I am back at my office and have successfully retrieved my sermon. Bruce and I went to CT for the Super Bowl and just got back this morning. I love mini getaways!
I did a lot of relaxing in front of this.
Here’s the sermon – enjoy!
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
What kind of Christian are you?
The second time I was in Honduras we were visiting one of our satellite programs in another village and Miguel explained to our group how this community did not have any Christian influences before they started working with the Mission. And literally as he was telling us this we drove past a huge Cathedral.
“But Miguel, what about that church?” my mom and I asked.
“Oh, they’re not Christian.” He responded. “They’re Catholic.”
We were confused.
You know, growing up I was always intrigued by my Catholic friends. Their church buildings were much more elaborate than the simple white church that I attended every week. Dress codes were stricter. They attended Confraternity of Christian Doctrine once a week, which meant that they all got to ride a different bus together after school while the rest of us just went home and wondered what happened at the mysterious “CCD”. They did not eat meat on Fridays. They “gave things up” for Lent. First Communions came in third grade and the girls got to go shopping for a new dress – I wanted to go shopping for a new dress! My church just seemed boring (no offense, mom) in comparison. I showed up on Sunday mornings. I went to Sunday School. I probably talked too much. I went home.
At least the Coffee Hour spread was good.
It wasn’t that I didn’t love my church – I just have always been intrigued by things that are a mystery to me. And as far as I was concerned, the Catholic Church – and the big Cathedrals and the First Communions and the funny looking Communion wafers and giving things up for Lent and CCD – were all a mystery to me.
So imagine my surprise later on in life when I found out that while, yes, my Catholic friends did share a different religious tradition from me, we all shared the same faith.
Imagine my even bigger surprise later, later on in life when I realized that people in my church, people who all shared a similar religious tradition, did not necessarily agree on absolutely everything. But they still all came together peacefully (well, most of the time) to worship and fellowship because of a shared faith.
This morning’s scripture comes to us from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. I have to be honest, the first couple of times I read this scripture, Paul kind of came off as a schizophrenic manipulator. “For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all,” Paul said, “so that I might win more of them.”
“To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.”
“To those under the law I become as one under the law … so that I might win those under the law.”
“To those outside the law I became as one outside the law … so that I might win those outside the law.”
“To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak.”
“I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save someone.”
Every time I read this, I want to go back in time 2,000 years and ask the question, “But Paul, who are you?” We know who Paul can become, but we do not know who Paul really was. We know that Paul can pretty much act like anyone in order to win them over, but who is Paul? When I was working in the hospital, my supervisor used to say to me constantly, “Sarah what is your ‘True Self’?” and it drove me crazy because I never had any idea what she meant – but I find myself asking Paul the same question. “Paul, what is your ‘True Self’?”
There is also part of me that wants to go back in time and wring Paul’s neck because it seems like he is just playing the role of different people in order to “win them over”. He seemed to just be acting like whoever he was with in order to get them to follow him. In that regard, it seems very manipulative.
But I got to thinking this week. Maybe it is not that Paul was manipulating different types of people into following him into a particular faith. Maybe Paul was making a point that all different types of people are welcome in the faith that he was a part of.
Maybe it is not that Paul was manipulating different types of people into following him into a particular faith. Maybe Paul was making a point that all different types of people are welcome in the faith that he was a part of.
A few years ago the United Church of Christ launched a campaign called “God Is Still Speaking,” which opened up opportunities for churches and individuals to look at ways that God was – for lack of another phrase – still speaking in their lives and in their communities. During this campaign they started using the phrase, “No matter who you are or where you are one life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
“No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
Male or female, rich or poor, old or young, black or white, student or teacher, single or married, happy or sad, thriving or struggling, traditional or nontraditional – no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.
So maybe Paul was on to something. Maybe he wasn’t trying to be someone else in order to get them to be part of his faith. Maybe he was trying to tell them that whoever they were, they were welcome to be part of his faith. Maybe he was trying to let them know that they could find their ‘True Self’ by sharing his faith. Maybe he wanted to let them know that it was okay for them to be whoever their authentic spiritual self was.
Who is your authentic spiritual self?
Let’s face it – we are all different. Some of us grew up in this church or churches like it, some of us are former Catholics, Baptists or Methodists. Some of us did not grow up in any church. Some of us came here searching. Some of us came here just wanting to ask questions. Some of us crave the Sunday morning worship hour. Some of us crave the community involvement. Some of us want to teach. Some of us want to be taught. Some of us want to sing. Some of us want to listen. Some of us are comfortable expressing our faith loudly. Some of us experience our faith on a quieter level. Some of us feel confident in our beliefs. Some of us still aren’t quite sure what we believe. Some of us like traditional worship. Some of us like contemporary worship. Some of us feel called to serve inside this community. Some of us feel called to serve outside of this community. Some of us have a regular time of prayer and devotion every day. Some of us connect with God in less traditional ways, through art, music and nature.
And no matter who we are or where we are on our journey through life, we are all welcome here.
Who is your authentic spiritual self?
Author Anne Lamott in her book, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts On Faith, said:
It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox, full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools—friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty—and said, Do the best you can with these, they will have to do. And mostly, against all odds, they’re enough.
And do you know what? We are enough. Who we are is enough. Our ‘True Selves’ are enough. If we are authentic to who we are as spiritual people, faithful members of God’s church and believers in what Jesus taught and preached – even if we do not necessarily look or express our faith like the people around us – then we are enough.
As I got older, I realized there was no great mystery to the Catholic Church or to my Catholic friends. Did their buildings and worship look different from mine? Yes. Were their religious traditions different from mine? Yes. But they were just being spiritually authentic to who they were. And the people in my church (which really wasn’t that boring!) were being spiritually authentic to who they were. Our religion may have been different. But we all still shared the same faith.
Even in this church I look around and see diversity. Our religion may be different from one another’s. Our beliefs may be different from one another’s. But we all still share the same faith.
I think that if we peel away the layers of who we are called to be and what we are called to do, we would find that at the very core of it all, we are first and foremost called to be authentically us.
All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small. All things wise and wonderful, the God made them all.
No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey – you are welcome here.