reflecting on the journey
Church isn’t a business, but a gift.
Two-and-a-half years ago, we signed papers finalizing the sale of what had been our home for sixty years. And with the scratch of a pen, we started over. The goals, that first year, were modest. To catch our breath! To let the dust settle! Then came the pandemic. Quarantine. Isolation. Social distancing. But through it all, we struggled to remember. Remember what it was to be the church. What it looked like. What it sounded like. What it felt like. And one of the tools we used was the sermon on the third Sunday of each month. Instead of focusing on a verse or two from the bible, we concentrated, on a piece of the gospel we’ve been writing, these last two years. The story of our journey in the wilderness.
By now, we know well that the church isn’t a building. That the church isn’t a steeple. It’s people. A people just like us! Who stake their life – their lives – on god’s amazing grace! For a couple sermons, we heard that church isn’t country, either. And country isn’t church. There’s a division, a separation, between the two. America doesn’t have to be Christian to be America. And church doesn’t have to be American to be Christian. “God’s shining city on a hill” we’ve heard so much about? It’s not the United States of America. It’s the church!
But this past month, as I was looking ahead to this third-Sunday sermon, one more thing dawned on me. The church isn’t a business, either. Church’s not a business. We’re not here to make money. We’re not here to lose money. We’re not, even, here to balance the budget. And just as there’s a wall of separation between church and state, there’s a wall to separate church and economy! The two are different! Distinct! As different and distinct as church and state! As christians, as church, we aren’t capitalists. We aren’t here to support free enterprise! But In all fairness, we aren’t socialists, either!
We aren’t here to sell anything. We aren’t here to buy anything. Our life with god, our life with each other, our life with creation, isn’t based on quid pro quo. Something for something. It’s rooted in love! Quid pro nihilo! Something for nothing! We don’t believe in barter. We don’t believe in trade. We believe in grace! We believe in charity! We believe in love! For us, everything … everything and everyone … is a gift! We believe in open-handedness! We believe in big-heartedness! We believe in giving! In giving generously! Giving abundantly! Pressed down! Shaken together! Overflowing! As Americans, we believe in one thing. As Capitalists, we believe in another. But as christians, as church, we believe in something – in someone – else entirely!
For capitalists, the thing that makes the world go ‘round is competition. Competition between suppliers. Competition among consumers. Life is one grand auction, sold to the highest bidder! It’s on that competition, businesses and industries rise and fall! And unfortunately, all too often, we think the church works the same way. Somehow. Someway. We’re created – recreated – in that image. And church becomes business. Evangelism becomes advertising. Ministry becomes marketing. And the gospel … well, not so much gospel as worship that becomes the merchandise. We develop business plans. We craft mission statements and vision statements. We draft goals. Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Realistic. Timely. We plan the work and, then, we work the plan. And Jesus, usually, doesn’t have much to do with it.
Then, when our consumer base shrinks, when our share of the market declines, we turn to the customer. After all, they’re always right! What are they looking for? What do they want? What do they need? But the one question we never ask? What is god looking for? What does god want? What does god need?
The church isn’t a business! We don’t make sales! We don’t close deals! So, when the economy fails … when the market crashes … faith endures! Love never ends! We don’t need a million dollars in the bank to be church! It isn’t money that makes us us! It’s not the money that inspires us! It’s not the money that motivates us! To proclaim goodNews! To baptize and break bread and pour wine and forgive sins! It’s god! It’s Jesus! It’s church! We need money only if we want to be a business. If we want to be church the way we’ve always been church. For generations. For centuries. But just because that’s the way it’s always been doesn’t mean it has to stay that way forever.
We’re not capitalists. And our life doesn’t depend on supply or on demand. Our life depends … on god! On god! Our life depends on god! On god’s grace! On god’s charity! On god’s love! We’re christians! We’re church! We believe in charity! We believe in gift! We depend on it! We rely on it! We stake our life on it! Stake our lives on it! And we cultivate our ministry in it, as well!
Of course, for the sake of transparency … To be completely honest … that’s, probably, not what most people are looking for. That’s not what the majority of people are interested in. When it comes to faith, we prefer to hear what we already believe; to learn what we already know. But there will be some! There will be some! Who are looking! Who are interested! Who do need! What we have! Who want what we have been given! That’s why we sold the building. We could no longer afford to be that other kind of church. Altar and pews. Stained glass and shiny floors. Fellowship hall and classrooms and offices and playground. And one failed airConditioning unit brought it all to an end. But now … now, we have only one duty … only one responsibility … Bring goodNews to the poor! Bring release to the captives! Bring sight to the blind! To let the oppressed go free!
My friends, we are no longer a business. Maybe – for the first time … for the first time in a long time … we’re becoming who we were meant to be! Becoming – finally – what god intended! Maybe we’re becoming church! All! Over! Again!