Reflections to start the week
Monday, February 9, 2015
All things to all people
There are a bunch of sayings that people think are in the Bible that actually aren’t there. For instance, “God helps those who help themselves.” Appealing social policy to some, but not in scripture. Or “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” Perhaps, but the Bible doesn’t tell us so. There are also phrases that may not mean what we think. “An eye for an eye” may sound like permission for retribution, even vengeance, but what if it’s about limits not license? Then there’s a phrase that Paul used in the first letter to the Corinthians, as he talked about his ministry. It turned up yesterday in the lectionary, and caught my eye (see below). He said he had become all things to all people. In our culture, that suggests pandering, leaders lacking conviction, losing identity and integrity for the sake of expediency, comfort or popularity. Not for Paul. It was the work of the gospel.
It was my privilege last week to interview some church leaders about discipleship. In a phone conversation with Dr. Dwight Zscheile, I was struck again by his gift for talking about what it means to bring God’s good news into the contemporary world. (Plug: Read his book People of the Way and also his new book The Agile Church. Good stuff.) In People of the Way, he describes how Episcopalians are called to live in our world as disciples. One of the chapters talks about the importance of finding out what God is up to in the neighborhood, not assuming we know, but rather listening, and experiencing what others experience. He talks about what it means to accept the hospitality of the world (as commanded by Jesus in Luke 10, a portion of which you can find in the column on the left), to meet people where they are, to let them be our teachers, getting ego out of the way, so that we can be all things to all people.
Speaking of ego (which a wise counselor to whom I happen to be married tells me is an acronym for edging God out), I commend to you David Brooks’ column from last Friday, entitled Ego and Conflict. He discusses the way he navigates conflict and criticism that comes his way. Here’s how he starts the column, with echoes of the Sermon on the Mount: “If you read the online versions of newspaper columns you can click over to the reader comments, which are often critical, vituperative and insulting. I’ve found that I can only deal with these comments by following the adage, “Love your enemy.” He talks about how easy it is to get offended, to engage in righteous indignation, to wonder how anyone could treat me this way, as he encounters expressions of ego especially unappealing in religious folks. What Paul was talking about, being all things to all people, was finding a way to get the ego out of it, to do the challenging work of loving enemy, way easier said than done.
Which leads to this thought this Monday morning. This kind of expression of love, the commitment to be all things to all people is really nothing more or less than a commitment to be of service. It is not about getting people to recognize how good or right or smart or compassionate we are. It’s about opening a way for them to see the goodness of God, the meaning of grace in their lives, wherever they may be. Wherever they/we may be, they/we need to know about acceptance, about compassion, about love. How will you be of service in that way this Monday morning? Who has God put in your path that provides that spiritual growth opportunity? What do you think it means to be all things to all people? Will you take a stand for that?
– Jay Sidebotham
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… 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. 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. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people.
After this the Lord appointed 70 others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!”And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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