Remember Your Joy in Jesus

Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on 1 Corinthians 9:  Focus on when we were last excited about Jesus.  Check out Jody Sinkway & The Choir following the sermon.

I don’t know anyone who is all things to all people. Spouses can’t be all things to their mates and parents can’t be all things to their children. I can’t be a good father to my daughters and be their best friend. They need children of their own age for that. I can’t get male friendship from my wife nor can she get female friendship from me. For that we need male and female friends.

In fact anyone who claims to be all things to all people is someone who has literally no sense of self and no hope of mental sanity. Being all things to all people means that in order to be yourself you need to be whatever anyone you are with wants you to be, which means you would have no way of gauging right and wrong. You would have no way of knowing what to believe or not to believe. If you were all things to all people, you would completely lose yourself. You would cease to be a unique differentiated human being from all the other human beings around you.

If you’re going to do something really well it means that you will forgo doing something else as well. You can’t be equally good with your career and your family. You can’t be an Olympian and also hang out like everyone else your age. Whatever it is that we choose to place first in our lives by definition means that something else will have to be placed second.

And yet here’s Paul saying exactly the opposite. “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” So how can this be? How is it possible for Paul or anyone to be all things to all people?

In 1 Corinthians 9: Paul makes clear that he not talking about being a person who has no sense of self. What he is focused on is one thing and that is preaching the good news about Jesus Christ. It’s not a choice for him really. Once he met Jesus in that blinding flash on the Damascus Road, the Gospel got down so deep into Paul’s bones and heart and psyche and soul and body that trying to make Paul NOT preach was like thinking you could hold back a 10-foot wave on the ocean by putting your hands out in front of you. Good luck with that.

Paul just had to preach because Jesus had touched his soul so deeply that for him Jesus deserved the love of every last man, woman, child, and creature on the planet, he was determined to do all he could to widen the circle of praise for Jesus, for his life, his love and his sacrifice for the sake of our grace. This was the animating center of Paul’s existence and for him he would communicate this love to anyone, anywhere, anytime be they Jew or Gentile, male or female, be they Samaritan or Judean.

That is why in 1 Corinthians 9 Paul says that so long as the message rang true, he was perfectly willing to be flexible in finding doorways through which to get that message across to any given group of people. Paul was not being wishy-washy or mealy-mouthed. He did not lack integrity, spine, or character. He just let the Spirit turn him into a master communicator who was skilled at finding just the right spiritual, personal, and rhetorical angles to get the message of Jesus and his love across to all of us.

And if someone got hung up about the law or about being weak in one’s faith or about most anything else you could think about, well, that could all be dealt with in love down the road. The main thing was to get the Gospel across first, get people to fall in love with it the way Paul had, and then go from there.

Paul is jumping up and down for Jesus with joy and exuberance in 1 Corinthians 9. And the question that possess to us is this: Do we also have that same excitement for Jesus or have we become too old and cool to be that exuberant?

Each year I’m reminded of this when I participate in our Vacation Bible School. There is something about the contagious enthusiasm for Jesus in our children that becomes contagious. I came across a poem that speaks to adult cynicism and childhood joy and this poem gets at gets at Paul’s enthusiasm in 1 Corinthians 9. It’s written by Stephen Dunn and is titled: At the Smithville Methodist Church:

It was supposed to be Arts & Crafts for a week, but when she came home with the “Jesus Saves” button, we knew what art was up, what ancient craft.

She liked her little friends. She liked the songs they sang when they weren’t twisting and folding paper into dolls. What could be so bad?

Jesus had been a good man, and putting faith in good men was what we had to do to stay this side of cynicism, that other sadness.

OK, we said, One week. But when she came home singing, “Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so,” it was time to talk.

Could I tell her the Bible is a great book certain people use to make you feel bad? We sent her back without a word.

It had been so long since we believed, so long since we needed Jesus, as our nemesis and friend that we thought he was sufficiently dead, that our children would think of him like Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson.

Soon it became clear to us: you can’t teach disbelief to a child, only wonderful stories, and we hadn’t a story nearly as good.

On parents’ night there were the Arts & Crafts all spread out like appetizers. Then we took our seats in the church and the children sang a song about the Ark, and Hallelujah and one in which they had to jump up and down for Jesus.

I can’t remember ever feeling so uncertain about what’s comic, what’s serious.

Evolution is magical but devoid of heroes.

You can’t say to your child “Evolution loves you.” The story stinks of extinction and nothing exciting happens for centuries.

I didn’t have a wonderful story for my child and she was beaming. All the way home in the car she sang the songs, occasionally standing up for Jesus.

There was nothing to do but drive, ride it out, and sing along – Jesus loves me! Amen

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