In our Epistle reading in church today was the thought “One plants, another waters, but God gives the growth.”
I know this because I looked the reading up on the English-language Lectionary.net website. I could not have told you that based on the Spanish-language reading in church. I am getting better at reading Spanish, at least in small doses, with common phrases. But hearing Spanish is a different matter, and I am quickly and easily lost. So it was in the church service at Espiritu Santo today.
I find worshiping in a language other than English to be a multileveled experience. On the one hand, I have come over the years to know the Book of Common Prayer very well, and I can tell what is happening in the service based on actions and sequence and cadence, even if I don’t really know the language. If you put a Spanish-language Prayer Book in my hands, I can pretty well tell what every bit of text means, based on my memory of that text in English. I may not be too good at how it sounds, but I know in my bones what it means. So on one level worshiping in Spanish is full of the delight of discovery, as I recognize deeply familiar prayers being voiced in a very different way.
But then come the parts of the service that are not in the book, and that I can’t follow with text: the scripture readings, the sermon, the moments when the priest goes “off book” to explain a certain action or invite people to reflect on a given moment. Then I am quickly and easily lost – at least as far as the language is concerned. But it is often precisely when I am lost to language that I sense most deeply the commonality of our common prayer: when I don’t know quite what’s going on, then I can only let myself be carried along by the prayer and intention and love of others. So on another level worshiping in Spanish is a reminder that prayer is never a matter of one person praying alone, but we are all caught up in each other’s prayer-flow, and all moved as one by the deeper movement of the Holy Spirit.
And that’s when it occurred to me that our worship was a precise illustration of our Epistle reading. All of us there could do different things: one read the Epistle, one played the keyboard, one led the singing, many sang, one lifted the bread and wine, one led the service, some understood little, and some understood much. And through all those different things, it was God who gave the growth, God who wove our different voices into harmony, God who brought our different gifts into communion.
And I realized it wasn’t just our worship that reflected God’s gift of growth. The building we gathered in was also a group effort. All the painting we’d done on Wednesday and Thursday and Friday made the church look fresh and clean and resplendent when we gathered on Sunday. Even the part of the wall where I’d chipped away days before was there – not patched yet, not repainted yet, hidden behind pews and chairs and cabinets that had been pulled into place to cover the mess – but still a reminder of the ongoing work of building and strengthening the church. The work we’d done the last few days, and the work the parishioners have been doing for months, were there side by side – and it was God who gave the growth.
And God has been giving the growth to this working relationship for years, ever since the Trinity mission group first came to Honduras and first started working on this church building. I’ve heard many times the story of how they had to rebuild the chancel platform three times, as different church leaders gave them different specs – and yet today there the chancel is, in its final form, being used for joyous and solemn worship. Some built that platform, others stand there to offer prayers, but it is God who gives the growth. That spiritual truth is built into the very stones and blocks of this building.
And today that truth was built into the building in a very powerful way. Ted Jordan was among the first mission trippers, and his construction know-how and gift of hard work and deep generosity of spirit helped to form this building, and the community that meets here, and many of the other communities and buildings throughout the Maya Deanery. Ted’s death is mourned by many here, as it has been back home in Staunton. We brought some of Ted’s ashes with us on this trip, and in church today, using the prayers of Commendation from the book of prayer we have in common, Padre Hector and Deacon Concepcion and the people of Espiritu Santo, and Mision Santa Cruz, and Santa Maria Virgen, and San Miguel Arcangelos, and San Nicolas, along with us trippers from Trinity Staunton, placed those ashes in a niche in the church wall. They will always be a part of this building, as Ted’s spirit will always be a part of this community and this mission. Ted did his work, and we all do our works, to build up this church – and it is God who gives the growth. God who gives growth to Ted in eternal life. God who gives growth to us in this earthly life, as we move closer each day to heaven, God who gives growth to the church for the mission of growing peace and love and communion for the entire world.
One plants, another waters, and God gives the growth. For us all. Demos gracias a Dios. Thanks be to God.