Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sermon God's Economy

Pentecost 18 Year C 091910
Luke 16:1-13
God’s Economy
By Rich Gamble

Last week’s scripture had Jesus responding to the holy men of his day after the criticized him about hanging out with and even eating with “sinners and tax collectors.” In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus responds by telling a series of stories. This story is part of that response.

In Luke’s story the man in charge of his master’s investments knows that he is about to be fired. So in order to make sure that he has friends out there who look after him after he is fired, he starts forgiving part of the debt that various people owe his boss. In essence he is giving his boss’ money away in order to buy friends.

But there is a twist in this parable as there usually is in parables. The boss finds out about the loan and commends his employee for his shrewdness.

Jesus then goes on to make a comparison. We are like that employee. We don’t own anything. It all belongs to the boss, the big boss, God. It all belongs to God, so why not be generous with it and make yourself some friends. This is the exact opposite of American monetary policy. When we give out money, we use it as a tool to control. Our nation, our banks our corporations don’t give money away to people they loan money with an expectation of profit. Of ten we loan money to impoverished nations through the World Bank or other such organizations. Those loans are then used as a tool to get the impoverished nation to sell off its resources or allow the exploitation of its people as ways of paying off the loan. Loaning with the expectation of profit gives power to the one who makes the loan over the one who takes the loan.

The poor family farmers of Jesus day knew all about debt as a tool of exploitation. That is exactly how the Roman Empire operated. And in the distant memory of our Jewish spiritual ancestors sits a clear line connecting loans taken and the road to slavery.

But here everything is upside down. Here we are called to use money as tool of friendship and not exploitation. The shrewd employee partially lifts the burden of debt from people. He does so for his own gain, not as an act of charity.

Debt is a way to gain control over people. It is a primary tool of economies of domination. In our faith history, debt is a tool of exploitation and slavery. It is no surprise then that we pray every Sunday about the act of forgiving debts. Our God is the God who stands in utter opposition to the economics of empire and exploitation. The way of our God is the way of debt forgiveness, and because it is the way of our God, it is the way of those who choose to become followers of this God. We pray that God will forgive our debts and we commit to the economic process of debt forgiveness (as we forgive our neighbors).

The tool of imperial exploitation so often used against members of the Third World is now being used against America. We are in great debt. Debt caused largely by a transfer of our common resources into the hands of large corporations and wealthy individuals through massive military spending and the bailout of the banking industry. People, even compassionate people, are saying, “well we just don’t have the money to… Improve public schools, have universal healthcare, end homelessness, substantially reduce our carbon emissions. After that will come the calls to privatize things like social security and public lands and close down programs for the poor.

Yesterday I was at a public meeting held by the Lutheran Church about 10 blocks south. The church had recently opened up their building to a homeless shelter and many of the neighbors were upset by the fact that they did not have a say in the matter. For many, the presence of the homeless shelter in their neighborhood was the first time that they became aware that homelessness was an issue for people living in Wallingford.

The future of our current economic path is leading us to greater and greater cuts of programs for low income people as our city and county and state and perhaps even federal governments cut back on essential programs. That means that there will be greater pressure on places like this one to provide shelter and food. Living in Wallingford or Mercer Island is no longer proof against encountering desperately poor people and churches will be looked upon with distrust as possible portals for the poor into more well-off neighborhoods. I don’t think churches should be homeless shelters. I don’t think that there should be homeless shelters because I believe that there should be adequate sources of affordable housing for everyone; but when our nation's economic system leaves people hungry and homeless we must respond. And if our current economic system is inadequate to the task then we should do more than furnish the bandaids of a mat on the floor or a bowl of chili on the victims. We should find a better systems.

The solution is found in our faith: Constructing an economic order which is based on sharing rather than hording wealth. What’s good for people of faith is good for everyone whether they believe in God or not. Building an economic order whose primary goal is broad distribution of wealth rather than on the retention of wealth in the hands of a very small number of people is possible. There are lots of ways to move towards that goal. Utilization of income and inheritance taxes to finance programs for impoverished people is one direct step we can take. That is why there is a “Yes on 1098” sign in the window of this church. That is not just a political sign, it is a sign of our understanding of the will of God.

