It is hard for congregations to become a manifestation of Christ’s Beloved Community. There are many reasons, but perhaps the biggest reason in our age is consumerism. Our culture, driven by economic values and personal satisfaction, turns everything into a commodity. We “shop” for churches. In the same way we decide not to go to a restaurant that gave us a bad burger, we decide to find another church because of a slight from another member, a sermon with which we disagree, or a song that we disliked.
The relationship with the church – the beloved community – is turned upside down by consumerism. Instead of going to church to worship God and be part of something larger than ourselves, we go to get something for ourselves. If we don’t get what we want, we move on. My last congregation was one of 22 ELCA congregations in two counties. One weekend a new family showed up to worship with us. We welcomed them and I began to get to know them. I heard a long litany of reasons they had left the last congregation, and the one before that. It turned out that they had belonged to 15 of the 22 congregations in the area. They wanted to join. I knew it would not last.
You see the church has too often given in to selling Jesus, or hope, or grace, or great music, programs, or coffee - whatever it may be. “Come here and you’ll find what you seek.” So, congregations search for the right marketing strategy and then end up trading unhappy customers with each other in what passes for building the reign of God and evangelism.
On the other side, members want to be made happy or they will take body, mind, spirit, and offering elsewhere. None of this creates a beloved community. It is like the marriage that has devolved to an argument between two people who “don’t get anything out of the relationship anymore.” Instead of rolling up our sleeves, we pack up our tent. Instead of encouragement, we choose evaluation.
To be a Beloved Community takes time, patience, and an unquenchable commitment not to yourself and your needs, but to God and God’s people. Just as a family, marriage or any worthwhile relationship cannot survive if participants bolt at the first sign of dissatisfaction, the beloved community is doomed if the love that binds it is, like the Cole Porter song, Love for Sale. From the 1930 musical, The New Yorkers, this classic is sung by a prostitute who offers a cynical, consumerist, vision of love. That’s what the marketplace does to love, to community, and all things beautiful. It makes love into its opposite.
The love expressed by the beloved community is the opposite of commodified love.
If one offered for love
all the wealth of one’s house,
it would be utterly scorned. (Song of Songs 8:7)
The Beatles sang the same sentiment in Can’t Buy Me Love. Love is given, not taken. Love is humility and loyalty, commitment, and kindness. Love is working things out, not running away. The Beloved Community takes root in the soil of Christ’s love, which is always faithful to us and never shops for better people. To be beloved is priceless. To be in a community of the beloved is divine.
Tim Olson – Lead Pastor
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