Mark 1:9–15 (NRSV)
The Baptism of Jesus
(Mt 3:13–17; Lk 3:21–22; Jn 1:29–34)
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
The Temptation of Jesus
(Mt 4:1–11; Lk 4:1–13)
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry
(Mt 4:12–17; Lk 4:14–15)
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
So many people stay away from the church because they feel they are not good enough to attend. There is a bad attitude or maybe an area within their life that they do not feel is acceptable within church circles. The sad reality is that they have that thought because somewhere along their journey through life they experienced or witnessed some sort of rejection based on these very things. I am not saying that they are right to feel those feelings, in fact they are wrong, but I am not letting the church off either because it is wrong to reject someone for being human.
That is really the issue, people do not feel they can attend worship because they are human. They feel as if they need to be some sort of saint to attend a meeting for worship and if they are not a saint that something terrible will happen. And something terrible could happen. Or something amazing might happen. They may meet with people that demand perfection or they might meet a group that is authentic and understand where they are coming from. They may be judged or they may be accepted. They may be rejected or they just might find a place that is willing to see beyond the stains of life and see person within.
When we read this passage of scripture most people will get hung up on the baptism of Jesus and start theorizing about the dogmatic of this sacrament. But I want us to look beyond the mere actions in the passage and see deeper within the passage. I want us to see the humanity of our God. The personhood of Jesus.
Too often we can focus solely on the divinity of Christ that we sometimes forget that he is also human. Fully saturated with the desires, needs, and problems that each of us as humans face. We rarely think that Jesus required the occasional bath, or the possibility that he might have body odor. We forget that he required food, but we are reminded that he did rest. Jesus is and will always be fully human.
Does this diminish the power of Jesus in our eyes? Does this reduce the value and dignity of God? Does this fact cause any one of us to question the authenticity of our faith in comparison to the faiths of other major religions? I think not. The humanity of Christ is all the difference. The humanity of Christ is what give our faith more power than every other faith around. Because our God knows who we are and what we struggle with.
Jesus went to be baptized. Often we see this as the rite of passage into a faith community we see that Jesus was baptized so we too ought to be baptized…unless you are a Quaker because we dry clean. But what this action is showing is that Jesus was fully human. Jesus went to John to be baptized because that is what the community was doing. Jesus had to be baptized, not to promote a new religious rite of passage but to meet the community where they were. Jesus began his ministry by joining into the cultural conversation with those around John. Jesus entered the waters to become and engage the community in which he lived.
Imagine for a moment what would have happened if Jesus would not have entered the waters with John? If Jesus would have just walked into the community and began to teach there would have been a division among the people. Immediately the Gospel would have been divided. There would be disciples of John and disciples of Jesus. These disciples would then engage in debates over who was right and who was wrong. Though both John and Jesus were working toward the same goal, humanity would have been split. It was the baptism of Jesus that united and tied the message of John to that of Jesus. What John taught was that all have sinned, not one person is righteous enough to enter into the promised-land on their own merit, and they should repent and be cleansed of their sinfulness before they can enter the holy land promised to their ancestors. This is a crazy message especially when you consider this is coming from a son of a temple priest. John was just the beginning, John said that you need to repent, Jesus then showed us which direction to walk. Jesus united the ministries and became part of the community. Jesus identified with his humanity and this is what pleased the Father. This is why the voice spoke from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” The Father is pleased because Jesus became a member of the community. He is pleased because Jesus was able to bridge the gap between the righteousness of God and the sinfulness of man. He did this by identifying with the struggles of humanity.
“Immediately Jesus was lead out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan.” Jesus joins into the conversation with the community but that was not enough. Jesus was sinless, it is difficult to identify with people if you are perfect, or even if you are perceived to be perfect. There is a reason that every gospel writer includes the temptations of Jesus within their text, because it is through the struggle that people identify with others. It is the struggle that gives our lives depth and begin to shape our character, it is the struggles that we overcome that give our story power to inspire others to take steps of faith toward God. It is this struggle that Jesus faced out in the wild lands that allowed the people in the community to listen.
All too often we do not want to mention the struggles in our lives, because we perceive them to be signs of weakness. Why would a righteous person ever want to admit that they may struggle with issues of purity? If we are unable to admit that we struggle we live a lie, and people see through the lies. They see us as fake inauthentic hypocrites. The self-righteous always drive people away. They have driven people away from the dawn of time, but authentic people attract. Jesus was authentic. He admitted that he struggled with temptation, yet he did not sin.
