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Are we master builders or workers in this world?

Hastings and Ruth with sturdy bricks for their house. (Malawi)

Hastings and Ruth with sturdy bricks for their house. (Malawi)

Parable of the 3 Stonecutters

An old story tells of three stonecutters who were asked what they were doing. The first replied, ‘I am making a living.’ The second kept on hammering while he said, ‘I am doing the best job of stonecutting in the entire country.’ The third one looked up with a visionary gleam in his eyes and said, ‘I am building a cathedral.’

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador Prayer

It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

That is what we are about: We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything and 
there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own. Amen.


Workers or Master Builders?

These two stories have both been sources of inspiration to me. And it was only today that I realized that they seem to give opposing messages.

Should we live our lives like the third stonecutter? Always with our mind trained towards the final vision? Looking toward the end goal of increased equality, improved lives, and a decrease in disease, war, and poverty?

Or do we keep in mind that we can only do the work that is right in front of us? Remind ourselves that the full vision is beyond our vision and that we are only laying the foundation.

Nyend Edwade with a brick mold.

Nyend Edwade, small business leader in Uganda, with a brick mold.

Like Romero says, there is a sense of relief when we acknowledge that we cannot do everything. It’s useful for me to acknowledge this when the problems of the world get too big and I feel overwhelmed by the long road toward the cathedral. It’s at those moments – blinking in the face of the world’s problems – that I can put my head down and take time instead to talk to a friend, rebuild my strength, and find the inner silence.

But too much time looking down can make me wonder what I’m working for! What am I expecting to change down the line, after these years of effort?

With that clear vision of the cathedral, I see how each stone, each small grant, each email to a SIA partner, each resource on chicken-rearing and bee-keeping that I send out, is part of that growing network of people with a hope, a dream for a better life.

Pulling back a little further, I can also see how Spirit in Action is one small, sturdy, well-honed stone important to the design of the whole cathedral.

So, some days I will be a worker with Archbishop Oscar Romero (could you ask for a better co-worker at the table to social justice work?). And other days I will work alongside the master builder at the cathedral, chatting together as we cut stone about what it will be like when the grand building is completed and all are singing with joy, love, and pride at what we have built together.

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