When you think of all the things that you want to do, you should do, you might do… what is it that you cannot NOT do? The thing that without it, you would feel that you were missing a vital part of yourself. (People responded to this question. What would your answer be?)
In writing to the church in Corinth, Paul is saying ‘I do this work of preaching the gospel because I have no choice but to do so; God has commissioned and compelled me. And for the sake of sharing the gospel – the good news of Jesus the Christ, I have become more Jewish than the Jews, more Gentile than the Gentiles.’ In short, “I have become all things to all people.”
It’s so easy, especially in the church, to fall into the trap of thinking indeed that we need to be all things to all people.
There is an ancient, and contemporary tool called the Enneagram, that says there are nine basic personality arch-types. If we did this in church, you would discover that I am primarily a type Two: `The Helper’. Subtitled – Demonstrative, generous, people-pleasing and possessive. Each personality type has its strengths and weaknesses. Little surprise that I went into what is deemed a `helping’ profession! Sometimes I indeed try to be all things to all people – and that can be crazy making. It’s not possible. To save me from getting too carried away, I have a little plaque that says “I can only please one person per day. Today is not your day. Tomorrow doesn’t look good, either.”
Maybe Paul was a type Two on the Enneagram. On the other hand, I suspect that if Paul could have redrafted his letter, knowing it was going to be read 2000 years after it was first written, rather than saying, ‘I have become all things to all people’, he may well have said, ‘I try to find commonality with everyone I meet. I try to understand where they are coming from and meet them where they are at. I take the time to learn about them, understand what motivates them, what scares them, what their hopes are, what they value.’
How many of you have known the frustration and isolation of feeling misunderstood and unappreciated?
How many of you have known the sense of peace and validation when someone listens deeply enough to be able to say, “Oh, now I understand where you are coming from; why this is so important to you.” There is no feeling like it! It’s truly wonderful.
When I was in ministry in Williams Lake, I had the opportunity to be part of a three day Building Community in Diversity workshop. One of the things we did at the workshop was have a conversation with someone who was as unlike ourselves as possible, and then report back to the whole group as that person. We were a mix of men and women, First Nations, Hindu, mixed Caucasian, Metis, etc. It was a fascinating three days. The first day I came home and announced to my son Aaron, who was 12 years old at the time, “Aaron, today I became a First Nations, alcoholic man.” “Ok…” he said slowly, ‘You might not want to tell too many people about that, Mom.”
Paul proclaims the gospel of Jesus and Jesus has an uncanny gift for meeting people where they are at, for reaching beyond what is visible and judged on the surface, to the core of someone’s hope or pain.
That is a wonderful gift; and it is costly. It takes energy, and strength and deep love to do that. In the gospel of Mark, Jesus hits the road running. He goes from his baptism to a time of discernment in the desert. He returns and begins choosing disciples; preaches in Capernaum, and as soon as they left the synagogue (it appears he didn’t even stop for coffee hour!) he goes straight to Simon’s house, and heals his mother-in-law. She then gets up and fixes dinner for everyone – maybe she was a Type two on the Enneagram as well!
Meanwhile, word gets out and the next thing you know, it feels like the whole village shows up with their assorted ailments. Jesus has a long evening of healing and connecting with people.
“Vs. 35 says, “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” It was crucial for him to find that place and space of renewal – to lean into the heart of God. It was ever thus, and is for all of us. Even for those things that we cannot NOT do, we need to find rest and renewal.
The other option is burn-out.
Every faith tradition has ways of helping people enter that liminal space, that `thin’ place as Celtic Christianity would put it – where the veil between the physical and spiritual world is paper thin.
Hopefully, communal worship is part of that spiritual practice.
Singing our faith together may open that space. Perhaps the simple meal of sharing the bread and cup, the quiet between the words of the prayers…
Sometimes it means withdrawing from all the activity, into stillness, and resting in the renewing love of God. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” A simple prayerful exercise is to just reduce that beautiful phrase bit, by bit…
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know
Be all things to all people? That’s a tall order. Be open so that you may understand and have compassion for another. Be open so that another may see what gives you hope and faith. Be. Amen.