Throughout my years with the church, it seems the primary goal of Adult Formation was to create disciples of each member of the congregation. Truth be told, it really is a silly goal. A disciple is one who is a follower or student. The original twelve disciples, were the initial students of whom many perceived to be a great and up and coming Rabbi known as Jesus of Nazareth. Each and every one of us, by virtue of the fact we are here this morning, on some level, are disciples, students of Christ. In fact, for most of us, our time of discipleship should have come to an end when we were baptized or made our confirmation.
Ultimately, the goal of Christian formation should be to produce apostles. People who are sent by God to proclaim, or to teach the message of the Gospel to the world. As Paul writes his letters to the various churches throughout the Mediterranean world, he is clear, he is not a disciple of Christ. He believed his time of discipleship took place over several years starting with the day he met the risen Christ on the Road to Damascus. Years later he was sent by Sosthenes to bring the message of the Gospel to the Gentile world. Paul begins many of his letter by stating that he Paul, an apostle of Christ, (i.e. one who has been sent by Christ) authors this letter to the church at ______________.
Paul was understood, once he was steeped in the message of the Gospel, his job was to spread the message far and wide. It is with this understanding that Paul continues his address to the Church at Corinth.
In last week’s passage, Paul acknowledged the freedom we have been granted through the sacrifice of the cross. At the same time, however, he reminds the Corinthians that being freed from the laws of Moses does not mean we are lawless,instead, we are now bound by the law of Christ. This means we are bound to each other and therefore responsible to conduct our lives in such a way that our actions do not cause another to stumble in their journey with Christ.
This morning, our passage moves the conversation from living within the context of the Christian community to bringing the message out into the world beyond. In essence, Paul is pushing the congregation to think about evangelism, or to consider becoming apostolic by going out, beyond its walls, to proclaim the Gospel to the greater Gentile world.
But how? Back then there weren’t a lot of examples to look to. Beyond the handful of stories from those who could share first-hand the work of Christ, the only examples the early Church had was that of the itinerant apostles. And they weren’t a great help, because beyond Paul, the earliest disciples were primarily preaching to a Jewish audience. What Paul was asking the Corinthians to do was to share a message rooted in ancient Judaic theological understanding and to make that message relevant to a non-Judaic world.
This was not an easy task, unless of course you were raised like St. Paul who was uniquely raised as both a Roman Citizen and a Jew, who was educated in both classical Greek philosophy and Torah. Paul was the perfect person to be raised by God to help the early church build the bridge between Judaism and the Gentile world.
This is the core of his discussion in our passage from this letter to the Corinthians. Last week we heard St. Paul establish the Church as freed from the laws of Moses, but not the law of Christ, that is to love. Then, in the midst of today’s passage Paul states the following:
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 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. 9:21 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. 9:22 To 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. 9:23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
Like any good sales person, Paul knew, if the Gospel was to take hold throughout the known world, how he shared the story would have to be adapted and made relevant to each audience. In the Book of Acts, Paul’s technique is illustrated when he speaks to the Aereopagus on Mars Hill. What Paul demonstrates in this passage is the homework he did prior to speaking and debating with the Epicureans and others. First he scoped out the city, he learned about who and what they worshipped and then found his entrée for sharing the Gospel.
“Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you “
For many of us this style of evangelism is not part of our DNA. Since medieval times, evangelism has been performed more by force than by love. As President Obama pointed out, the Crusades were not one of our more stellar moments in history. And as members of the Anglican Communion, we share a long history with the days of British expansion where evangelism meant converting cultures to being British before teaching them about Christ.
Luckily for us we have wonderful examples of Pauline evangelism right nearby in the form of the Franciscans and Jesuits. Like Paul, both orders when entering the New World began the process of evangelism by learning the language and culture of the indigenous people, and, like Paul, used their words and their symbols to share the Gospel message.
As baptized members of the Church, we are the modern day apostles, called to be like Paul, to proclaim the Gospel to this modern world. As card carrying Episcopalians, we are not members of the Episcopal Church, but legally members of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. Despite who we are and how we are legally named, evangelism is our greatest weakness as a church. Perhaps because we associate evangelism with control and the desire to force change upon another. Instead, if we are truly called to be apostles, our evangelism efforts need to be reshaped by St. Paul or St. Francis.
Evangelism, as Paul instructs, begins with sharing the love of Christ through our actions and not our words, by approaching the other with respect and not judgment. Evangelism begins by getting to know and to understand our neighbor and by not assuming we know better. Evangelism begins when we stop worrying about changing someone else and look for ways to offer the transforming love of God.
For me, the greatest apostles I have ever encountered were our own Pat and Tom Bassett. Lord knows they were not perfect and they certainly had their opinions, but no matter who you were, or what your past may have been, to them you were first and foremost a child of God and worthy of their love and help when you needed them. This is how they lived their lives, whether as EMT’s for WAVES, or as Hospice volunteers caring for people with aids, they preached the Gospel by offering the love of Christ through their actions and not their words.
This is what Paul tells the Corinthians is the foundation evangelism, and our work as Christ’s apostle.