This morning, I am going to concentrate on the most important of these marks because it forms the foundation of all that is to come. It forms the foundation of the church itself. It is the one mark that is above all other marks: a church must be Christ centered.
Now, what does Christ centered mean? Let me begin answering this question by turning to those sages of wisdom in advertizing: Bud Light. For those of you who have heard about or who heard my Christmas Eve sermon, you know that I raised an empty bottle of Bud Light and spoke of the first “Dilly Dilly” commercial. During that snippet of the sermon, I discovered that while it is nearly impossible to get Lutherans to say “Amen” in a sermon, some will gladly say, “Dilly Dilly!” It was quite the experience. But, the thing is, Bud Light did not stop with one commercial, there have been several others that have been done for this campaign, and one of them is very pertinent to the discussion of what it means to be Christ centered. The commercial that I am speaking of is the one titled, “Wizard.” How many of you have seen it?
This commercial begins in the king’s throne room. A large crowd has gathered to watch a wizard perform his magic. The wizard points his staff at a chair, and poof!, the chair becomes a case of Bud Light!
The king responds, “Well done, wizard! You are a true friend of the crown!” And holding up his bottle of Bud Light, the king says, “Dilly, dilly!”
The wizard bows as the rest of the crowd raises their bottles and resoundingly responds, “Dilly dilly!”
The wizard then says, “What would you have me do now, your majesty?”
The queen points her finger, and the king says, “Turn that into Bud Light.”
The wizard says, “Okay,” as he points his staff at a candle stand.
Poof! The crowd gasps as it turns into several stacked cases of Bud Light with a single bottle on top.
The king then says, “Now, turn that statue into Bud Light!”
The wizard then looks at the king and says, “You know, your highness, I can do other things. I can put a curse on your enemies. I can make you immortal!”
The king looks at his queen for just a second and then responds, “Yeah, no, just the Bud Light thing.”
The wizard, with a bit of a frustrated look, nods his head, points his staff, and the statue turns into a bunch of cases of Bud Light.
A member of the crowd then raises his bottle and says, “Dilly dilly!”
And everyone else says, “Dilly dilly!!”
When I first saw this commercial, I laughed rather heartily and loudly! Everyone knows, and I mean everyone knows that the power to put a curse on one’s enemies or to grant immortality is tremendously better than beer! Everyone get that. Everyone understands that. And yet, yet, this king is so consumed and focused on Bud Light, that he would give up immortality to see a statue turned into his favorite beer. It makes for brilliant advertizing!!
And it makes for brilliant advertizing because it picks up on something in human nature–our own willingness to settle for far less and desire things that are of far less value. What do I mean by that? Well, I would like to use the example of the church to begin with. Throughout my years, I have heard numerous reasons that people have given to invite people to come to church. I have heard numerous reasons for the church to want to get members. Some of them are good. Some, not so much.
Here’s one of the not so much ones: the church needs to get members to keep the lights on and the bills paid. That’s really not a good reason to have people join the church–that’s simply about survival, but there are congregations that actually function with this mentality.
Some folks invite people to come to church to hear a particular pastor. “Our pastor preaches fantastic sermons, you should come and hear him or her!” This is an okay reason, but in the long run, we pastors will always disappoint. We’re human. We mess up. We retire. We leave for other congregations. Having a church centered on a pastor is really not the best of ideas. Because as one pastor said in a sermon, “We are not here to follow the messenger, we are here to follow the message.”
Here’s a better reason: you should join a church because the church provides a place of community. We are social creatures, there is no doubt about that. We need one another as well as needing to be individuals. The church is a place where you can find community. Not a bad thing.
Here’s another good reason: you should join a church because you can work together with others for justice and peace. The world is full of injustice. The world is full of division and hatred. The church provides an avenue where people can come together to challenge the status quo and show a different way of living. That’s a good thing!
Here’s a final one: you should go to church because you will be encouraged to be a better person. You will be taught right and wrong. You will be given examples of people who lived a good life, and you will receive encouragement to go and do likewise.
Now, these are just a few reasons, and the list is not exhaustive. Most of these things are good–except a couple, and there is nothing wrong with such things. But let me now offer you the most important reason for coming to church. Let me now offer you the most important thing that the church offers, and let’s see how it compares with the things that I have just listed. The church is here to bring people Jesus. The church is here to give people the Gospel–the Good news of what Jesus has done for them in His death and resurrection–so that Jesus may come into their hearts and they may be filled with the Spirit of God.
How does that compare with all of those other things? Here, in this hand, you have all of those things, and here in this other hand, you have Jesus Himself, in all of His glory, in all His divinity. You have Jesus who loved you with an unimaginable love; who stretched out His arms and died for you when you least deserved it. You have the God who took your sin upon himself; who took your place on the cross; who suffered what you should have suffered; and who gave you what He earned–eternal life; the endless love of the Heavenly Father; the knowledge that you no longer have to look to any other thing for your value and self-worth. You have Jesus who shines light into the darkness; who lives in you and clothes you with Himself; who gives you the everlasting promises that no matter what may befall you–no matter what trial you may undergo, He is waiting to bring you through it and transform whatever wrong into goodness and light. Can anything else compare? Can anything else even come close? Bud Light or immortality; is there even a choice? Jesus or all that other stuff, is there even a choice?
The greatest and most important mark of any church is that it is Christ centered. Everything that church does points to Jesus. Everything that occurs is done with the mind set of helping others see who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for the world because Jesus is the greatest treasure that we could ever have.
But, there is a catch of sorts. I was listening to a sermon by a pastor in Austin, TX by the name of Matt Carter. I was struck by something he said in that sermon. He said, “We will never be a Christ centered church until we are full of Christ centered people. We will never be a Christ centered church until Jesus is all of our first love.” When I heard that statement, I knew it was the truth. I knew that if the Church is to be Christ centered, its pastor must be Christ-centered and its people must be Christ centered. We must have Christ as our first love. We must have experienced His grace and His mercy in our lives. We must have found ourselves at the foot of the cross thanking Him for what He has done for us by dying for us and making us right with God the Father. We must have found the true treasure of Jesus and have had Him claim us as His own.
Have you been grasped by the love of Jesus? Does He sit enthroned in your heart? Have you found the endless love, peace, and joy that He can bring? Today, Jesus looks at you and says, “I will give myself to you. I will pour myself into you and into your heart. I will never let you down.” Will we open our hearts to him, or will we say, “Yeah, no, just the Bud Light thing. Yeah, no, just the worldly thing. Yeah, no just the community thing. Yeah, no just the whatever thing.”? If we are to be a Christ centered Church, let us be Christ centered people and with the great hymn writer, let us also sing:
Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus.
You can have all of the rest.
Give me Jesus. Amen.