Hi friends! It felt great to be back behind the pulpit today. I’ve missed chatting with everyone in the comments and worshiping together in this strange, but grace-filled space.
Here is my sermon and also the video from worship. Peace be with you, friends!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
February 7, 2021
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
To Share In The Blessings Of The Gospel
I want to start off this morning by thanking everyone who tended to worship so carefully and gracefully in my absence the last two weeks. It was great to step away, even though I did not go anywhere, because I had not really taken time since the pandemic began to do that. I was joking with the Executive Board that, when the pandemic started, I stopped taking days off and started working a lot at night because things were changing so quickly and it seemed necessary at the time. But here we are, nearly 11 months later, and I realized that was not necessarily a sustainable pace to maintain. So it felt really good to stop and recharge, reflect and reset.
One of the best things that I did for myself during my two weeks off was to (and I realize how ironic it is that I am saying this while live on Facebook) take Facebook off my phone.
Here’s the thing: I love Facebook, I joined when I was a sophomore in college. It allows me to stay in touch with my family and friends, to share updates about my own life and, of course, to engage in a really special kind of ministry. My gratitude towards Facebook and what it allowed (and continues to allow) us, as a community, to do throughout the pandemic, knows no bounds. We were able to swiftly and pretty seamlessly move worship online and we created a beautiful community over in our Facebook group; through Facebook, we have prayed together and we have worshiped together and we have served together and we have problem-solved together and we have really gotten to know one another better together.
And yet, I needed to take a break.
I know I am not alone in feeling this way, but, for me, despite all of the good things and the potential for good things, Facebook felt like it had become a really negative place. I know a lot of this had to do with the election and, of course, the ongoing pandemic, but it just felt as though every time I opened the app on my phone or logged in on my computer, I was inundated with intense division and conflict.
And it was one thing to watch strangers argue with one another – or even people I know arguing with people that I do not know. But it was a completely different thing to see people I know and love arguing with one another. As a pastor of a very diverse congregation, it weighed heavy on my heart to see and know that we were – are – so divided. And the fact that we could not physically come together and talk about our differences face to face or even just put them aside to worship together, serve together and break bread together made it worse. I wondered what it would be like when we were finally able to come back together; would we be able to find unity or had this virtual platform created too much division?
I was thinking about my currently complicated relationship with Facebook when I was reflecting on this week’s scripture reading from First Corinthians, particularly the part where Paul says, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became 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.” Now, the point of these words is to highlight the fact that Paul is something of a chameleon; he is able to adapt to his surroundings and circumstances in ministry and really be who the people around him need him to be. This is one of the reasons Paul’s voice changes in his different letters.
That being said, these words actually brought me a lot of comfort and encouragement in specifically reading them now because they reminded me that, from the very beginning, there was so much diversity within our faith. Paul spoke in different “voices” because he was evangelizing – he was bringing the message of Jesus – to such vastly different people and places. The Christian Church was built on this foundation of different opinions and values and traditions and lifestyles and beliefs.
This diversity has the powerful potential to be beautiful and to give our faith great depth and opportunities. But it also has the equally powerful potential to divide us in ways that would not only be devastating to our church, but to the Gospel we are called to proclaim.
Let’s talk about this scripture for a minute. 1 Corinthians is a letter; it is a letter written by Paul in 54 CE to a church that he founded in the city of Corinth. Corinth was a large and prospering city; it housed an ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse population. The church that Paul founded was predominantly gentile, although in many ways it did mirror the diversity of the rest of the city. In other words, just because most of the congregation was gentile did not mean that they all saw eye to eye on everything.
It was likely that people were separated into different parts of the city; that they had small, more intimate home churches (we all know a thing or two about that right now), but then eventually they did come together as an ekklesia, which is a Greek word that means assembly or congregation, to share a meal or to worship together.
As you can imagine, when a community with that kind of diversity comes together, there is a very real potential that disputes can happen and conflicts will arise. In fact, Paul wrote this letter in response to reports that he was hearing about disputes within the congregation.
Sometimes I wonder if hearing about these disputes weighed heavy on Paul’s heart the way it does on mine when I see people that I know, members of our congregation, quarreling about different things. What’s funny about Corinth – a bustling urban center – is that, in many ways, it reminds me of our little church in the village in our right to farm community. We have different political, economic, ethnic, educational and religious backgrounds. We do not always see things the same way; we have different priorities for ourselves and for our families.
So when Paul says that he becomes a Jew when he is with Jews and under the law when he is with someone under the law, etc. etc. it resonates with me because I do find myself using different voices depending on the context of the conversation I am having.
I think that is why the conflicts and the division hurt so bad; because I see good in all of us in these different conversations, it is just difficult to bring them together. And that is not to say I am not being genuine, rather I am trying to bring the Gospel into different contexts.
But this is nothing new. Our diversity and our struggle to rise up above our differences is not something that is unique to our generation. In fact, it is one of the reasons Jesus came in the first place, one of the reasons that we are in such desperate need of God’s grace.
My favorite part of this particular passage comes at the very end, verse 23, and it is where Paul says, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.” Because this statement reminds me – it should remind all of us – why we do this in the first place. We are called to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are called to put that Gospel into action and transform people’s lives for the better. We are called to not only be in relationship with God, but also encourage others in their own relationships with God and on their own faith journey.
Paul does not say he does it all so that people will always agree with one another. Paul does not say he does it all so that people will always see things the same way. Paul says he does this for the sake of the gospel, so that he may share in its blessings. And he does this no matter where he is or who he is talking to.
I do think that part of our call as Christians is to find ways to create unity in the midst of diversity. Part of our call as Christians is to find ways to share the blessings of the Gospel across those lines of division that are working on overdrive to try to pull us apart right now.
And I know that this is not as simple as saying that we all just need to “agree to disagree.” I know there are fundamental differences at play, many of them involving basic human rights and I am not trying to gloss over them.
I am just trying to bring us together.
We have come out of a really hard election season – remember this is the first time I am preaching since the inauguration – we are still living through a really divisive moment in our political history and, of course, we are constantly facing the added challenges (which is an understatement) that the pandemic brings.
But I really believe that this moment is a moment that calls for unity. It is a moment where we heed the call of scripture to share in the blessings of the Gospel. It is a moment where we put that Gospel into action, not because we all agree with one another, but because this is who we are, as the Body of Christ.
Friends, it is great to be back. In many ways, I do feel as though we are entering a new season in ministry. Not only are we getting ready to begin Lent (not this week, but next!), but we are also starting to think about, what is the church going to look like the world starts to re-open again? How are we going to re-gather safely? How are we going to continue to nurture our virtual spaces? How will we re-imagine the celebration of our 300th anniversary in the meantime? How will we leave an imprint of the Gospel on our town and our surrounding communities so that people not only know that we are here, but what we are all about and might be inspired to join us, as well and begin their own journey of faith.
There is a lot of work that needs to be done.
And we have to do it together.
So let us, like Paul says, work together for the sake of the Gospel so that we might share in its blessings. Let us do what we are being called to do, both as individual Christians, but also as a church.
And may our voices – though they might be different – come together and share this Good News.
Because it is Good News.
Thanks be to God!
 1 Corinthians 9:20-21, NRSV