150201 – Faith 2.0 – Doing

Epiphany 4 – 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Today’s scripture passage is one that rarely gets preached because it has three giant land mines in it. The first is that it seems like Paul is saying that preachers should preach for free. It’s funny how some churches want to take this passage literally but the ones about giving away all your possessions, not so much! To understand this passage we have to talk about Paul’s culture.

In Paul’s day they didn’t have settled pastors like we do. What they had were small communities of faith that were always looking for someone to teach them about Jesus and his Way. But they didn’t have seminaries or ordination.butterfly-change

So would-be preachers went out and did the circuit – and there was an expectation that the church communities, such as they were, had to provide food and accommodation for the preacher while they were in town. Some of these itinerant preachers were frauds and freeloaders who’d come in and say whatever the congregation wanted them to say and they’d enjoy the hospitality and then move on.

But saying what congregation’s want to hear is not necessarily the same as preaching the gospel. I’m really lucky in that I never feel like I have to hold back from articulating what the Spirit is moving me to say when I stand here, but I have colleagues who very carefully watch their tongue. It’s a standard pastor question: would you preach differently if they weren’t paying your salary? Happily, my answer is no. Not everyone is that lucky.

So Paul comes into town and insists on not being paid for the express purpose of having the freedom to say what needs saying. He says in verse 19

“This means I am not bound to obey people just because they pay me, yet I have become a servant of everyone so that I can bring them to Christ.”

Remember, the Corinthians had gotten off track and Paul was trying to make changes. Perhaps you’ve noticed that often churches don’t enjoy being told they’re off the mark. Even in the beginning of the church Paul experienced the push back that comes when a leader suggests change.

The change he’s suggesting is that they have to let go of the way they’d always done things. Sound familiar? So here we are talking about change – maybe big changes, and before I go any further we need to get something very clear. There is only one reason we’re talking about all this – and it has nothing to do with increasing our offerings, or getting more people here to help with the work, or upping our numbers for bragging rights, or whatever.

We’re in this for the same thing that Paul said – for the sake of drawing people closer to God. That’s the goal. If striving for that happens to have financial or numbers benefits that’s entirely a bonus. We need to keep this crystal clear in our thinking. Drawing people closer to God isn’t for our benefit, it’s for theirs!

Let me say it very plainly, and in a way that gets preachers into trouble: it’s not about you.

Bonhoeffer said, “The church is the church only when it exists for others.”
William Temple said, “Church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members.”

Well, of course it’s about you, but you’re already here worshipping, learning, growing, serving – the purpose of the church is to nurture you SO THAT we can in turn draw other people closer to God. It’s a paradox. Now that you’re here it’s entirely about you, and at the same time it’s not about you at all. See, another land mine!

The third big land mine in this passage is in verse 22: “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”

What does he mean by this? Isn’t this contrary to our common wisdom? Doesn’t conventional wisdom say that if you’re all things to all people you lose yourself in the mix? Yes and no. Paul is rock solid in his faith so there’s no worry of losing himself. He’s talking about something else.

He’s not saying here that he changed WHAT he said to different people but HOW he said it. It isn’t the core message that changes but the manner in which you communicate it. In other words, Paul said that he used alternate delivery systems to engage different kinds of people. It isn’t anything goes; it’s let’s translate to communicate. In modern terms we call it meeting people where they are.

Rock solid in who we are and whose we are, Faith 2.0 asks how we might communicate better with “others”. Paul’s “others” were Jews, those under and not under the law, and the powerless. What might our groups be? If we were to rewrite this passage for today which “others” might we try to become like in order to reach them? How about this:

To the unchurched (or dechurched) we become unchurchy. We try to speak in plain language, to substitute words, or better for me to redeem words. Take worship for example. Some people hear worship as meaning ‘to bow down before a scary old guy in the sky.’ So we could reject the word or redeem it. Worship literally means to ascribe worth – to say that you value something. So what we do is really ‘worth-ship’. Notice that this speaking time I’m doing isn’t called a sermon in your bulletin, it’s a Message. Changing or redeeming language might break down barriers. To the unchurched we become unchurchy.

To the tech savvy we become techy. I don’t mean that you all have to become cell phone gurus – but we as a church have to learn how to communicate to those whose first language is this [cell phone]!Busy-Calendar-2

To the youth we become youthful – in music, in welcoming, in valuing their contributions. It doesn’t mean we try to be hip. It means we learn to be authentic, and open.

To the overbusy we become…well, overbusy. Instead of insisting people come to church on our terms we figure out ways to take faith formation and worship to them, or create multiple alternate opportunities and activities that they can plug into.

