"The Business of the Church"
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
July 21, 2019 at 10:30 AM
Central Passage
Colossians 1:15-29
Subject
Pentecost 6C
Description

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: July 21, 2019—Pentecost 6C

Colossians 1:15-29; Luke 10:38-42

 

The Business of the Church

 

          In the middle of his 2005 comedy special Beyond the Pale, Jim Gaffigan joked, “I do want everyone to feel comfortable. That’s why I’d like to talk to you about Jesus….It doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not, does anything make you more uncomfortable than a stranger going, ‘I’d like to talk to you about Jesus,’?...You could say that to the pope, ‘I want to talk to you about Jesus’, and he’d be like, ‘Easy, freak! Gotta keep work at work!’”

 

          He’s right, of course—there’s something about Jesus-talk that makes many of us uncomfortable. You ever notice that? When was the last time you had a conversation with someone—not the pastor—about your faith? It’s hard for me sometimes and I am the pastor! I love the heady, intellectual side of faith so much that it can be hard for me to go deep and talk about my naked-and-unashamed faith. It takes a lot of trust to talk with someone about your faith or lack thereof without fear of judgment. Or perhaps our discomfort has to do with the clock. Maybe we want things nice and orderly. At worship, we talk about Jesus. At the council meeting, we talk about the leaky roof! Everything in its proper place! It’s going to sound like I’m picking on Zion, but I assure you that I’ve heard similar sentiments in other Lutheran congregations. During council or committee meetings, the pastor or an especially dedicated lay-person will propose an extended time of devotion to delve into the Scripture before going on to the rest of the business of the meeting. And the push-back goes something like this: “This meeting time is for conducting the business of the church. Not Bible study.”

 

          If that’s true, what is the business of the church?

 

          When I was going to seminary in Chicago, some of my colleagues were PKs (pastor’s kids). And a few of them referred to the ministry as “the family business”. Their father (or mother) had been a pastor, whose father had been a pastor, whose father had been a pastor. When visiting other congregations on a Sunday off, a common phrase to let the pastor know you were a seminarian or pastor yourself was, “I’m also in the business.” Kinda sounds like the Mob, I know, but at least we could recognize each other as colleagues without wearing clerics. Among pastors, “the business” refers to everything associated with the pastoral office—council and committee meetings, pastoral care, worship and preaching, teaching and administration, books and budgets, funerals and weddings, vision-casting and community-organizing—everything that could possibly fall under the pastor’s purview.

 

          All those things are part of the business of the church, but not the business of the church.

 

          Councils and committees have a different perspective. To them, the business of the church might be about bricks and mortar, handicap-access and parking lots, utility bills and lawn care, volunteers and special events, Sunday school and VBS, choosing hymns and changing vestments, polishing Communion ware and purchasing choir robes,  and monetary disbursements.

 

          Those things are also part of the business of the church, but not the business of the church.

 

          No, the business of the church is Jesus Christ.

 

          Did you hear the Colossians reading? It is a hymn to the cosmic Christ; the Christ above creation in whom, through whom, and for whom all things were made. Paul’s language is universal. Everything in creation has its origin in Christ—from cosmic powers to the tiniest quark. Everything and everyone, from our President—the most powerful person on earth—to the undocumented minor held in a detention camp, has their existence rooted in Christ. And this same Christ, in whom we live, move, and have our being, reconciled us to God and “made peace by the blood of his cross”. Jesus reconciled us to God—even us privileged folk—by becoming one with the most vulnerable of the world. By living and dying, not as the Lord he is, but as the slave he became. Jesus did not and could not reconcile the world to God by becoming the Emperor of the world. Jesus could only reconcile the world to God by becoming an “other”. An outsider. One in solidarity with people like the undocumented minor in a detention camp. Only as “other” could Jesus absorb the brunt of the world’s sin, the world’s pride, the world’s fury, the world’s unwillingness to recognize the humanity of all, the world’s incalcitrant insistence on its own way. And only by becoming “other” could we privileged folks see what real power, real love, and real reconciliation look like.

 

          The business of the church is Jesus Christ, the Author of Life, the Word of God, who has reconciled us to God and each other. Everything else we do as church is to be centered in him.

 

          This is something that, in all her preparation and anxiety, Martha forgets. And let’s not come down too hard on Martha. We’re all Martha. We are so often distracted by the good and necessary work we are doing as church that we forget about the purpose of it all. Martha is doing the work expected of her as a hostess. She’s preparing meals, she’s providing for Jesus. And from her point of view, her sister is just sitting there! Not lifting a finger, not helping with the cheesy potatoes, not mixing the iced tea or lemonade, not making coffee. Martha feels like she’s been abandoned to do everything while her lazy sister just sits there. It reminds me of the time Sarah and I went to visit some friends in Cedar Rapids, and while she was talking to our friends I was bringing in luggage. On the second trip I snapped, “Hey, do you feel like helping?!” Yeah. I can empathize with Martha. You probably can, too.

 

          Jesus gently reminds Martha that she is worried about many things—she is so anxious about addressing the business of the household that she misses the purpose of that activity in the first place. Only one thing is necessary—to listen to Jesus’ voice. To see him as the center of everything we do, as a church community and in the rest of our lives—yes, even at work and home. Jesus is the business of the church, and because of that, we can let go of the anxieties we all have about what we think the business of the church is. Because, at the core, the business of the church is not about numbers or money or the building or the pastor or the programs or the Sunday School. No, all those things are rooted in the one who has already done everything necessary for us. Who has reminded us time and time again that the gates of death will never prevail against the church. Who will present us, as Paul writes, “holy and blameless and irreproachable before him”. Only one thing is necessary—Jesus the Christ.

 

          Let us pray.

 

          Lord Jesus, we are often so pre-occupied with daily cares and distractions, both as a church community and in the rest of our lives. Keep us focused on you as our origin, our center, and our hope. Amen.

 

© 2019, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.