It is not wrong to be tempted. In fact if we are not tempted there might be a problem. Because when we are able to identify that there is a struggle in our lives that means that we are at least engaged enough to recognize that we are making choices between right and wrong, good or evil. If we are never tempted that can only mean that we are living a life consumed by our own desires. Temptation is a sign of spiritual health, not sinfulness. Jesus was tempted, in the other gospels we are given a synopsis of what those temptations Jesus had to overcome. The first was the temptation to use his power to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger. The second he was taken to the top of the temple and asked to jump off because the angels would not allow him to be harmed. And during the third he was taken to a great height to see all the kingdoms of the world and was offered dominion of all he could see if only he would submit to Satan. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are tempted but did not sin. Which causes me to wonder, because I have never been tempted with world domination so how can Jesus really understand my personal plight?
To understand Jesus’ temptation we must first know what temptation really is. Temptation, according to Webster’s dictionary, is a strong urge or desire to have or to do something. This does not quite cover everything though, if all temptation was is a strong urge or desire then why would there be such a negative connotation to the word? Temptation more fully is defined as a strong personal urge or desire to have or do something at the expense of others. Temptation is the desire of self-gratification with the cost of damaging relationships with others. So yes Jesus was tempted in every way that I have been tempted and more. He was tempted because his desires were greater than the desires that I have. His influence is greater than the influence I have.
He was tempted to use his abilities satisfy his needs. Every day we are all faced with needs. We need to eat, we need shelter, and we need clean air and water. At times, we may not be able to afford to satisfy all those needs to our desires. This is where temptation comes into play. For example I work in a store that is filled with food, and there are times where I do not have a pocket full of money. I am willing to admit that there have been times where I have been tempted to just take food and eat it. It is well within my abilities to carry a handful of food into my office and eat. But to do so has a cost. I could lose my job, if I were to just take the food I could cause others to lose their jobs, and I would ultimate limit the ability of my store to provide a jobs in the community. Yet I have the ability, I have a need, why should I limit myself to only eating what I can afford? Jesus was tempted to satisfy his needs.
Jesus was also tempted to take unwise risks. Jump from the top of a building God will save you. I can honestly say I have never been tempted to jump off anything other than the top of the stairs in superman pajamas. But I have been tempted to take risks. Our culture thrives on risk takers. We have casinos preying on people willing to take a risk. Risk can be a temptation, but it becomes sin if we enter into a risk without wisdom. Yes I have risked a lot, and yes at times I have made sinful risks where I have shaken my fists at God demanding that he would not let it fail, many of those risks have been made with the greatest of intentions. But why are we taking the risk? Is it for personal gain, or is it for the greater good of our community? I am not saying it is wrong to take a risk to start a business because every business has potential to provide for the community, but if we are only starting the business to make a lot of money for ourselves I will begin to question the intentions of the risk. Jesus was tempted not only to test God, but to gain the trust of the community through signs of power. If he were to jump from the temple and land unharmed everyone would flock to him, but where is the relationship? Risk for profit and not community.
The third was world domination. If only Jesus would worship the deceiver he could have all the kingdoms of the world. He could have control of everything without having to sacrifice anything. I say that I have never been tempted with world domination but yes I have been tempted to gain something without sacrifice. Every single one of us have been tempted with this. It is the draw of pornography, it is the hope of the lottery, or the desire of masses. To get something for nothing. Yes Jesus was tempted in every way that we are tempted. Jesus was tempted because he is fully human.
This is important because he knows where we are he knows our struggle yet he did not sin. He is fully human yet fully God. He came to us to be saturated in our humanness so that He could lift us up to his righteousness. Jesus our God knows what it is like to be human. So we through Jesus have the power over our temptations. We have the power to use our desire for something other than selfish gratification to benefit and grow the kingdom of God. We have power over the world because our God gives us that power, he showed us how to use it, and where to focus it.
The world is powerless in the face of God because all the world has is fear, hate, and death. With Christ we have something greater faith, hope, and love and beyond that resurrection and life. Perfect love cast out fear, faith overcomes hate, and hope resurrection and life conquers death. Why then do we fear? We have the power to overcome the greatest powers the world can use against us, with the power of Christ. Yet so often we ourselves live bound by the powers of the world. We leave the people standing out in the darkness because we ourselves are too afraid to let God empower us. So we demand perfection instead of loving the person. We judge the sin instead of encouraging humanity. We like the world wish to divide and conquer but we are powerless. Until we repent and believe. Unless we embrace and love.
