Sermon Oct 5, 2017

Proper 21/Year One

St. Anselm’s Episcopal Chapel Center, Tampa, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes

As the missioner for church extension in this diocese, my ministry is grounded in proclaiming the Gospel in word and in deed so that Christ may be made known to all who do not yet know him. I count this First Corinthians reading as one of my favorites. It serves as a reminder to me that the Gospel message, by virtue of its good news of salvation through Jesus Christ, is so powerful on its own. That message—on its own—changes hearts and changes lives. It also reminds me that a message with such power—on its own—can be joyfully overwhelming; deeply frightening; and, as many of us know, rejected with hostility or apathetically dismissed all together.

The apostle Paul was a master of missional practices. As a workplace chaplain, I looked to Paul to explain how the gospel message might cross into frontiers traditionally hostile or off limits to the Church. Paul’s primary strategy to expose people to the Gospel was to become like them. At face value, this strategy reminds me a bit of that old saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Now, it worked for Paul—he was a unique instrument for proclaiming the Gospel, and clearly a master of planting churches.
When I look deeper at what Paul was doing, he positioned himself amongst the people. He worked alongside them. He met people where they were, just as they were, and respected their turf. Paul and his mission to proclaim the gospel never changed. What changed was his approach to packaging an already-powerful message. When he said, “I became as a Jew in order to win Jews,” or “To the weak, I became weak, so that I might win the weak,” it was not a matter of changing the core of his identity; it was about packaging the gospel message in a sound vehicle for spreading the gospel. He was that vehicle. The vehicle, Paul, could indeed be successful in his mission on any terrain—whether or not it was smooth or treacherous to navigate—in the mission fields where he delivered the gospel message.

While this approach was successful for Paul, it has been my experience that churches get overwhelmed and lose sight of their congregation’s mission because they want to appeal to the “shopping” habits of a consumer-driven society. Think of a grocery store’s shelves—so many choices for cereals, breads, and vegetables—anything you want you can choose and pick it up off the shelf. And, if that particular store doesn’t have what you like—not what you need—what you like—you can just go to another store and pick the item off of the shelf.

When a church, and its people, cease to focus on the good news of God in Jesus Christ—the Gospel Message—and instead chase the whims and consumer desires of society, that church is inauthentic. And, that church is mastering nothing. A church cannot possibly be everything to all people. I do believe, however, that a church focused on proclaiming and embodying the gospel message can mean something to all people.

In our highly-distracted, day-to-day existence, it’s hard for people to focus on any one thing. That may just be the problem with humanity. In the midst of emotional overload with the trauma and secondary trauma of the natural disasters resulting in devastating effects on the day-to-day lives of people—and let’s be clear that people are still suffering and dying after a series of hurricanes and earthquakes. It’s so much that we may find it very hard to focus on any of the tragedies, because they seem to compound. An already weary country remains in a state of functional shock as the trauma and secondary trauma
that results from the senseless killings of our brothers and sisters in the streets daily and
in domestic terror attacks that continue to extinguish the lives of God’s people.

Compound losses, resulting in compound grief. We are a nation paralyzed with grief in
search of something to hold onto; something that will not pass away; something that we
can always find in this land of darkness.

You, like the apostle Paul, are also a unique instrument of God’s grace in the world. As
people who have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is our
bounden duty to allow God to use us—whomever we are, using whatever gifts God has
given us, to proclaim the Gospel in ways that it will be delivered with integrity and joyfully
received in all of the places where you live, work and play.

As more and more people come to know the saving power of Jesus Christ, they will know
something beyond the nightmare of this temporal existence; they will know Hope. When
the world seems to be crumbling all around, people who know Jesus, know that they can
hold onto the One who created the world, and who was before all worlds. HOPE. When
people are stumbling through their lives in the dark grasping for something to hold onto—
they need to know that the Christ light is a light that vanquishes all darkness. HOPE.
As followers of Jesus Christ who strive to grow into the full stature of Christ, we are called
to focus on the proclamation of the Gospel (spoken and embodied). As we focus, we root
ourselves more deeply in our baptismal covenant—showing up in this world as light
bringers and hope bearers who proclaim eternal salvation to a hurting and broken world.