1 Corinthians 3:4-9
First sermon preached for Dunmore and Throop United Methodist Churches, July 1, 2012.
This is a picture of a circuit rider. Circuit riders were early Methodist preachers, almost always young men, who took the Methodist movement into the American frontier in the early 19th century, forming classes and societies of people who would meet together and support and exhort each other in deepening their faith in Christ as they lived in community in hard conditions. One of the most famous circuit riders was Francis Asbury, the first bishop of the Americas after the Revolution. Tradition has it that he rode about 250000 miles through out an area that stretched from Georgia to Maine to Kentucky and Ohio.
Many modern United Methodist parishes got their starts as Circuit rider societies. These riders would visit perhaps once a quarter, performing weddings and baptisms, and serve communion. In the meantime, the societies or class groups would meet on their own, weekly, to check in, provide accountability for each other in their efforts to grow in Christ, study the Bible, and pray. They were the constant for each other, and the Elder who came through would periodically change—the elder was sometimes moved quarterly.
The United Methodist church is the result of evolution from that early system, as societies have become church parishes, and Elders have become less mobile and assigned to single charges, lots of times of two or three churches at a time. But that system is a visible remnant of the early system, and another remnant is the relatively frequent moving of United Methodist clergy.
As I come to Dunmore and Throop, I am aware hat my predecessor was here for two years, and before that, these two churches were both joined to other UM churches. The adults among you, especially some the more mature adults, can remember there having been lots of pastors in their life. The children I talked to, some as young as 4, already remember two.
The change is not as frequent, but it is still constant. What does not change is the congregation, the people who come to church in all seasons and through all pastors. When one talks about Dunmore UMC, or Throop UMC, or any other UMC, (or any other church, I hope), they refer to the congregation more than the minister. The ministry of the church is the ministry of the congregation, largely not of the pastor. The pastor can suggest, cajole, vision, lead, provide theology for or against an idea, but in the end, it will fail if the congregation does not catch the vision, catch fire with the idea.
Now, as your new pastor here in this charge, I am aware of my limitations. Not only am I the pastor and not the whole congregation, I am appointed here as a half time pastor. There will be even less that I will be able to do.
Suffice it also to say that I am not the savior of these churches either—I do not think either needs saving, but that being said, I am not the messiah. That gig was already taken 2000 years ago, and it didn’t end well for that guy, at least in the short term.
When Paul writes to the church in Corinth in this morning’s text, he is writing to a people who have started picking sides about where their loyalties lie. Some have called themselves Paul’s people, some have chosen to identify themselves with Apollos. There were other allegiances, as well, and the congregation was starting to fracture. We can see this sometimes in modern congregations, especially when a beloved pastor leaves. Some are all for the current pastor, some have nostalgia for those who have gone before. Every church has what I call a PBM-Pastor of Blessed Memory, the one that most of the people who are in leadership may remember the strongest.
Paul would disagree with that phenomenon. The pastors have a limited role, in his wording-some lay seeds, others water. But we should never forget that it is God only who makes seeds grow, God is the only one who gives the growth.
There are no pastors who can make you grow in God. There are pastors who can provide the environment and nourishment so that you may look for God more deeply. But they cannot pry the shell from you and fertilize the seed for you, and tie a rope to you and yank you loose. Only you can push through, and only with the strength God gives you.
Paul watered, Apollos watered, but God gives the growth. Phil planted, Joan planted, Tom planted, Jon planted, I will plant, and we have all watered as well. But none of us have given the growth. Only God does that. I hope my time here is a time of great growth for you, and that we all remember where we are to be focused!