Sunday Feb 5, 2012, St Petri
The grace of the Lord be with you as we hear his Word.
Word: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
16 ….. I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings.
Lord, give us a listening heart.
Goals of life?
I reckon if we went out to some of the tasting rooms around the Barossa after worship today and struck up a conversation with the average person about life, and we asked a person, ‘So, what do you think the goal of life really is?, among the many answers we would basically get a few main responses that would show us that in these times, there are a few highly valued overarching goals for living.
One highly valued goal of life would be: to be “happy”. Just listen to the Dalai Lama sometime.
Another would surely be one that seems to be almost inseparable to being “happy” for people; to be rich. “Happy = wealth” in our times. I experienced this in the mission context we were in for these last 8 years when little grade 3 kids would say to me that what they wanted to be when they grew up was rich. Shame that this belief that “happy” = “money” is so fatally flawed!
The other main goal of life that would dominate the conversation at Saltram’s or Peter Lehmann’s? “Freedom”. As Freddie Mercury sang so long ago, “I want to be free”!
And this last goal of “freedom” is a particular kind of “freedom”. It is the “freedom that says, “My life is to be lived the way I want to live it”. I am free from having to do, believe or say anything that I don’t want to do, believe or say. Free to live life on my own terms without having to do what anyone tells me….. I call this Frank Sinatra “freedom. How did ‘Old Blue Eyes’ do it? “I did it my way”.
Of course, the problem that is not often talked about with this kind of approach to “freedom” is what this approach means when it comes to finding meaning in life. See, if I am completely free to live life the way I see fit, then that means that whatever I do or don’t do does not really matter to anyone. Whether I love or don’t love, give or withhold my heart and possessions, whether I make a contribution to the world or take whatever I can get from the world, doesn’t really matter.
The belief that freedom is doing whatever I want to do leads to meaninglessness. Nothing I say or do means anything to the world or other people. I am alone in my so called, ‘freedom’. I might be able to do, buy, take, use, abuse whatever or whoever I want, but who cares? The view that freedom is “doing whatever I want” actually is not freedom at all. If you take that view into your life and live accordingly, doing whatever you want, when you want, for whatever reasons you want, you end up in a prison. It is a self made prison. You are completely self-orientated. You have no other vision, inspiration or hope for anyone or anything beyond your own very narrow and egotistical view.
Of course, we would say, that is not me! I know what you are saying and I don’t want to go there in my life. I want to be free and I want to have relationships with others – partner, friends, workmates, mates, relatives, family…..
“I also want to make a contribution, Pastor”. “I want my life to count for something good. That is why I am doing what I am doing”.
This meaninglessness in the church
What I have noticed is that this non-Christian view of freedom has very much had its influence in the life of many followers of Jesus Christ.Often we don’t even realise that our understanding and practice of our freedom has been changed. In good faith we are doing our best to live the Christian life, but there are many voices and some are very strong.
This “freedom” voice that basically says, “You are free to do whatever you want in whatever way you want” is one of those very strong voices! So, this other view pervades how we relate as church. I want to worship the way I want to worship. I want to church to be the way I want the church to be. I want the pastor to do what I think he should do! If you disagree with my views, then you are weak.
Well, I like you, struggle with the freedom I have been given in Christ. Kermit the Frog said, “It is not easy being green”. Well, I say, “It’s not easy being free’! I too struggle as I merrily do thing “my way” and regard others who see things differently as weaker or ignorant or wrong. On the other hand, I too, like you, want to be a faithful Christian person. I want to contribute and make a positive difference in the lives of my own family, my church family, my local community, my school community, among my colleagues, in our wider Church….
Into this struggle
Into this struggle we have to truly be free as Christians and live that freedom out comes this Word today from the Lord through Paul.
If Paul were in the tasting room at Saltram’s and we asked him what life is all about for the Christian he would give us one word – a loaded word, full of meaning and hope and real freedom!
Christian Goal of Life
The word? GOSPEL – Good News. Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Saviour… Did you hear our life’s overarching goal in this text?
16 ….. I am compelled to preach the gospel. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
For Paul, it was literally “preaching” the gospel of Jesus. For you and me we might also say “bear witness to”, or “live for”, or show and tell” Jesus love and hope in everything we say and do among others.
This is the Christian’s life goal; – to be the good news for all. Our goal in life is not to be happy. Our goal in life is not to be rich. Our goal in life is not to maintain “our rights” – to live “our way”.
And then Paul goes on to “freedom” as he unpacks this gospel goal of life.
He is completely free in Christ and subject to no one. He does not have to people please or God please out of fear. Why? Because God is already pleased with him because of what Jesus has achieved on that cross and out of the tomb.
We are Free
Paul, and you and I, are free – not just free from having to constantly plea of appease God and others, but free from the real enemy – sin, the Evil One with all his flaming arrows that try to wound, bind and kill us, and free from even THE enemy – death.
Now that is real freedom, and it is nothing to do with Frank Sinatra freedom! Our freedom is not achieved is received by faith in the word and work of Jesus for us. Praise God!
Luther, as is often the case, puts this reality of being free as Christian people in a nutshell as he reflect on this very text in his little tract called, The Freedom of the Christian” (David Schubert, 2004)
“Christians have complete freedom and power over everything, and are under no obligation to anyone.
Christians are servants of all, and are under obligation to everyone”.
This is exactly what Paul says to us.
“19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible”.
Repent of “Freedom”
Friends, at St Petri, we are called to ditch that other view that “Freedom is doing what I want”. Actually, we are called to repent of this self-orientated, God-less view of freedom and recognise it as complete bondage from which Jesus is longing to untie us.
As we turn away from this approach to living “My Way”, we are invited by the Lord of freedom to take up this word in the heart……
Freedom is not doing whatever I want but often doing what you want.
Freedom is not living my life my way, but letting Jesus live in me his way – for others. Freedom is serving. Now that is an oxymoron in our day!
“Freedom = Serving”? Not Freedom = happy, money or My Way.
Obligate ourselves to each other
Friends, at St Petri we are called to obligate ourselves to each other willingly and whole heartedly. It is incumbent on us to sing song we don’t always like, accept each other’s views we don’t always share, withhold condemnation of each other when it would be easier to let it fly.
And why? Why do this hard work. Why accept, be patient, serve, obligate ourselves to each other and to those who come our way? Two reasons…..
I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might win/save some.
23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings.
To win them
To share in Jesus’ blessing
I obligate myself to you, serve you, accept you, be patient with you and bear witness to the Word with you to win you to Jesus’ love. You do that for me. We do that for each other. This is church. This is being a member of a church. This is being a faithful disciple of Jesus at St Petri.
Praise the Lord for our freedom. We are free from all that tries to bind us and we are so free that we willingly accept and serve so that by the Spirit’s power and grace some might celebrate and share Jesus’ love and hope.