The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - February 12, 2017
Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     This week I chose to look at Corinthians.  There are several suggested scriptures each week, and some are better than others.  So I moved away from the Gospels, the stories of Jesus to look a bit at a part of this letter. 

     This letter was written by Paul to the church at Corinth, a city about 50 miles West of Athens in Southern Greece.  Paul is important because he was one of the first Christians who didnít know Jesus.  When Jesus was killed, a persecution of early Christians started, really trying to stop this movement which had started.  These are not the large scale persecutions that started a few hundred years later, but smaller scale, throwing some in jail, maybe some were killed.  Paul is walking on the road one day, sees a bright light which blinds him and he hears a voice.  He feels that he has been doing something wrong, and begins to talk about Jesus, although he never met Jesus before Jesus was killed.  Most of the stories about Jesus at that time were ďDo you remember when he said this?Ē  I tend to believe that there may have been some things written down but a lot at that point were oral history.  There were no gospels, earliest ones were written maybe around 60 or 70, Paul did a lot of his work in the mid 30ís to mid 50ís, and then we think he was killed between 64 and 68, just about the same time that the first gospels were being written. 

     So Paulís letters to these churches are the oldest stories we have of what was happening in the early church, and serve at the base for what many of our churches are today.  But they are not a story of Jesus, they are one man, who was trying to figure out what Jesus might want a church to believe or act.  Also, Paulís letters, like the gospels, were copied hundreds of times over 100ís of years, by hand.  We donít have the originals, and when we look at different copies, there maybe differences, sometimes small sometime larger.  There are many who study all that, try to figure out what was first, what was added or taken out, and try to reconstruct the original letters, and that work continues today, but what we read this morning is what we have been handed down. 

     In about the year 50 Paul arrives in Corinth and starts a church.  At this point there was still a lot of overlap between Christians and Jews, so in many churches you probably had both.  In Greece it is safe to assume that there were more Gentiles, or non-Jewish than there were Jewish.    Even though it was one of the churches we think that Paul started, we donít know a whole lot about it.  It probably did not have a building, remember church is people not building.  They may have met in a house, a garden or maybe some kind of hall.  We think, when Paulís first letter was written, that the church was somewhere between 40 and maybe 150 members.  So this was not a mega church, this was a fairly small group that came together to worship. 

     We only have one side of the conversation, but it appears that many of the issues in the church had was around being Jewish.  It is starting to be accepted that you can be Christian without being Jewish, but what does that mean for us.  Do we keep the Jewish laws?   Do we eat meat that was sacrificed to another God?  How do we get along?   One huge issue was circumcision.  As a male gentile who wants to be a Christian, do you have to be circumcised? 

     But in the part of the letter Paul is addressing a different division in the church, and that was around whose teachings they follow.  When Paul started the church, he probably did a lot of the teaching.  When he left, Apollos took over as a church leader.  Apollos was a Jewish Christian Preacher.  So now you have a problem.  Some came to know Christ through Paul, and some have come to know Christ through Apollos. 

     Almost every month I attend a meeting of interim ministers.  Our meeting is two hours long, so we take the first 5 or 10 minutes dealing with business, and then we start to go around and talk about what is going on in the churches we are serving.  One pretty common theme at those meetings is change.  It makes sense, we are all serving churches whose last ministers left for one reason or another.  It is a wonderful time to make changes in the church.  As an interim, you have already fired me.  You have not given me the last day of work yet, but I will be leaving at some point in the next 18 months or so. 

     Change happens all the time in the church.  When I first arrived I heard some about ministers who have served this church in the past.   You have a rich history.  And it is natural that when a minister comes or leaves that some new people will arrive and others will leave.  But I have to admit, I have an admiration for those who have been here through many ministers.  Many of you did grow up going to church, but some came here during Joanís time, some came during Marilynís time.  And can you imagine what might be happening in the church today if you didnít have any Bible or education for ministers.  Joan would have taught some people that something is true, Marilyn may have taught others that something else is true.  Well, which one was correct.  Are we to follow Marilyn or Joan? 

     I lucked out.  When I was growing up Rev. Desmond was my minister.  He was called to the church when I was about 5, so I have some vague memories of church before he arrived, but most of my years growing up I remember him.  He retired when I was in seminary.  But you do grow attached to ministers, especially long term ministers.  We did have associate pastors through the years, some for a year or two, others for longer.  I knew through High School and College, that when I went home, I could stop in and see Rev. Desmond.  After hearing him preach, going through Confirmation, hearing him at youth group events, I knew what he believed. 

     During a long-term ministry, the church does take on a certain feel.  What your minister believes does shape the way the church operates.  Rev. Desmond was not really interested in going away on mission trips or youth ministry trips.  When we had an associate pastor, the youth group went to Boston, or New York or other trips, when we didnít have an associate, we did rock-a-thons, where you rock in a rocking chair all night long, to raise money for mission.  We would do local missions, working at the local soup kitchen or something else.  If not for the associate pastors, we would have done more local mission and less mission outside of town.  Both are important.

     But there are also things that can happen in a longer-term ministry which may not be healthy for the church.  When Rev. Desmond was getting closer to retirement age, the church hired an associate minister.  After a few years, that associate was made a co-senior pastor.  This was a good way to keep some of that continuity through the retirement of a long-term minister.  Peter was different than Rev. Desmond.  Not in a bad way, but some clicked with him and others did not.  But some did ask if it was good to hold onto traditions which may or may not be healthy for the church.

     The ones that held in there, I believe held onto Paulís words.  We plant, we water, but God gives the growth.  Of course you will like some ministers more than others, but it is not about them, it is about God.

     When I think back on my life, I often think of those who plant or watered in my life.  Obviously there were the ministers, but there were a lot of other adults who I had much closer interactions with.  Often we donít know what effect our interactions will have, if any. 

     The idea that all of us plant and water does take some of the pressure off me as a minister.  Of course I am going to do my part, but as a church, we work together.  And lets not just think about children and youth.  Every time I write a sermon, I learn new things.  Where is this place, how did this happen?  If you look at my computer by the time I have finished my sermon I may have 20 different tabs open to different commentaries and articles.  One of my first weeks here I encouraged you to take what I said as one voice among many.  We are all growing in our faith, but if you only hear one voice you miss out on the richness of all the people out there who are learning and growing. 

     And all of those can be planting and watering.  As I have been writing sermons there are some people who often write articles,  who I will see and automatically open up their article to see what they say.  There are others who I have read many times and really donít get much out of.  There are some I agree with, some I disagree with, and sometimes I just donít find much value in what they wrote.  But each one helps me to grow.  Why did this person see that this was important enough to write about? 

     But ultimately it is God who I rely on.  When I write a sermon I read, I study, and then I pray.  Often I go through that process many times.  More studying, more reading, more praying.  I hope, though that process that I give you something that helps you some weeks.  But after I do that, it is your job to go back, read the scripture again, do your own reading, your own studying, your own praying, and wait for God to help you to grow in your faith. 

     The planting and watering is important, but listening to God is where you will find true growth.