Luke 9:47-52 (This is my final sermon to St. Matthew by the Lake, Benton, KY, given July 27, 2014)
Guy Kawasaki is an entrepreneur. He’s one of the people who worked hand-in-hand with Steven Jobs in the early days to build the computer technology company, Apple. I happened to run across a Utube video presentation he did on entrepreneurship this past week, and I thought, “That’s a picture of how the church should reinvent itself if it wants to be successful.”
This is what he said: “The essence of entrepreneurship is about making meaning. Many people start companies to make money. But those companies that are fundamentally founded to change the world, to make the world a better place, to make meaning, are the companies that will make a difference. And they are more likely to succeed.”
Churches, if they want to make a difference in people’s lives and in the world, need to focus on making this world a better place by proclaiming and working for unity and harmony for all people.
Kawasaki said, “My naïve and romantic belief is that if you make meaning, you’ll probably make money.” To make the rest of what he said appropriate to our setting, the church, I’m going to substitute how he spoke of money with what many churches strive for, and that is to fill the pews. It would sound like this: “If you make meaning, you’ll probably get more people in the pews; but if you make your purpose to fill pews, you’ll probably not make meaning and you won’t fill the pews either. The core of why you start a company or build a church is to make a difference in someone’s life.”
And it’s my theory that this is why the church of today is declining. Too many churches are worrying about how they’ll fill the pews for self-survival instead of how they can make the world a better place for people. That’s what the kingdom of God is all about. The kingdom of God is that state in the present day in which all people are at peace, living in harmony, and with respect for each other as children of God. That’s been my mantra for the last year. The kingdom of heaven is the movement toward unity and harmony for all.
That’s why I believe churches must be in the business of making a difference for people today. Kawasaki says there are three ways to make meaning. These principles apply to more than starting a business or building a church. These principles also apply to you as an individual, to communities, even to governments. How do you make meaning?
You do it by (1) Increasing the quality of someone’s life. In the church, you find ways to bring people comfort, hope, relief from their pain, anxiety, grief, and loneliness. You offer love and acceptance. St. Matthew by the Lake has been increasing the quality of life for many people, and I’m so proud of you for the difference you’ve made! Since 2004, you’ve helped improve the quality of life for children in Haiti, insuring that many will get at least one healthy meal a day when they attend school. You’ve improved the quality of life for children on the other side of the planet, in Africa, by helping to reduce their vulnerability to getting malaria and providing medicine when they do get it. You’ve made meaning by improving the quality of life for people in our own community – feeding the hungry through Marshall County Caring Needline and Marcella’s Kitchen; by giving food and clothing to the physically challenged adults at Bright Life Farms; providing funds to the Marshall County Rescue Squad to buy equipment. You’ve given baby goods and money to help improve the quality of life for young mothers, infants, and the unborn through HOPE Clinic. You’ve made meaning by increasing the quality of life for many people.
Another way you make meaning is to be engaged in (2) Righting a wrong. Treating people like they are inferior because of the color of their skin, their nationality, their sexual orientation, their age, their gender, their economic class, or because of their poor health – these are wrongs that continue to be perpetuated in our world and need to be righted. Jesus stood up for the poor, the marginalized, and the outcasts who were despised by the privileged of society. You did this, too, as you voted four years ago to continue your affiliation in the ELCA when it stood up to improve the quality of life for gay clergy and approved their partnering. You will make meaning when you fight for the equal treatment of the poor and marginalized of society. And you will be following Jesus. It may get you in just as much trouble as it got him.
One more way you make meaning is to be engaged in (3) Preventing the end of something good. The easiest thing to point out here is the preservation of our planet and its natural resources. Remember the story in Genesis saying when God created the world in six days, every day he looked at it and declared it to be good. Man was given dominion over the earth to care for it, not to ravage it. When you spend time and energy on protecting those things of the earth that cannot protect themselves, air, water, land, forests, you are protecting it from those who would destroy it because of their greed.
I don’t think Jesus would measure success in the church by the numbers of people sitting in the pews on a given Sunday. I believe he would measure it by the numbers of people for whom you’ve increased the quality of their lives, by the numbers of wrongs you have righted, and by the numbers of good things you help to preserve.
Entrepreneurship is also about beginning something new. Barb and I are facing a new beginning. St. Matthew by the Lake is facing a new beginning. We all have, in our baptisms, been called to make meaning in the world with the time and talents and possessions we’ve been given. As we all start something new, it will take focus and energy. Focus and energy. The worst thing we can do is to look back at the past and imagine we’re supposed to repeat what was comfortable in the past.
Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is useful for the kingdom of God.” Why? Because there are more people who need a better quality of life, more people who need to be defended who are being treated unjustly, and more good things that need to be preserved. The past is dead. It’s over. The moment we look back, we will be pulled off the task Jesus has set for us – to bring unity and harmony to all people.
Change happens and sometimes transition is what God uses to advance the kingdom. Because of this transition, as long as we keep our eyes forward on the need for greater unity and harmony in the world, we will continue to advance the kingdom and more people will receive peace, hope, and encouragement for their lives.
There are some questions we all need to be asking ourselves: How will I be a part of continuing to make meaning so the world can be a better place? Am I ready follow Jesus? Do I understand what that means?
I probably don’t need to remind you — it’s not easy to follow Jesus. When the man in our gospel reading told Jesus he would follow him wherever he went, Jesus said, “Make sure you understand that following me isn’t going to be a cakewalk. Foxes and birds have a consistent place to return to at night, but if you’re following me by trying to make a difference, you may never sleep in the same place two nights in a row.”
To another he said, “If you want to follow me, you’re going to have to set some new priorities in your life.” Building unity is the most important. And to another, “If you’re going to advance unity and harmony, and fair treatment for all people in the world, keep your eyes forward. Don’t look back. Don’t live in the past. Things are changing and you need to be ready to adjust to them.”
Today feels a lot like New Year’s Eve for me. Can you remember the feeling that you get on New Year’s Eve? Sometimes it’s, “I’m glad that year is over.” More often, it’s been, “There are so many new possibilities in the coming year. I can’t wait to see how God’s going to bless us this year!” God’s already showing how he’s going to take care of you! Good Lord, it’s harder to find an accomplished organist for a liturgical setting in west Kentucky than it is to find a pastor – and you’ve already found one. You’re not going to miss a Sunday or a beat!” God is good!
The important work of bringing the kingdom to others continues. What would Jesus say if you said, “Master we want to follow you, but first we need to make sure we find a pastor we like.” “No one who puts their hand to the plow and looks back is useful for bringing unity and harmony to others.” To look back and try to repeat what’s always been done, or to think that anything else should come first will not be entering into a New Year. It will only be repeating an old year – and that will not be useful in helping bring the kingdom to all people.
Edward Powell wrote this about New Year’s Eve: “The Old Year has gone. Let the dead past bury its own dead. The New Year has taken possession of the clock of time. All hail the duties and possibilities of the coming twelve months!”
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This has been a place of great unity and harmony! You are making a difference in so many lives. I love you and I thank God for the privilege it’s been to serve Christ with you in this place. I invite you to love your interim pastor and your next called pastor in the way you have loved Barb and I. May God bless you and guide you, as he will Barb and I, as time and the universe march on — and as we all continue to make meaning in the world. Amen.
 Guy Kawasaki, “The Art of the Start.”