I have always been a fan of Dr. Pepper. Last summer on the youth group Mystery Trip we toured the DP museum in Waco. I have never been to Dublin, TX (Ireland yes, Texas no) but it is on my "bucket list." A few years ago Dr. Pepper began selling its original formula again in limited markets-- the stuff with real Imperial sugar (Sugar Land, TX), not high fructose corn syrup. They packaged the drinks in original artwork. It tasted weird because I was used to the "modern" formula. It took awhile to get used to-- but I kept drinking out of nostalgia. Soon Pepsi and Mountain Dew began selling their original formulas. Pepsi has decided to keep the "old school" version as a permanent option.
This week I saw a story about advertising that said more and more companies are marketing their products using original formulas or advertising campaigns. There are a couple of reasons for this: parents in their 30s and 40s will notice the old styles and appreciate the memories and emotions they present. And in a time of continued economic anxiety it can be comforting to sort of return to the past. As uncomfortable as it is to think advertisers would manipulate our emotions to sell us stuff that's not good for us anyway, that's the business. Pass the original formula!
This got me thinking about the church. In communities of faith everywhere, there is always tension between yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I remember serving in England many years ago, seeing pictures of hundreds of children dressed in white for a Sunday school anniversary, and hearing people long for the past. Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Over our 4+ years in Prosper, I could not begin to count how many times I have heard folk comment about the Sanctuary feeling like a return to home, the past, a place that may only exist in memory. Years ago we said our niche would be traditional worship, and that emphasis has worked well for us. But we always must be careful to remember why we offer what we offer-- not to manipulate people longing for something missing, but offering the truth of God. The church is so much more than marketing and packaging.
This week I prayed with three different families-- one in the hospital after a minor procedure, one in the hospital after a major procedure, and another facing a procedure in the future. Each family has their own joys, needs, fears, anxieties. Each appreciates the church because of the love and grace of God it represents. At such times, one does not notice the wrapping or the taste.
We'll start a new three-part sermon series this week on Three Simple Rules, a book by Bishop Reuben Job based on John Wesley's general rules of the church: Do no harm; Do good; Stay in love with God. Each sermon will build on Wesley's vision of the church. May 29: a church that refuses to participate in harmful behavior-- gossip, name calling, negative talk and actions. June 5: a church that focuses on using its gifts to make the world better. June 12: a church that keeps up with the disciplines of an ever-growing faith: regular worship and giving, participating in the Lord's Supper, Bible study, fellowship, and prayer.
The advertising industry has some of the most talented people anywhere. They know that nostalgia is powerful. We may feel challenged and even in despair about events around us, but repackaging our favorite drinks or snacks in familiar ways of a different era can immediately evoke a positive feeling (and a sale!). Inside the package is something that may be delicious, but it will be temporary and fleeting. The church can bring back the same feeling: stained glass windows, the Apostles Creed, the Lord's Prayer. But inside is an opportunity to learn and grow, to surround oneself with caring, loving, positive people who love Jesus and others, who covenant together and hold each other accountable to do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God. No matter how it is packaged, the gospel is truth-- the good news of the One the writer of Hebrews referred to as "the same yesterday, today, and forever."