As an impressionable young couple in a new community, we were flattered when a slightly older and more affluent couple in the community and church I was serving invited Dana and I to supper one night. The couple represented the “it” crowd and what everyone in life seemed to be striving to attain . . . they were among the “beautiful people” with the perfect tan, big house, new cars, and the status to go with it all. Needless to say, all things that we wanted as we were starting in a new place; and, needless to say we were more than willing to jump at the invitation to jump-start our arrival in the community.
We thought we were at the beginning of something great . . .
. . . what we were was suckers.
Somehow we miss all the tell tale signs of warning that what we were being set up for was what I and many others would consider to be a scam. After a wonderful meal . . . after we were wined and dined . . . we all went into the living room. Our host said that he wanted to show us something as he set up a screen and projector. Then the lights were dimmed and the scam began. Showing us products that we could sell from the comfort of our home, our host began a hard sale on Dana and I. In broad descriptive strokes he painted a picture of all those things that impressed us about him and his wife, and how we--too--could have it all if we would just agree to join up with his sales team. All we had to do was to recruit two people to do just as we were doing . . . and, we would get a cut of their profits. And, as those two went out and got two more people, we would get a cut of those profits. Our host told us the potential was tremendous, and all we had to do was to sign on the dotted line . . . besides, he said, the products would sell themselves.
Do any of you recognize this scenario? I am pretty sure that I am not the only person in the sanctuary to fall into this trap. The trap is a classic “pyramid scheme”. A pyramid scheme is a legitimate business model that recruits members via a promise of payments or services for enrolling others into the scheme. This is a great business model if you are the person at the top of the pyramid receiving payment from all the people below you. It is a crummy model if you are one of the people at the bottom. In some places the pyramid scheme is illegal . . . thus it takes on many different shapes and sizes to sucker people in.
Fortunately, Dana and I might have been impressionable, but we were not stupid. After enduring the hour-and-a-half presentation, we thanked our hosts, walked out the door, and never talked to them again.
I suppose not all pyramid schemes are “bad”. A few weeks ago I shared the story about Catherine Ryan Hyde . . . her 1999 book Pay It Forward . . . its eventual movie starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joe Osment . . . and, the start of her non-profit organization, the Pay It Forward Foundation. It was all based on a simple charitable idea of doing acts of kindness for others. In the story the young character named Trevor takes to heart the challenge of one of his teachers to “change the world”. Trevor decides that he would do acts of kindness to others, instead of gratefulness for his acts, he challenges those he has helped to go and do likewise . . . in fact, he challenges them to go forth and do five acts of kindness.
Okay, do the math. If each of those five people do five acts of kindness . . . and, then those people go out and do five acts of kindness . . . well, the potential is unlimited. Imagine what the world would be like if this really happened. This is a “pyramid scheme” . . . a charitable one that seeks to spread kindness . . . everyone profits from this, not just the person at the top.
In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he is concerned with making “God’s plan . . . to bring all creation together, everything in heaven and on earth, with Christ as head.” (Ephesians 1:10, TEV) It is an appeal to God’s people to live out their lives in the meaning of this great plan for the unity of all through the oneness that comes in Jesus Christ. It is Paul’s goal to sell this idea to the Ephesians.
Thus it is that Paul begins with his sale’s pitch. “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” He is softening up his audience . . . making them feel good . . . pointing out to them that they were chosen for the task that is at hand . . . to go forth, share the “good news of Jesus Christ” and bring about the Kingdom of God. In Paul’s mind and words, he is telling the people that they have been chosen--hand picked from the boss at the top-- for this gift and task. The goal? To grow the company . . . to grow the church . . . to grow Jesus’ message and way of life . . . to establish the Kingdom of God. And, says Paul, God has chosen you. And, for this, Paul gives thanks.
Once the apostle has primed his audience, he shares the product . . . God’s Kingdom as demonstrated in and through Jesus. The Kingdom of God . . . that is the goal. To bring all of God’s creation, all of God’s family, back together as one. It is a product that the Ephesians know well as they have been chosen by God to experience it. In Paul’s mind, the product sells itself . . . who wouldn’t want a little slice of heaven?
Then he hits them with the task . . . go forth and share the “good news of Jesus Christ”. Go forth and recruit others into the Kingdom of Heaven. Brings others into the family of God. To join the ranks of the “chosen”. Then in return, those who have come into the family will go out and do likewise.
Sure it does . . . it is a “pyramid scheme”. It is a pyramid scheme of faith. Surprisingly, we have all been caught up in its potential and allure at establishing God’s Kingdom.
Because we have all received--been chosen--to receive the gift through Jesus, we have all been scooped up into this “pyramid scheme”. We have all been tasked with the job of sharing the “good news” of Jesus with others through the words that we speak and the actions that we take. We are called upon to bring others back into the family . . . and, in turn, those people are called upon to bring others also. It is almost like a cosmic, holy game of “tag”.
Surprisingly, the apostle knew what he was doing. Research over many, many years continues to show that the greatest factor in getting people to believe is not fancy evangelism efforts or programs within a church . . . it is not in hiring some fancy talking preacher. No, when most people are asked what got them involved, they always answer that it was because somebody took the time to talk to them and invite them to join. It is through a grassroots approach . . . people talking to people . . . that the “good news” of Jesus has always spread in building God’s Kingdom. It always has been and it always will be.
Whether we like it or not, we are all a part of this “pyramid scheme of faith”. We number ourselves among the “chosen” . . . we have received the product of grace, and the promise of God’s presence . . . we have been told to share that with others . . . to build the Kingdom of God. It really is a good--no, great--product . . . it practically sells itself. All we have to do is to share it with another. It is as simple as that.
Think about it . . . the potential is unlimited. As we have heard before, “Go forth and multiply!” Amen.