Tag: money

Impossible but for God

Mark 10:17-31 america-wealth-distribution
Hebrews 4:12-16

Today’s reading is one of those readings pastors are often told to “manage.” Manage it – don’t tell your congregation to be aesthetics and own no possessions. Don’t tell people to live in communes and hold all things in equal possession. Don’t advocate communism, or socialism, or speak of the writings of Karl Marx. No word of the groundbreaking work of Max Weber in his book “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.”

Manage it, and don’t let the genie out of the bottle!

A lot of pastors listen to the advice and try to manage the story.

Have you been told the story before that there was a gate in Jerusalem named “Eye of the Needle.” After dark, the big gates were closed and this little gate left open. The only way to get a camel through it was to unload the camel of all their baggage. Then the camel could get through on his knees. Therefore, Jesus must mean that the rich can get into heaven on their knees once they’ve gotten rid of their riches that are burdens.

It’s a great story.

It’s also utterly false. A monk made this up in the 9th century. No such gate existed.

And most rich I know don’t feel burdened by their wealth. Do you feel too wealthy?

Managing Jesus with the gate story – makes the rich hopeful, does nothing for the poor. That’s not the way of Christ.

I’ve heard this story managed by explaining the word translated as camel was actually supposed to be the Greek word for cable – like a ship cable or very thick rope. Sounds awful hard to get that through a needle… but you could get part of it through, or a little bit over time, or even could get a bigger needle. Big, big needles are used to sew ship masts.

We could manage the story this way and argue that the rich slip into heaven with difficulty, but heaven grows to accommodate them. Or the rich leave behind all their extras when they die and just the soul slips through. Just the center piece of rope.

More hope for the rich. Again – nothing for the poor. This is not the way of Christ. Christ came preaching good news for the poor.

In the history of the church, the church once became more powerful and rich and influential than kingdoms. As the wealth became accumulated, popes and bishops and archbishops and even local clergy lived in homes better off than their neighbors. Monasteries became little kingdoms unto themselves owning large tracks of land with serfs – almost slaves – renting the land from them to scratch out a living. The more power and wealth was concentrated into the church, the more corruption and sin snuck in. Eventually, all you needed was money to be made a clergy member. No skills at preaching, no calling from God, no commitment to living Christian needed. Just money.

How did they manage this passage? By not reading it. By controlling who could read the Bible. By reading the Bible only in languages the common people didn’t understand. The King James Version, understandable to the common person, drew on a manuscript that had the added words, “how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God”

Riches aren’t the problem. Trusting riches are. This is comfort for the rich… and again doesn’t help the poor. This is not the way of Christ. Christ decried the clergy who wore large tassels, spoke long prayers, and said ‘Thank God I’m not like that poor sinner over there!’

Modern pastors like to argue Jesus knew the particular weakness and sin of the rich man who came to him. So when Jesus tells him to give away his possessions to the poor, Jesus was hitting the man in his secret sin spot. This passage is managed by saying THAT RICH MAN, not me, has an issue with money. Jesus doesn’t ask me to share my wealth, but rather to give up whatever I treasure that separates me from following God. Maybe cursing. Maybe TV. Maybe road rage.

This is comfort for the rich, and doesn’t help the poor. Although it is good advice to get closer to God… Jesus doesn’t view God and you having an isolated, exclusive, relationship. God is found wherever two or three are gathered. God is in community. Giving up cursing is not good news to the poor, the captive, the slave.

Other modern pastors say the man was trying to EARN heaven, and Jesus shows how futile it is to earn heaven. No one could follow the commandments, or really give up all they own. Only the grace of God lets us in heaven. So why try to earn heaven? Just let go and let God.

But the belief in Judaism is that people really can follow the commandments. And Jesus looks at this man, and LOVES him. A rare use of love. Then Jesus invites this man to become a disciple – maybe one of the closest like Matthew or Mark or Peter. All the man needs to do is give all he owns to the poor, and follow Jesus. If this was just to show heaven cannot be EARNED, why does Jesus let the man go away grieving? Why not add, “You cannot earn heaven, but you can be given it?”

No. Jesus says: How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kindom of heaven.

