In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last week we heard St. Paul telling the Church in Corinth that they were God’s field. He talked about how they were planted and watered by Paul and Apollos and others, but how it was God and God alone who gave the growth. Armando preached a fine sermon on that text.
This week Paul pulls another metaphor out of his pocket and likens the Corinthian church to a building. One Bible version says:
“You are God’s house. Using the gift God gave me as a good architect, I designed blueprints; Apollos is putting up the walls…and remember, there is only one foundation, the one already laid: Jesus Christ.” [Eugene Peterson, The Message, 1 Corinthians 3:9b-11]
It’s the same approach as the field metaphor: the basis of each image is God in Jesus Christ. God enables the field to grow. / Jesus is the foundation of the building. And the pastors who lead and baptize and teach are just workers passing through. It’s not appropriate, says Paul, to put one’s allegiance with the human pastor. It IS our calling, however, to give all our allegiance to Jesus Christ, our foundation.
Now let’s think a little more about the steps in constructing a building—or a house. The land must be bought, plans must be developed, the foundation laid, and then construction proceeds. But we all know that even after a house is built it doesn’t stay pristine for very long.
So let’s take an informal poll: how many people here have had to call a plumber in the last few years? How many people have painted their homes, inside or out, since they’ve moved in? How many people have ever had woodpeckers doing a number on their outside trim? And how many people think they’ll ever be finished with house maintenance?
So I was meditating on what good metaphors the field and the building are…and I was thinking about a modern metaphor for our parish. And I thought of a crazy quilt—made up of various blocks of colors and designs, and the whole thing works together to make something very beautiful and very useful. But something didn’t feel quite right about that metaphor, and I finally realized what it is. A quilt is something that’s stitched together from different fabrics, but then it’s done. And it never changes. But a field or a building—these are things that are always changing. They’re dynamic. Hmmm, so maybe a good modern metaphor for a parish might be a website… what do you think about that?
And so we are constantly under construction, too, like a building or a website or a farm field. There’s a real dynamism to what happens in a parish, just like there’s a dynamism to a building or a website or a field. Things don’t stay the same for long. Ideas come and go. Church leaders come and go, bringing with them new approaches to liturgy and learning, some of which may be revelatory, and some of which may be irritating!
Newcomers join and bring us renewed energy. And, sadly, people have to move away sometimes. Others may get disenchanted and leave for a season. Still others may die.
A parish is always changing. But at the base of all our changing is our foundation, Jesus Christ. If we ever minimize or forget that truth, then we become like a house without a foundation—a house that won’t last long.
Paul tells the Corinthian church, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” And so it is for us. We are God’s temple here in the parish—we are one place where we may encounter God very specially. God’s temple is holy, and we, collectively, are holy. God dwells among us and within us.
And Paul goes on to end this reading with a magnificent reprise of some of the main points he’s covered so far.
God’s wisdom leads us into what the culture around us might consider foolishness—we who have the audacity to make it to worship on a Sunday morning instead of staying home, having a leisurely breakfast, and getting lost in Facebook.
Moreover we try to live God’s foolish wisdom by loving our “enemies” and praying for those who have hurt us, or those people who are really hard to love. We try to live God’s wisdom by going the extra mile with someone who’s being unreasonable, or by trying to give generously when we’re asked to help another person. It’s hard to live like this. But this counter-cultural foolishness is what we agreed to at our Baptism and Confirmation, and it’s what sets us apart as components of God’s dynamic building, and as plants in God’s dynamic field.
And finally Paul wraps up this part of the letter with the most amazing statement—telling the Corinthians that “All things are yours—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”
That’s an astounding statement. If we really accepted and understood this teaching from Paul, it surely would help us handle our lives better. It would help us handle our stress better. Everything is already ours as a gift, and we are united already with Christ, who is united with God.
God desires to be thoroughly in us and with us, despite our current flaws, our current sin.
So why obsess about what might happen to us as individuals or as the Church? After all, nothing can ever separate us from the love of God, and God is in God’s temple, the Church, and the Church will never go away, because it is holy and it is of God. But it will be changing. It’s always changing—like a field, a house, or a website.
So may we live as we were meant to live, in Church and as individuals: single-mindedly and whole-heartedly, with our hearts focused on our sure foundation, Jesus Christ our Lord.