The Kingdom of God is all around us. It is right here in this building, at our jobs, in our neighborhoods. And God is ready to let us see just how vast His kingdom is if we are only willing to turn from ourselves and let Him work through us. If we are willing to believe enough to entrust all we have and risk our lives to his care, which really is not much of a risk since we know that he can conquer the greatest tool and weapon the world has against us, death. We harness this power when we gather to worship, withdraw to prayer, and go out in service. We harness the power that can raise the dead if we commit our lives to loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, living the love of Christ with others. There is nothing that can over-come that power, but are we willing to let it flow through us?
Mark 9:2–9 (NRSV)
(Mt 17:1–8; Lk 9:28–36; 2 Pet 1:16–18)
2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
The Coming of Elijah
9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
2 Corinthians 4:3–6 (NRSV)
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Living Beyond the Veil
One of the most annoying speeches that every child has ever heard when they embark on a much anticipated field trip has to be, “Remember when you are out there you represent your school.” I always wondered why they said that it was not like any of us really cared what reputation the school had. It was school that is it, we had to go and we finally got a chance to break free and live a little. Of course along with that speech came the realization that if we did misbehave we would not get to go on another fieldtrip for a very long time. But what do people see when they look at us?
Each of us though we are unique individuals, still reflect the community in which we live. We reflect the culture that our parents, our friends, our schools, our civic organizations, and our religious background have given us. We mirror the things that we have seen and as others come into our spheres of influence we reflect our culture onto them and then they in turn reflect it back. What do people see when they look at us?
Paul in today’s reading tells us something very profound. He speaks about a veil saying, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.” Think about that for a moment. Initially we think that those that are perishing are the ones that cannot see, but that is not what he is saying he is saying even if our gospel is veiled. He is saying that we are being hidden, or more accurately we are hiding from those that are perishing. Covering the gospel, blending in to the culture around us, hiding, but why? Paul says that those in the world have an excuse, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” They are blind and unable to see the light, but this does not explain why we ourselves are veiled.
The veil is something that our culture does not fully understand, because the western world has done away with this practice, but there are cultures that would understand quite well what image Paul is trying to portray. We look at these cultures and we immediately judge them and begin to complain that they are mistreating a segment of their population, and to be honest I would probably agree with you because I live in a culture that does not appreciative the veil. But the veil is there for a purpose, to hide the beauty. To keep what is behind the veil secret from all but the one it is intended for. There is a barrier between the veiled and the revealed, a barrier that cuts off the opportunity of friendship because the one behind the veil is hidden from the outside.
The physical veil is not used in our culture but we still hide. We hide our true selves behind many different masks, we hide behind walls that shield ourselves from intimacy because we are afraid to be vulnerable. We keep our guard up, hoping that we can trick those that look at us into believing some sort of acceptable character of who we truly are. We hide because if someone really knew me then would they find me acceptable? Would they accept me if they knew I had struggles, would they love me if they knew my past, would they even talk to me if they knew what I really thought, would they like me if they knew me? Before we even give them a chance we cut them off, we live behind a veil.
Paul tells us, “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.” The danger of an individualistic society like ours is that there is such a strong desire to be seen in a good light. We want to stand on our own, we want to be seen as successful among whatever group we identify with. The funny thing about that is that within that very statement there is a paradox. We want to be individuals yet we want to be accepted within a community. We want be seen as successful in ourselves, yet under the standards of a community. Maybe we have gotten things a bit backward. We are unique individuals, gifted in various ways but it is the community that honors those gifts. Before we get all defensive, just think about it for a moment. If you have a million dollars but nowhere to spend it, and no one to share it with, you have nothing of value. Our currency and our ability to earn wealth only has value if we are living within a community. Outside of a community the only thing of value are the things that keep you alive: food, shelter, water, air. It is in a community that culture develops and that the uniqueness of individuals can be celebrated and honored. The ability to write a novel has no benefit without others who want to read, our businesses would have no meaning if there were not a community to buy our product or services. So what Paul is speaking about is that instead of focusing of ourselves we should focus on Jesus. Instead of using our uniqueness for our own gain we should use it to proclaim Christ.
