A sermon by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min., 2/7/2021.
Today we find our beloved but beleaguered Apostle Paul having to defend himself against upstarts in the church who are challenging his leadership and teaching. You see, after Paul left the area, other pastors came into the church of Corinth and began to teach things that went against the good news Paul was trying to share. Some wanted the Corinthian Christians to follow old Jewish ways and laws. Others were promoting a more libertine lifestyle like eating food that was sacrificed to idols. Writing from afar, Paul is encouraging the church to pause and take a breath. He wants them to relax and remember the basics of the faith which is a life of love focused on sharing the gospel, literally, the good tidings, of Jesus Christ. Listen to Word of the Lord from 1 Corinthians 9:16-23.
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
16If 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! 17For 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. 18What 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.
19For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20To 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. 21To 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. 22To 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. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
Some years ago, actor Tom Hanks played the part of Army Ranger, Captain John Miller who was tasked to find a young man, Private Ryan, in the midst of the Second World War serving somewhere in France. One of the first scenes in the movie lasted some 24-minutes, and when a writer or director slows down a scene to last that long in story-time, he or she wants us to really pay attention and soak in what’s happening. The scene is probably one of the most exhausting things I have ever experienced. The film’s director, Steven Spielberg, shoots the film from the perspective that you and I are taking part in the D-Day invasion and are being sent ashore on Omaha Beach. For 24 long minutes we experience what it might have been like to feel the fear as our landing craft came closer to shore, hearing the whizzing of bullets rip through the flesh of our fellow soldiers, and experience the horror of desperate battle. We could smell the gun powder, feel our wet feet trying to run in the sand as we literally scurried to save our lives. The battle scene succeeded in what Spielberg wanted it to do and that is to force us to slow down and let us viscerally feel the horror of war as well as what it feels like to be an ordinary man being asked to do extraordinary things. You did not storm the beaches of Normandy because you were wanting to per se; you did it because of the call of duty placed upon you by your nation and superiors.
This is what Paul is getting at today. He was given a call of duty by Christ himself to go and share with anyone and everyone the good news that God so loved you and me that the Lord God became a human being so as to guarantee that wherever we find ourselves, God will be right there next to us. Paul learned through the storming of his own spiritual beach that making it safely to God’s waiting arms is not about following the rules of the Law; a life with God is about throwing all caution to the wind as we rush headlong into God’s embrace while pulling as many people along with us as we can! As we shall learn in a few minutes, this is the power of communion.
Paul has a call placed upon him by God to share this winsome news and Paul has no choice but do it because he is under orders. If it meant he had to use the high logic, rhetoric, and background as a Jewish scholar, he would do it. If it meant he had to take off his religious and scholarly robes to relate to the common person, he would do it. If it meant he would bend social convention and hang out with, you know – “those kind of people” – he would do it. Why? It’s because of what he says in verses 22 and 23:
I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save, literally – restore to wholeness and healing – those I encounter. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, the winsome news that God is with us, so that I may share in its blessings.
Friends, Paul grew to learn in his own life as he fought his way along his own spiritual Omaha Beach that he was not more special than any other person trying to find their way to God. He learned to realize that he himself was “one of those people.” He was passionate about telling the Corinthian church that a bona fide walk with the Anointed of God is not about the rules you follow or break, it’s not solely believing in your head what your heart wants to know, it’s not about the clothes you wear or the food you eat; rather, Paul says it’s about the whimsical way we throw Jesus’ love around as we try to bring the stragglers fighting their own way across their spiritual beach – whoever they are – to the safe embrace of God. And the thing is, Paul reminds us, is that when we do become all things to all people in order to pull them into God’s embrace, we receive a double blessing from the Lord ourselves. As Paul says, “I do it so that I may share in its blessings.”
This morning is communion Sunday. The power in this meal, as simple as it is, is that it’s Jesus’ tangible way of showing us that Paul got it right. God became all things to all people in order that God might save some, heal some, restore some for the sake of the blessings involved. And what are those blessings for God? God gets to love on us. God gets to be loved-on by us. And so, God became a human being, born of a woman into a scandalous situation, and lived in poverty so that Jesus would experience everything that you and I do, including death. The Lord’s Supper is the reminder that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Anointed, of God who conquered death and invites you and me to join him and sit at the heavenly banquet table of eternal life. This is the power of communion! Amen.
© 2021 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.