The disciples are as upset as we are to hear this. Peter believes in the prosperity gospel. He believes that God favors those who help themselves – much as Benjamin Franklin would have us believe. Peter believes that God sends wealth to the righteous and moral and hardworking, and the lazy and sinful and immortal are poor. Peter points to this man who has followed ALL the commandments, and is clearly so blessed for this that he is quite wealthy, and Peter panics. If that holy of a man can’t get into heaven, how are we supposed to ever get into heaven? If the super rich priests in the temple can’t get into heaven – they who have nothing to do but pray and study God and don’t need to fish and hunt – if even they can’t get in… what about the rest of us?

We who curse? And sin? And forget to pray every day? We who don’t always have God’s blessing? Jesus – what about us? The poor?

The “first will be last, and the last will be first.”

The good news for the poor is that nothing is impossible for God. The very rich and the very poor, the very holy and the very sinful – God is able to bring anyone into heaven. Anyone into the reign of God.

For the wealthy, it is much harder than it is for the poor to live in this new reign. The wealthy have so much more to lose.

Homes.
Land.
Businesses.
Families.
Honorable names.
Comfortable lives.
Wealth.
Money.
Power.

The poor have much less to risk by following Jesus. The poor live into the realm of equality, of sharing equally, of treating all as equals much more easily than the rich who are usually born way, way more rich than others. Who are not used to viewing others as equals. Who would have to make drastic, drastic changes to live as equals with others. Changes that don’t feel fair.

Consider wealth in the USA. Wealth is calculated by your assets minus your debts. So let’s say you have a $250,000 house, but you owe $200,000 still to the bank. That means your wealth is actually only $50,000. Assets are things like your house, cars, bank accounts, retirement investments, and land. Debts are your student loans, credit cards, mortgages, and so forth.

Wealth distribution in the USA is easier with visuals. So let’s picture the USA as having only 100 people. And all their wealth together is 100 cherry pies. In an equal distribution, every person would have 1 pie. This is Jesus’ goal in the Bible. Everyone has enough. No one has too much. No one has too little.

But this world is not yet liberated from all sin.

In reality, twenty people take 90 pies for themselves in the USA, and leave 10 pies for 80 people. How do you think the 80 people will share their 10 pies?

The next 20 people take 8 of the 10 pies for themselves and pass on 2 pies. Just 2 pies for 60 people to share.

When we go back to thinking of these as dollars, when you reach the middle incomes of Americans to the bottom incomes, we are splitting 2% of the country’s wealth among us all.

60% of Americans – most of us – have only 2% of the country’s wealth.
1% of Americans own 40% of the country’s wealth all by themselves. That is a greater wealth inequality than the 1% wealthiest in France, or England, or Germany, equal with Russia and worse than Zambia! While 1 person in our story has 40 pies…

20 people have no pies at all. The 20 people in the middle income bracket take the 2 pies left from the rich and divide the slices among themselves. The next 20 people have nothing. No investments and saved money, but also no debt. It all balances out. They can’t stop working or retire or they’ll sink into the next category…

20 Americans in our story not only have no pie to eat, they owe a pie. They have more debt that income.

There is enough pie here for everyone. Even if someone took more than their share of one pie, someone else could give up a slice. But instead, 1 person sits on fourty whole pies and 40 people sit with nothing.

1 in 3 households in America are considered impoverished right now. They’re struggling to pay utilities, food, for a roof over their head.

Angry, yes? Why isn’t the pie shared so at least everyone has a bite to eat?

Why isn’t it? Not knowing? Not caring? Fear of scarcity?

What did you answer? Because the hard reality is that if you’re earning $32,000 annually… you, yourself are in the world’s 1% of richest people. Every 8 of us here together, make as much as 3.6 BILLION people.

Globally, people don’t just struggle to have food… they die from lack of food. Globally, there is still enough pie… but we’re the ones sitting on a massive store of it.

It feels very unfair that we are sending money to foreign countries, yes? Why do we owe them? No one in this room personally hurt them. And we work hard for our money!

Why do we owe them? We don’t.

Who has worked for the money? You have.