This is the sticker though, if we do not use all that we have to proclaim Christ within the community, we are veiled and we are being ruled by the gods of this world. Veiled by definitions of success that have no meaning to Christ. Veiled by the desires of being accepted by others when Christ is calling us to do something totally different. Veiled by our culture and interoperating everything about ourselves through the eyes of that culture. Yes, we are veiled. When we focus our attention on things outside of Christ we are veiling the gospel, we are veiling it with ourselves and our desires instead of letting the light of Christ shine though us. We are stepping up to be the master of our universe instead of submitting to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Let us look now at the passage in Mark, where Jesus is up on the mountain with Peter, James and John. They went up there to pray in an isolated place because that is the rhythm of life that Jesus was trying to teach them and during that time of prayer something amazing happened. There with Jesus the disciples saw Moses and Elijah standing beside him and Jesus was dressed in garments that were whiter than human hands had the ability to bleach. They were shocked and amazed, they did not know how to even begin to grasp what was going on around them. So Peter pipes up because he has this annoying habit of having to speak in awkward situations. “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here, let us build three tents…” There are veiled words coming out of Peter’s mouth. Words that reflect the culture and the community that he is wishing to impress. Jesus is there standing with Moses and Elijah and Peter says Rabbi, teacher let us build tents and stay here.
We may not catch it immediately. Moses is seen by the culture as being the great law giver, the first and most important of all the rabbis. It was through Moses that the very first teachings of God were given to the tribes of Israel, the first interpretations of greater meaning which allowed them to build a community and thrive as a culture. Moses is the greatest of men. Then there is Elijah. This is the greatest of all the prophets, whose name means my God is Yahweh. Elijah challenged the false gods of the world, called fire down from heaven to prove that God is God, and was carried up to heaven without tasting death. Moses gave them faith, Elijah defended their faith. Moses establish a people, Elijah preserved and saved the people. The greatest of men together, one represents the law, the other the prophets. These two men define the faith of Israel. So Peter sees this and begins to think Jesus is equal to these men let us build on this.
Peter was looking at this through the eyes of the culture Jesus is equal to Moses, the law, and equal to Elijah the prophet the third great era of Jewish history is about to begin building on the law and the prophets. Though this is not entirely wrong it is not exactly what the scene was showing. Moses and Elijah were standing there talking with Jesus. Moses the Law giver was speaking with Jesus. Elijah the great prophet was speaking to Jesus. They were praying, seeking the advice and council of Jesus, not Jesus seeking guidance from them. It was Moses and Elijah that came to meet Jesus on that mountain. You might say but they were dead for centuries how could they have been speaking to Jesus, but that is the true mystery. When we enter in prayer we enter into the realm of God which is not bound by the same dimensions of man. What these three disciples were seeing that day was the divine nature of Jesus. But they were unable to see through the veils before their eyes, and they assumed equality with men, not equality with God was being revealed to them. So when Peter spoke God rebuked. “This is my Son, the Beloved; Listen to Him.”
The veils we live behind are defined by our culture but Paul is calling us to partake of a different kind of culture. Instead of cultures defined by the gods of the world, a culture defined by the one true God who created the heavens and the earth. And God is telling the disciples and us to listen. Moses sought the council of Jesus and from that council the nation was establish, but mankind did not fully follow and they began to listen to the gods of the world. They twisted and perverted the words of God to such a degree that it became necessary for the prophets to emerge to set things right. Elijah sought the council of Jesus because he felt alone in a world that rejected God. From the teaching of both these men, the rabbinical Jewish faith that was seen in Jesus day emerged after it grew in exile. Both versions of the faith began very similar there was an awakening of faith and people responded but over time veils emerged and interpretations began to twist and turn until the faith that was once so powerful coming from the very mouth of God began to look as dark as the world it was created to redeem. Then Jesus came saying that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Calling us to follow Him. On that mountain we were not called to follow just another great teacher but to follow God Himself.
So why do we live behind veils? Jesus, God Himself, came showing us the life and lifestyle he created us to live in. I life of worship, prayer, and service to others. Yet we live behind veils. Do we not believe that Jesus can redeem? Do we not believe that Jesus can save and reconcile the world to himself? Do we not trust that he can do what he promises to do? Will we not entrust our lives to the one that can conquer the sting of death? The veils we live behind speak volumes of the culture we wish to reflect, cultures that are ruled by the gods of the world: god that have taken on different names but they still remain the same, gods of war, gods of greed, gods of sensuality. Elijah stood against those gods and said “My God is the one true God.” Moses stood against those gods and demanded that his people be released from bondage. These two men met Jesus on that mountain across the dimensions of time, and God tells us listen to him. Drop the veils and become a people of God. A people that is defined by loving Him and loving their neighbor. A people that desires to participate in the lifestyle He himself lived with us, a lifestyle of worship, prayer, and service. A lifestyle loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. It is not ourselves but Jesus that we should reflect, it is not our culture but the culture of Christ that we should seek to reflect and expand. Let us let that light shine in the darkness.
