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Finding Common Ground to Serve

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Lord, May the words of my mouth and meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our strength and our redeemer – Amen

It has been said that the mark of a good leader is ‘their ability to lead from experience’

            And when I say experience, I mean - direct, in the field, in the trenches experience

                        In essence – “credibility”

                                    Someone that has worked their way up through the ranks

                                                Done all the jobs - Experienced all the roles

And has the credibility to ‘know’… what they are asking, those under their charge, ‘to do’


There is a movie  “We were soldiers” which to me is one of the clearest examples of leadership in this way

It is a story about the first major battle of the American phase of the Vietnam War and the soldiers on both sides that fought it.

It stars Mel Gibson as the military leader

And is a clear example of how a respected credible leader – who has done everything that he asks his fellow soldiers to do – and therefore has earned their respect and loyalty

It is this model of leadership in credibility that St. Paul writes about in our New Testament lesson for today

            Paul states “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”

                        All things – to All people…

This passage is often seen as a key piece of scripture for evangelism…. and in fact a key piece of scripture for the mission and purpose of the church

Today as we consider and tend to some of the business of the church in our Annual General Meeting, it is important to consider what we are all about

St. Paul models for everyone in Corinth…. and for all of us – then as now – just how important the gospel is:

20To 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. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law … so that I might win those outside the law. 22To 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 some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings. (1 Cor. 9:20-23)


He is not limited to the Jewish people of his heritage

Nor ‘the well-educated’ of his training

St. Paul breaks down all the barriers … and meets them where they are

He looks …& finds… and then ‘serves’ in a place of common ground

And notice the motivation ... “That I MIGHT, by ALL means, save SOME”….

This is not a story of St. Peter at Pentecost – where about 3000 men (not to mention women and children) came to believe –        … but some

All of Paul’s ministry to date – all of his missionary travels are for “some”

When we consider our own evangelism efforts, when we consider our efforts and purpose as a church – we need to be mindful of this humble claim

By St. Paul the great church builder, the most significant writer of the New Testament

The one that went beyond the comforts of the ‘chosen people’ and was the Apostle to the gentiles

St. Paul hoped that he MIGHT reach “some”

John Bunyan was a common man with talent, and he believed that all talent is a gift from God to be used for godly purposes.

So 300 years ago he published Pilgrim’s Progress.

No book since the Bible has had a circulation compared to Bunyan’s novel about “Christian’s” adventures.

Bunyan was in English prisons off and on for 12 years, and wrote Pilgrim’s Progress while serving a sentence for unlicensed preaching. The book was a continuation of his offense by other means.

There was no mass market or distribution system for books then, but incredibly 100,000 copies were sold by the time Bunyan died in 1688.

        It has since been translated into more than 100 languages and dialects, often for missionaries.

It has followed the Bible ‘from land to land as the singing bird follows the dawn.’

It is simple historical example that there is more than one way to preach.[1]

In his day, Daniel Webster was one of the most renowned public speakers

He had just finished one of his great pieces of oratory when Davey Crockett, the famous frontiersman who had been in the audience, came to the podium and said:

“I was told that you were a great orator but now I doubt it. Heck! I understood every word you had to say.”[2]

Daniel Webster, understood the principle that St. Paul modeled and declared – he was a great speaker because he was able to find common ground to share his message

What does this mean for us?

            What are we to do – as we consider this passage of God’s Holy Word?

Like all scripture - we are to learn from it – we are to appreciate the challenges that face us as we go into a world that is hostile to the Gospel message

            Remember that it was also hostile in St. Paul’s times

Remember that he persevered through it all - to preach the gospel

            In fact our reading today starts out with an alarming statement

                                                “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!”

To Paul – and to his readers in Corinth - and to us – it is dire if we don’t proclaim the gospel – the free gift of grace that is given to us

            It is vital that that gospel is proclaimed fully

Paul Tillich, a famous theologian, once wrote – “Being religious means asking passionately the question of the meaning of our existence and being willing to receive answers, even if the answers hurt.”