Like Jesus we have to find ways to change people’s thinking about wealth. Giving food away at Sacred Heart is a good thing, and advocating for things like Public Schools, and Universal Healthcare and non-profit housing are good as well. As the Body of Christ we are challenged to be as creative and daring as Jesus was in his day. Stories, poetry, song, worship, Facebook entries, letters to the editor, protests, painting, parties, and thousands of other activities can spread this vision of a compassionate nation and a just economy. In the midst of the suffering caused by the politics of fear and economics of greed, we know that there is another way and so we have hope, and that is good news.


Saturday, September 11, 2010


Matthew 5:44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Parent in heaven; for God makes Gods’ sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

Loving (and the word here is agape) your enemies is the means by which we change the world. Loving does not meaning capitulating to those who practice evil, in the example of Jesus it means directly opposing them nonviolently. So that they may turn from their violence and oppression.

When President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize he sought to justify violence.

“We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations - acting individually or in concert - will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.”….. “A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism - it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.”

The president’s recognition of history is an interpretation of history, not a fact but a faith statement about his belief in the necessity and righteousness of violence. No one knows whether non-violence would have stopped Hitler’s armies. We do know that

“The Danish and Norwegian resistance to Hitler used direct action such as sabotage of rail lines and factory equipment. Their most important methods involved withholding support from the Nazis -- defiance by teachers, strikes by workers, public boycotts. By the end of the war, Nazi leaders were cabling Berlin to urge that the Germans withdraw -- the costs of staying outweighed the benefits! While thousands of protesters were killed and many more were imprisoned, the casualties were far fewer than would have been caused by armed resistance.” (Glen Gersmehl)

In 1989-90 alone, fourteen nations underwent nonviolent revolutions, all of them successful except China. These revolutions involved 1.7 billion people. If we total all the nonviolent movements of the twentieth century, the figure comes to 3.4 billion people, and again, most were successful. And yet there are people who still insist that nonviolence doesn't work! Gene Sharp has itemized 98 different types of nonviolent actions that are a part of the historical record, yet our history books seldom mention any of them, so preoccupied are they with power politics."(Walter Wink)

Often we resort to violence because we have devised no alternatives. If the only tool you have is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail.

“The 2003 US federal budget again provides over 200 times as much money to military options and resources as it does to all our nonviolent responses to conflict combined, from US contributions to peacekeeping operations or State Dept. conflict resolution efforts to US Institute of Peace research and training programs. Even if you add all the money the US spends to address the roots of conflict and violence in the world – programs like the Peace Corps and development aid – nonviolent methods don’t receive even two percent of the money spent on military options! Contrary to popular belief about the extravagance of US foreign aid, the US trails every industrialized nation in the world in per capita spending to address the root causes of violence and conflict in the world such as hunger and extreme poverty!” (Glen Gersmehl)

In calling on us to love our enemies Jesus was showing us an alternative to the endless cycle of violence. To choose that path is just as much an act of faith as is believing that the use of violence will end the use of violence.

“It cannot be stressed too much: love of enemies has, for our time, become the litmus test of authentic Christian faith. Commitment to justice, liberation, or the overthrow of oppression is not enough, for all too often the means used have brought in their wake new injustices and oppressions. Love of enemies is the recognition that the enemy, too, is a child of God. The enemy too believes he or she is in the right, and fears us because we represent a threat against his or her values, lifestyle, or affluence. When we demonize our enemies, calling them names and identifying them with absolute evil, we deny that they have that of God within them that makes transformation possible. Instead, we play God. We write them out of the Book of Life. We conclude that our enemy has drifted beyond the redemptive hand of God.

I submit that the ultimate religious question today is no longer the Reformation's 'How can I find a gracious God?' It is instead, 'How can I find God in my enemy?' What guilt was for Luther, the enemy has become for us: the goad that can drive us to God. What has formerly been a purely private affair--justification by faith through grace--has now, in our age, grown to embrace the world. As John Stoner comments, we can no more save ourselves from our enemies than we can save ourselves from sin, but God's amazing grace offers to save us from both. There is, in fact, no other way to God for our time but through the enemy, for loving the enemy has become the key both to human survival in the age of terror and to personal transformation. Either we find the God who causes the sun to rise on evil and on the good, or we may have no more sunrises.” (Wink)

On this anniversary of a terrible act of violence, let us as a people of faith proclaim the hard truth of love as the path out of the cycle of hate, fear and violence.