1 Corinthians 9:16–23 (NRSV)
16 If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.
19 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. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
What are the things we are proud of? For me I am proud of my sons, my wife and her creativity, my education, maybe even my heritage, but of all the things I am proud of I am proud to be able to serve as a pastor. This idea of ministry is what changed the very course of my life. Most of you have heard my calling which began across the ocean in Ukraine, but became very real in a pickup truck sitting in a park while I was trying to nap between classes and one of my several jobs that year. I still feel the excitement of that day when I think about it. Words of scripture seemed to come across the airways and burrow deep in my soul, asking me “Do you Love me?”
Do you love me? I was working that year at probably my dream job, I was working with a respected soil scientist with the hopes of entering into a career in agricultural research, but all at once the course of my life shifted. Suddenly four simple words ignited a fire in my soul that I could not extinguish. Do you love me? It was as if God was challenging and daring me to respond, and the response that was required took me from the high plains of Kansas to the urban metropolis of Kansas City. Even then I did not know exactly what was going to happen but doors began to open. Those doors led me to Winfield, Arkansas City, Wichita, and back to Kansas City. There were challenges, heartbreak, and joy. But through it all there was one thing that was amazing, I had the privilege to see people open up their hearts and deepen their faith.
For a farm kid from Kansas one would not think that urban ministries would be where God would lead me. Most would see me in a rural setting speaking to the people and the culture that I had encountered for my entire life. But that is not what was required. That would be too comfortable. God does not call us to be comfortable, he calls us to live on the edge of total abandon.
Paul was called to a similar life. He was called to preach the Gospel. In his heart burned a fire that would not allow him to do anything other than share the Gospel of Jesus. He say, “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel.” Have you ever really considered this statement? Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel? This sort of passion is what I hope each of us has the privilege to experience. Such drive and passion that we could not even consider our lives in any other way.
This passion is when we live according to our personal callings. Not everyone is called to live a life like Paul, not all of us have the gift of apostleship. Not all of us have the gift of teaching, or healing, hospitality, or preaching. But if we are called to Christ we have a gift for ministry. Every person that is in this building, every person in this community is here for a specific reason, every person here has a specific task that if pursued would draw our community closer to Christ and expand His kingdom to influence more people.
The scary thing about that is that everyone here is important. Why is that scary? Because if we accept that someone else is just as important as ourselves we cannot control what is going on. We lose a bit of ourselves and suddenly the future begins to blur. Paul goes on to say that he is obligated to proclaim the gospel. This obligation has risks. If he releases control to proclaim the Gospel the he has to release his life into the hands and the giftedness of others. How will he survive? How will he afford to continue to spread the Word? What if he is not received? Yet still he says “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel.”
Woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! There is a passion in those words that I hope each of us taste. This passion comes from deep within our hearts, it is the essence of who we are and who God created us to be. This passion is a mixture of special gifts of the spirit and the uniqueness of every individual. Man and God working together toward a common goal. Our giftedness begins with understanding who we are as individuals and grows from there. God can create out of nothing but usually he builds on what is already there. This is seen throughout history to the very dawn of time. There is a progression of increasing complexity in the story of creation, and then as the crowning glory God creates man in His own image out of dust. He used what was already there to bring about something greater, and then He breathes life into it. This is what how spiritual gifts work. There is within each of us something to build on, something that makes us uniquely receptive to participate in a ministry but then there is also something missing something that is beyond our own abilities that allows God to shine through our lives.
Personally I know what my passions were and continue to be. I enjoy learning. I enjoy looking at things from different perspectives and studying them. That is why my dream Job before God called me to ministry was in the sciences. I have a passion to know, to study, to find answers. God built on this passion of mine, but I would not be in here if it was in my own strength. This is where spiritual gifts come to play. I would be content just studying, I would love to spend all day observing, and recording results, but that was not what God had in mind. The problem is God did not call me to be a researcher He called me to preach. This is extremely difficult because I do not talk. To be perfectly honest I could spend an entire day without saying a word and I would think it was a great day. Yet God called me not only to talk but to stand before a group to speak. In my own strength I would never do this, yet there is a passion burning within me that I can see no other life. Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel.
