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Sunday, August 31, 2014

God's Field, God's Building (1 Corinthians 3.4-23)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - August 31, 2014
Text: 1 Corinthians 3:4-23

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music - Tanya Bechtler, cello: "Minuets I-II, Suite 1, G Major" (J.S. Bach)
Gathering Music - Tanya Bechtler, cello: "Prayer" (Camille Saint-Saens)
Song of Praise: "I Will Exalt You" (Brooke Ligertwood; Hillsong)
Hymn of Praise: "The Church's One Foundation" (AURELIA)
Offering of Music - choir, cello: "How Deep the Father's Love for Us" (Townend/Harlan)
Hymn of Sending: "We Are God's People" (SYMPHONY)
Choral Benediction: "Now Unto Him" (Morris/Youngblood)
Postlude - Rick Bean, Cathy Youngblood, piano 4-hands: "Praise Him, Praise Him!" (Allen/Shackley)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
There is no sermon audio this week, but you will find the manuscript below.
     4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? 5 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
     10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are. 18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.” 21 So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God. (1 Corinthians 3:4-23)
Earlier this week, Heather and I made the decision to do something about our front yard. A combination of weeds, an overgrown sycamore tree, and erosion had left much of it ugly dirt with scraggly patches of grass. We arranged to get some good dirt brought in, have aeration done, and plant seed. But we needed to cut the overgrown tree back. My neighbor, Reece, came over with a chain saw and took off a number of the lower limbs, and the neighbor across the street even pitched in a ladder. And Heather and I spent a few hours hauling tree debris to the street and cutting it up into the small pieces the city would haul off. Finally, the dirt came and the seed went in, and now we are watering regularly and praying for the Lord to cause it to grow! Lots of people pitched in to help with different parts of that process. Any one of us probably could have messed it all up. None of us, ultimately, can make the grass grow.

Some Illustrations from Corinth

That’s my version of Paul’s first illustration in our text today. Writing to the early Christian church in the city of Corinth, Paul uses just such an analogy to help them see that the church is like a field, with various leaders helping to get it going. But Paul uses the illustration to draw their attention away from those individuals – himself and Apollos – and toward God, who is at the center of it all. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth,” he writes. (v. 6) And he continues, “So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” (v. 7)  Clearly, planting and watering ARE important; what Paul is saying is that God’s work, especially in His church, is infinitely MORE important. Because the church, he says, is God’s field: “YOU are God’s field.” (v. 9)

Paul goes on to offer a second illustration which is quite fitting for us with all the building renovation going on around here. He not only says that you are God’s field; he also goes on to say that you are “God’s building.” (v. 9) In this illustration, too, human beings play important roles along the way: Paul laid the foundation; others build upon it, wisely or unwisely, with Paul noting, “each man must be careful how he builds upon it.” (v. 10) But, Paul says, no one can lay a foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. (v. 11) Like the field analogy, God is at the heart of things.

Finally, and in reference to leaders like Paul, Apollos, or Cephas (Peter), Paul ends up saying that the leadership is there for the purpose of the body, the church. And the church belongs to Christ; and Christ belongs to God. (v. 22) Paul’s two illustrations certainly make clear the order and priority of people and ministries within the church.

Are We God’s Field? God’s Building?

I’d like to share two illustrations of my own, those these are real-life rather than metaphor. Both came shortly after I arrived at Good Shepherd. The first came out of a request to the Session by a neighborhood association asking to use  a room in the church to meet. We were early into conversations about what it means to be a lighthouse church – actually before I ever used that term. With few exceptions, we were not in the habit of letting outside groups use the church facilities. I remember the conversation, with legitimate questions raised about liability, the possibility of groups damaging or at least putting wear and tear on our building. We talked about how much to charge them to offset the utilities and long-term wear and tear. And then something turned. Again not quite using the language I’d use this morning, we realized that this was not really OUR building, but God’s building. And if our mission and purpose was to love our neighbors, then we needed to be willing to extend a hospitality like this, with no charge and with a sense of purpose. We did say yes, to that group and to many others coming out of this nearby community, until we managed to have almost every usable meeting space used morning, afternoon, and evening, most days of the week. We could charge people, of course, but that is a very different thing, like charging your neighbor $5 to bake them a pie as opposed to inviting them into your home to share a piece of pie with you. I think that early shift – and it was just one of many we needed to make and have made – has made all the difference in the world to our work and witness here in this place. And I think it is a living example of what is being taught in this text.

