Written by Steven Liechty
Richard L. Floyd
"I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth." - 1 Corinthians 3:6
I drove over to see Ralph at his hilltop orchard a week after I had presided over his wife's funeral and burial. He was well into his nineties and they had been married for seven decades. I was all of twenty-seven. It took me awhile to find him, because he was out planting apple trees.
He seemed glad to see me and said, "You may wonder why I am planting trees that I will never live to see bear fruit. But it's what I have always done, and I am not going to stop now. There were apple trees in this orchard when I came here that somebody else had planted, and there will be apple trees here after I'm gone."
Ralph was taking the long view. His words reminded me of what Paul wrote to the Corinthians in response to complaints of factions in the congregation around different leaders. Some followed Paul, who had founded the church, while others followed a charismatic iterant evangelist named Apollos. But Paul chides them for this cult of personality. "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth."
As I was retiring I worried aloud about the future of the congregation I had served for over two decades, and one of our Conference ministers said, "Rick, it was Christ's church when you got there, and it will be Christ's church after you leave."
When we watch the vast sweep of the Christian story from creation to consummation we see the various players in the drama of redemption walk on and off the stage. They play their part, they do their thing, whatever thing God has called them to do, and then it is time for the next person. Reinhold Niebuhr once wrote, "Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope."
Hope trusts God to finish the project. In the meantime, which is our time, we take the long view, like Ralph with his apple trees, like Paul with his beloved Corinthian congregation, like all of us with those projects to which we have given our life and labor.
O God of time and history, who holds the future securely in the palm of your hand, remind us that nothing we do that is good and loving and true will ever be lost, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Richard L. Floyd is Pastor Emeritus of First Church of Christ (UCC) in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and author of A Course In Basic Christianity and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross: Reflections on the Atonement. He blogs at richardlfloyd.com.