Are you familiar with the Episcopal Church Ad Campaign? It started decades ago. Tell people the benefits of following Jesus. They’ll storm down the doors, we hoped. We still do. One ad is a poster of a casket being carried, captioned: “Will it take six strong men to carry you back to church?” I guess that’s a warning, and an implied benefit – be in church before your last visit arrives. Or, “The Episcopal Church: Summer sermons will be shorter. Priests play golf too,” meaning, “Come to our church. We waste less of your time than other churches will.” And “After 2000 years Christianity’s biggest competition is still the Lions,” with a TV screen of a football game. Wrong – around here it’s only 96 years – and it’s the Packers. I’m yet to hear a church marketing campaign invitation, “Join us. We’ll make you into a servant and slave to all.”
I’m sure Jesus wants our lives to be peaceful, comfortable, and full of healthy relationships. Yet Jesus says we’re a mess, and he’s here to spring us – a ransom. Some believe God pays it to the devil by Jesus’ gruesome death on the cross. Get with the program, be grateful, and come to church. Does that square with God’s nature – really?
We do need to be ransomed – not from the devil – from ourselves, self-centeredness, selfishness and insecurity, and following what the world’s values to save us. We continually hear: “You don’t have enough. You’re not enough. Buy this and feel better about yourself.” I know families whose weekends are devoted to travel, sports competition, so their little darlings can win a scholarship to college – go on to professional sports and big bucks. And the church says, “Come join us and we’ll you help you find the bottom where you can serve all.”
I once heard of a church that downplays Jesus’ name in their marketing – too much stained glass language, I guess. They may have a point. Stress the benefits Jesus offers, not the costs in following him. But could that be false advertising? Jesus wants to detach us from values we’re attached to, and that can hurt.
Some Christians think God hangs out here. After all, it’s God’s house. Make it attractive and hospitable. If they find us, they can hang out with us, but we won’t go outside our walls to get to know them. I have thought that. I want the church I serve to grow, excel, be vibrant – number one. I would hope you would want that of me. Here’s the flaw. It’s not about me or us. It’s about God, and what God has done to ransom us. “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” Maybe we need to be ransomed, freed from our pews to go into the world, where God waits to meet us in unexpected people, places and ways. God calls us to meet others, get to know their dreams and hurts, and where God is speaking to us in unexpected voices. Jesus comes to serve, to ransom us from our safe places.
The church – our worship, scripture, music, prayers, sermons, confession, forgiveness, fellowship, belonging, relationships we hold dear, this beautiful building – these are gifts and tools – not the main event. The main event is out there, following Jesus, enfleshing God’s love in our lives to be his presence in the world. Sometimes we may need to engage each other, before we go out. Do we really know what’s going on in each the lives of our friends we see here each week? “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Jesus takes us out of ourselves and comfort zones. And as we take our eyes off ourselves we’re more likely to see and respond to the needs of others. We’ll follow Jesus into the ransom business, and be lead through the death of what we think is real, and into God.
It’s not easy putting others first. Ask Jesus – look where it got him. Yet we do – sometimes without thinking about it. Remember times you act, not calculating what’s in it for you, or who’s noticing, but because a need is in front of you, and you have the gifts and power to do something. That is stewardship – giving what you can. Look around you. See where moments come to practice this daily. All it takes is to listen carefully to others, hear what they are saying with patience, and a lot of humility. We can get so caught up in serving others, we forget ourselves and begin to notice God really is out there waiting for us. “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” That includes you, and me – and everyone.
Maybe we need to market ourselves this way: “Come to St. Paul’s. We’re not perfect. We’ll disappoint you sometimes. But we are trying to follow Jesus, who serves from the bottom. Join us and we’ll help you do this, too.” The main event isn’t what happens in here – it’s out there.
Before we go out of here today, we’ll ask God to help us. Listen to the words as you will say them. Say what we ask and mean it, and believe God is already waiting for you out there: And now Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.
One other Episcopal Church Ad: “Love God. Love your neighbor. Change the world.” Is that too much to ask?