We have an ingrained morality that those who work the most should have the most wealth. You don’t eat if you don’t work. Work will set you free. We also have an ingrained idea that those who are affluent are more moral than those who are poor. The poor must be thieves, and vandals, and lazy. The rich must be honorable, and build up society, and productive.

Jesus’ time had the same ideas about wealth — and Jesus challenged them. Jesus actually spoke more about wealth than heaven or hell combined. Think about Jesus’ parable of the servants sent out to the vineyard at different times. It’s not fair those who worked an hour get a full day’s pay. Think about Jesus feeding the 5,000 — and feeding again and again. Everyone was given food and everyone invited. No work required. Jesus also spoke blessings on the poor and curses on the rich. The realm of God is found among the poor – and the rich find getting into heaven as hard as passing a camel through the eye of a needle. Utterly impossible.

We ARE the world’s rich. We ARE here, asking Jesus, what can we do to be in the realm of God? What can we do to live more fully in line with what God envisions for the world? We ARE the rich man speaking with Jesus.

And Jesus says – give all you own to the poor and follow me.

… My heart aches for this man who came to Jesus. I’m him. I’m going to walk away sad because I own a lot. I’d rather give some of my pie and not all of it away. I’d rather those richer than me give up their pie.

I look at Saint Francis with amazement. He had this much wealth. And he literally took it all off – before his family and village – and walked out of town completely naked. He left his name, his great riches, his home, his everything to follow God.

I look at the disciples with amazement. They gave up their businesses, and families. Left their homes and left their reputations. They gave up everything to follow Jesus.

I’ve never made a great sacrifice like that to follow Jesus.

Family have told me not to feel the guilt and weight of my wealth. “You’ve given your life to being a pastor!” I hear in their words, “Then who can be saved?!” much like the disciples panicked.

And the answer is still the same: For mortals, it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible. And we who are first on this earth must accept that the reign of God is first among the world’s poor, belongs to the poor, and we are dependent on the poor to be taught how to live in harmony with each other, with the world, with God. How to live humbly.

In the letter to Hebrews, we’re told God knows all out thoughts and intentions. God knows when we try to be good. And knows when we do good deeds for wrong intentions. We “are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”

What will we say when we’re caught holding 40 pies and billions of people starve?

What will we say when we’re standing before God and accounting the sins we committed, and the sins that over took us?

Or that we were born into?

Or inherited?

The author of Hebrews tells us to be honest with our accounting. Be honest with ourselves, and our God. This isn’t because God knows us inside and out, but because God KNOWS what it is like to be human.

God has come to us, and shared our common lot.

God, in Jesus, sympathizes, understands, our weaknesses.

“Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Let us approach God, and confess we are sinners living in a sinful world – and find God’s grace – unmerited favor. Let us receive mercy – forgiveness for our intentional and unintentional sins. And let us be given the grace to help in time of need. Let us be given that Holy Spirit that say

Yeah. Things are awful. Unfair. Unjust.

Yeah. I’m just one person compared to all of this.

But you know what- I’m one person in Christ. And although this is too much for a mortal to fix, it isn’t for God.

With God, all things are possible.

We just need to dream bigger, work towards that dream of God, and live into God’s new realm now. We can do this by supporting efforts of wealth distribution: unions, farm co-ops, international and local charities, taxes on wealth and tax breaks on the poor – programs that are not fair… but that are just.

Go and be the church! Amen.
((https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/12/06/the-richest-1-percent-now-owns-more-of-the-countrys-wealth-than-at-any-time-in-the-past-50-years/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ee96add9264b))

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The Whole Armor of God

Ephesians 6:10-20 armor.jpg
John 6:56-69

I have an issue. I have a fatal disease called life. Someday, it will kill me. Every day, it takes its toll on me and ages me more. Breaks my body down more. And leads me closer to my grave. Whether from TMB, too many birthdays, or another cause, some day, I’m going to die to this fatal disease.

And that issue, my mortality, weighs heavily on me. I do a lot of things to try to ignore it, cheat it, or prevent it.

I prevent it by wearing my seat belt, brushing my teeth, eating healthily.

I cheat my death by ‘fake’ dying… riding rollarcoasters, or watching scary movies, or getting into other situations where I can consider death… but I don’t actually die.

