The Strength of Weak Ties

Anton Sorkin

Having come to the end of my first semester at the helm of Law Student Ministries and after extensive time on the road visiting campuses in California, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida, I’ve come to realize a profound challenge rooted in the confluence of two mandates: unity and harvest. Each plays unique roles in the way we understand time, community, and our participation in the ongoing work of the Spirit.

Integrating Temple and Field

This connection between unity and harvest is profoundly illustrated in 1 Corinthians 3, where Paul – addressing a church gone off the deep end in its discord and sexual license – admonishes unity and harvest. He writes: “The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building” (v. 8-9). Notice the underlying subtlety of Paul’s stated commitment for life together through the crucible of equal work and equal status. We are all one by status (servant) and yet different by mission (labor) – thus inverting any notions of hierarchal command by putting on par all those who serve through the language of vocation.

And, better yet, Paul makes clear that no one position is indispensable: the planter and the waterer are “interdependent and complementary,” writes David Garland, contributing “to the same goal” of producing a crop. Adding further is the posture of mission – rooted squarely in an understanding of equal purpose and co-participation. Garland again explains the absurdity of the planter and waterer being rivals:

“[T]he field is not a battlefield where workers vie with one another for supremacy. It is a farmstead to be brought under cultivation so as to produce fruit (Matt. 21:43). If the farmhands do not work cooperatively, the crop will be ruined.”[1]

Unity and harvest: a profound interaction that echoes an indictment across all of America when churches across the street conduct their respective services and never seek to join in common cause!

To that end, a passive commitment to the work of God in exchange for the pursuit of personal need will not go unnoticed. Notice the excuse given by the man who added nothing to the investment he had received: “He . . . who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground’” (Matt. 25:24-25). His error was not simply idleness, but a hesitancy (“laziness”) brought on by a false caricature of God as an unjust manager. It was the man’s theological ignorance and fear of failure that led to an indolent and reflexive stewardship. It was his failure to understand stewardship that became his undoing. As D.A. Carson explains, “[g]race never condones irresponsibility; even those given less are obligated to use and develop what they have.”[2] Said plainly, good stewardship is inextricably connected with faithful engagement: a misunderstanding of who God is brings about a failure in stewardship and thus a failure in vocational engagement. This is true in not only our personal lives, but in the way we pursue social justice.

Taken into the public square, this proves to be a potent indictment on what Yuval Levin keenly points out as our cultures plaguing passivity and refusal to enter the labor of creating flourishing communities. To seek the welfare of the city is entangled with our commitment to the body of Christ. We try to serve God, His people, and our neighbors with the labor of love in equal measure.

And, yet, far too many of us treat the Sunday experience like NFL players: playing the game and leaving the results on the field by refusing to integrate temple and field. Matthew Kaemingk is right that pastors often fail in encouraging members to bring their work unto the altar and then to take the altar to work.[3] Too many Christians are coming to church like it’s the first day of vacation instead of what it truly is: a time of rest and reflection after a period of labor. What we have too often done is substitute the work of God with a lifestyle rooted in vocational bustle. Our work is turned away from the well-being of the city and toward self-importance and the need to be praised for creating a lifestyle founded on inadequate time. As Shayla Love writes in her theologically devoid, but otherwise keen assessment – “[b]eing busy makes people feel good about themselves, and they use busyness, voluntarily, to signal their worth to others.” I confess that far too often I’ve fallen into this pattern myself and need to readily repent of the misalignment of purpose that too often slips into shoddy stewardship. 

Creating a Spiritual Network

And, so, I return to my original thought after a semester of travel and retrospection on how to navigate unity and harvest. In his incredible book “The Square and the Tower,” Niall Ferguson describes the history of networks and hierarchies as the governing force underlying social change. In his preface, he makes a profound statement: “[o]ften the biggest changes in history are the achievements of thinly documented, informally organized groups of people.”[4] That to me speaks volumes about the nature and opportunity of Law Student Ministries, i.e., how to take a hundred independent chapters and create the requisite ties to build a governing web for the advancement of a single mission. In language and deed, how to testify about the reconciling work of Christ. How to take a “woven mesh made of interlaced threads” and testify of the character of God and His ongoing mission to serve and save those “outside the camp” (Hebrews 13:13). How to cultivate our headless combine – to borrow from the Japanese term keiretsu – in a process of seeing the CLS chapters alike taking small stakes in the well-being of other chapters.

The early church held a practice of sending pieces of the communal bread (fermentum) to other churches in hopes of generating unity and memory. As the early church historian, Eusebuis of Caesarea, wrote: one church conceded the administration of the eucharist to another, as a “mark of respect,” parting “from each other in peace, both those who observed, and those who did not, maintaining the peace of the whole church.” As the churches multiplied, the practice became difficult and so new measures were put into place to preserve the promise of peace and retain the sensation of memory toward the vision of unity.

We too can play our role – in the simple things. Taking our time and talents and investing them toward the welfare of others through engaged stewardship. A commitment to joining in the harmony of God’s unfolding design in the spirit of Tokien’s Ainur, who took on the themes of their Creator (Ilúvatar or “the One”) in a pure act of participatory creation. Listen to the profound language of J.R.R. Tolkien’s description of how these Holy Ones grew toward the knowledge of “the One”:

“But for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest hearkened; for each comprehended only that part of the mind of Ilúvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.”[5]

There is a profound opportunity to likewise join in the ongoing work of God in creating a heavy spiritual network across law school campuses through prayer and collaboration. Each chapter can find a way to seek the welfare of the other as an act of rebellion against the tyranny of distance. Each one of you can approach the pleasure of labor and the concomitant joy that comes through spiritual association. Serve one another, sit at the table of those who can’t advance your career, seek to build a confident pluralism through conversations with those who disagree, and help build a spiritual community for the worship of God.

Christ tells his disciples: “I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor” (John 4:36-37). Therefore, go, and invest in the well-being of your chapter and the well-being of all future students, who like many of you enter the law school environment in hopes of finding others seeking deeper understanding.

Conclusion

In The Fellowship of the Rings, during the Council of Elrond where the fate of the "One Ring" is being considered, Bilbo presumes to volunteer himself for the treacherous task of taking the ring to Mordor by assuming his own culpability in “starting” the whole affair when he stole the ring and took it back to the Shire. To this, Gandalf remarks that his role was but a small part in a great adventure. For “only a small part is played in great deeds by any hero,” he tells Bilbo.[6] And that, alas, his role in this matter has ended.

Each CLS chapter plays but a small role in the orchestration of unity and harvest. As Andreas J. Köstenberger writes, "a faithful harvest often is contingent on the labors of others." We all play a small part in the development of a spiritual network that spreads from the steps of Barry University to the adventures at Lewis & Clark. A small seed that began at the foot of the Cross, and ends in the Holy City.


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians 112 (2003).

[2] D.A. Carson, Matthew (Chapters 13 Through 28) 517 (1995).

[3] See Matthew Kaemingk, Work and Worship: Reconnecting Our Labor and Liturgy (2020).

[4] Niall Ferguson, The Square and the Tower xix (2017).

[5] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion 15 (Christopher Tolkien ed., 1999).

[6] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring 303 (1973).