“Consumerism and the American Soul”                                        July 1, 2012

Mark 5:21-43                                                                                     Stephens City UMC


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


I.                   In the 20 verses prior to our scripture lesson for today Jesus has been working among the Gentiles who live on the west side of the Sea of Galilee.

A.    He really hasn’t had much success.

1.     He taught from the Jewish scriptures which they didn’t know or consider foundational in understanding God and how to live so they just found Jesus to be odd.

B.     In our scripture lesson for today Jesus has returned to the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee so he’s back among his own people.

1.     These folks are suppose to be scriptural people, people who both understand and practice the religious traditions, but it is difficult to tell them apart from the people on the other side of the lake.

2.     When they hear his message they also laugh at him.

II.                 You know, 2,000 years later people are still claiming to be in the religious tradition of Jesus, but they laugh when they hear his message and the explanation of what it really means to follow him.

A.    “Oh, you can’t mean that. That’s not the way it is in this country. I tell you Jesus, you are so funny.”

1.     And people with a laugh put him and his way of life at arms’ length.

2.     One way we do that in our country is with our materialism.

B.     G. Jeffrey MacDonald, a United Church of Christ pastor as well as a journalist has written a book entitled Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul.

1.     MacDonald is concerned about us preachers, that we will tell our congregations just about anything they want to hear as long as you people help us to build some monument to ourselves and help us in the eyes of the world to look successful and powerful.

2.     It is sort of “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine.”

3.     “I’ll tell you that God loves you and you can live however you please and you’ll give money so I can have a big church with two homes and five cars and 3 months vacation.”

4.     “So what if I water down the Gospel, what matters is worldly success.”

5.     And woe to the preacher who gets convicted on his sin and his role in promoting consumerism and materialism as the false gods to seek and to worship, and instead begins to preach the Gospel and teach the ways of the Kingdom of God.

C.     One pastor who did so was Walter Kallenstad, the famous Lead Pastor at the Church of Joy in Glendale, Arizona.

1.     In 2002, The Community of Joy Church was the envy of all American Christendom.

2.     It was situated on a 187-acre campus and had 12,000 members on the roll.

3.     According to James P. Wind of the Alban Institute, they had an “efficient parking lot system, fashionable food court, and bursting attendance numbers at worship (Wind, Alben Institute Newsletter, July 1, 2010).”

4.     They were experiencing success with a capital S, but the Senior Pastor, Walter Kallestad, wasn’t sleeping well at night.

5.     His congregation was filled with Yuppies who were primarily concerned about their stock portfolios and getting their nails done and never seemed to Kallestad to even notice the problems in the Phoenix/Glendale area of inner city crime, drug and alcohol addiction, unwanted pregnancy, broken homes and so much more.

6.     Kallestad began to wonder if the surrounding community would miss his congregation if it happened to disappear.

7.     Then Kallestad did a dangerous thing: he prayed and honestly assessed his congregation.

8.     He concluded, “They didn’t really want to engage with God. They wanted relief and inspiration (Wind).”

9.     Basically his congregation was a group of people who wanted their needs met, their personal hurts healed and as long as things improved for them personally then that was all that mattered.

10.             So 20 years into his ministry Kallestad found courage and with tears confessed to his congregation that The Church of Joy had become “a dispenser of religious goods and services (Wind).”

11.             What he was confessing was that he had taught and molded them not into Christian disciples but into religious consumers.

12.             So Kallestad and the church leadership took a hard look at the church’s programs.

13.             If those programs furthered discipleship then they kept them and if not then they let them go.

14.             Among the church programs that ceased were: square dancing classes, dining clubs that visited local restaurants for dinner parties, and evenings that were given to playing bridge.

15.             Kallestad had nothing against bridge but it didn’t seem to him that the primary purpose of the church is to organize bridge clubs.

16.             Of course, this was well received by church members – NOT!

17.             One third of the members and half of the staff immediately left.

18.             Six years later only ¼ of that group had returned.

19.             Of course, now that church is a powerful force for witnessing and serving in the name of Jesus.

III.              This Sunday we are celebrating the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.

A.    You and I live in a country where we are free to worship as we please and that is not true in a number of other nations.

1.     Of course, people in this country are also free not to worship and plenty of people exercise that option.

2.     Now I would be among those who think for this nation to be truly strong the practice of religion has to be strong.

3.     Therefore, I think if we care about this country we need to reflect deeply on how we are practicing our religion and maybe the first thing we need to repent of is religious consumerism.

4.     Religious consumerism does not make for a strong church or a strong country.

B.     In our scripture lesson for today we heard of Jesus raising a little girl to new life.

1.     Some so called religious people almost got in Jesus’ way but he was able to overcome the way they practiced their faith.

2.     May Jesus overcome us and some of the aspects of the American church to raise His church and this nation to new life.