And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling amont you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one say, "I belong to Paul," and another, "I belong to Apollos," are you not merely human? 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 one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God's servants, working together; you are God's field, God's building.
If you have ever tended to a garden or even a single plant, you know that it takes work. Sure, you could throw some seeds on the ground and see what happens (I think Jesus told a parable about that once...) but if you really want to see the growth it takes nurturing. Seeds must be planted, then watered, receive enough sunlight, but not too much water or sun...if all goes well you will see the results of your work and care in a thriving and blooming plant. (Or not, if you're me and have a special knack for ruining plants.) In this letter to Corinthians, Paul compares the practice of ministry to the practice of gardening. Except, he reminds us, while we may plant and water and tend and nurture, God is the one who gives the growth. (I would argue this is true with our plants, too!)
I went to a church lunch today and the discussion turned, as it so often does with church people, to how we can get more people to come to worship on Sunday mornings. A church that had once been bursting at the seams now barely fills a few pews and they wonder what they can do better or differently to get more people, and specifically young people, in the door. Then someone reminded them that they do have young people coming to the church, just not on Sunday mornings. On Friday afternoons they have a thriving kids club that attracts 2 dozen children and slowly is bringing in their parents as well. The seeds are being planted, the water is being poured, and God will give the growth.
It might not look like we expect. The church of the 21st century, ministry of the 21st century, isn't ever going to look like it did in the heyday of the 20th when many people went to church out of mere obligation. We can't just open our doors, add a praise band, and wait for people to come to us. We need to meet people where they are, figure out what needs they have that aren't being met, and show them that the church can be a place where those needs are met.
We have to actively go out into the world and plant seeds, not just wait like an empty garden hoping the seeds will come to us.
God of water and sunlight and growth, help us to see where we can go out in the world and share the seeds of your love. May we be blessed to see those seeds grow into blossoms of new life. Thank you for the small part we get to play in the inbreaking of the kingdom. Amen.