Here I am Lord. It is I Lord.
Psalm 147: 1-21
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Last week Bryan spoke on service. Today the lectionary continues to teach us about the ways in which we are called into servant leadership.
There appears to be three themes.
- Paul: Stepping outside one’s comfort zone for the sake of the Gospel.
- Psalms: Healing and joy
- Gospel: Christ’s wisdom in who to heal and where to go.
Beginning with Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:
The first time I read this I thought, “Oh Paul. That is exactly what I have been learning not to do”. Be yourself, stay in your own lane, and keep your side of the road clean, say my various sponsors, mentors and therapists throughout the years. After reading this scripture to a friend of mine, she said, “Oh no! Paul shouldn’t have said that.”
Upon closer inspection I don’t hear Paul calling us to a co-dependent and fearful place of trying to be all things to all people so they will like us and not threaten us. Instead, Paul is saying that when you are someone’s guest, go ahead and try eating foods that are unfamiliar to you and do it with a sense of joy and wonder. Your joy and wonder will honor your host and you will be in a better position to be of service in Christ.
When I am working with a 12-year-old who has changed their name and pronouns and identifies as transgender, I go with it. I am respectful in honoring their request and actively listen to their thoughts and feelings. I will explore with them the concept of gender and gender expression. I do this even though I know that 80% of these kids are going to transition back when they are done exploring gender identity. I do this not to validate their social media invented confusion, but rather to validate the child. And I know that when they receive love and support, they will grow into themselves without shame or regret. I do this to honor my role as a protector of God’s children in a confusing and evil world.
When Bonnie stops to buy cigarettes as she is headed out to minister to the poor and homeless, she is not trying to look cool or condone smoking. She brings cigarettes to share for the purpose of showing her lack of judgement and to build trust so that she can minister to people in the name of Christ.
Yes, we as servant leaders meet people where they are. This kind of service is what Paul is defending. Paul is saying that he is willing to go outside of his own comfort zone to bring people to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
For context there were no Christian institutions, ordained ministry and standards or best practices for the ministry when Paul wrote this letter. Paul was inventing as he went along. In this passage Paul is responding to being criticized by the Corinthians for how he was working his ministry, who he spoke to and what he ate. He is saying that he will do what he must do to bring people to Christ even if he must defend his legitimacy to those who hold the purse strings to his survival and disapprove of his strategies.
Sometimes we all question our intentions and strategies for accomplishing our goals. Being a servant in Christ does call for prayer and contemplation. It is not always obvious at first glance what is right and what is wrong. Sometimes we might find ourselves defending our actions from those who judge us: such as offering cigarettes to homeless people and addicts; or lying or holding a confidence about an illegal behavior of one we are protecting. We do well to remember the example of Christians in Europe who hid Jews from impending death by a fascist government.
Putting ourselves out in the open for the sake of being Christ in the world takes some bravery along with guidance and direction by the Spirit. I question myself all the time when I am writing these sermons or going about any kind of ministry and servant leadership. A voice in my head generates more doubt than any outside critic.
“Who do you think you are?”
“What do you know about writing a Bible study?”
“Why do you think anyone will be interested in your study?”
“You don’t know what you’re doing.”
“You should be home with your cat who needs you.”
And on and on and on it goes.
The Psalm answers these dreaded doubts.
He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3
Great is our Lord and mighty in power; there is no limit to his wisdom. Psalm 147:5
When Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, she joyfully got up and did what we are all called to do, she served. And just when Simon and the others thought they knew what they were doing, Jesus prayerfully decided to lead them somewhere else to heal, preach and cast out demons.
Paul holds two things in tension for us to consider today. One, there is pure freedom in Christ, and two, we hold in our hearts and minds the weight of the Gospel. This seems to be a paradox, but this is the life of faith. In Christ’s resurrection, we have freedom to live fully, authentically, and eternally, but that kind of life is bound to a purpose, and that is to share the Gospel with others. The Gospel is both freeing and compelling.
So, a life in faith and servant leadership is not a life without ridicule. Therefore, pass out cigarettes validate everyone, keep secrets, eat weird food, and protect the persecuted not only because you feel like it, but because you are following your calling to be Christ is the world.