Rev. Mona Denton, Westworth United Church, February 8, 2015
Isaiah 40:21-31, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I might share in its blessings.
(I Corinthians 9:22b-23)
As I wrote this sermon, I was reminded how context can influence the way we hear a passage of scripture. The last time that this passage appeared in our lectionary readings in 2012, Westworth was transition-planning. Clark had announced his retirement at the end of November, and the process of envisioning a new future had begun.
The focus of my sermon that day three years ago, was the church’s inability to be all things to all people. Westworth was looking for a new vision for the future and the focus was revitalization and renewal.
Three years later, the congregation stands ready to embrace this new future. With a new mission statement in hand, a visioning process almost complete, growing edges for the congregation identified, a year of learning is underway. Today, I hear these words from Paul in a new way: “I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some.”
Chameleon Christians – this phrase kept running through my mind as I wrote my sermon. If you Google this term, you will get all kinds of negative messages about this phrase. Ministers have used this phrase in sermons to criticize those who pretend to be something they are not, in order to bring about the conversion of another person.
Being a Chameleon Christian also has been criticized because it may lead to dark places. A fear of being overcome by the darkness of others has been used to preach against being all things to all people.
I think it’s about time that this phrase – Chameleon Christians – was redefined and given a chance. Chameleons are a lot more complex than we might believe. A chameleon does not change the colour of its skin to become something else; it transforms itself to survive and to fit into unfamiliar or hostile surroundings. Its ability to transform itself and be at home in a number of different environments has given chameleons life instead of death, and has protected the other creatures who share their tropical home with them.
Paul is not calling the Christians at Corinth to a witness that is insincere, one filled with an offensive style of remaking themselves into something they are not. Instead he is seeking an inner transformation. The motivation for becoming all things to all people is not to draw attention to our own faith. Instead we are motivated by the possibility of an authentic relationship. Our faith tells us that God’s love can be shared in any place and circumstance. Jesus met people in the places where they lived and worked. Paul is asking the Corinthians and us to risk doing the same.
This congregation has decided that its new mission is: to be the hands and feet of Christ within Westworth and beyond. But hands and feet are extremities; they need to be directed by the heart that moves them into action. In this year of learning, and in some of the new ventures being undertaken, like refuge, the new outreach project that will provide sponsorship for three Syrian refugee families, we are discovering that in order to be the hands and feet of Christ, we must first of all be changed by the heart of Christ. This large undertaking is given energy in our congregation by the inner transformations we have experienced.
To go into places that are not familiar, places outside of our sphere of experience, we must first undergo a transformation of the heart. By looking closely at what it means to be in an authentic partnership with others, we are being transformed as we share journeys of hope and faith.
On the Sunday West Broadway Community Ministry came and shared their stories of faith and transformation with us in worship, many of the members of our Outreach Committee have shared how they experienced a new sense of oneness as we worshipped together.
Allan McKay shared with us how much our prayer shawls have created a deeper feeling of connection to our church for those who received them. The women in our Prayer Shawl small group, just this week, described how moving it was to see their prayer shawls presented. The work of their hands came to life in a new way as they saw these tangible expressions of our congregation’s prayers bring hope and comfort.
Each one of us will have to find the people and the places that inspire our hearts. When we do, our hands and our feet will not be held back. We will know that we are doing Christ’s work in the world and our faith will be transformed from the inside.
Scientists tell us that chameleons have three layers of skin: the first two layers determine the colour patterns of their skin and the third layer determines how much light will be reflected. In this season of epiphany, when we are called to reflect Jesus, who came to be the light of the world, we have the ability to control how flexible we are willing to be as Christians. We too can transform and be transformed by the surroundings where we build meaningful relationships, both within this congregation and in the places God calls us to bring the light of Christ.
This Epiphany season, God calls us to define the heart of our faith in a new way. God asks us to risk going outside our comfort zones to the places that need to experience God’s light. God asks us to be ready for that epiphany light to be reflected back on us by those we encounter.
We might not agree with the language of salvation that Paul uses. Yet Paul has learned that there is a blessing for us all to be found in the ministry of accompaniment and a mutuality of sharing. In that place we find what lies at the heart of our own faith.
You can imagine my surprise when I saw what was on the front on our bulletin for this Sunday – a heart of snow. You could see this as cold and unnatural, but you could also look at it another way:
It is a heart made from a substance that can be moulded and shaped into something new; a heart that eventually will melt and become part of its surroundings; a heart being held by hands that are a rainbow of colour – a reflection of the heart of God’s embrace.
May it be so for each one of us. Amen.