PASTOR’S CORNER, Brad Bennett, First United Methodist Church, Liberal


Back in the 1970’s the world sang the popular hit-song that Coca-Cola used as a theme. Here’s the chorus:

“I'd like to teach the world to sing/In perfect harmony/I'd like to buy the world a Coke/And keep it company/That's the real thing! What the world wants today is the real thing.”

Brand loyalty is a tool of the marketing world for businesses. There are time when marketers claim that people are no longer loyal to name brands of the past. A few months or years later, the message changes and loyalty is everything. Whatever the message, there is often a lot of data to back-up the claims.

Changing the ingredients of a successful brand can be extremely challenging. In April of 1985, Coca-Cola changed its formula and introduced a product called "New Coke." Company hotline calls quadrupled in volume and psychiatrists heard people talking as though they were grieving the death of a family member. The response was overwhelmingly negative, and within three months the original formula was back on the market.

A similar beverage re-marketing took place after 5 years of research in South America. In 2013 with a reduced-calorie version called Coca-Cola LIFE. It didn’t last long once it was distributed in the US and was headed off the market by 2017 — replaced by Coke Zero Sugar. Oh well ~ Boo Hoo! Apparently, it’s all good for the company’s total assets!

Church leaders often get drawn into whatever theories are driving consumer markets. Outreach strategies for church growth are frequently used as tools for knowing what’s best or needed in congregations of every religion for a long, long time. Church leaders study demographic data in order to be better informed and educated about trends in our are specific area. Many groups of congregations get drawn into marketing must-do’s, trends or whatever local businesses are already doing.

Student-followers of Jesus, all know “the real thing”, the real deal, is not a beverage nor brand loyalty nor asset enhancement. The real deal, the real thing is Jesus, the great I AM. The church of Jesus Christ, filled with Jesus’ followers, is not worried about rebranding Jesus’ Church. The world may think brand loyalty is important or not. But Jesus’ hope for the world was never the best marketing practice for asset enhancement.

Jesus gave the world the purest example of love through a living faith. An innocent Jesus from Nazareth was killed on the cross so that the world could experience what love really is ~ forgiving & forgiveness by God’s grace. Jesus gave up God’s gift of life, so that Jesus could take up life again by showing up again and again after Jesus was raised from the dead (John 10:17).

Jesus is our purest example of what God’s gift of love is. And my life is God’s gift - a gift for the entire world really - a gift to me and anyone with whom I am connected or anyone or any creature or creation who welcomes or rejects me as God’s gift. Like Jesus, by God’s gracious Spirit, I have freedom to use this gift however I deem is best.

For another month and a half or so, I’m reducing my office library from about 45 boxes of books  down to 4.5 boxes ... or fewer. I got started on this and almost, immediately I got stuck reviewing the books. Someone in our congregation said that they are also working at downsizing all sorts of stuff and they said, “THIS IS HARD - really HARD!

There’s a box, and there’s a whole file drawer, filled with my handwritten notes and digitally produced print-outs from weddings and memorials to death and resurrection eulogies from about 40 years of this gift from God. Scanning over these has been both awesome and painful and tragic and beautiful and all points in-between. These books contain all sorts of reminders of times when I chose to give up my life and then take up my life again, again, again.

I stand amazed at how my life is filled by God’s grace. I hope you experience your life as God’s gift as well. It’s truly amazing to see God’s grace this way! And also it’s remarkably assuring to know that, just as God loves Jesus, and God loves the world, and God loves you.

Eventually, I’m going to let go of all this stuff when God’s Spirit transitions my life out of this world and into the next. I might as well take Jesus’ teaching to heart and continue giving up and taking up my life again and again and again.

No one can give this gift to me. No one can take this gift from me. My life is God’s gift. I give up God’s gift of life, because I’m free to do so. And, by God’s grace, I have the right to take it up again and I choose to keep renewing this gift of God’s love in my life. I hope for you this life of faith in Jesus Christ. Amen and Amen!

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