May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.
Whose job is it, anyway? These characters argue about taking responsibility in a humorous way, but in real life we often run into similar struggles. If anything is to get done, we have to commit to the common purpose. That’s the first step. But the more important measure of agreement is in taking ownership of a task that contributes to the whole. That’s the difference between supporting a good idea and working with others to make it happen. Somewhere between the extremes of watching from the sidelines and shouldering all responsibility is the place we are each called to engage. There are different jobs for different individuals at different times. All are important to God’s purpose.
The Apostle Paul, in writing to the early Church, uses the example of a growing a garden. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth… the one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive rewards according to the labour of each” (1 Cor 3:6, 8). Even a backyard vegetable garden takes a lot of work. Early in the spring, the process begins by checking what seeds are needed and where they will be planted in the beds. At the right time, using experience and weather information, the sowing happens. But the work doesn’t stop there. Who is going to water? Who is going to weed? Who is going to look after the plants if you will be away during the growing season? Who will harvest all those beans and tomatoes when the vines explode with produce? Maybe you can handle all of these jobs yourself, and pride in doing so. But isn’t it marvellous to have help- whether it is a grandchild who is learning about God’s green earth or a neighbour who could use your extra zucchini?
The bigger the garden, the more hands needed to keep it going. Kew Garden outside of London, England, began in 1840 with the purpose of collecting and studying plants from around the world. Over time people brought many rare specimens to nurture in the English soil. Special buildings were constructed to shelter tender tropicals and create special climates. Constant work over the last x years has involved volunteer and paid staff that number in the thousands. Each person has a job description so they understand their particular important role in supporting the common purpose. There has to be a complex structure for ensuring accountability so that the cacti aren’t overwatered and the bluebells aren’t weeded out by mistake.
There is an obvious point to a garden- it’s there to grow things. What is sometimes less obvious is the point of the Church. We are here to grow the kingdom of God. But how to go about doing that, and who is responsible? Our tendency is to professionalize ministry. “That’s the job of the bishop, or that’s the job of the priest,” we say when something needs to be done. Or the wardens. Or the parish administrator. And all of these are servants of the Lord who have a part to play in leadership. But in the gap between where we are now and what we would like God’s world to be there is plenty of room to help.
Sometimes we get caught up in who we really respected as a leader in the past, especially if that person was the one who brought us to the faith. But the work didn’t end with him or her. The Church has kept going thanks to their service. Now we have new opportunities to add to the growth. Let us take the best of what they have given us without being divided in loyalties. What was planted and watered still needs assistance from us to come to fruition.
Even when we agree on an end result, it is difficult to figure out the steps to get there. Collaboration sometimes means starting with a small piece that everyone can support and working up from there. The more we can work out how to be accountable to each other and how to respect authorities within a shared framework, the more we can achieve. This week in our National news coverage we have been challenged in our understandings of reconciliation, especially here in BC with the Wetsuweten and other First Nations. Who has responsibility for looking after a territory that is much older than Kew Gardens? What are the roles of the hereditary chiefs, the elected officials, and the settlers who came to share its resources? Historical and cultural factors complicate divisions between and within nations. Those of us in the Church can pray and work for peaceful and just resolutions. We can help by listening to different sources and showing patience and curiosity in engaging with those who come from different backgrounds and experiences. We can encourage recognized leaders to meet peaceably for the good of the land the Creator made, preparing the ground for fertile conversations and for the wisdom of the Spirit to emerge.
There is always room to help in the growing process, once we discern the field where God can use our help. St. Martin’s needs people in certain roles to help shape the garden here. Diversity in the parish creates strength through the cross-fertilization of ideas and encouragement. In traditional American Indian agricultural, three different plants were grown together: bean, corn, and squash. The bean fixed nitrogen in the soil to add nutrients. The corn provided a structure for the beans to grow up. The squash protected the mound from weeds and drought. And together they provided a balanced diet to sustain life. For the parish of St. Martin’s to go forward with strength, we need a full parish council with delegates and alternate delegates to Synod, and we need four elected Trustees. Role descriptions are available.
There is a further cautionary tale of the four bodies:
Once there were four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody who wanted change. Everybody said "I want change". Somebody said "If only Anybody would start to change, I will join." Nobody said "I will change." But Anybody didn’t follow. Everybody blamed Somebody for waiting for Anybody to start changing. So Everybody stayed the same.
I am asking for you to prayerfully consider whether you are the body whom the Lord is waiting for to respond as a worker in this field, this garden. Next Sunday is the Annual Vestry Meeting. As an instrument of change, you can help the Church to fulfil its common purpose. Amen.