First Lesson: Isaiah 40: 21-31
Responsive Reading: Psalm 147: 1-11,20c
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 9: 16-23
Gospel Lesson: Mark 1: 29-39
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want you this morning to picture the type of person that you all know. Imagine the kind of person that can never say no to anyone. Visualize the type of person who wants everyone to like them. Think of the kind of person that is afraid to offend others with their opinions. You know the type of person who is willing to bend their principals as far as possible to avoid any potential conflict. Their names are probably on the tip of our tongues. We would call this type of a person a “people-pleaser”.
The people pleasers you know bring us to our lesson for today from 1st Corinthians 9. Our lesson centers on one man, the Apostle Paul. Paul wasn’t your typical people-pleaser. Paul had spent the first few decades of his life as anything but a people-pleaser. Paul was gruff, Paul was quick to anger, and Paul didn’t care whether certain people liked or disliked him. Persons in a former life knew Paul as Saul. Saul was the harshest critic and persecutor of 1st century Christians. Then one day, Saul’s whole life changes as he is blinded on the Road to Damascus. Paul’s experience on the road was truly life-changing. Paul was now the 500 LB guy running marathons. Paul was the guy set free from prison; wanting to tell everyone how awesome it was being outside. Paul went from killing Christians to seeking to convert new Christians. Paul traveled all over the world starting new churches. One of the places where Paul started a new church was in a town called Corinth.
Corinth was an important city. Corinth would have been one of the main centers of trade between Asia and Europe in the days that Paul lived. Corinth attracted people and ideas from all over the world, for this reason.
A church had started a few years before in Corinth. The church in Corinth was a mess. The Corinthians had numerous divisions within their midst. The Corinthians division was between the old guard loyal to Paul (the church’s founder) and the new guard loyal to the young, charismatic Apollos. The Corinthians argued about food, they argued about whether they could meat sacrificed to other gods; they argued about whether they had to eat certain diets to be followers of Jesus. The Corinthians argued about spiritual gifts and authority amongst their members; they argued whether God had given a select few the gift of tongues. The Corinthians argued over women’s roles within the church. The Corinthians argued over what it meant to live as a Christian. The Corinthians even had a reputation as a bit of a rowdy church. The Corinthians had members who wanted to sleep with everything under the sun. When the Corinthians got together for the Lord’s Supper chaos would reign, as certain members would attempt to drink all the wine before other members could get some. The Corinthian’s were even suing each other. Any church horror story that a person has maybe heard ties into the story of the Corinthian’s.
So Paul writes a letter to the Corinthian church with the hope of trying to sort out their myriad of problems. Within this letter comes the following passage from within the 9th chapter.
“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To the Gentile, I became like the Gentile. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. “
Let me put Paul’s words in modern terms to understand them. What Paul is saying is that if he walked into a room full of Republicans, he would talk and act like a Republican. But if Paul were to walk into a room full of Democrats twenty minutes later, he would talk and act like a Democrat. If Paul were to walk into a room full of Lutherans, he would talk about his faith like a Lutheran talking about his baptism. Whereas, if Paul were to walk into a room full of Baptists, he would speak of the day that he was saved. If Paul were to walk into a room full of Vikings fans, he would wear the Helga horns on his head. If Paul walked into a room full of Packer fans, he would wear a giant block of cheese upon his head.
Paul is saying these words as a way of reminding the Corinthians of the point of his letter “that there be no divisions amongst them”-1st Corinthians 1:10
People might hear Paul’s words and be unsure of his motives. They might assume Paul lacks principle. Paul being a flip-flopper though was not the point of this passage.
Paul was not like the insecure Junior High Student, who if their friends like a particular type of music, they will like a certain kind of music. If their friends like a particular type of activity, then they will like a certain type of activity. If their friends like to eat worms, well you can guess the rest. Our passage for today we can only understand in the context of the rest of Paul’s life and Ministry.
Paul did not go through life a popular guy. Paul was run out of towns, Paul was beaten by mobs, Paul was called all sorts of nasty names, Paul was thrown into jail, and Paul failed to reach all kinds of people.
Paul writes his letter to the Corinthians so he could let them know a little bit about his understanding of the church. Paul didn’t necessarily see the church inside the doors of it.