William Ashley Sunday barely survived his poverty-stricken childhood, but by the time he was 21, he’d won the right to play major league baseball, eventually taking the field for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Philadelphia Athletics.

He got off to a rough start, but in 1886, he was batting .261 and had stolen 84 bases.

Then ‘Sunday’ met the Lord of the Sabbath.

The YMCA didn’t have to try very hard to convince him to leave baseball and begin preaching at their services (even though it was a considerable cut in pay).

But Sunday didn’t have any formal training or education…and his preaching usually showed it. His language was “colorful” to say the least.

Sunday remained a “blue collar preacher” and took aim at the common man.

He prided himself on his simple, down-to-earth preaching. Here are a few examples of his style:  

“I want to preach the gospel so plainly that men can come from the factories and not have to bring a dictionary.”

“I’m against sin. I’ll kick it as long as I have a foot. I’ll fight it as long as I have a fist. I’ll butt it as long as I have a head. I’ll bite it as long as I’ve got a tooth. And when I’m old and fistless and footless and toothless, I’ll gum it till I go home to Glory and it goes home to perdition.” [3]

The gospel message that we have to proclaim is counter-cultural

It is not political correct – it will not appease everyone’s sensibilities

                        But it is the truth

                                    And the truth upsets our worldly comfortable ways

One professor of preaching is quoted for saying that “The sermon which starts in the Bible and stays in the Bible is not biblical”

His point, although rhetorical in nature, is while God does continue to speak through His book, the book itself reveals that He also speaks elsewhere…

In painting, music, literature, science and philosophy … wherever truth articulates itself in relation to what is important in human life on earth. [4]

The Good News of Jesus Christ, calls us to a greater commitment and relationship with God, and our neighbours

It calls us out of comfortable pews - and calls into the world

St. Paul and countless other faithful disciples since have modeled for us - a pattern for evangelism and a pattern for the mission and purpose of the church

Be flexible – adjust yourself to the people that you meet

If you are with one group – learn their ways and be as they are to make yourself available to them

Develop credibility – they will hear you… if they can relate to you

When I was thinking about this strategy – what kept coming into my mind was that of an undercover cop or a spy - Maybe it was because of the book that I am reading – Tinker, Taylor, Soldier…Spy

            A Spy or undercover cop has to appear to be like the group they want to penetrate

They have to dress like them and look like them – they need to talk like them – they likely need to have someone inside to introduce them in – they might have to take some time to build credibility to do their job

Then and only then can they really do their job – once they are in and credible

We need to be credible if we want to be like St. Paul and share the gospel and have any hope that it will be heard

Now one way to think of St. Paul’s instruction is that he is a ‘chameleon of compromise’

            That he is being ‘all things to all people’ and changing the message that he has

This has been a strategy that some churches have adopted since the realization that we don’t live in Christendom anymore

            The realization that there are more outside church then within

Sadly, many churches have felt that as times have changed the church needs to change its message

            Churches have felt the need to be completely in sync with the culture of the day

There is a belief that they need to make their message more palatable

For some churches, it is all about fellowship or maybe social justice and sadly what can happen is that maybe they don’t proclaim the difficult truth of the gospel for a long time

Events are held, and are restricted to an ‘accessible agenda’ that they go without ever telling the full gospel message

Consider again, the illustration of the undercover cop or spy – we have all seen stories in the news and it is a favourite topic of TV, books and movies, we know that the cop is ‘dirty’ when they have crossed the line: from appearing – to becoming

As Christians, we are to join those outside the church in the innumerable places in which we meet them –

Join them, while always keeping to the goal of sharing our blessing

            Not join to change us… but join that we may be able to share the good news

What Paul describes here is not the simple relativism or mere assimilation.

Becoming "all things to all people" does not require losing one's self.

Instead, he describes a radical way of life in which he walks alongside all kinds of people in order to draw them to God.

