I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth – Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany Febuary 12, 2023

Preacher: Bret Durrett

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.


So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

These words of the apostle Paul bear a fundamental truth that has been confounding Christians for centuries. God gives the growth…

In our society today where logic, evidence, and scientific rationality are held to provide all the answers, such simple words lead us to scratch our heads and think “What? I put a seed in the earth, I water it, make sure it gets enough sun and warmth, enough nutrients and, at some point, whatever I planted should grow. That is how nature works, isn’t it? It has been proven time and time again. Spiritual growth should follow the same pattern, shouldn’t it? As long as I make sure my faith has enough light and warmth, enough nutrition, enough water, my faith should continue to grow, right?”

Mark McIntosh, in his book “Mysteries of Faith” draws the following parallel to Paul’s assertation that “God gave the growth.” McIntosh writes “God is not the highest and mightiest of all beings, but the SOURCE of all beings.” He goes on to compare God to things that we call can see, touch and feel. Things like stars, eyelashes and even pickle relish! These all exist as particular THINGS.  This is the crucial difference between God, the Creator, and all creatures, all things. The very nature of God is to exist, not as “something” but rather as the sheer loving act of existing itself and in that act of existing, God the Creator, God, the GIVER of existence, gives growth.

For us humans, this means that God, out of God’s love and God’s freedom, chooses to call each of us into existence. God pours out the power of existence so that everything that comes to be will share according to its kind in the activity of existence.

The Bible hints that the world, and each of us, as God has created, was and is meant to be a living , breathing sacrament of the giving life of the Creator and, as we grow in God, as we grown in our faith and in our lives, we come to be more and more aware of our own authentic “identity” and grow further into becoming our authentic selves.

Being yourself is essential to thriving as a person. When we’re nervous or facing a big challenger or entering into a new situation we often hear: “Just be yourself.” The “be yourself” part of the advice sounds easy. It’s the “just” bit that is misleading.

It is not easy to be “yourself.” Part of being human is that we can betray ourselves. We can be untrue to who we really are. And what makes being yourself even more challenging is that we’re not always completely clear about what makes us who we are.


Where do we get our authentic identity?

Believe it or not, Jesus says that to follow him you have to be yourself. But he also has a surprising, even countercultural notion of what that means. Identity is crucial to human existence. And Jesus wants to help us be fully human. The kind of human we were created by God to be.

Identity includes both a sense of who we are and a sense of what makes us valuable. To be ourselves we need both self-knowledge and self-regard but, at the same time, we find ourselves asking WHO is it that tugs at our hearts, sets our hopes ablaze and our spirits on fire? Who awakens in us this yearning to be, to be recognized, found, identified at long last as the person we are growing to become?

Jesus himself lived in what has been called an honor/shame society, similar to ours today. In such a society, each person has a role to play in life. That role is given to you by your environment, your family, your society, and by the state. Your personal value—your honor—derives from accepting this role and playing it well. Jesus ran afoul of the religious and political powers of his day precisely because he insisted on the inherent value of everyone, despite the role they had been given. He respected foreigners and sinners, women, and the poor. And yet he also showed the same love for Roman soldiers and tax collectors. He didn’t look at people as insiders and outsiders, higher or lower on the social ladder. Despite the “role” he was given by his environment, he held true to his authentic identity as the Son of God. His only conflicts were with people who insisted on seeing some people as better than—more worthy of love and respect than—other people. So far, this may sound like Jesus sees things just the way we claim to.

In the Western world, many of us subscribe to what American sociologist Robert Bellah called expressive individualism. The true self is an inner core of desires and aspirations. According to this theory, to be true to ourselves and to feel self-esteem, we need to acknowledge, to accept, and to act upon our inner passions and dreams despite the discouragement or even the opposition offered by others. What makes this life valuable is the authenticity with which I express outwardly what my true inner self yearns for. Nobody can tell me who I am and what makes my life worth living. Self-assertion is the path to healthy identity formation and, here is where it begins to fall apart,

“What I achieve is what makes me valuable.”

It falls apart because, in the end, expressive individualism places human dignity on a foundation of sand. We are always judged—even if only by ourselves—by our level of success. The question “what have you done lately” presses on us every day. Our value, our self-worth, our identity is derived from our achievements instead of from the knowing ourselves as God’s beloved and finding our value in the love – Christ’s love – that we give for the sake of the world.

Jesus does encourage us to be ourselves. He shows us how to belong to a greater whole without surrendering our personal agency to the opinions and prejudices of the crowd. His teaching is summarized in the deceptively simple phrase we heard at the beginning of our Gospel Reading last week: “You are the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13)

As followers of Jesus, we bring Jesus with us wherever we go. We are who we are, we are our true selves, because of our friendship with Christ. Where we go, he goes. And where Christ goes, love goes. We accept the whole creation and each other as a means of loving communion with God. In Christ, we grow into our true selves.

So, go out into the world, go out and be the true and authentic self that God has called you to be.… and remember, there is more to yourself, MUCH more, than you might realize. The boundless love of God will nurture you and provide your growth along your path of discovery because, while Paul may have planted and Apollos might have watered, God is growth.