A second example was only a year or so after that. We had an early form of our contemporary worship team going – just Cathy and me – when Jason and Tiffany Hinton came back to town and started singing and playing with us. All of a sudden the worship team grew from two to four, and we had bass guitar and vocal harmonies along with Tiffany’s heartfelt way of leading worship and prayer. I remember mine and Cathy’s excitement over seeing how God was using the worship team. Then about a year after that, Jason and Tiffany told me they were leaving for the mission field. “But we need you here in this mission field!” – I thought and felt it so strongly that they probably could hear it even though I don’t think I said it out loud to them. Cathy and I commiserated, “What a loss to us!” But, God soon got ahold of our feelings. Jason and Tiffany didn’t belong to us; they didn’t belong to Good Shepherd. They were God’s people and were following God’s mission. We were able to turn that emotional corner and celebrate with them what God was calling them to do. And Cathy and I decided to pray for other musicians, especially a bass player. Interestingly enough, Jason was teaching high school at Weddington High School, and had introduced us to this wonderful young couple, Graham and Katie Meeks. And though it took a while to discover it, we realized within weeks of Jason’s leaving that this short, Irish red-head had grown up playing the bass in a family band. And she sang harmony! I think it was at that moment that Cathy and I vowed never to doubt God’s ability to provide musicians (or anything else!) again. A similar thing happened within a week or two of graduation of Cory Klein, our high school drummer a number of years back. This brand new couple visited and in casual conversation the husband, pretty new to the church scene, said he would be interested in playing drums. And Yrjo played until God led him and Melissa to move back to Alaska with ministry on their mind.

Will We Be?

Why do I share these illustrations and these stories? I do because we again face two huge changes in the life of our church family. The congregation has given sacrificially to renovate our worship space and our youth building. When things are new and costly, it is sometimes easy to get guarded and draw inward and think, “These are for us; we paid for this.” Nobody who doesn’t know “the rules” needs to be in either of these spaces with the brand new carpet and the clean new chairs. We need to keep it all pristine and spotless, almost… unused! I know the way I’m saying it makes that seem silly, but I feel that a little inside; it’s only natural.

Anyone a golfer? Ever gotten a brand-new driver? Can you imagine going out golfing with your buddies and coming up to the next tee, a par-5, huge hole. And you pull out the old, worn driver. “Aren’t you going to use your fancy, new driver?” your buddy asks. “No,” you respond, “I don’t want to get it dirty.” NO WAY! If you get that new driver, it’s for driving the heck out of the ball and that’s just what you are going to do! We have repaired and renovated this place because we want to drive the heck out of it in terms of worship, welcome, hospitality, and outreach. I know we will have to get over the fear of getting something dirty. But it’s God’s building, for God’s mission… I CAN’T WAIT to tee off!

This morning is also Cathy Youngblood’s last Sunday here as our director of music ministries. I almost said that we are going to say goodbye to her, but that’s just not it. For one, she’s not dying or leaving town. We’ll still see her and Quay. But more importantly, out of this morning’s text and the illustrations I’ve shared, I want to invite you to consciously choose with me that we are not “losing her” but “sending her.” She is still serving God’s church, and doing so in ways that God has led her and blessed her. She simply does not belong to Good Shepherd, the choir, the worship team, or to anyone of us. Like Apollos and Paul, she has been a vital part of what God is doing at and through Good Shepherd, and God is calling her onward to more vital work in another field that is also is God’s. I also claim the very experience she and I have had many times now, that God will give us who and what we need to carry on faithfully.

I know all this is a lot to ask. But I want to ask even more. Not only do I want to ask you to understand that this building, renovations and all, belong totally to God for His purposes, and not only do I want to ask you to understand that the music ministry at Good Shepherd – choir, worship team, staff, volunteers, past, present, and future – belongs entirely to God and His purposes; I challenge YOU to understand that God makes the same claims on your life. If you trust and follow Jesus, then your life is not your own. Work, wealth, family, free time, health, hope, and everything else and everyone else that makes up LIFE – it belongs to God. That’s why Paul says YOU are God’s field, YOU are God’s building, created for God’s purposes and God’s glory.

That will be the focus of the sermons this Fall, because I believe it lies at the very foundation of what it means to be alive.

May God bless the hearing and living out of His Word this day. Amen!

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