES. It’s not given by me. It’s not given by you or by the Presbyterian Church (USA). Latah Valley is not the seed of the idea of starting a new church. Latah Valley is not the watering of how we do worship or what the leadership structure looks like. Latah Valley is the GROWTH THAT ONLY GOD GIVES and that we, all of us, are privileged to receive.

For the past several months, as you might imagine, I’ve been beating myself up and occasionally beating you up and I’ve been saying, “Why haven’t we grown? Why don’t we grow?” And finally, it dawned on me. We are growing. You are growing and I am growing with the GROWTH THAT ONLY GOD GIVES. And it’s growth that makes our hearts weep tears of love when they used to be stone cold. It’s growth that makes our minds giggle with a question. It’s growth that winds like a tendril into our souls. It’s growth that comes into our hearts, our minds and our souls as we consider Jesus and him crucified.

Jesus Christ, you see, is our model for the GROWTH THAT ONLY GOD GIVES. And when we look at him, on one level, we see a Jewish man who grew up in a working class family in an occupied country and he eventually quit his job as a carpenter and started walking around an area no bigger than a hundred square miles and at the end of his thirty-three years he had twelve (strike that) eleven men and assorted prostitutes and other women who followed him. He is our model for growth—the kind of growth that God gives.

And the funny thing about this Jesus-kind-of-growth is that when we’re in the middle of it, it doesn’t feel like growing. It feels a little bit like dying. It feels that way. It only feels that way until we begin to hear this whisper. And the whisper I think wraps around us like waves of warm bathwater and we soak in it for a while; we bask in it for a while, getting all nice and wrinkled. And then amazingly we rise.

This morning, as we read through First Corinthians, chapter three, the one thing that’s clear to me is that many of the church folk in Corinth don’t comprehend this growth. What they get is Paul. What they get is Apollos. And Paul writes to them with this self-effacing challenge:
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 who gives the growth.

You see, whether or not we understand this growth that feels like dying and whether or not you have latched onto Latah Valley as your church—we have ultimately not gathered here to claim affinity or like-mindedness with one another. We have ultimately not gathered here to proclaim “I really love these people” (although we may and I do). We have ultimately gathered along the banks of a meandering creek and adjacent to Route 195 for GROWTH THAT ONLY GOD GIVES. And when he gives it, all you and I can do is invest in it.

Amen.

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