I still remember our first date.
It was on April 25, 2001. Cassie and I met at a Tex-Mex restaurant called On the Border which was kind of in-between where we both lived at the time. We shared a queso fundido de pollo for an appetizer – this yummy cheesy concoction with grilled onions and nice warm tortillas where you’d scoop the cheese into the tortilla and form a gooey, cheesy taco. My mouth still waters thinking about it. The chimichanga I ordered for my main course was good, but dessert was to die for. We had this amazing apple crisp! It was warm and buttery with this sweet crumb topping that was delicious. Just the right amount of cinnamon and the apples were nice and tender so they melted as you ate it. Again, mouth-watering anticipation. Since it was our first date, I wanted to impress so I wore my best “date” outfit at the time – a blue button-down oxford from Banana Republic, khaki Dockers, and brown Sperry Topsiders. I even put on cologne – Safari by Ralph Lauren. I know that completely dates me, but it’s true. Cassie looked great! She was dressed in a very alluring black chiffon blouse that I to this day call her pirate shirt because it had this frilly collar like in Seinfeld, except that it looked very nice on her. The whole night, I remember being on my very best behavior – making sure I paid attention without seeming too eager, being polite without being obsequious, making sure I didn’t eat with my mouth open or spit food while we were talking. That kind of thing. The hardest part was not spilling food on my shirt. You might think that would be easy, but I swear I buy shirts with food magnets in them. No matter what I do, it seems like the food just jumps off the fork and right onto my shirt. I wanted to make a good first impression on Cassie because deep down, I was hoping this would last. Seventeen years later and we’re still together, so things worked out pretty well.
It’s important to make a good first impression.
It sets the tone for our relationship right from the start. And even though we CAN overcome a BAD first impression, it’s so much easier to get it right the first time. That’s true whenever you’re trying to develop a relationship. Not just in dating, but when you apply for a job, when you’re competing for an award, when you go to a new school, you want to present your best self. Why should it be any different for our church? If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, this morning we’re going to read from 1 Cornithians 9 beginning with verse 19. 1 Cornithians 9:19. Churches are always trying to attract new people, but we often don’t put ourselves in this frame of mind. But the truth is we are dating our community. We’re trying to develop a relationship with the people around us. We want them to come and get to know us. So we should act like every Sunday is a first date. Think of it this way: If you were inviting someone over to your house, someone you wanted to attract, would you pick up your dirty clothes on the floor? Would you wash the dishes in the sink? Would you make your bed? Or would you say to yourself, “Hey, if they can’t accept me for who I am, I don’t want to be with them anyway.” I’m bet your attitude wouldn’t be the last one. It doesn’t even have to be a date. It could be your boss or your in-laws or friend you haven’t seen in a long time. But we all know how important it is to make a lasting first impression.
To do that we have to adapt to our community.
We’ve got to find a way to adapt to make our church into a place other people would like to stay awhile. If the person you’re dating loves chocolate chip cookies (like I do), then you might bake some chocolate chip cookies. If your boss loves sushi, maybe you bring some to work. If you’re going to a new school, you could wear your new school colors. I mean you wouldn’t go to a Giants game wearing a Dodgers jersey if you wanted to make friends with Giant fans would you? Paul talks about that in our reading this morning (I’m sure Paul was secretly a Dodgers fan). Once Paul was convinced Jesus was exactly who he said he was, Paul was on fire for Christ! He went from being a zealot against Christ to being a zealot FOR Christ and nothing would stop him. Not even his old self. He would do ANYTHING short of selling out the Gospel to help others come to faith in Christ.
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
Paul is speaking directly to each one of us.
His message is clear. It is OUR responsibility to bring the Gospel to others. It is not THEIR responsibility to come and get it. We sometimes act as if it is. We act as if it is the responsibility of other people to come and seek the Gospel. But a person who doesn’t know he’s lost isn’t going to ask for directions. Before a person looks for help, they have to be convinced that help is needed. That’s where we come in. There is a whole world out there chock full of people who don’t know the Bible and we have to be willing to do whatever it takes to bring the Gospel message into their hearts. That’s what Paul did. He became whatever he needed to become to bring people the Word of God. To his Jewish friends, he practiced all the Jewish customs. He celebrated Jewish festivals. He worshipped with them in synagogues and loved them and helped them so that they would come to trust him when he shared God’s word with them. He obeyed the laws even though he wasn’t restricted by them any more. Jesus had set him free, but in order to reach those who still held to those laws, he followed them so they wouldn’t blame him of being a radical, so that he could speak to them and they would hear. He showed empathy to the weak even though he was emboldened by Christ so that in his weakness, in his vulnerability, he could make a connection with others. As Paul said, he became all things to all people so that he might save some.
That’s also why we have to be the ones to reach out to them.
We have to seek those who don’t believe that Christ is Lord and here’s why. People who aren’t Christian aren’t walking around saying to themselves, “Oh, I wish I were Christian.” “If I were Christian, my whole life would be better! If only someone would show me how to BE a Christian!” No. Most people are not simply one step away from accepting Christ. Most people don’t know that they need Jesus and are just looking for someone to show them the way. For the most part, they’re walking around thinking life is pretty good – or not. Some are happy, some are sad, but they don’t KNOW that there’s another kind of life waiting for them. They don’t know that there is a whole different kind of existence when you have Christ in your life. They don’t know how GOOD it can be! It’s like Indian food. There’s nothing like a good bowl of dal or a good pot of chicken tikka masala and there are times I CRAVE, absolutely CRAVE masala dosa. You don’t know how happy I was when Cassie found the restaurant Dosa. Just the best. But before I TRIED Indian food, I never knew what I was missing. I could take it or leave it, and honestly I preferred to leave it. I never had it, never saw it, never smelled it, and frankly never wanted it. I was happy enough in my life without it and I wasn’t all that interested in trying something new, but when Cassie asked me to I loved it! I wish I hadn’t waited so long to try it, and I always encourage people to eat it. If you like Chinese food or just kind of spicy food, you’ll love the flavors of Indian food. But had Cassie not come along and invited me to try it, I would have lived life perfectly happy, not knowing what I was missing. Christianity is like that. It’s this awesome, incredible, wonderful part of life that makes life more meaningful and more worth living, but unless you know you need it, you can just go on without it.
Let’s date our community.
Let’s find a way to do as Paul invites us to do and become what we need to become. Let’s figure out together what it is our community needs and wants and DO that. We just have to be aware not to mistake what WE need and want for what the COMMUNITY needs and wants. But with care, prayer, discernment, and patience, we can find a way to reach the heart of our neighborhood and help them to see the loving Christ-centered people we are. It didn’t take me long to realize that our church is filled with loving people. We only need to show that to our community. But for them to know that about us, they need to get to know us. They need to spend time with us to see we are not the stereotypical church they see on TV. That instead we are a people who want to make a difference in the world. To do that, they need to hang around a while and they will see what I see – a place where you can connect to God through the love of Jesus Christ. Let’s ask our community on a date and see what happens! In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.