Let me tell a story, I have a friend whose name is Matt. Matt is a hospice chaplain in Las Vegas. One time Matt is assigned to go visit a patient. We know the type of gentleman, lonely, old angry bachelor who had just been given months to live. Matt tries to engage in a variety of subjects: his cancer, his family, his fear of death. Matt quickly discovers that he’s not going to get two words from this guy. The Guy soon finds out that Matt grew up in Cleveland and a Cleveland Indian fan. This guy had one request for Matt during his visits to come see him during Cleveland Indians games, so they could watch them together. This guy wanted nothing more in his dying days then just having someone to talk Baseball. Matt knew that this wasn’t what his bosses wanted him to do, yet Matt then began to consider “What exactly is ministry?” Once Matt got into the door with this guy, once this guy realized that Matt was on the level only then could the ministry begin.
Paul realizes that his personal calling is not to claim power for himself; rather Paul’s calling is to try to reach all kinds of people. Paul comes to realize that having knowledge of people’s lives doesn’t give him power, it rather gives him opportunity.
Let me tell a personal story. When I first entered the ministry, my Mom wanted me to start wearing clergy collar shirts. She was even going to pay for them! Mom saw these shirts as people in the days gone by see them as a sign of respect and authority within a community. So I buy a black shirt and a gray shirt. I would wear them occasionally. One time, I wore them for a Hospital visit at the Mayo Clinic and got free parking, so I thought this was a pretty good deal.
Where the problem arose is when I would do stuff out of town, I would usually have to run other errands. Let’s just say walking through Walmart, you could get some weird looks wearing a clergy collar. Clergy collars in a generation past were thought to make a person approachable, yet prying eyes seemed to indicate that I was anything but approachable. People often rightly or wrongly think a guy that wears a Vikings jersey on Sundays is often more understanding of their day to day struggles than the man who wears the weird collar. My goal within the Ministry has never been to attain a certain amount of power or respect, but rather build a particular type of relationship for the sake of the Gospel. Building relationships with all kinds of people was Paul’s goal for the church in Corinth.
So what is Paul saying to us today? Paul is approaching the situation in Corinth like any good politician would.
One Bible commentary that I was reading this week describe Paul’s words to the Corinthians well when it says “What we see here is Paul walking a tightrope, “blending sacrifice with reward, freedom with constraint, boasting with humility, law with love in order to optimize the Gospel”.
I had a roommate in college named Gabe. Gabe was a particularly colorful character. Gabe was a good guy, but Gabe didn’t care what others were going to think of him. Gabe would walk around campus eating rolls of cookie dough, which was funny since he weighed about 115 lbs. I asked Gabe one time why he wasn’t in class. Gabe said he needed to check his Fantasy Baseball lineup. Gabe would stay awake all night and sleep all day. People wouldn’t always know how to respond to Gabe.
Paul is telling the Corinthians that Gabe will be sitting next to you in church. Gabe’s way of doing things isn’t going to be your way of doing things. What the Corinthians needed to abandon was the mindset that too many modern people within the church have that God prefers the churched to unchurched, the rich to the poor, the faithful to the faithless.
The thing about being a community of faith that means anything is that it's not always going to be comfortable. People are going to wear obnoxious colognes, people are going to ramble on with their stories, and people are going to have all sorts of ideas that you can poke holes. These are the types of imperfect people that make up a church and the community that it's trying to reach.
Paul is attempting to get the Corinthians to reflect on what they stand for as a community of faith, what are their makes or breaks. For Paul realizes something that plagues the modern church- most people’s makes and breaks are trivial. What ultimately defines us is how the Gospel says that every single individual matters to God and this church. Right beliefs are essential, yet right beliefs only matter to the extent that we proclaim them to those around us.
Paul was a people-pleaser. Paul was a people-pleaser though with a purpose. Paul’s purpose was different than a lot of the other Corinthians purpose; Paul’s purpose was making the cross known. Paul’s purpose was reaching people from all walks of life, with a promise of forgiveness given directly to their ears. Amen
 Acts 9
 1st Corinthians 1:12
 1st Corinthians 8:1-13
 1st Corinthians 12:1-11, 1st Corinthians 14:1-25
 1st Corinthians 11:1-16
 1st Corinthians 6:12-20
 1st Corinthians 11:17-34
 1st Corinthians 6:1-11
 The following is a paraphrase of verses 20-22
 Crouch, Frank. L. “1st Corinthians 9:16-23”. Working Preacher. 2. Feb.2015. Web. Feb.4.2015
 This was inspired by a really good reflection entitled “Clergy Colllars: What Not to Wear” written by Sarah Condon over at Mockingbird (MBIRD) 29. Jan. 2015. Web. Feb.4.2015
 Mast. Paul. “Epiphany 5B: Lectionary Epistle” Center for Excellence in Preaching. Calvin Theological Seminary. 2. Feb. 2015. Web. Feb.5.2015