Text: Mark 1:29-39
“A magical and revolutionary product at an unbelievable price.” This was the first sentence of Apple’s press release in January of 2010 when they introduced Apple’s new tablet computer, the iPad. Steve Jobs is quoted in the same press release saying, “We’re excited for customers to get their hands on this magical and revolutionary product.” Even CNN, when reporting on the new device, couldn’t resist repeating the description, “magical and revolutionary.” Every company employee, every press statement, every advertisement—anything that had to do with the iPad—used those words, “magical and revolutionary.” This concept of marketing in Corporate America is called “staying on message.” But Corporate America is not the only entity employing this valuable marketing tool. In addition to the business world, stay on message is what every political strategists and consultant is saying to those running for public office. It has become the watch phrase for institutions of all types. While it is not simple to do (just ask Newt, or for that matter, Obama), in its most simplistic form, staying on message means articulating your mission and vision with clear and concise, consistent and direct statements. Staying on message means that you don’t allow yourself to be distracted from your main purpose.
There are few concepts that I would encourage the church to adopt from the business world or from today’s political rhetoric and culture. In most situations, the church is called to be counter-cultural—to offer the alternative word or path or way of thinking to the current trend of the day. And yet, this popular marketing strategy of staying on message may very well be the key to the church remaining relevant in the world today, and possibly even its survival. In fact, studies have shown that the church’s hope for the future may lie in its ability to clearly and concisely articulate its mission and vision to the younger generation and to not be distracted from its main purpose. Or more simply put, the church’s future lies in staying on message. If this is so, then staying on message begs the question of what that message is.
I will admit that the church’s message is a bit more complex and complicated than coming up with a statement like “a magical and revolutionary product at an unbelievable price.” That it would be so easy as for the church to release such a press statement and within 24 hours have two million people interested in it, would be akin to the miracle of parting of the Red Sea or raising Lazarus from the dead. And yet I sometimes wonder if we make the message more complicated than it needs to be. In our own need to over-think, over-analyze, over-intellectualize, and over-complicate, it seems that we sometimes miss the message we are most trying to communicate. God is love. God’s love is radically inclusive. All are welcome. And peacemaking is the work we are called to do in the world. That’s it, is it not? The church’s message: God is love. God’s love is radically inclusive. All are welcome. And peacemaking is the work we are called to do in the world. So if this is the message of the church, why does the church have such a hard time staying on message? If our message is one of love and inclusion and peacemaking, why does the church not say more when our country, over a ten-year period, spends more than 1.2 trillion dollars of taxpayers’ money on waging war in two foreign countries? If the church’s message is that of love and inclusivity and welcoming the stranger and making peace, why didn’t the churches and people of faith in North Carolina cry out when our state was contributing 4.6 billion dollars in 2011 for waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan? If our message is one of love and inclusivity and welcoming the stranger and making peace, why then didn’t we band together and insist that 4.6 billion dollars be spent on waging peace rather than war. 4.6 billion could have provided:
- 1.9 million Children with healthcare for one year OR
- 88,156 Elementary School Teachers for one year OR
- 593,380 Head Start Slots for Children for one year OR
- 852,913 Households with Renewable Electricity for one year OR
- 659,267 Military Veterans Receiving VA Medical Care for one year OR
- 851,804 People Receiving Low-income Healthcare for one year OR
- 815,157 Scholarships for University Students for one year.
With 4.6 billion dollars the people of North Carolina could have waged peace, but instead waged war. As God’s people, we have to stay on message: God is love. God’s love is radically inclusive. All are welcome. And peacemaking is the work we are called to do in the world.
In the passage from Mark that James read earlier I was struck by Jesus’ response to his disciples when they finally found him after he had disappeared from them. Remember that Jesus had spent all evening healing the sick. The text says, “the whole city was gathered around the door” and he cured many who were sick with various diseases. Then we read, and this was the part that caught my attention: “In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.”
I get the sense that in that deserted place, as Jesus prayed, there was this moment of awareness—of remembrance—of how important it was for him to stay on message. Indeed, part of his message was going about from town to town healing the sick and casting out demons. But from Jesus’ own words, it seems that there was a bigger message at stake. He had a mission and a vision to proclaim and at least in that moment it seemed that he believed one piece of the message was swamping the rest, and that it was important to change tactics to come back to that broader message. If you are wondering what his message was at that time, you can find the answer a few verses earlier—verses 14 and 15. “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news’”—love, inclusion, welcoming, and peace. We, too, are called to remember the message (the good news) that we have been sent to proclaim: God is love. God’s love is radically inclusive. All are welcome. And peacemaking is the work we are called to do in the world. One could even say that if we stayed on this message the world just might really experience something “magical and revolutionary.”
At this table we are reminded of God’s love for us. In some ways it is a painful reminder—the willingness of Jesus to face violence with nonviolence. Here at this table we are reminded that peacemaking is not just about forgiveness, but about reconciliation and grace. Here at this table we seek to redeem our humanity in recognizing the divine in one another. Here at this table we recommit ourselves to staying on message: God is love. God’s love is radically inclusive. All are welcome. And peacemaking is the work we are called to in this world.