Think about this. In order to become “as some group in order to reach them” you have to be willing to sacrifice some of your preferences. What are you willing to give up to “save” people? How about giving up our sense that our way to do it is the only or best way?!

And remember the why! WHY are we wanting to be all things to all people?

“I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means draw some closer to the Holy Mystery we call God.”

Do you think current mainline churches follow this verse? Well, we say we do – and denominationally I think that’s on all our handouts, but congregationally I think not. But you do! You, Faith United, do this really well!

Think of all the ways you’ve already become all things to all people here in this place. Think of all the ways you’ve made little sacrifices of your preferences for the sake of including more people.

Some of you would like to have more organ in worship.
Some of you would prefer more guitars and drums.
Some of you want robes and stoles and traditional liturgy.
Some of you want casual dress and less ritual and more silence.

It’s all a balancing act of give and take trying to create a space where more and more people can find resonance.

Remember, worship and faith are completely different now than they were 20 years ago when this place started,
and 50 years ago when I was a kid,
and 300 years ago when JS Bach was writing contemporary praise and worship music on a crazy new instrument that upset a lot of people – the organ!,
and 500 years ago when Martin Luther upset the apple cart and started the reformation,
and 2000 years ago when people worshipped in secret in catacombs and huddled away in someone’s house. It was completely different in every one of those times – and yet it was completely the same.

I said this last week but I’m going to say it again. I’m asking you sitting here enjoying Sunday morning worship to change nothing. Nothing.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I guess I am asking you to change one thing. I’m asking you to change a mindset that sees Sunday mornings at 10:30 as the only way we can be church together.

Up till now it’s been, “if you can’t come Sunday at 10:30 and you don’t like our liturgical style of worship then too bad for you.” We’d never say that out loud or to someone’s face, of course, but with the way we’ve programmed our gatherings we are definitely saying that.

I’m saying that has to change.

“I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means draw some closer to the Holy Mystery we call God.”

So, listen carefully:
What can we ADD to what we already do to try to reach people we don’t currently reach?
How can we build on this good stuff and offer it to people who don’t or can’t be here Sunday mornings?
How can we translate our joy and insights and faith experience into forms and languages that others might hear?

I’m setting the tone but I don’t have all the answers. I’m looking for people who want to dive into this journey with me. If the idea of Faith 2.0 is stirring your spirit maybe you’d like to be part of a group that figures out what to do with this concept.

An alternate delivery system. That’s the key. What ways can we find to take the features of our worship, learning, and serving life as a church and deliver them to people who can’t or won’t come Sunday morning? And as we know, church and faith are much more than a worship gathering.

Whether you call it Faith 1.0, or 2.0, or whatever.0, God is calling us to grow ever deeper. Each and every one of us is on a journey of deepening communion with God, broadening compassion for people, and strengthening connection with one another. We say we’re all about love – loving God, loving people, loving one another – love, love, love. Love is all you need!

Our question is how can we share our love?

How can we find ways to give other people who aren’t already here a means to grow in love?
How can we get creative and reach out in love?

And why would we want to? If I’m an older person sitting here, what’s in it for me? I like it here. Why change? What’s in it for me to adopt and support Faith 2.0? – because filling our coffers and pews at 10:30 is apparently not the point.

The point is about drawing people to deeper relationship with God.
The point is to love without regard to a perceived benefit.
The point is to plant spiritual trees.

The reality may be that people we reach out to may not come on Sunday morning, ever. We’ve been doing a Family fun night once a month drawing in 40-60 kids and parents for play and food and singing bible songs. Some might come Sundays, but for most of them THAT is their church. That’s Faith 2.0 in action!

I envisage the centerpiece for Faith 2.0 as being some kind of alternative worship experience at a different time than now and in a different style. And even that won’t meet everyone’s needs but it will be a start. God’s people need to gather together, in faith, hopefully at Faith.

Or maybe not.

Maybe we’ll be providing resources and content and experiences of faith formation that people might plug into and then go somewhere else for their worship gatherings.

Maybe Faith 2.0 won’t directly translate into dollars in our coffers and butts in our pews.

Maybe we’ll end up giving away our resources and through that inspire, feed, and draw to Christ people we’ll never get a chance to meet.

Wouldn’t that be awesome!!!!! To love so selflessly.

“I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means draw some closer to the Holy Mystery we call God.”

What might Faith United become to reach out to a 2.0 world?
What new things is God stirring in us to inspire us to share the love we know?
Are we willing to bend for the sake of drawing people closer to God?

Now that we have caught a glimpse of seeing this new thing, what are we going to do about it?

It’s time for Faith 2.0.

Amen.