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Based on the Scripture readings:
Psalm 8
John 16:12-15

2007 June 3
Trinity Sunday
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth F. Baily, Senior Pastor

A Model Church

Unexpectedly, I found myself shopping for perfume last week. I had no intention of buying perfume, but I saw a notice about a new one on the market made for people of faith, and I wanted to learn more.

Now this is absolutely true, and as my mother would say, you can look it up. Last week a new perfume was released, if I can put it that way, and it is called Virtue. On the website it says, and I'm just telling you what I read, that Virtue is, quote, "scent from the Bible." Its expressed goal, its essence, if you will, is to reveal your spiritual self. The spiritual selves pictured on the website looked pretty physical to me, but that's another sermon.

As you know, Virtue is not alone in taking the basics of Christian theology and putting them in a bottle. Calvin Klein offers the inter-religious Euphoria, the para-Christian Eternity, and the soul-stealing Obsession. As I pondered this, my real search began. I decided to Google the words "Jesus Perfume," and guess what? There is one. And the merchant who offers it also offers Devotion, Divine, and Heavenly for women, and men can anoint themselves with Higher Energy, Heaven, and in a product preparing us for the afterlife, a cologne called Hot. I wrote a slogan: "Wear it now and bear it later."

Given the world in which we live, I often contemplate the way that religious notions are presented in the secular world, and I often think about the intersection and the cross-fertilization of commercial ideas and Biblical ideas. I think about how the church appears out there, as well as how it discerns its call and values in here, amidst the push and pull of capitalism and Christianity. Jesus separated God and Mammon, God and Caesar, and two thousand years later, we populate churches with real estate and federal requirements, and it can be easy to get lost in this mix and hard to find our firm foundation. You hear me say quite often how Christianity began as a counter-cultural community. But then the scriptures say to learn the native tongue, and we're back in this dynamic discernment of our call today.

A few months ago, I heard an article on Public Radio interviewing a conservative economist from the University of Chicago. He said that the business model for Public Radio was ridiculous: give away a product and then ask people if they were willing to donate money for something that they've alreadyBack to top consumed. He said he would fail any student who brought that to him. But, he admitted, it works.

That got me thinking that we have a number of economists and MBAs in our parish and folks who work in corporations, so I sent a few people an email and asked if they could describe the business model of our church in a sentence or two. I got back about five pages altogether, which was even better.

I won't read you everything that they said, and this is my summary of their words, but here are some of the things that they wrestled with. One said that altruism is very hard to describe with an economic model. Why do we tip at restaurants or refrain from littering? Another said that a strong economic model for churches can be based on the assumption of guilt, saying that if we're in trouble, then giving can buy good will and increase favor in the sight of God. Another asked, what if there is no product delivered by church: how then do we determine its model? And another asked, how do we determine the value provided to a customer and, indeed, who is the customer? These are great questions: I find myself especially challenged by the idea of who is a customer, and I'll return to that in a moment.

First, here are some models.

  • Our church provides inspiration and thought-provoking spiritual and social interactions with the hope by some of salvation.
  • And our church provides community, education, spiritual growth opportunities, and a prayer connection, among other things, that improve the world.
  • And, our church engages God's favor, religious experience, and mission activity, for which it asks for support.

And now from the member who talks about customers. This model is to spread and deepen Jesus' teachings and ways in the world. But our organization, supported by its members, is not supported by its customers. Indeed, members are not customers. We are the sales force who pursue mission by our words and deeds and influence, and the whole world is the customer, which means that in our business model the sales people pay for the organization, which is as true to Christianity as anything I've ever read, and as crazy as can be. Customers get products free, and let me know if you haven't heard this preached before: isn't that what we call Grace? Isn't that God's love? Back to topBut would it get a passing grade at the University of Chicago?

I mention that, because an economist at MIT, referred to me by Randy Ellis, wrote a huge paper on Religious Market Structure and Outcomes in America, and the paper talks about "market density" and "exogenous predictions," and it says something very simple: crazy as we are, the more religious institutions or churches there are, the healthier communities are, even correlating with such things as higher education, less disability, more faithful marriages, and fewer divorces. That is, God is good for all of us.

Jim Antal, former pastor here, gave a speech recently where he said he is still worried about all this. He says that loyalty to institutions is on the decline, while loyalty to private journeys is on the increase. Fewer of us learn the ways of caring for these strange institutions, and often we make the wrong choices in the balance between what is rewarded and what is needed. Furthermore, he says, so many of us move so often. At this intersection of popular culture and historic faith we have some challenges. And some inspired business models.

There is a consistency in the models that are revealed in the scriptures. They all have to do with God. God's gift of the Spirit, Jesus' mission of counter-cultural power, and what Karl Barth calls God's choice to be God for humanity. There are potential customers, to be sure, and products of a sort, but the aroma of the scriptures reveals this consistent relationship and covenant with something essential for our model. It reveals God.

