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All Things to All People

Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11, 20c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

Bigfork Community United Methodist Church

February 4, 2018 – Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

We look at the world from two different perspectives this morning. Isaiah takes the long view. He writes to us and to the Exiles of Israel and Judah: Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,the Creator of the ends of the earth. No matter how much the world seems to spin out of control, do not lose hope.

God does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.He gives power to the faint,and strengthens the powerless.

If you are like me these days, there is so much spin in the news, from one side and the other and sometimes…maybe, just maybe …from the news people themselves.

As I watched one network this past week, one side was all good and the other side was bad…or the other side was good and the other was bad…and it was hard to know where the truth lay…or it was hard to see why one side or the other could think what they thought.

Talking to a guy on the plane on the way back, he said you have to listen to both sides and then guess where the truth lay between them…or beyond them. I am so tired of it.

But we read this morning that we are not to lose heart or faith in the presence of some Good and compassionate hand guiding the fate of nations and people.

Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Hang in there. Things will get better. The truth will emerge and Good will triumph. The will of a loving God will prevail in the end.

Paul, on the other hand, writes with a sense of urgency today. He is all things to all people…to accomplish the great task that has been given to him, to which he has been called, the task which he has undertaken.

He must get it done as soon as possible because he doesn’t know how much time he has to complete his work.

He will sacrifice himself, his preferences, his druthers, for Christ…just as Christ, who was given everything, gave up all things to honor God.

Just as Christ came not to abolish the Law and the prophets but to fulfill them, Paul will risk all to point to Jesus as the Promised One, the Lord and Savior of the world.

There was a coffee cart in downtown Billings for many years where they gave you your 10th cup of coffee free, so if you stopped every workday for coffee you would get a free one every two weeks.

So one day this guy stops and orders a coffee. The barista tells him it’s his free day and gives his dollar back to him.

“I got my free one yesterday,” he says. “You just didn’t start a new card for me,” and he gives her back the dollar. She says she goes by the card in the box and it’s his free day and pushes the dollar back.

He tells her that he got a free one yesterday and gives it back again, and says he won’t take it back.“You sure are honest!” she says.

The guy told her that he had his price, too, “but I’m glad to know it’s not a dollar.”It was probably the biggest bargain the guy ever got. He proved he was an honest man…for just one dollar.

Paul paid his whole life to prove that he was an honest and faithful man. He was not only willing to die for Christ. He devoted all day every day to proclaim the gospel to a dying world.

He was willing to sacrifice the position and prestige he had as a Pharisee of Pharisees. He risked prison and finally paid for his faith with his life so that the whole world might know Christ.

He was as much an exile in his own culture as Jews of Isaiah’s day were in Babylon…a distant land for them, both geographically and culturally.

Walter Breuggeman, one of the leading Bible scholars of our time, points out that believers in a benevolent God and believers in Christ…which is to say the same thing twice…are exiles today, too.

We are exiles, too. No matter how dark things look one day, God is waiting to turn the world toward truth and light every day.

If ever in all the history of humankind upon the earth there appeared an irrefutable proof of that core belief it was in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

Christ died that we might have eternal life. Paul changed his life so that we might get to hear about it. They both had an immediate, totally present, understanding of who they were and who they were talking to at the moment, and they both saw life beyond this day’s toil.

What we shall be like then, Paul wrote, has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when Christ appears, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

This is the freedom from the law that Paul and Jesus both saw. We do not need the law to constrain us because by the change knowing Jesus has brought into our open hearts through our open minds, we will want to do all that is required.

Not only that, we will want to do all that we can. So what are you willing to give to live a good life…a great life…a life worth the price you will be called one day to pay?

Where is your anchor and how can you cast it off?

What is it about how good it can be that only you can see that is infinitely more important to you than anything you would have to give up?

What is your vision and how can you embark upon it?

But let us not act as if we had ten thousand years to throw away. Our candle is burning even as we hesitate. Death stands at our elbow. Let us be good for something while we live and it is in our power.

Khalil Gibran put it this way, “Give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors.”

So we can see both Isaiah’s long view and Paul’s sense of urgency converge in our meditation today. We do not give so that we can reap a reward.

We give because we make the world a better place. Our lives take on meaning. In a small…maybe even infinitesimal…way we have changed the history of humankind forever.

We cannot wave a wand and have all the dominoes fall as we want them to fall, but we can set up one more domino so that the line might fall slightly altered – better – way…than if we did nothing.

It was a symbolic gesture that Jesus made that night he gave himself up for us when he took the bread, blessed it and broke it and gave it to his disciples saying it was his body, then took the cup, blessed it and gave it to them saying it was his blood of the covenant poured out for the forgiveness of the sins of the whole world.

He would give all he had to give and he would give all of it that the world could remember him and become a better place for it. He did it to reveal the truth on earth of the goodness of his Father in Heaven.

At Gettysburg Lincoln was just one person among 10,000 to 20,000 gathered there at the scene of a great battle in which the Union sustained 23,049 casualties (3,155 dead, 14,529 wounded, 5,365 missing). Confederate casualties were 28,063 (3,903 dead, 18,735 injured, and 5,425 missing), more than a third of Lee's army.

Beyond these immediate casualties anyone who had been there… soldiers and townspeople alike…had been changed forever and the course of the war and the nation… and freedom…and justice…and the relative rights of all people had been changed.

But each soldier…on both sides… simply did what they could those first three days in July…87 years … four score and seven years after America declared it a self-evident truth that all men are created equal.

Lincoln held up that eternal value in the taste of overwhelming mortality. We die, but we die to keep the last best hope on earth from perishing. That is what we can give ourselves and the most we can give to the world, and we must give it.

It was perhaps inevitable from the moment we understood men were all created equal that there was no longer any reason that all women were also created equal, too…and that men and women were equal…just as slaves were as sacred as their masters.

Now we find ourselves enmeshed in a discussion about who in the world will and will not be permitted to be Americans…and to become equal to any person in the world. Why shouldn’t we all be equal?

There is this mysterious connection between the promise extended by their government to all Americans and the promise of Jesus to all who would to all his followers. It is a promise that we can be free, if…

And here I turn back to our letter from Paul this morning…the letter he wrote to the Corinthians and us. It is a subtle, nuanced point but he says it as clearly here as anywhere.

“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.” He becomes great by surrendering to all. By declaring himself a slave to all people he is proclaiming his loyalty to a congregation of wild diversity that has nothing in common but Christ.

That’s our situation here today, too. Why else would we have come here but for Christ? Why would we have ever met but for him?

We don’t have to be here, but in choosing to be here we join together with friends we have met here and with friends we will never meet to proclaim our devotion to sharing the light of truth with all people…without payment or price.

We do it because each of us and all of us are better…make our own lives better…by devoting ourselves to doing good and being better. “Be good,” Brother Van became famous for saying, “and you will be happy.”

The long view is in every short view we take, and you can’t get to the short view is the only way we can get to the ultimate goal of a life that is truly eternal by way of a love that is eternal…God’s love for us, shared with each other.

Paul consciously strives to be all things to all people so they can see past the person in front of them to the love of God that we can only keep burning bright in our own lives by sharing it this moment.

The world has waited forever for this moment to arrive and what we do with this moment will last forever. It is a moment that is truly all things to all people.

Welcome to the family of believers in the one true God. May we become one in Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to the world…and may that ministry shine through the darkness as all things to all people. Amen.