What does it mean to be a Christian in this day and age? Are we who we say we are? I have received several enquiries recently about what the way forward means for us, what does having open hearts and open minds really mean for Methodism in particular, and the church as a whole. We are the church catholic, now before you go saying I am not, catholic or at least not for a while now, let me explain. The definition of Catholic according to my friend Merriam Webster is [a]: of, relating to, or forming the church universal [b]: of, relating to, or forming the ancient undivided Christian church or a church claiming historical continuity from it. [c]: Roman Catholic, that’s the denomination. When I speak of the church catholic I am referring to [a] our universal catholicity or our belief in the church universal. We are descended through millennia from those 12 apostles whom our Lord and Savior sat at table with while inviting them to give everything they had in return, Jesus promised them nothing, but ridicule, pain and condemnation…oh and eternal life, inheritance in the kingdom of God, as children of God…not much really, just eternal life…in return for our love. 12 plain ordinary people, fishermen, doctors, lawyers, tax collectors. Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God to all, not just people like him, people with his same socioeconomic background, but lepers, prostitutes, thieves, murderers… Jesus preached to all. The kingdom of God is for everyone, the Gospel is not just for the saint, but the sinner too. God sent us Jesus to heal our minds and hearts to show us the way to salvation. Not to condemnation…desolation, not to death but rather to eternal life. But wait pastor, forgiveness isn’t for child molesters, rapists, sexual deviants, homosexuals…right? Salvation isn’t for rappers, rock stars, junkies and drunks…right? Because God doesn’t want those kinds of people…right? God doesn’t want those people. God doesn’t want his creations? God doesn’t want the broken and the lost, just the perfect and the immaculate…right? Those are the words of the enemy…again, he just won’t go away. All things are created by God, the LEB says “Who has come to confront me, that I should repay him? Under all the heavens, it belongs to me.” [Job 41:11] Pretty straight forward and while I like to study using the Lexham English Bible sometimes you just have to get contemporary, and the CEV puts it like this “I am in command of the world and in debt to no one”. [Job 41:11] Who are we to question God? “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings”. [Hosea 6:6] God does not need or seek our opinion on who will be saved. We are not called to judge, we are called to proclaim the gospel, to love God with all our heart, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves period. Paul explains to us in 1 Corinthians what it is that he does and why he does it. As one who is also on this same walk and because I cannot speak for others, I will let Paul speak for me, that you may have a little insight, a window if you will into why it is so important to me that the church have an open mind and an open heart, while still maintaining our apostolic integrity and the original meaning of the Bible, the living word of God, infused with the Holy Spirit and taught by Jesus and those he has chosen to continue his work. Paul tells the church at Corinth “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”! [9:16] In other words, Paul is saying, I am not doing this because I want to do this but rather because I have no choice or rather the choice is not a choice because if I don’t do it I will suffer more than if I do. Paul is compelled to serve Christ as all are who truly serve. Whether we do it grudgingly or with joyful abandon, regardless, like Paul we are compelled within us to serve God. A friend and mentor to me once told me that if I could do anything else besides pastoring, anything else, do it. If I could walk away from this calling do it, right now and don’t look back, save myself the grief and heartache. If I could not walk away, If I could not give it up, then praise God because I would never be happy doing anything else, I would never know the joy and peace of doing God’s will, and that it would be the best thing that I ever did. And he was absolutely right. It is the best thing that I could ever have done, and while I am compelled to serve God, I am the one who first sought that service, and I serve willing and joyfully “for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”. [Matthew 11:30] It only seemed an imposition, a curse with no reward and nothing but trouble in the beginning, but I was looking at it from the wrong perspective, not so Paul, “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.” [9:17-18] And that’s the key, the Gospel is free of charge, it’s not meant to be withheld from anyone for any reason. We are entrusted with a commission and that commission is the proclamation of the Gospel for the Kingdom of God, for the Glorification of God. Not for reward, not at my will, not at the will of the church but at the will of God, because even “though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them”. [9:19] This is a very powerful statement, then and now. Paul was a free Roman citizen, he was a Jew, not only a Jew but a Pharisee, so he was a Jews…Jew, he knew the law inside and out and freedom always precious was even more so then, because it was not guaranteed and could be so easily lost. Slavery, never something to be desired, was especially degrading, most people would rather be a leper and free than a healthy slave. Better a death sentence than servitude, to be owned as chattel, it was unthinkably obscene for a Roman citizen or a Jew to contemplate slavery. Yet Paul considered himself a slave in service to Jesus, to the Kingdom and to God. Just so he could win more Glory for…not himself, but for God…not for an earthly king but for the King of Kings. Paul was out to win people for God and willing to do what it took, “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”. [9:20] Paul was a Jew, and while he was preaching to them he kept their laws even though he now followed only God’s law, only the new covenant, yet still when he preached to the Hebrew community he did not condemn their ways, rather he preached the gospel and let God reap the harvest. “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”. [9:21] Paul’s talking about the gentiles here, he’s talking about us. Paul did not go out and condemn the gentiles for not circumcising their children, for not following Jewish dietary laws or marriage customs. He proclaimed the gospel and God reaps the harvest. “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”. [9:22] To the weak I became weak. Paul isn’t talking about puny people here, he is not talking about physical strength at all, when Paul refers to the weak he is talking about the weak in spirit, the sinner, those who are cast off and reviled by society. The sinner, the weak of will, not the weak of arm. Paul brought the Gospel to those that society condemned, to those that were cast off and judged by others to be less than what was expected. Paul brought the Gospel to all of God’s people, not just those under the law. “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings”. [9:23] Sometimes I think the Pharisee never left, sometimes I think the Pharisee are us. We have to remember that our salvation is through Jesus and not the law. Does it mean that we have to go a whoring to reach those that need the word? Do we have to be homosexual, or drunk or a junkie to love them to preach the Gospel to them? NO, but neither does it mean that we are their judges. Does it mean that we have to forgo God’s law to accommodate them, Absolutely Not? So, what does that mean for us? How do we go forward? Paul gave us the answer and it’s one that many Christians have a problem with. The lectionary doesn’t include it in the reading for today and I wondered why they broke it up there. But it’s the answer to the question. “Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one”. [9:24-25] G.K. Chesterton said what has to be my most favorite quote in the world. “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried”. And that is the key to the way forward for Methodism and the church universal, we must remember that no matter what it’s our eternal lives that are in the balance, and that there are going to be those who chose not run the race and there will be those that start but don’t finish, there will be those that cheat and those that seek to change the course, there will be winners and there will be losers, but it’s not our job to decide which is which, we only need to follow Jesus, preach the Gospel, and let God reap the harvest.