Who knows what an elevator pitch is?
No, its not the proper tone for the engine that a certain elevator makes, although that’s not a bad guess.
It’s a short- less than a minute- speech that explains a person, their project, or their mission. These are tightly condensed and designed to grab the attention of the recipient, inviting them to learn more.
It’s called an elevator pitch because the term originated with a magazine editor at Vanity Fair, who literally had the time of a 4 floor elevator ride and walk across the lobby to pitch story ideas to the magazine’s CEO.
These would be massive stories- 15,000 words- that’s about 10 times as long my sermons are, about 2 hours if you were to read them out loud, and this journalist would have to sell his editor in chief on them in about 45 seconds.
Imagine having a fantastic idea for a story, something that could blow the whistle on massive corruption, a story that could put a spotlight on an underreported war, a story that when it comes out could change the world. And you have about a minute to sell it, and really, about the first 2-3 sentences to grab his attention.
Now imagine doing that about your life, your mission in the world, what you are going to do that if it won’t change everything, it will change you and the work you do significantly.
I had one when I was searching for churches and eventually came here. Here’s mine, about 150 words adapted for brevity from my ministerial profile:
I am passionate about the local church reaching its full potential as an outpost and a signpost of the Kingdom of God. I believe that as a church, we need to reclaim and focus on what makes us unique in the world; the aspects of church life that are profoundly counter-cultural. For example, there are many places where one can hear wonderful music, but there are few where collective singing by non-professionals is not just allowed, but encouraged. Our uniqueness does not mean that we are or should be “separate” from the world, but rather that we are called to be in the messy middle of it, to remind our society that there is another way of being in the world. Instead of apathy, despair, consumerism, and hyper-individualism, the way of Jesus Christ calls us to justice, mercy, hope, and interdependent community. This is the calling of the church; to proclaim the gospel, and transform the world.
Jesus, being a better preacher than me, does his in about 1/3 of the space, about 50 words, in our gospel reading.
He’s in his home town, a crowd around him wondering about this man who grew up there, went away for a while and has come back. We can imagine the crowd waiting for him to read scripture and preach- maybe for 5 minutes, maybe for an hour.
Jesus takes about 30 seconds.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
That’s it. He drops the proverbial mic and sits back down, adding, this scripture has been fulfilled in your presence.
This is Jesus’ elevator pitch, his mission and vision statement, the thirty seconds to tell the story. This is of course, not the entirety of his work, just as a 15,000 word story can’t be told in 150, nor can a movie be told in a trailer. But it is the core of his work.
So what are we to make of this little elevator pitch?
Two things: first, trying to understand Jesus’ life, work, death, and resurrection is the work of a lifetime- multiple lifetimes. More has been written about what Jesus’ life means than probably any other single subject in history. Short phrases or verses like this one help us find the center of Jesus’ teaching, because trying to take all of it in at once is too much. This short section is as good of summary of Jesus as any in the gospels.
Secondly, Jesus’ teaching in this form, using scripture to explain his mission in a succinct way, inspires us to do the same for our own lives, our own missions, our own ministries in the world. Indeed, get ready for it, there will be homework for us after this worship service: what is your elevator pitch?
What Jesus did was hard; doing an elevator pitch is hard. Indeed, anyone who writes professionally or regularly knows that writing shorter pieces is usually harder than writing longer pieces. When writing and thinking in shorter formats, you have to be really focused on what you want to say and be very precise with your language. There’s as much editing as original writing involved.
We see this in the passage- or well, the passages that Jesus uses. That’s right; Jesus actually does a little bit of editing here. As for a tiny bit of background, in Jesus’ day there were two major versions of what we call the Old Testament; the Hebrew, and a translation in the Greek. As with any translation, there slight differences between them. The editing here is that is what Jesus reads doesn’t actually line up perfectly with either the Hebrew or the Greek version.
To proclaim what Jesus needed to, he has to edit. He can only leave in what is essential, and excise all else.
In a format like the Sermon on the Mount which contains the beatitudes, or even in a parable like the prodigal son, there can be some extra details, either for setting the scene or making a moral point. Here there is no room. 51 words.
That’s why a passage like this is so useful. Everything else in Jesus’ life can be read as an extension of these words; this is his mission. His healings, his teachings obviously, but also the harder parts, like his death and resurrection.
This is useful in those places where the Bible is a little more mysterious, where we don’t exactly get what’s going on. When we can’t make sense of a piece of scripture; let’s apply this lens. How does it bring Good News to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. How does this let the oppressed go free and proclaim the year of the lord’s favor.
The issue with this, of course, is that eventually, if we keep asking this of the Bible, eventually it asks the same of us. How do we do those things, as individuals, as a church, as a society? Think the bible is hypocritical sometimes? Hard to understand? Has some pretty gnarly stuff in it? Sure. But we so are we.
Indeed, I think this passage must inspire us to go through this process of editing and clarification about our lives and mission, what the core of our values are. As a church, as a people, as individuals.
And before you think I’m pulling this from a 90s business book, there’s actually a pretty famous example of Jesus try to get the people around him to do this just a few pages later.
In Luke chapter 10, a scholar challenges Jesus with a question. This was pretty typical and not really seen as rude. It’s how teachers and students interacted in that part of the world. We even see it in the works of Plato. Anyways, this scholar asks Jesus “what should I do to inherit eternal life?”, but if we read carefully, Jesus doesn’t actually answer the question himself; he lets the man answer the question. Indeed, the man’s answer is good, indeed probably as close to correct as anyone gets in scripture; love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your strength and your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus simply says that he’s correct. Jesus provokes he man into answering his own question. Jesus helps him write his own elevator pitch.
I hope that Jesus can do that for us too.
So I have homework for us this week; take some time and write your elevator pitch. Consider your core values? How do we succinctly get across the essentials of who we are and what we stand for? What words do we want people to interpret our lives by?
How do we want to be known to our friends and around town? What do we want people to say about us at our funerals?
Jesus’ elevator pitch was this: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”