January 31, 2018
By Candace Whitman.
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 9:16–23 (NRSV)
If 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! For 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. What 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.
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. 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, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
I have had an epiphany. I have not been preaching the gospel. Yes, I stand up every Sunday with a text and a sermon, but I have not been proclaiming the good news. You see, the people in my pews already believe. And so they need something else from me once a week: support, teaching, comfort, challenge. Good things, but not quite what Paul did in his journeys, conveying the jolting news of what God has done for humanity in Christ to people who have never heard that before.
Paul was under some kind of compulsion– one I don’t relate to at all. He was on the move, eager to reach fresh audiences. He traveled in the grip of the Spirit. I drive my car to church. In this part of his letter to the church at Corinth he is explaining that proclamation is his sole priority. He may waive his right to a salary, he may decide to eat the meat of pagan sacrifices – he will make his choice in each circumstance based on whether or not it will help the gospel message. There is to be no hindrance to someone receiving salvation.
Woe to me, for I don’t relish the emotional risks involved in initiating conversations, getting to know people and articulating the gospel in context. I prefer to talk to disciples who have already bought in. Yet Paul goes out of his way to hang out with different types of people so when he spells out the message he can use language they can relate to. I would rather be more subtle, to the point of silence.
Maybe evangelism is not my gift, and I can let myself off the hook. But when I teach this text to my church, what will be the point? Paul is a wonder, Paul is a… fanatic? I want them to know that the gospel is bigger than us, and that we don’t have it, it has us. And the party isn’t half as fun until everyone’s in it.
When Paul says “woe!” he recognizes that there will be serious consequences if he does not preach the gospel. He will ache with unfulfillment. Or become subject to some onerous outcome for denying or suppressing the call.
I have had this epiphany… which has led to a confession. Thank you for listening. What’s next? A foray outside my comfort zone? I do know this: there is a promise attached to the struggle. All the effort Paul makes to reach out is worth it to him, for he writes, I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
There is a promise to be fulfilled outside these church walls. I will trust God to guide me with a sign, the Spirit - even a star in the sky. For this journey is one of hope, not of my own making.
God of Light, thank you for revealing your great good news with us. Speak through us so that this gospel might not be contained but proclaimed. Amen.
The Rev. Candace Whitman is pastor of Fishers Island Union Chapel UCC, in Fishers Island, NY.
January 31, 2018