John 17: 6-21
Some of you may be familiar with the name Garrison Keillor. He is known for his radio show, “The Prairie Home Companion” broadcast on National Public Radio. I want to share with you a story he once told about an experience he had as a teenager.
Walking down the sidewalk one day, he saw this unbelievably beautiful woman coming toward him – stunningly beautiful woman. How was he going to get her to notice him? What could he do? He spied a large, white Cadillac parked next to the sidewalk. Strolling over to the Cadillac, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a dime – that’s all a parking meter cost in those days – he put the dime into the parking meter, and leaned confidently against the Cadillac, acting as though he owned the thing – and smiled at this beautiful woman.
To his delight, she returned his smile. She moved towards him, and spoke to him, saying, “Thank you.” And she got into the Cadillac – and drove away.
Folks – I offer this to you today as a modern day parable for the church. All of us – and especially I as your pastor – need to remember the message that this story teaches. And the message is this:
The church is not our Cadillac.
The church is not our Cadillac. We all need to remember this truth. So whose Cadillac is it? To whom does the church belong? It belongs to Jesus Christ.
To be sure, you and I belong to the church. We are members of the church. And just in case you missed it – I really don’t like using the word member anymore. Because the word member can imply ownership – it can imply – as the credit card commercial used to say – that membership has its privileges. We have responsibilities – but privileges – not so much.
Truth is, we are not owners. Christ is the owner – and we are disciples – and that’s the word I prefer to use these days – disciples instead of members – we are disciples who belong to Jesus Christ. THREFORE – we are at best caretakers of this place – this building – or better yet – this organism that we call the church.
And I’ve gotta say that I feel a certain amount of pride in this place. Pride in all of you who give of yourselves – you give your time to this place – you give your talent and your financial resources to the work of ministry that is making a difference in so many people’s lives in and through this place. I am always amazed at what God is doing here – and maybe even feel a little bit like Garrison Keillor sometimes – you know – wanting to lean up against it in order to look good – and yeah – to feel good. But ultimately – we all need to remember – I know that I need to remember – that this church that we love so much – ultimately – this church – belongs to Jesus Christ.
Now here’s the thing. Even though we are not the owners –still – the church – this church – has been entrusted to us. And that’s a big responsibility if ever there was one.
The people who made up the church in the early days of the church completely understood this. Even before the day of Pentecost – the day we call the birthday of the church – those first disciples of Jesus Christ understood this.
Our first reading from the book of Acts tells us that the disciples are waiting for the promised Holy Spirit. And as they wait, they feel it necessary, after the death of Judas – to name a successor to Judas to take his place among the twelve.
They did this because they knew that Jesus had entrusted the church to them – and that the work and the mission and the ministry of the church had to continue – and that it was up to them to make sure that it happened.
And in the middle of all this – they remembered that Jesus prayed for them. They remember that on the night just before his betrayal and arrest, Jesus prayed for them. A portion of that prayer is in our Gospel reading from John’s Gospel. And we need to remember this. Just as Jesus is praying for his disciples – he is praying for you and me as well. Listen.
“Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.…As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world….I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.”
Did you catch that last sentence? We are those who believe through the word and witness of those first disciples. Jesus sent those first disciples out into the world – and he sends us out into the world too! To share the good news. To make disciples. And what’s more – the owner of this place is praying for us. The owner of this place is praying for you!
So Jesus is praying for us – and what he prayed for is that we might be one. Do not miss that point! We are a body – the body of Christ. We are a family. We are not a gathering of individuals who take up space in a church pew. We are a family. That’s why we come together – to be together – to worship together – to pull together – to support each other, and to pray together. That’s what the church is – that’s what the church does – and that’s why the church matters!
You see – there is a difference – a big difference – between just being a part of the crowd – you know – taking up space in a pew – and being a part of the congregation.
A man by the name of Charles Jefferson once described the difference between an audience and a church. I like what he has to say. Listen.
“An audience is a crowd. A church is a family.
An audience is a gathering. A church is a fellowship.
An audience is a collection. A church is an organism.
An audience is a heap of stones. A church is a temple.”
And he concludes, “Preachers are ordained not to attract an audience, but to build a church.” And I have to add to what Mr. Jefferson says here, and that is to say, that it is not just the job of the preacher to build a church. This is not a task just for the preacher – but a calling for everyone gathered here today. The owner of this church is Jesus Christ – but it is our job to build it.
Eleven years ago – those who were here eleven years ago – we watched this building go up – arch by arch – and brick by brick. But when I talk today about building the church – I’m not talking about brick and mortar. I’m talking about the people who visit us for the first or second or more times – people who for the most part are here primarily because you invited them. You invited them to “come and see” – or they have come here because of this place’s reputation. People looking for a church home. People looking to be connected with God’s people in the body of Christ. And I must say that we are happy to be receiving 14 new disciples here at Zion this weekend. That’s great. But that’s just one way in which the Lord is building His church.
So when I talk about the Lord building His church, I’m not talking about bricks and mortar. I’m talking about changed lives. People looking for a relationship with Jesus Christ or looking to grow deeper in their relationship with Jesus Christ. People who have been changed and are changing. I’m talking about a church that’s alive. I’m not talking about bricks and mortar.
So – I’ve got to ask you a question. And what I want to know is if you’re being changed through what you hear – and what you see – and what you experience in this place? I want to know – because that’s one of the goals I have for myself – it’s a goal I have for each one of you – that we be changed – that we be transformed – that we grow in faith – in our love for God and for each other. That we become more and more like Christ in our thoughts – in our words – and in our actions. This is my hope – and this is my prayer – for all of you. For all of us.
And to that end, I also want to ask you, are you praying for this church – this congregation? For its leaders? For its pastor? Are you praying for those who have not yet visited with us, but who we know the Lord is sending our way? Have you prayed?
Remember – this church is not our Cadillac. This church is not my church. This church belongs to Jesus Christ. And just as Jesus prayed for those first disciples – he also prays for us. Therefore – we need to pray too. Will you promise to do that? Will you promise to pray for Zion and its mission? In fact, I invite you to join with me in doing that right now. Let us pray.
“Father God, we come to you in the name of Jesus, the head and the owner of this church. Lord, we love this church – this place – and the people gathered together here today to worship you. May we continue to reach out – and invite – and pray for those who have not yet walked through our doors – but who we know you are sending this way. Continue to work in and through us through the power of your Holy Spirit. We turn to you for strength and for courage to do what needs to be done every step of the way. In the name of Jesus we pray. And all God’s people said…. Amen.