Monday, May 7, 2012

May 6 Sermon - The Business We Are In

In January of this year, Eastman Kodak filed for bankruptcy.  The “Kodak moment” was over.  Why?  They didn’t know what business they were in.  After they had developed the technology to make digital photography possible, they decided not to focus on it. They thought they were in the film business.  They should have realized they were in the picture business.    ( source:  James Emery White - Church and Culture)

They weren’t the first to make this mistake. In the late 1800s, trains moved both people and goods throughout the country.  The railroads had the staff, expertise, infrastructure and capital to shape the country’s future growth.  Then folks started fooling around with a little something called the automobile.  Car companies offered a great investment opportunity.  But the railway folks missed the chance to shape and profit from this new development.  Business guru Tom Peters writes in his book The Search for Excellence, “they thought they were in the train business. But they were actually in the transportation business.

Another example: By 1968, the Swiss made sixty-five percent of all watches sold in the world and laid claim to as much as ninety percent of the profits.The Swiss made the best watches in the world, and were committed to constant refinement of their expertise.

It was the Swiss who came forward with the minute-hand and the second-hand. They led the world in discovering better ways to manufacture the gears, bearings, and mainsprings of watches. They even led the way in waterproofing techniques and self-winding models. 
Then came the Quartz movement – ironically, again, invented by a Swiss. But because it had no mainspring or knob, it was rejected. It was too much of a paradigm shift for them to embrace.  Swiss watchmakers showed an inability to rethink how they did business. And even more foundationally, a misunderstanding of what business they were in.
By 1980 they were down to less than ten percent of the world market. Between 1979 and 1981, fifty thousand of the sixty-two thousand Swiss watchmakers lost their jobs.

It’s important, whether you sell something, provide a service, or produce a product - to have the clearest possible understanding of what business you are actually in.

Churches can make the same kind of mistake businesses can - we can lose sight of what business we are in.  But God is good - and we have guidance from Jesus (our CEO?) - and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to keep us focused on what we are to do. 

In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ sets out the business plan for his followers:  “As the Father has sent me, so do I send you.”  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

The Risen Christ breathes his New Life into his disciples and makes His Life’s mission our life mission:  Sent by God to release people from sin.  Releasing (that’s the better translation - it actually echoes what we talked about last week, with the locked door and locked hearts that Jesus miraculously enters and sets free.) sins. 

The church has, occasionally, been confused about this releasing business.  You know how people are.  They’ve twisted Jesus’ words to mean that the church can decide who gets forgiven and who doesn’t.  This was one of the big issues during the Protestant Reformation - rebelling against the false idea that Forgiveness was something the Church controls.  A commodity that popes or bishops or pastors or elders or someone can dole out when a person shows repentance in some way.  By paying money, or saying the right words, or displaying a righteous attitude.   That the church can place conditions on forgiveness is wrong. We aren’t in SALES.  We’re in distribution.  Jesus took care of the price.  Our job is to get grace to people. 

There is also a widespread misunderstanding that the church’s business - that we are the ones that teach people right from wrong.  Sometimes people actually ask us to do this:  to teach someone right from wrong.  Usually a spouse or a child.  As in, “I bring my kid to church because I want him to know right from wrong.”  Uh.  I think that’s your job.  Here’s a quote that says it well:

Robert Capon (Hunting the Divine Fox: An Introduction to the Language of Theology, [pp. 132-3] republished in The Romance of the Word: One Man's Love Affair with Theology [p. 345])
... The church is not in the morals business. The world is in the morals business, quite rightfully; and it has done a fine job of it, all things considered. The history of the world's moral codes is a monument to the labors of many philosophers, and it is a monument of striking unity and beauty. As C.S. Lewis said, anyone who thinks the moral codes of mankind are all different should be locked up in a library and be made to read three days' worth of them. He would be bored silly by the sheer sameness.
What the world cannot get right, however, is the forgiveness business – and that, of course, is the church's real job.  . . . The faith community's mission is not to be the arbiter of right or wrong, but to bear unceasing witness to the love of God in Jesus.
Forgiveness - Releasing sin and letting go of what keeps us and others from coming to God is not easy.  By definition - it means offering people (ourselves included) something they (we) don’t deserve - something unearned - a second chance.   a deeper understanding of God’s love.  a clean slate on which to write the story of their life.  Which is hard. 
Mostly, I think, it means offering folks the chance to orient their lives around the fact that they are loved.  Amazing Grace.  That they don’t need to be beautiful, or rich, or stylish, or cool or popular or healthy or strong to know God’s love.  That they (and by they I mean me mostly) can quit struggling for those things (be released from the greed and selfishness) and start living in the joy and peace of Jesus’ love. 
Let the sins go - uncouple them from our self - and get on with living which is about relationships and love and generosity and gratitude.  

Releasing - Forgiving - Helping folks let go of sins.  This is the business we are in.  Jesus passed it on to us when he breathed His Life into the church.  Jesus is still involved in the day to day operation.  He is still offering Grace and Forgiveness at the table where we gather today.  I often say, it is a family table.  It is.  It’s the table where we carry on the family business of forgiveness. 

It’s the family business.  Forgiveness is the business that God founded, that Jesus perfected, that is ours to continue.

So how is your franchise?   How is our franchise?  How’s the business doing?

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