From the District Superintendent

Win It!

Posted 16 February, 2017 by Rev. Kathleen Overby Webster

1 Corinthians 9:19-27  19 Although I'm free from all people, I make myself a slave to all people, to recruit more of them. 20 I act like a Jew to the Jews, so I can recruit Jews. I act like I'm under the Law to those under the Law, so I can recruit those who are under the Law (though I myself am not under the Law). 21 I act like I'm outside the Law to those who are outside the Law, so I can recruit those outside the Law (though I'm not outside the law of God but rather under the law of Christ).22 I act weak to the weak, so I can recruit the weak. I have become all things to all people, so I could save some by all possible means. 23 All the things I do are for the sake of the gospel, so I can be a partner with it.24 Don't you know that all the runners in the stadium run, but only one gets the prize? So run to win. 25 Everyone who competes practices self-discipline in everything. The runners do this to get a crown of leaves that shrivel up and die, but we do it to receive a crown that never dies. 26 So now this is how I run - not without a clear goal in sight. I fight like a boxer in the ring, not like someone who is shadowboxing. 27 Rather, I'm landing punches on my own body and subduing it like a slave. I do this to be sure that I myself won't be disqualified after preaching to others. (CEV)

Well, it's pretty clear I do not fight like a boxer in the ring .... I don't have the form or even the correct facial expression.

Nor am I a runner ... no surprise there, I'm sure. No marathons ... no daily jog ... Sure, I walk a couple of miles many mornings ... Sure, I've walked a few 5Ks ... and sure long, long ago in high school gym classes I ran a decent relay ...But none of those experiences match Paul's image of a runner on a track ringed by a stadium filled with the cheering fans or a boxer in a title match.So, how can I enter into this text, this letter from Paul ... this exhortation to "run to win" for the sake of the gospel.

And it came to me: Project Runway ... 

Yes, I know it's a reality show. I understand that, like all such shows, it is edited to show the maximum conflict and tension among the contestants. I do not like the language sometimes, even a lot of sometimes. (When I look at the failures of our current educational system, one thing that stands out to me is that so many people have such a small vocabulary to call upon when they are upset, or mad, or even happy ... often only relying on some variation of one 4-letter word that begins with the 6th letter of the alphabet ... but I digress). I don't always understand the fashion, what makes something runway ready or fashion-forward ... often what I think is "prettiest"doesn't stand-up to the judging.

But, when each season begins there are 16 contestants and in a few weeks there will be one winner. After each runway show those with the three lowest score (one of whom will be "out") and the three highest scores (one of whom will "win") remain on the runway with their models and the other designers leave, knowing they are safe, "that their scores have qualified them to move on to another round". For a number of weeks that is a strategy for some designers, to be safe, to be in the 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 who are safe ... until the week comes that no one is "safe" they are either high or low, in or out, winning or going home.

Sure, sometimes a designer goes for the win and fails miserably and ends up going home. But almost to a person when that happens, they exit with a confidence and grace that  "I gave it my best, this design represents me, I don't like to lose, but I am proud of what I've done."

I wonder about us in the church. Are we going for the win for the sake of the gospel, that Paul champions? Or are we content to play it safe?

There may have been a time here in this country when it was possible as the church to play it safe. When people from the neighborhood or the community would just show up at the front door and come on in. When to "win" was to gather for worship, sing hymns we all knew, sip coffee in Sunday School classes made up of folks like us (whoever "us" is: married couples, singles young adults, business men, or widows), feed pizza to middle and high schoolers, and give coloring pages featuring Jesus to children. If there ever was such a time, it no longer is.

Today too often those of us inside the church no longer know the neighbors by name or even by face. We do not share regular community connections (PTA, kids on the same sports teams, business connections, the same convenience store coffee stop each morning) that open the way for faith connections. We remember so clearly who used to be there and we miss them so much that we are unable to see those who are there now.

I'm glad you have gathered here on this chilly Saturday morning for this leadership event. Whatever class you are taking, I hope you will leave today with one thought, idea, nudging that could help you and your church better connect to the needs, the fears, and the hopes of the world that God has given your congregation to care for, serve, love, and share the gospel with.How will your food pantry impact your community for Christ? How can you impact the systems of poverty, depression, addiction that requires people to come and beg for necessities such as food for their families? What can you offer beyond the cans and boxes of nourishment? Who will find love and acceptance there? How will your church's backpack program impact the lives of children and families? What can you do to move beyond the built-in anonymity to know the teachers, students, and families of that school?  How can you then impact your community for better housing, preschool, daycare?  How will your Trunk-or-treat stand out from those offered by Jaycees , Kiwanis, or Ruritans, not for the lavishness of  bouncy houses, cool decorations, or fantastic candy but for the presence of Christ?  Be clear, this is not about politics, but discipleship. There may be fine "liberal" or "conservative" plans of action. But if we find we are putting our hope in "Republicans" or "Democrats" or any political party, we have put our ultimate trust in something that will fail us. But Discipleship ... well, that means following Jesus where Jesus goes, it means knowing the people Jesus knows, and loving the people Jesus loves. How will your church, in the words of Bishop Lewis, take Jesus to the streets? Because on every street, in every home and apartment, behind every front door, are people who need to know God's love in Jesus Christ.

Go for the win of the gospel ... so that someone you encounter will know that Jesus loves them, claims them, so that they will follow Jesus ...

Go for the win, be a disciple who makes disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Surely, surely the world needs the transformation that only God in Christ can give.

Go for the win, as a partner of the gospel!

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Faithfully, Kathleen

Adapted from sermon preached during Roanoke District Leadership Event           2/4/2017