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ASH WEDNESDAY: February 22, 10:00 AM & 7:00 PM

“You Are God’s Field, God’s Building”: Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
Vestry Meeting Sunday
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

“If you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” It’s appropriate on the day of our annual vestry [annual general] meeting that we’d come across these passages exhorting healthy community life. “Let your word be ‘yes, yes,’ or ‘no, no’… anything more than this comes from the evil one.” I wonder… making a motion and then having someone seconding it… is that still OK?!

“For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not… behaving according to human inclinations? [….] The one who plans and the one who waters have a common purpose. [….] For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.” The call to peaceful, productive community life comes through in the Letter to the Corinthians.

Rightfully we admit that the beginning and the end of the Christian faith is Jesus. And yet I think of something written by the (I realize) oft-quoted Archbishop, Rowan Williams: when we’re baptized, we’re “brought into proximity not only with God… not only with the suffering… of the human world, but with all those other people who are invited to be there as well. Baptism brings you into the neighbourhood of other Christians…. Bad news for many, because other Christians can be so difficult!”* In a world of suffering, trying to figure things out amongst, with, and because of other people… so no wonder there are going to be tensions. The sort of tensions that arose among the apostles, and others who followed Jesus. And the tensions among the various churches that Paul visited and corresponded with. I’ve been ordained for only six or so years, though I’ve been in church leadership for longer than that, and deeply involved in church life for even longer than that. I’m relieved that all the vestry meetings I’ve been a part of here have been positive and respectful; even laudatory. I know that this is not always the case, everywhere — because of dis-ease in the world, or in our lives, or in the church, or in ourselves. So no wonder there’s commandments, and Law, and wisdom literature, and canons, and Robert’s Rules; there’s a deep sense of having to rein people in. Letting things flow naturally doesn’t necessarily result in smooth waters. And yet, at least eschatologically, that might be the hope. For “[b]y contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” (Says Paul, elsewhere.)

And Paul uses different metaphors to describe the Church, the Body of Christ (“Body of Christ” itself a metaphor). “Fruit” of the spirit — an agricultural one. And others we heard today; also featuring on the cover of our vestry book: “you are God’s field, God’s building.” One image comes from nature. The other, from human culture; human effort. (Think, too, of Jesus as a builder, or craftsperson.)

We can connect this with images in the Gospels. Jesus spoke in parables about the wise and foolish people who build their houses, on good (or bad) foundations. Those who do the necessary planning and accounting before building (and those who don’t). Or the shopkeeper who knows the right time to bring out the old or the new from the storage room. “You are God’s building,” says Paul. And Jesus is the cornerstone. There’s a beautiful collect:

Almighty God,

you have built your Church 
on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,

Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.

Join us together in unity of spirit by their teaching,
that we may become a holy temple, acceptable to you…

And that image from nature: “You are God’s field.”

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

We often gravitate to the agricultural images Jesus so often evoked. And yet, there’s something — by definition — wild about it. There’s an under-appreciated parable, the Wheat and the Tares (or Weeds). When everyone’s asleep, some jerk spreads weeds in the field, and in time both wheat and weeds grow in the same field, next to each other. The good grows with the bad. We need to be realistic about that. And if we’re too zealous about getting rid of the weeds, we’re going to end up hurting some of the wheat. It’s not easy, leaving vengeance to God. And being tasked with instead, loving God, and loving neighbour. And as our baptismal vows say, “continu[ing] in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers” and “seek[ing] and serv[ing] Christ in all persons.” It is a difficult calling, being Church. It is (in this part of the world, in this time in history) an increasingly strange and rare call. But it is a privilege, and a challenge — to be drawn to Jesus alongside others drawn to Jesus. St. Andrew’s was founded nearly 75 years ago. More blue collar, working class, approachable than some of the more established expressions of Anglicanism in the area. Not the fanciest building, not on the most visible street.

But it — we — are still here, something we shouldn’t take for granted. The community-feel, kindness, and humility is a big part of what got us through not just these 70-plus years, but what got us through the last three years. There is much that we have done. There is much that we can and should do. But ultimately if this is a place of authentic love — of God and of neighbour — then we have purpose and we have something to offer those in our neighbourhood and community. And we will be equipped to see that through.

St. Paul, elsewhere, echoing some of what we’ve heard today, spoke to one of his churches, and to us: Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

* Being Christian (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2014), 10.