My brain is currently engaged in a seminary cliche. I am “living in tension” between the scriptures and the realities of life. This past weekend, I was with the Bishop and Trustees and Council of the Diocese of Kentucky on a retreat. That word was used in the corporate sense of getting away from everyday life in order to accomplish work, rather than the religious sense of quiet and contemplation. As such, we did all the things one would expect on a working retreat. We watched a video, we had small group discussions, and we gave large group feedback. We ate snacks. I consumed large amounts of mediocre camp coffee. Like all good Episcopalians, the group drank plenty of LaCroix.
During one of our breakout sessions, we were discussing the image of the church as hired hand in the Parable of the Sower. As we talked about what stones needed to be removed from the garden, and how we might offer shade to tender plants threatened by the heat, someone said, “We can’t be all things to all people, even though we have been called to serve all people.” My ears perked up at that comment. My gut reaction was to hearken to Paul, who, told the Church in Corinth that, in fact, he had tried to be all things to all people, so that, by all means, he might save some. “No, I thought to myself, we are called to be all things to all people.” Then, my brain responded with one of my usual sayings, “We can’t out Baptist the Baptists.”
Like so many working retreats, I didn’t really expect to spend much time thinking about these things once I had reentered real life. These are, so often, just thought exercises that are not intended to produce any fruit beyond being an excuse to spend more time away from home. Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened the lessons for Sunday, and read those very words from Paul to the Christians in Corinth.
It is easy to read Paul’s words as hyperbole. We know, from his other writings, that he did waffle a bit on eating meat, on food sacrificed to idols, and on circumcision. He did attempt to make room in the reign of Christ for as many people as possible, but even Paul had his limits. He could never really be all things for all people. He could, and did, cast a wide net. One of the gifts that the Episcopal Church has to offer is an ongoing understanding of casting a wide net. We are willing to allow people the time and the space to work out their salvation in fear and trembling, but even here, there are limits. Or, at least, there should be. As has been said, God will accept you right where you are, but loves you to much to let you stay there.
We’ll never be able to, as the meme says, “do all the things,” but we can work to make the Kingdom of God as accessible as possible so that by all means we might save some. In the end, that’s the goal, isn’t it? To share the Gospel, to make disciples, and to send out Apostle? In the interim, the details are only a part of the process of formation.