Everyone knows that in life you need to be connected. People need people. There’s just no other way to say it.
For instance you’re all familiar with the phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Right? I think we’re all familiar with that phrase – and in many situations – it is indeed true. Not what you know, but who you know. Knowing the right people might actually help you land the job you’re so eager to get. So it not only helps to be connected – it pays to be connected.
Another word that is used to describe connections these days is networking. Networking. Especially online networking. So we’ve got Twitter, and Linkedin, and of course Facebook. Hey, let me see a show of hands – how many of you are on Facebook? Yeah, well, how come you haven’t sent me a friend request yet? Anyway – studies show that one of the dangers of Facebook is that those who spend multiple hours a day on it makes them less connected. They are less connected because Facebook actually takes them away from real face to face time with family and friends. Just saying.
Actually, I like Facebook. I don’t go on all that often anymore, but it is helpful. I have also been encouraged to start a Facebook page for Zion. I just haven’t gotten around to doing it yet. I suppose it can be a great way to get the word out about what’s happening here at the corner of Clarence Center Road and Elm. In other words – it would be a great way for us to stay – connected.
I have no doubt that Zion will have a Facebook page once I – somebody – gets around to doing it. And I am convinced that Facebook would serve as a helpful tool for those who attend this church – and who also use facebook. Helpful, but not necessary. The whole point is to say that regardless of how we do it – somehow – someway – we need to stay connected. We need to stay connected to Christ and his church.
So maybe the key question I ought to be asking is, just how connected are you? How connected are you to Christ and his church? How you answer that question is critical. Because being connected to Christ – being connected to His church – as well as being connected to family and friends is what gives life meaning. Would you agree? Of course. Absolutely!
And this is where our Gospel reading comes in.
“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
Jesus uses here the word “abide,” and the metaphor of a grape vine and its branches to say just one thing. Be connected. Stay connected. Connected first of all to Christ – and then – when connected to Christ – we are then also connected to each other.
But I’ve got to tell you, there is something – a trend – that I am seeing today that disturbs me. Quite frankly, it’s a trend that’s been going on for quite a number of years. It’s the growing thought among many that I can be a Christian, but I don’t need the church. It has been referred to for years as the “Lone Ranger” approach to Christianity. These days, I hear it most often in the phrase, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” Man, I hate that phrase – spiritual but not religious.
You see, here’s the problem – and my concern. Do you remember the old Burger King commercial that said, “Have it your way?” Do you remember that? Here’s the thing. Too many people are doing just that with their faith. There seems to be a growing number of folks who want God, who believe in God, but who want their belief in God to be on their terms. Kind of a do-it-yourself religion.
George Barna leads a survey organization that attempts to keep its finger on the pulse of religion in America today, and here’s what Barna said in a September 2011 article in USA Today.
“‘We are a designer society. We want everything customized to our personal needs — our clothing, our food, our education,’ he says. Now it's our religion.
[The article goes on to say,] “Sociologist Robert Bellah first saw this phenomenon emerging in the 1980s. In a book he co-authored, Habits of the Heart, he introduces Sheila, a woman who represents this.
“Sheila says: ‘I can't remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It's Sheilaism. Just my own little voice. … It's just try to love yourself and be gentle with yourself. You know, I guess, take care of each other. I think God would want us to take care of each other.’
“Bellah goes on to say, ‘The bad news is you lose the capacity to make connections. Everyone is pretty much on their own,’ he says. And all this rampant individualism also fosters ‘hostility toward organized groups — government, industry, even organized religion.’”
But there are problems with this Lone Ranger, do-it-yourself religion, or the “I believe in God, but don’t need the church attitude,” or those who say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” (Did I already say how much I hate that phrase?)
1. First of all, how would someone know that what they believe about God was actually true about God? How would they know? Truth here is not relative. Remember that Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.”
2. Second, if it weren’t for the church, how would the truth about God, and His Son Jesus Christ – and everything that we proclaim about life, death and resurrection, eternity – and questions about “how then shall we live?” – how would any of these truths—these beliefs – ever be passed on from one generation to another?
Those are just two problems I see with do-it-yourself – have it your way – Lone Ranger religion.
Folks – we need to be connected. We were made to be connected. Just like the branch is to the vine. We need to get connected and stay connected to God through Jesus Christ – and realize that when that happens we get connected and we stay connected to each other. And quite frankly, I don’t know how anyone can possibly have either of those connections outside of active participation in the church.
I hope you see just how important the church really is. After all – Jesus is the one who started this body – His body – that we call the church. As the means by which we are connected to God – and the means by which the message of the Good News of God in Jesus Christ is spread to a world that is in desperate need of God’s love.
We need the church – and the church needs us. In fact – how can I say this – the church is us! We are the church. This is such an important topic that I think I want to prepare a sermon series on the church. I’ve never done a sermon series before – 21 years, and I’ve never done a sermon series. But part of my study leave of the past week was devoted to pursuing this. Maybe sometime this summer or in the fall.
Anyway, let me close with a selection from Max Lucado’s book, “When God Whispers Your Name.” Listen.
“Take a fish and place him on a beach. Watch his gills gasp and scales dry. Is he happy? No! How do you make him happy? Do you cover him with a mountain of cash? Do you get him a beach chair and sunglasses? Do you bring him a Playfish magazine and a martini? Do you wardrobe him in double-breasted fins and people-skinned shoes? Of course not! So, how do you make him happy? You put him back in his element. That's what you do. You put him back in the water. He will never be happy on the beach because he was not made for the beach.”
Hey! May I suggest to you that when we are counted among the saints – when we find ourselves connected to Jesus Christ – precisely in this place – in this body that we call the church—that we find ourselves in the place – in the element where Christ wants us to be?
Just as a fish was made to live in water – we were made to be connected to Jesus Christ and to live in fellowship with Him and with each other through his body, the church. And quite frankly – nothing is going to take the place of that. Not the lone ranger approach to Christianity – not Sheilaism – not claiming to be spiritual but not religious – and certainly no “have it your way” religion.
Nothing can take the place of being connected to Jesus – like branches to a vine – and through Jesus to each other in this marvelous thing that we call the church.