Good morning! I hope this day finds you and your family well, and I want you to know that you are in my prayers daily during this difficult time.
I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below — as well as on the theology woven into “It is well with my soul.”
1 Corinthians 3:6-9 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9 For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
In the Corinthian correspondence Paul wrote to a church he had founded three or so years earlier to deal with issues and questions that had arisen in the church. He wrote to give pastoral advice and to help them continue to get on their feet as a community of faith.
There was some conflict in the church over personalities. The problem was that the church had fixated on human leaders and had allowed that fixation to become idolatry. And, to make it worse, they had taken sides. They had chosen their favorites. And so, as Paul points out, some were saying, “I belong to Paul.” Others were saying, “I belong to Apollos,” another leader in the church. Because they had focused on human leaders like that, their vision had gotten blurry.
So what did Paul do? He did what he so often did in his letters—he gave them something new to focus on that lifted their vision beyond where it had settled. Paul held up two images of the church for everyone to see.
He holds up in our mind’s eye the image of a field or a vineyard and says, Look at this! You are a field, you are a vineyard…and you are also the workers in the field.
Then, he holds up another image and says, Look at this! You are a building…and you are also the workers who work on the building.
Notice that both of these are images of partnership. Both are dynamic images of growing and becoming. What Paul lifts up high for us all to see is that the Church of Jesus Christ is a partnership and the more we read the gospels and the epistles the clearer the image becomes.
Picture a farming operation and what you can see in every field: workers working in those fields and orchards, irrigation systems made possible by human ingenuity and built by human hands to provide water for the fields, people weeding and pruning and harvesting and doing all the kinds of things that fields require in order to grow and to be productive. It is an image of partnership. And Paul made it clear that every worker has a place in the field. This, Paul was saying, is the church! “I planted,” he wrote, “Apollos watered, God gave the growth.”
The other image is of a building. Think of our own National Cathedral in Washington, DC. In 1893 Congress granted a charter to the Episcopal Church, establishing a foundation to build the National Cathedral and institutions of higher education. The land was obtained in 1896 and the first foundation stone was laid for the cathedral on September 29, 1907. President Theodore Roosevelt and the Bishop of London spoke to a crowd of ten thousand. The stone itself came from a field near Bethlehem and was set into a larger piece of American granite. On it was the inscription: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
As is the case throughout the history of cathedral-building, there were workers who spent most of—if not their entire—careers working on that cathedral. Multiple generations within families have worked on the cathedral. People have spent their entire careers, their entire lives, devoted to building pieces of that great cathedral—each person contributing his or her part at the right time and place. People from all over the country contributed their talents and abilities and ideas to the cathedral.
During construction of the west towers of the Cathedral in the 1980’s, developers decided to hold a competition for children to design decorative sculptures for the Cathedral. One of the winners for many of the gargoyles on the cathedral was the image of the villainous Darth Vader from the movie Star Wars. It was placed high on the northwest tower.
Our church has ties to the cathedral. Some of our own artists in thread who made our beautiful needlepoint kneelers participated in creating the kneelers for the National Cathedral. Frederick Hart, the sculptor of the beautiful bronze piece in our columbarium prayer garden—Christ Rising—also created the hauntingly beautiful Creation sculptures on the west façade of the Cathedral.
George Frederick Bodley, the architect, lived long enough only to see the foundation stone laid. He died less than a month later. Many who worked on it knew that they would never live to see it completed. The completion of the west towers in 1990 marked the end of 83 years of construction. But, the kneelers were done after that and other contributions to its construction from all over the country will continue far into the future. There is a sense in which it will always be a work in progress.
It is a powerful image for the church! The church—always under construction. The community of faith—always under construction—always changing and always growing and becoming the vision that Christ has for the church. Each person using his or her gifts and talents and abilities and resources to build the church.
It’s a vision of partnership whether we’re talking about the image of the church building or whether we’re talking about the image of field. It’s takes everyone working together.
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster