READ: John 15:9-17
In the business world, the fundamental corporate structures share many things in common, but one, specifically:
The bottom line is the bottom line.
The degree of success a company has is defined by what it’s out to achieve.
It’s not rocket science.
If you’re a car dealer, you want to sell as many cars as possible, for the longest time possible.
That means not just putting low prices on shiny new cars, but being able to make a decent profit margin to reinvest in the company so that you can sell more cars longer.
It also means selling good cars, so that you can gain repeat customers and additional customers through testimony and reputation.
Both your business acumen and ethics are as important as your business model and reputation.
We could say the same thing about a hospital.
The success rates of treatment and care ensures you’re not bogged down in budgetary red tape, losing beds to a competitor, or even hemorrhaging money due to an abundance of lawsuits.
It’s about long-term sustainability through best practices and strong services.
Churches are different.
And we make some pretty big mistakes when we try to run a church like a business.
So many of today’s churches have fallen into this corporate business structure trap.
The return in investment is marked by attendance, membership, offerings and even the ability to build a sprawling campus in the suburbs.
Or an ornate cathedral-type sanctuary in the heart of the city.
It spends countless hours, energy and money measuring demographics and strategizing on how best to capture those demographics.
The churches are are run by boards or trustees, some of whom don’t need to be members of the church — or even believe in God, for that matter.
These are in our bylaws…
And the structure of one’s chosen denomination — even if you claim to be non-denominational — requires close scrutiny of all these items, thus proliferating the business model for the church itself.
Forgive me for speaking on such platitudes today.
But here comes the reality:
Churches are not corporations, and it can be a great mistake to operate in such a way.
We are making this comparison today because ever since the resurrection at Easter, Jesus is seen building his church.
On Pentecost Sunday — May 20 — we, too, will celebrate the actual birth of the church,
but in these weeks leading up to Pentecost, we can see clearly how Jesus is preparing his disciples — and us — to be his church.
Today is no different.
And so we now ask how is a church different from a business?
First, the Church isn’t in competition with other churches, like McDonald’s is in competition with Burger King.
If Trinity Bellefonte loses members to another church here in town — even another denomination — we haven’t really lost anything.
That’s because every congregation in one building is one in Christ with every congregation in another building.
That’s not a good business model.
Thank God we’re not a business then, because the opposite is also true:
A congregation that does not see the suffering and testimony of another congregation as its own suffering and its own testimony is dividing the one Christ who suffers and acts in all places at all times.
I credit theologian Jurgen Moltmann for that summary of his words.
To break that down, if we believe we are in competition with other churches and allow other churches to fail through our inaction or don’t celebrate their successes, we are dividing Christ.
Second, the church is not like a business because we don’t put our faith in ourselves — not in our cumulative or independent experiences, academic degrees, community awards and notoriety or influence or affluence of its congregation.
We put faith in Christ, whose Holy and Apostolic church it is in the first place.
What that means is we might give our entire inventory away to help those who need it.
We are called to be a Holy and a LIVING sacrifice for all people, and not just the ones we think are worthy.
Try going to a bank and asking for a loan with no collateral or even a horrible credit rating what not worthy gets you…
But come to a church and seek what it has, and it will be given freely…
No investment, no profit, no judgment and no compensation.
Third, while the congregation may understand that its sustainability is important, the entire goal is to really become unneeded in this capacity
We’re actually in the business of wanting to go out of business.
And this is the main focus that I’d like us to talk about today.
How we are called as Christians to make connections in this world to truly become “one.”
Abide in me…
In our reading today in John’s Gospel, we hear Jesus say the words “Abide in my love.”
He says if you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.
Then he says what we say almost every week here — and this is where it comes from:
John 15.12: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
That word abide is sort of an old word, isn’t it?
We don’t hear it much anymore.
No one says, “Abide with me a while longer…”
But it just means remain.
Stay with me.
But Jesus doesn’t say “abide WITH me,” does he?
No, Jesus says stay IN me… Abide IN me. Remain IN me.
What does that mean?
You see, this is a significant problem with Christians today.
We hear those words, and we think inwardly.
We think “I, Christopher, must remain with Christ. I must have this relationship — this personal relationship — with Christ.”
What does a personal relationship mean?
It’s pretty much focused on our own selves and what Jesus can do for us.
Think about your prayers: What do you pray for?
It’s not wrong to pray for what you need — Jesus even tells the disciples that whatever you ask God in Jesus’s name, it will be given (verse 17).
But the thing we miss — a lot — is that Jesus IS the church.
Therefore, we together are the church, because Jesus IS the church.
If we remain or abide in Christ.
Jesus died for our sins and rose again so we could receive God’s Spirit.
With God’s Spirit upon us, we could continue what Jesus began — his ministry.
That ministry is to spread the Good News that all we have to do is turn away from our old ways, and turn to Jesus, and we will witness the kingdom now and forever.
And how do we do that? By BEING Christ’s body.
The other word for Christ’s body is church.
We are the visible manifestation of Christ in and for the world.
Thus, we cannot have ONLY a personal relationship with Jesus, because it’s not at all what Jesus called us to do.
Jesus called us to gather together — like we are doing here today — and then continue his ministry of preaching repentance and forgiveness.
Be connected to Christ through one another.
Preach the Good News
Maybe if we just stopped calling the church the church, or the congregation, or the house of faith, or even the body, and called us who we really are — JESUS — then maybe we would follow that commandment about loving one another like Jesus loves us.
And do that with everyone.
Because if we could really do that, then one by one, we all would become Jesus’s body.
And if we were all Jesus’s body together, we wouldn’t need gather in a building every Sunday morning;
we would just be Jesus every day. All together. Around the world.
Acting in love. Rejoicing in Christ. Praising God always.
That’s the goal, anyway, until Christ comes in final victory and we ALL feast at his heavenly banquet.
This is why the image of the grapevine is used over and over again to illustrate the church.
Jesus is the vine, and we are the fruit.
And since the church is Christ’s body, we can see the church now as the vine.
And if the church is the vine, we are charged with being fruitful.
Can’t do that alone — with our so-called “personal relationships with Christ.”
No, we need relationships to be able to achieve this.
Unlike a business, we need all those other churches as well — every one of them — so that we can be as fruitful as Christ calls us to be.
Til we are all One.
That’s not how business runs…
And also unlike a business, our fruitfulness does not depend on board meetings or committees or shareholders’ input.
We just need to be fruitful.
Think about all the ministries we have here in the church.
There are really too many to name here.
But think about the missions committee, the HUB, our community gardens, Tuesday yoga, the choir, hospitality, prayer shawl ministry, friendship class and so on…
Being a participant is awesome, and it’s what we’re called to do.
But I also think about all the folks who just go out and do stuff in Christ’s name.
Visiting folks in the hospitals or homes.
Helping give rides.
Going to doctor’s appointments.
Bringing over a meal….
No committee meetings, no approvals, no pastor’s blessings…
This is truly what it means to live out that commandment to love one another.
This is what it means to be fruitful.
This is what it means to be the church.
Because that’s what Jesus taught and modeled for us.
That’s what he accomplished.
That’s the reason he gave us the Holy Spirit.
And that’s why he says in Verse 16:
“…I have appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.”
I’m going to finish with a story here, that I think is very relevant.
Some of you may know Ginny Poorman.
She started the Hearts for the Homeless organization based in State College.
I remember when she was starting out, and I was working at the local newspaper.
We talked about what she was trying to achieve and why.
At the time, she worked in a department store in the mall and was attending a local church.
But she spent some time in Pittsburgh, and was astonished at the amount of homeless people she saw there.
She saw that they would get some items at the local shelter — personal hygiene items, clothing, shoes, etc… — but they would carry them around in old plastic grocery bags.
I remember her telling me that she thought it would be great if they had some kind of backpacks to put the items and be able to carry them safely.
That sparked the idea.
She rounded up a truckload of donated backpacks in her free time, then went out to Pittsburgh one weekend with her friend and gave them out, along with gloves and hates and stuff, too.
Thus Hearts for the Homeless was born.
She didn’t go to her church to see if there could be a ministry that could do this for her.
She didn’t even try to begin a ministry through her church.
She just acted.
She called friends.
She gave her time looking for donations.
And she drove one night to Pittsburgh to deliver the packs.
A big ‘ol grape on that vine….
Today, Hearts for the Homeless helps countless amounts of people of all sorts in and around Centre County.
It has a drop-in center, job-preparedness training, community awareness, advocacy and so many other services.
There was a need in the community,
and a person who listened to what Jesus said.
“Go and be fruitful.”
“Go be the church.”
“Love like I love you.”
You see, if we’re the church, we’re the church 24-7.
Not on Sunday mornings for an hour.
We’re always attached to that vine,
living into that image so that we can remember to be fruitful.
So when we greet someone on the street,
we are being the church.
But the people we greet are the church as well.
And because we’re the church, we make those connections and stay connected.
We abide in Jesus by abiding in the body, the church, one another.
And we do stuff…
It doesn’t matter how much money you have.
Doesn’t matter your influence.
Doesn’t matter your age.
Doesn’t matter your abilities.
Jesus simply calls each of us and says “Make that connection.”
“Abide in me”
If we have any business model at all, it’s this:
We give without expecting to receive.
We love so that we can have a more loving world.
We come together so that we truly are one body.
And we love because Jesus first loved us.
Let’s abide in that.