240204 – Druthers

Epiphany 4 – 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

“If I had my druthers, I’d druther have my druthers, than anything else I know.”
That bit of wisdom is from the classic musical L’il Abner. Hold onto that as we dive into today’s message.

Let’s begin with a bit of context. Corinth, where the Corinthian church was, was a cosmopolitan city in the Roman Empire. Paul planted the church there, and then sometime later he got reports that they’d gone off the rails, so he wrote this letter to try to teach them and set them straight. Sadly, most of the writings we have from Paul are like that, and he gets a reputation for being a sourpuss when he’s actually a very spiritual guy.

To understand this particular 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. 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. 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. The change he’s suggesting is that they have to let go of the way they’d always done things. Sound familiar? There is only one reason churches should be talking about all this – and it has nothing to do with increasing 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. [grin]
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, connecting – 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.

Then we get the verse everyone remembers from this pericope – 1 Corinthians 9:22: “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”

What does Paul 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, the church today (and Faith United too) asks how we might communicate better with “others”. Paul said,
20 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 (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.
21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law.
22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak.

“So that I might win them!” We’ll unpack that in a minute. First, 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 de-churched) we become unchurchy. We try to speak in plain language, to substitute words, or better for me to redeem words. Notice that this speaking time I’m doing isn’t called a sermon in your bulletin, it’s a Message. I’ve shifted to only wearing my collar and robes on sacrament Sundays. Changing or redeeming language, and rethinking some traditions might break down barriers. To the unchurched we become unchurchy.

To the tech savvy we become techy. We as a church have to learn how to communicate to those whose first language is this [cell phone]! Our livestream is a great start – but it’s just a start.

To the youth we become youthful – in music, in welcoming, in valuing their contributions. It doesn’t mean we try to be hip. Trying to fake being cool is a disaster. But learning to be authentic, and open, and really listening to the younger generations is key.

To the over-busy we become…well, over-busy (but hopefully in a good way). Instead of insisting people come to church on our terms we figure out ways to take faith formation, and worship, and interpersonal community building to them, or create multiple alternate opportunities and activities that they can plug into, whether in-person or online.

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 – to give up some of your druthers.
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.”

Think of all the ways Faith United has 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 – if so, you’ll love next Sunday because we’re doing another All-Praise-Music Sunday.
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. And that’s just in worship. Church is much more than just this.

Church, and even Faith United, is different now than it was 27 years ago when this place started,
and 50 years ago when I was a kid,
and 300 years ago when Johann Sebastian 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. Church was completely different in every one of those times – and yet it was completely the same.

And now, as this church prepares for another kind of transition, big conversations about what it means to be church today, and how might Faith United envision its future are being planned. My departure in June offers the ideal reason to dig into what Paul’s inspiring rallying cry means for Faith United in the coming months and years.

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

Faith United is a marvellous congregation. A model congregation in many, many ways. Y’all do ‘church’ brilliantly. But – to quote an old adage – the way you’re doing things is perfectly crafted to get the results you’re currently getting. If you want a different outcome, you cannot only do the things you’ve always done. It doesn’t mean to abandon everything to get different results. It means shifting, changing, adding, reprioritizing, innovating. And all that means something really fundamental – it means you can’t always have your druthers.

What might Faith United ADD to what’s already happening to try to reach people not currently being reached?
How can Faith translate the palpable joy, and insights, and faith experience people have here into forms and languages that others might hear?
What alternate delivery systems might be effective?
What alternate gathering paradigms might emerge? That’s the key.

What ways can be dreamed up to take the features of Faith’s worship, learning, connecting, and serving life as a church and deliver or share them with people who can’t or won’t come Sunday morning?

God is calling all of 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 over and over that we’re all about love – loving God, loving people, loving one another – love, love, love. Love is all you need!

The question is how can that love be shared in this new season?
How can this church and its people find ways to give other people who aren’t already here a means to grow in love?
How can Faith get creative and reach out in love?

And why would you want to? If I’m an older person sitting here, what’s in it for me? I like it here. I’d druther have my druthers! Why change? What’s in it for me to do all this reimagining?

The joy of drawing people to deeper relationship with God.
The blessing of loving without regard to a perceived benefit.
The honour and pleasure of planting spiritual trees.

The reality may be that people we reach out to may not come on Sunday morning, ever, or be a part of the congregation in the ways most of us have grown up knowing.
Maybe church in the future won’t directly translate into dollars in the coffers and butts in the pews.
Maybe churches will end up giving away our resources and through that inspire, feed, and draw to Christ people we’ll never even 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.”
I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

What might Faith United become to reach out to a post-Christendom, post-pandemic 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?
Are we willing to give up some of our druthers for others?

Or, in classic language – who and what is God calling this church to be in this coming season?

These are the questions you’ll be wrestling with for the next while. Dream big!