Sermon Scripture: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Sermon Title: “Preach IT!”
I don’t know how many of y’all know this but on the pulpit for Wesley Heights and St. Timothy there is a piece of Scripture taped to lamp. The Scripture is 1Corinthians 9:16 “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” I have been looking at that Scripture every Sunday for going on two years, and this week when I looked at the lectionary text to decide what I was going to preach this text from 1Corinthians came up and I automatically knew I had to preach on this passage. Then I started digging into it, and I was put off. The apostle Paul is talking about himself a lot. I counted it up, and from 1Corinthians 9:16-23 the Apostle Paul uses the word “I” 19 times. I thought this was supposed to be the good news about Jesus Christ – not the good news about Paul. I almost decided not to preach this passage this week. Then I thought about something I absolutely believe. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the messenger of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2Tim 3:16-17). If I don’t act on it, then I don’t really believe it. So back into the text I went, and the more I dug the bigger the message I discovered for our church.
I think the key to this passage, and the primary message for our church comes from 1Corinthians 9:16. The whole verse reads, “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” As I read this verse it is a statement about calling. Paul was brought up the son of a Pharisee so it was not uncommon for a son to follow in his father’s line of work (Acts 23:6). At a young age Paul was sent to the school of Gamaliel one of the most prominent teachers of the Jewish Law at that time (Acts 5:35). These are circumstances of a person’s life. Their parents try to provide for them. Our parents send us to school, make sure we do our homework, and try to provide us with the skills to support ourselves as adults. That is the duty of a parent, but the duty of a parent is not the same as a calling from God. Just because Mamaw and Papaw said, “Go to church and put a little change in the plate,” it does not mean we are right or safe in the eyes of God. God has created each of us for a purpose, just as Paul was picked by God before Paul was born (Gal 1:15). So the first message for our church this morning is there is more to being a Christian and more to being the church than just doing what we’ve always done, or just doing what we’re told. To be a Christian means something more. To be a Christian carries greater responsibility and greater reward.
When the Apostle Paul had his conversion experience on the road to Damascus his whole life changed. Until this then Paul had been a person with a strong will and a strong mind who was determined to serve God through strict obedience to the Law and the Prophets. However, we cannot earn salvation. Even Paul could not earn salvation. On the road to doing what he thought pleased God Paul had been persecuting and killing the disciples of the one with whom God is well pleased. For Paul to be a good and faithful servant, a disciple, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, God would need to do a mighty act in Paul’s life. The same is true for each of us. Saying we love God is not enough. Longing to be close to God is not enough. Having a strong desire to flee the wrath to come is not enough. God must extend God’s justifying grace through an encounter with the risen Christ. Justifying grace washes us clean of our past mistakes and gifts us the ability to begin hearing God more clearly. Through salvation we are gifted with grace, and the ability to put God first. But what are the pro’s and cons?
The pro’s and con’s of accepting Jesus Christ are pretty simple. In Christ we accept God’s goodness, God’s grace and God’s love, and if we choose they can become a part of who we are. The more we lean into those gifts the more those gifts become who we are. There is tremendous joy and relief when we live into God’s goodness and grace. However, if we have once chosen to accept Christ’s gifts and then walk away the world is not the same as it was before Christ. We become very much aware there is a difference, and no matter how far we run into that sinful behavior it is never the same as being close to Christ. If we believe it – if we truly believe it we have to live it out loud.
I will tell you as a pastor there have been unpleasant moments. There have been challenges. I have had plenty of opportunities to become frustrated and complain. I would love to tell you I haven’t complained, but to do so would be a lie. The responses to a pastor’s complaining are varied, but the one that catches me the hardest is when people say, “This is the life you chose.” Sisters and brothers I tell you the truth it was no choice to say I want to be a pastor. That would be like Paul deciding he was going to be a Pharisee. It was Jesus Christ who made Paul an apostle, and it is Jesus Christ who called me to be a pastor. I didn’t choose to be a pastor. I just chose not to be miserable. In Paul’s choosing to be what God made Paul to be Paul took it upon himself to lay aside all of his rights so he might better serve God. Paul stripped himself of every cultural weight and of as many preconceived notions about being a child of God as Paul could in order to better serve God. Paul did all of these things because necessity had been laid upon him.
Sisters and brothers as disciples of Jesus Christ – those who have accepted the gift of God’s wondrous grace, necessity has been laid upon us as well. When God called the Children of Israel to Mt Sinai in Exodus 19 God told them if they would obey God’s commands they would be Gods treasured possession: “a kingdom of priests.” They were to be a people who shared God’s truth with the world. As Christians we are adopted into God’s holy family and charged to likewise be a kingdom of priests who share God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s goodness in our homes, in our church, in our communities and in all the world.
Did you know that at one time in this country there was no such thing as welfare? Did you know that before the Great Depression it was the job of the Church to tend to the poor, the widowed, the orphans and the unemployed? Among the many things the Great Depression revealed was the Church was not able to keep up with the demand. Sisters and brothers when we look at our church today are we unable or unwilling to keep up with the demand? There is an ancient saying in the church attributed to St. Francis of Assissi, “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” What are we doing to preach the gospel at all times? Is it enough to just keep the lights on? Is it enough to just watch the offering plate go by? Who are we depriving of the love of God by not giving God our whole heart, our whole mind and our whole strength? Who are we depriving of God’s grace by not equipping the church with the tools to do the work of the hands and feet of Christ? What am I talking about? How about our tithe? How many of us give a full tenth of what we make? How many of us give sacrificially? Did you know that a tithe or tenth is supposed to be the beginning, and not the goal for giving? What about our willingness to share God’s goodness with others by inviting folks to come with us to church? How many hands do you think would go up if I asked how many people have invited someone new to church in the last month? What about our willingness to serve? Once upon a time people from this church would need to go to a foreign country to serve in the mission field. Wake up brothers and sisters the mission field is in our back yard. The poor, the working poor, the widowed, the addicted, the unemployed, the underemployed, and their children are in our backyards. What are we doing to serve them? Woe be it to me as your pastor if I do not preach the gospel? Woe be it to all of us as the Church if we do not serve others as the hands and feet of Christ. This is not an obligation? This is not a “Have to” or a “Get To.” As the Church being the hands and feet of Christ should not be a choice. Being the hands and feet of Christ should be who we are. Church, it’s time to get up off our pews and preach the good news of Jesus Christ.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.