I've read Psalm 8 for many decades, and I've always focused on that central phrase that asks, "What is man, and woman, that thou art mindful of them (for) you have made us almost gods, and crowned us with the glorious." I've long pondered that question, but as many years as I've done so, I've never noticed until I read an article by Mark Ralls recently that right there in the middle of the poem is a Buddhist notion that reveals something about Yahweh of the Jews and Christians. God is mindful. God pays attention to us. God resists distraction and sustains attention as an act of will, the same as we would do in meditation. God chooses to cherish, era after era, the ones chosen from the beginning. And a Psalm that I have often read to be something about me turns out to be more about God, and my model shifts a little bit. Back to topBecause our God is mindful.

Of what is God mindful? Us. Our needs. Our conditions. Our failures and successes. Our humanity, like Jesus, and our opportunity -- even our birthright -- to be godlike ourselves. God is mindful. Love like that and the grace that attends it is something revolutionary and amazing in any culture, and that's our business: God's business.

Calvin Trillin, author and frequent contributor to the New Yorker, writes a lot about his family table and his family, especially his wife Alice. And Alice, a cancer survivor for many years, died recently, and he wrote about that, too. He wrote of a time when Alice was volunteering at a camp for terminally ill children and befriended a severely disabled kid, whom she thought magical. This little girl was disabled and dying, and everyone knew it. One day when she was playing duck, duck, goose, Alice saw a letter from the little girl's parents and couldn't resist reading the first few lines. Her parents said this: "If God had given us all the children in the world to choose from, we would only have chosen you." Alice passed the note to another counselor and whispered breathlessly, "Quick, read this. It's the secret of life."

It is also our promise and our product and our model. It is our message and our mystery and the meaning of our organization. God is mindful of us and endows us with this message for others. This is the essence of hope and survival and endurance. God chose us to love and to share. Virtue. Eternity. Heaven.


Copyright 2007 Kenneth F. Baily.  Used by permission.
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Parent page ] Sermon "Sacred Vessels" ] Sermon "No System to Save" ] Sermon "Entitled to be Thankful" ] Sermon "Welcome Food" ] Sermon "Waking Devotion" ] Sermon "Sitting at the Welcome Table" ] Sermon "Table Manners" ] Sermon "Speaking of God" ] Sermon "Singing New Songs" ] Sermon "Prepare the Way" ] Sermon "Here-ing God" ] Sermon "The Possibility of Possibility" ] Sermon "Sweet Creations" ] Sermon "Not at All Dead" ] Sermon "Planning, Praising and Pondering Palms" ] Sermon "March for Life" ] Sermon "Imagination, Dreams, and Vision" ] Sermon "Following the Magi" ] Sermon "Pushing Christmas" ] Sermon "Forecasts" ] Sermon "Ready for Christmas" ] Sermon "God in the Middle" ] Sermon "The Days to Come, the One to Come" ] Sermon "Earthly Healing" ] Sermon "Digesting Communion" ] Sermon "The Change of Prayer" ] Sermon "Unbreakable Body" ] Sermon "Seeing Clearly" ] Sermon "Right for Present" ] Sermon "A Change Agent" ] Sermon "What is Sabbath" ] Sermon "In Memory of Hope" ] Sermon "These Baptisms are Killing Us" ] Sermon "Wanting Prayer" ] Sermon "Last Minute Gifts" ] Sermon "Praying Well = Praying Much" ] Sermon "Peace Repent, Peace Remember" ] Sermon "Choosing Church" ] [ Sermon "A Model Church" ] Sermon "The Empire Struck Back" ] Sermon "Love is Patient and Primary" ] Sermon "Manifestations" ] Sermon "The Green Grace of God" ] Sermon "Signs of Sacred Things" ] Sermon "A Deal with the Future" ] Sermon "Free from Fear" ] Sermon "To Carry Each Other" ] Sermon " With God in Death; with Each Other in Dying" ] Sermon "Healing Prayers" ] Sermon "Facing God's Miracle" ] Sermon "Finding All Three" ] Sermon "Controlling Christmas" ] Sermon "Finding Jesus" ] Sermon "God as a Baby" ] Sermon "What Does It Mean" ] Sermon "Katrina's New Covenant Call" ] Sermon "Elevate your Expectations" ] Sermon "See: the Healing" ] Sermon "Lifeless Chaos and Living Creation" ] Sermon "Rapt Gifts" ] Sermon "Welcome to Reality" ] Sermon "Offering Up Thanks" ] Sermon "Blue State Blues" ] Sermon "Are we not entitled to thanks?" ] Sermon "Ancient Pieces of Peace" ] Sermon "Noticing Neighbors" ] Sermon "A Summer Day of Renewal" ] Sermon "A New Thing" ] Sermon "Breath of New Life" ] Sermon "Easter" ] Sermon "Sin: Currently Tense" ] Sermon "Why Are You Angry?" ] Sermon "Anxiety over Sin" ] Sermon "A Marriage Grade in Heaven?" ] Sermon "Isn't Marriage Gay?" ] Sermon "Expanding the Body of Christ" ] Sermon "Miracles:  Seeing More in our Midst" ] Sermon "Turning to God" ] Sermon "Why are You in Churchl" ] Sermon "Remember your Baptism" ] Sermon "Every Day Spirituality" ] Sermon "The Cross and Joy of Love" ] Sermon "Welcome Back" ] Sermon "Living Together" ] Sermon "Transforming Destruction" ] Sermon "The Work of Healing" ] Sermon "Peace" ]

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