To Be Everything for Everyone 1. Corinthians 9,16-23
Dear Congregation, for today’s sermon, I have taken the text from the first reading. Why? Because I believe, that the sermon, which is an essential part of the church service, also serves the purpose to make difficult texts understandable.
If I were to ask you now, „what did you hear from the 1. Corinthians and what has stuck with you, then I would probably hear many, „uhmms“, „unhuhs“ and, „I do not know exactly“. I do not know this for sure, but I am assuming. Because the text is difficult to understand. Why? Because in my opinion, it is torn, it sends many messages at at the same time and that makes it difficult to comprehend. Especially in the first part we want to ask, „dear Paul, what do you really want to say to us?“. And in the second part, we ask ourselves, „Is that really so? Do I want to become all things to all people?“
Now I have reached the structe of this sermon: in the first part it is about the question: what about the reward? Which reward does the Gospel announce? Should we give our pastor money or not? And in the second part, we want to think about the chances and the boundaries of „becoming all things to all people“.
If we go back to the first text, we have many statements about the topic reward.
On the one side, the materialistic components: verse 14 „Thos who announce the Gospel, have a right to live from this.“ With the possibility, to do without this provison. Verse 15, „I Paul, do not have anything to do with that which I am entitled to.“
On the otherside an immaterialistic component, which is very strongly tied to the value of volanteering: verse 16, „I am obliged to announce the Gospel, woe to me if I do not do this. “and the statement: verse 17, „reward, what is meant is materialistic reward, I could expect, if I „did the assignment purely volantarily. I do not choose it, it is handed over to me.“
At this place, I would like to remind us, that it was Jesus himself, who made a connection between announcing the Gospel and the reward. When he sent his disciples, he tells them, not to put any money in their belts. They should also not take a second shirt because: „whoever works, hast he right to a means of subsistance. (Mat 10,10)
So what is Paul fussing about? I think since it is about announcing the Gospel it also has to do with profession. In order to formulate the field of tension between vocation and comprehensible remuneration differently: how “normal” is the “job” of a publisher or transferred to the present day, of a pastor?
On the other side it deals naturally with the topic, how much time is there for the announcement if there is other work to do. When Paul has to make his tent in order to secure his livelihood. How much strength and concentraion is leftover after a hard day of work? Or the accusation, which we know from our own lives, „what is for free has no value.“ If someone works and we do not pay them than this work has no value.
It runs down to the question of dependency or independence. Independence in the case of Paul, from certain wealthy patrons, who may then seek special treatment. And dependence in a special way from God, who entrusted Paul with this task
I can totally confirm this last dependency: Without God I could never do my work. Especially the announcing. How else could there be a connection between God’s word and that what God wants to say to his congregation?
In the end, I think, one has to admit that Paul is not very clear, because the situations, because of life, are not clear. Not black and white. Here, in this situation, in this letter, Paul is concerned with the lack of purpose in his proclamation of the Gospel. He, Paul is free and committed to no man, means, he is obligated to no one. He is independent. Only God dependent. Because God has commissioned him, he preaches the Gospel. There is no human intention behind it, he does not do it to finance his life. Paul probably wants to emphasize the purity of the good news. But of course he has to somehow maintain the claim to care. After all, it’s not just about him, but about all the people who serve the gospel. And Paul can not lift the saying of Jesus: He who works shall also receive his just reward. That’s one thing and yes, there were situations in which even Paul took money. In Philippians he writes that: “… no church has had fellowship with me in give and take, as you alone.” (Phil. 4:15) In this respect, one can contribute to the fact that full-time salaried pastors receive a living.So that was the initial question: should we now give our pastor another money or not? Dear community, we are still not so far in Austria that we can pay our full-time employees from church contributions. Fortunatly we, as the whole united methodist church, have buildings which contribute to the overal financing.When I look at the whole first part and its topics of earnings, reward or no reward, independence or dependence, it narrows down to one point. What is it all about: Its about the authority of Paul, and of course about the weight of his words.
Let’s turn now to the second part: Paul writes that he has made himself the slave of all to win as many as possible for Christ. (V19) He became a Jew to the Jews, he behaved to those who are under the law as if he were still under the law. A similar behavior Paul tries to live against those who do not know the law and also he wants to deal with people whose conscience is sensitive. Everything always under the aspect of winning people for Christ.
That sounds natural, at least in my ears, quite pathetic. Immediately the question arises, if this is real. And if that is always the case. Which brings us to the opportunities and limits.
The chances are, of course, in empathy. That people are picked up where they stand and Paul actively takes their background and their life beliefs seriously. Taking people serious is, not suprisingly, a good basis for an open, honest conversation.
In my opinion, the limits of such behavior are reached where I no longer perceive my counterpart as a serious, real person. Where I get the feeling, here someone plays me something. Does the person really mean what she says? Or just says it to please me. Here a limit is reached, which I called before. Is someone real, means: Is someone credible.
Another limit is reached for me, where the motives are unfair. At first sight, winning people for Christ may be very Christian or very respectable. But at second glance? I immediately think of the people in front of Graz Main Train Station, who are approaching me, greeting me with joy and want to talk to me.
And Greenpeace may be a great club, and MSF certainly needs money, but the conversation with me will be conducted to win as a customer. Wilfried Nausner has told the following story about a spiritual nurse who took care of him in the hospital. When he thanked her for the good and self-sacrificing care, the nurse replied that he did not have to thank her at all, because she was doing all this to get a long lasting treasure in heaven. Of course this is in the Gospel of Matthew (Mat 6:20), but how does that feel? Exactly, it’s not about you at all. It’s about me and my honey in heaven. Now that does not give much pleasure. Here limits are reached.
Let’s take another look at the opportunities. Walter Klaiber writes that the positive implementation of this Paul approach would mean that we would become Muslims a Muslim and non-religious people a non-religious counterpart. I think it’s worth thinking about these two settings. How could something like that look like, or is it impossible? After thinking, we should talk to each other. Because if I interpret Klaiber correctly, it is not about winning. It’s not about collecting people or increasing member lists. But it’s about how we can talk well. What background knowledge is needed, what words are needed and how much empathy is needed to have a good honest exchange.