What are our passions? What are our gifts? What are our ministries? I wish I could quickly provide an answer for those questions. But if I could then there would be a problem. It would be an answer based on myself and not on God. TO answer those questions requires a life of discipline. A life that is engaged in the holy rhythm of life that Jesus showed us during his ministry. A life of worship, prayer and service. It is through prayer that we open our lives up to a conversation with God, and it is through worship where we as a church collectively meet together to praise God and encourage those around us to continue walking. There is the personal and the corporate. We personally feel the call and then those around us confirm that calling and encourage us to walk in that direction. This is why the gathering for worship is important, it is when we gather collectively that the spirit of God reflects off of others and we can begin to see more clearly. But we gather not just to praise God but to be sent out to extend the kingdom, and use the gifts that he has given us.
This is where things get interesting. Paul is called to proclaim the Gospel. He says that he has an obligation to proclaim, that even though he is free to do other things he is compelled to proclaim the Gospel. He is a slave to this task so that the kingdom can expand. Think about that for just a moment. Though he is fee, he makes himself a slave for the kingdom. He goes on to say that he become like a Jew to win the Jews, like one under the law to win the ones under the law, he becomes like one outside the law to win those outside the law, he becomes weak to win the weak. He becomes things to all people so that he can win some. These are some of the most disturbing and most powerful words in the epistles. They are disturbing because within these words there is a risk of losing everything yet they are powerful because there is the hope of gaining even more.
What is it to become like something? When we read these word we often find ourselves cringing because it sounds like Paul is being too open and too accepting. He is becoming, joining or compromising something important. When we cringe we are probably misunderstanding what is being said. The word become deals with awareness. It speaks of experiencing life from a different perspective and moving around in that state. When Paul says that he becomes a Jew with the Jews he is proclaiming the Gospel through a perspective that the Jews would understand. And when he speaks of becoming one outside the law, he does not mean that he is throwing everything out, but that he proclaims the Gospel through a perspective of those outside the law. He is aware of where these people are and how to speak to them. He gains that perspective by moving within their circles, going where they go, eating what they eat, and building on what they know. There is a risk in doing this, because when we become aware and move around in the circles of people outside our comfort zone we run the risk of becoming something different.
But woe is me if I don’t proclaim the Gospel. Where would we be if Paul did not become, if Paul did not become aware of a different perspective? Where would we be if Paul stayed Saul? Paul risked everything to proclaim the Gospel and he lost everything he was proud of yet he gained the kingdom. What would happen if we too would release ourselves to the passions of God? What would happen if we became aware of the perspectives of those outside of these walls? These questions are the ones that make us cringe, because when we consider these things we are faced with losing ourselves to something outside of our control. We move beyond our places of comfort and must rely on others to provide in our areas of weakness. What if we became like the person down the street?
I have often wondered why I ended up in the areas I have been. Why did God send me to one of the largest cities in Ukraine, instead of a rural community? Why did God call me to preach when I do not even like to talk? Why would He put such a strong desire in my heart to proclaim the Gospel in an urban setting when I just want to go home and sit on a tractor to work the land? The reason is because the ministry that he has called each of you to participate in is uniquely coupled with the ministry that he has called me to. The things our community needs are wrapped up in the gifts that God has given each of us. But it is not necessarily the things we desire. To win our community we must become our community, we must open ourselves up to seeing things from their perspective and begin to proclaim the gospel in a language they understand. We must lose ourselves to the ones God wishes to win and in doing so we will find who we truly are. To win this community to the kingdom, we must become a slave to the community, become vulnerable, be moved by what moves them so that we can speak as one with them and join them as they walk the journey with Christ.
Does that make you cringe just a bit? I hope so, because then we know that the Spirit is at work. But the next question is which direction will we choose? Will we move into our community or will we stay in comfort? Will we risk all we have known or will we let what we have wither on the vine? Will we sow the seed and work the soils or will we harden our hearts to the very people God has called us to? Will we join Paul and say woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel.
I began by asking what we are proud of I want to close by again asking what are we proud of? Are we proud of standing our ground or are we proud of the ministry that God has given us? Are we proud of ourselves or are we proud of those that we have helped along the way? There are things to be proud of in this meeting, each of those things are coupled around individuals being used not within the church but outside. I am proud of this Meeting because I know there is much more that can be done and we are nearing a place where we are willing to lose ourselves to become the light in our community. I am proud because we are beginning to think less about ourselves and more about people outside these walls. Yes I am proud of our facility but I am proud in that only because we are in a better position to serve those around us. I am proud because each of us are beginning to say, “I do all for the sake of the Gospel, so that I may share in its blessing.” It is not about us, but it is about them. It is not about our influence but God’s influence in their lives. Let us lose ourselves for the sake of the Gospel and see the glory of Christ be honored in our community.