Monday, February 6, 2012

Epiphany 5

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Grace and peace to you from God who creates, redeems and sustains us.

Do you remember the first time you drove a car, the freedom you felt,
the ability to go places without your mother having to drive you around?
It’s a rite of passage in our cultural, but we thing it is a right. Most of us couldn’t wait for this kind of freedom.

I was a little late getting my driver’s license; I was a young mother newly married, living in the suburbs of Atlanta before I could drive a car. I tried driving before then; I even took driver’s education classes. But, for some reason, I didn’t get my driver’s license when I was sixteen.

 I was forced, however, to get my driver’s license because public transportation in East Point Georgia, in the late 70’s was a little better than non-existent. When you took the bus, from the south suburbs it took hours to get anywhere.

When I finally got my license, I remember the relief I felt when I no longer had to ask my son’s father to drive me for groceries, or to the mall or to go with me when I had to take my son to the doctors, or on every little errand.

I remember the intense freedom I felt when I bought my first car, a baby blue Mazda 323.The thrill of being able to go when and where I wanted
was intoxicating. I felt that in my little isolated blue metal capsule, I was totally free.

We wonder, what in the world is Paul talking about this week? Last week we heard his conversation about food. The church in Corinth, I will remind you was experiencing conflict over whether or not it was alright to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Today we hear him talking about submitting oneself  to the needs of others for the sake of the gospel, and being all things to all people.

Sounds a little confusing to me, that is until we unpack it, until we realize that in the 9th chapter of 1 Corinthians as in the 8th Paul is talking about freedom.......

As Paul writes: “For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.” Again Paul brings to mind the statement by Luther “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”

Eugene Peterson, in The Message, translates the passage in a slightly different way: “Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people.”

The question Paul is answering is what he does with this freedom, which in turns helps us ponder what we do with the freedom we have as Christians.
And we ask the question: Why in the world would we ever give up our freedom in order to be servants to anyone? One preacher says: “To ask an American to give up some of her or his freedom would be as ridiculous as asking her to give up her car!”**

I gave up my car when I went to seminary in Chicago and did without a car while in New York for internship. It was hard getting used to taking public transportation again, but it was easier in Hyde Park and the Bronx to get around without a car. As a matter of fact it was fun. I walked more; I got more exercise. I was even able to interact with all kinds of people and travel through parts of both cities I might not have seen traveling on freeways. I learned to enjoy the sights, sounds, smells and diversity of big cities. I gave up my freedom to come and go on my own schedule, for new experiences. Although it was difficult at first --- my life was enriched.
Paul continues: “. . .religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living moralists, the defeated, the demoralized---whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view”

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

Sounds strange to me-- all things to all people--how is that even possible?
But it isn’t so strange, it isn’t impossible if we see what Paul is doing.

Paul is saying that he takes the good news of God through Jesus the Christ so absolutely serious that he will give up his self, his identity, his freedom to spread this good news. And through the telling of this autobiographical story Paul is inviting the church in Corinth to also take this good news seriously --to give up a little of their freedom; to be for others what they need in order to see and experience this good news.

To use the analogy, Paul is asking us to get out of our cars and walk with others, to be with others, in their joys and especially in their sorrows, to help in hard times and trouble, to move from charity to justice in poverty and hunger.

This is what the ELCA calls accompaniment. It is what we are trying to do as we go back to New Orleans for the National Youth Gathering.

The definition-- “Accompaniment is walking together in solidarity, practicing interdependence and mutuality. Gifts, resources, and experiences are shared with mutual advice and admonition to deepen and expand all efforts within the mission of God.”*

In 2009, tens of thousands of young people and their adult leaders traveled to New Orleans to help with recovery efforts. Hurricane Katrina had such a devastating impact on that city that four years later, the city was still in need of help. What we learned in 2009, was that the people of New Orleans welcomed those young people who walked the streets of the city, who painted and hammered, who planted and taught, who spent money and got to know the people they were helping through conversation on street corners and over lunch counters. We all learned through active listening that it wasn’t just the storm that plagued New Orleans, but a long history of racism and injustice. And we are going back because the relationship has grown and we want to be present with them, to experience things from their point of view, to encourage the citizens of New Orleans as systems change.
Accompaniment is the model that Habitat for Humanity always uses volunteers working alongside new home owners.

Accompaniment is exactly what our young people, with adults in the congregation, do when they travel to the hills of Tennessee or West Virginia for the Appalachia Service Project. Yet, it is not simply about going and helping those people out. It is about learning who they are, what is important to them the, history, culture, music.  A group of young people and adults got together on Friday to watch a documentary titled “The Appalachians.” They heard the music of those hills; they heard stories from the people of Appalachia; they learned about the food they eat; the heritage of those who settled in those hills. Scotts Irish, Native American, German, and African American many different peoples settled there. They also learned the way they worship and why. Our young people are learning about a culture that is different, foreign and may seem strange to them.f

This learning enriches and broadens their lives, helps them understand that everyone doesn’t have what they have, live as they live or even think the way they think. But everyone is a gift of God and has something to offer

All of this learning will help them walk with the people that they travel to serve. To be examples of the goodness of God through Jesus the Christ
in their deeds and to see that same example in those they serve
To accompany, walk with others it is what we as Christians are invited to do. Because that is what Jesus did for us. “In Christ Jesus God stopped the car, got out, and walked with us, touching us with grace, compassion, mercy and love.” ** Jesus healed the sick, feed the hungry and touched even the most untouchable.

Sometimes it is hard to be without a car; I know; I have experienced it. But,

Paul is asking us to give up our freedom, some of our isolated comfort, to step out of our cars and walk with others. Paul wants us to give ourselves for the sake of the gospel, knowing that at first it might be hard, but giving up a little of our freedom, serving others will not be the end of us, but the beginning of a broadened, a full and enriched life.

So, get out of the car. Walk with others. Spread the gospel.


*Definition from
** This sermon was inspired and a few quotes used from Rev. Allen V. Harris' sermon "Get Out of the Car Please."
Scripture comes from the NSRV or The Message

No comments:

Post a Comment