His strategy of "identification" with others, of ‘credibility building’ is likely the most effective means of sharing God’s gift of salvation

Our freedom in Christ, treasured as it is, can never be absolute,

For we are called to be in service to others

Our strength is neither earned by ourselves or for our own sake;

It is all God’s gift

And real strength is knowing God and loving and serving our neighbours

Does it appear St. Paul modeled for us a ‘chameleon of comprise’  

Did St. Paul have a legacy of telling people what they wanted to hear – just to ingratiate himself to them – (if you are not sure read Acts of the Apostles)

He became like the others … so that… he could proclaim the gospel!

He said “I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.”

Consider what the Son of God himself did – as spoken in Jesus’ own words

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

                        The gospel message is simply ‘that our Lord and saviour died for everyone’

            The Gospel matters so deeply that God came as one of us and died for us                                                   the message, once believed… is salvation

                                    Everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life

Jesus died on the cross for everyone – God wants everyone to believe

For you and your sins – for me and my sins – for the person that has yet experienced God’s grace, for their sins too – it is for everyone that Jesus is the sacrificial lamb

Jesus, in our gospel message from Mark declares the following:

“Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” (Mark 1:38)

“Purpose” - is the reoccurring heartbeat of our readings today

Our story begins by telling us that Simon Peter's mother-in-law was in the grip of a fever.

This is no small matter in the ancient world. A fever was not only debilitating for a short while, but was often a symptom of a condition that would lead to death.

         We know nothing from Mark about this fever -- its intensity, its duration, or its cause

But we do know a valued family member was unable to be up and about her work – Her calling had been taken from her by an illness. 

Illness bore a heavy social cost, then as it does now

Jesus restored her to her social world and brought her back to a life of value by freeing her from that fever.

It is very important to see that healing is about restoration to community and restoration of a calling, a role as well as restoration to life.

For life without community and calling is bleak indeed.

Simon Peter's mother-in-law "served" immediately after having been raised.

The verb that is used is the same verb Jesus uses to describe the essence of his own ministry

It is "to serve" rather than "to be served" that characterizes the Christ of God.

It is also "to serve" that characterizes His disciples.

Simon Peter's mother-in-law is far from being an exemplar of a pathetic, un-liberated woman for whom serving men is her whole life.

Rather she is the first character in Mark's gospel who exemplifies true discipleship.[5]

Jesus wields the power of God Almighty to bring about participation:

It is God's will for creation to be serving in community with others.

And we are reminded of this and thank the Lord each and every time we partake in Holy Communion –

Holy Eucharist (which means thanksgiving) - which we will today

We are reminded of the Gospel – we are reminded of our Lord’s incredible service for all

And we humbly thank God each time

AND we are part of both His death - and we are part of His glorious victory over death – in the resurrection

And in closing consider the words of High Eagle, a First Nation’s Chief 

The mere possession of a vision is not the same as living it, nor can we encourage others with it if we do not, ourselves, understand and follow its truths. …To be blessed with visions is not enough ... we must live them [to share them]!

So, Brothers and sisters in Christ – BE ‘everything to all people’ – fulfill the gift of God’s grace

Adapt  to proclaim the gospel

Like our Lord Jesus and like one of His greatest disciples St. Paul

Our job is to find common ground with others, so that we might be able to serve God in sharing the gospel

            For that is what He came out to do – and that is what we are called to do

Let us pray…

In our church help us see beyond the building projects and membership lists.  To the greater missions of our church.  To announcing and witnessing the presence of Your kingdom; and to teaching and serving those who are in need, within our community and beyond.

In our world , let us see beyond the physical to the spiritual.  That we might not be driven by possessions and physical achievement but that we would be driven instead by principle and power of your spirit within.

In our worship, let us see beyond the words so that we are not simply behaving in proper ways but that we are responding by developing and authentic relationship with You, O Lord God.

Help us to hold on to the larger visions - Amen


[1] Illustration Sourcebank I - # 0301 – Preaching, Books

[2] Illustration Sourcebank I - # 0551 – Preaching, Communication


[4] Illustration Sourcebank III - # 2408 – Preaching, Bible


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