And I ignore my mortality. I get on with my life, enjoy the moment, and don’t think about if I’m wisely spending every tiny little second.

But this fatal condition influences most aspects of my life. It makes me eat, makes me drink, makes me sleep, makes me look both ways when crossing the road… it also makes me fear, and hate and be depressed.

Consider, the EPA is rolling back regulations on coal power plants. This means that about 1000 extra people will die a year due to the carbon particulates in the area. Just 1000, but a whole lot of financial savings. It sounds measly, right?

But that fatal condition tells me that those 1000 people could be, and statistically will be, me. Ohio produces a lot of coal power. We usually have pretty poor breathing air. And an asthmatic like me is really sensitive to what I’m breathing. Is my life worth those dollars saved? It is for most of the USA. But, personally, I’d rather be living. I’m kinda invested in my life and living… more than I am invested in two cents or so cheaper electric.

This makes me depressed. Sad. It makes me anxious because I feel there is little I can do. It makes me fearful of tomorrow, of the very air I breathe. It makes me hate policy makers and cooperations and even my fellow Americans who think this is okay.

My fatal condition leads me to view the world as threatening and scary, and I get full of negative emotions.

The same process of mortality leading to fear and hate and depression is occurring to the Ephesians that Paul writes. They are very mortal. In fact, I am 100% sure every single Ephesian Paul was addressing (and even Paul himself) are now dead. They saw their faith siblings being put on trial, and killed, for being Christian.

And the same is occurring to the disciples Jesus addresses in our reading. They see war and starvation and oppression from Rome and the local powers, everywhere they turn.

All of us are facing our own mortality. Each of us are going to die.

This disease called life has only been put in remission three or four times, and only beaten once, that I’m aware of.

Jesus tells his disciples that if they eat his flesh and drink his blood, this mortality is cured. They are given life eternal. As we spoke about over the last few weeks, Jesus is saying something completely scandalous. First the educated complained about this teaching. And today, we hear Jesus’ own disciples complaining.

“This teaching is difficult! Who can accept it?” It is offensive that Jesus is telling us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. It sounds sacrilegious. It sounds scandalous. It clearly is not the words of a military king. Now not just the people, or the educated, but Jesus’ own disciples are beginning to second-doubt following this rabbi.

And how can anyone cure mortality? Besides a few, like Elijah, everyone else has died, is buried, and their bones eventually turn to dust. After a few thousand years, that person not only is wholly physically gone… but even the memory of them is gone. How can eating flesh and blood cure death?

Jesus tells them, “You think this is offensive – what if you see me taken up to Heaven? How offended will you be then? What kind of a challenge to your faith will happen then? Think about this: The Spirit gives life. Not flesh.”

In other words, our bodies may be alive, but they don’t have the divine spark of a soul. That soul, that Spirit, is from God. So literally eating Jesus will not give you life. Literally drinking Jesus’ blood won’t give you life. The Holy Spirit gives you life. That Holy Spirit is in the words and teachings of Jesus. There is life and Spirit in the words he speaks.

Without the Spirit, our bread and our grape juice are just that — bread and grape juice. They become a sign of God, a remembrance of Christ, and a uniting sacrament because of the Spirit. In that Spirit, we gather. In that Spirit, we pray. In that Spirit, we respond to God’s invite to the table. In that Spirit, we receive eternal life.

So is communion, the literal bread and drink, necessary and essential for eternal life?

Consider this… as the fatal disease of life progresses, it makes some of us unable to eat and drink. What happens to someone if they cannot take communion any more? If they have a feeding tube, or are allergic to wheat and wheat bread if offered, or are a recovery alcoholic and only wine is offered? What happens if you’re in a service where communion is denied to you?

In all of these cases… are you cut from the vine that is Christ? Are you now denied eternal life?

Absolutely not!

Jesus says, “It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.”

In our denomination, we understand that a person can partake of communion without physically drinking or eating. Sometimes, for any of the reasons mentioned or another, people cannot physically eat the bread and take the cup. But, Spiritually, they partake. Spiritually, they take inside themselves the life, the eternal words, the life-giving bread and ever renewing drink. This is because the flesh, the physical food and physical drink, isn’t what is important about communion. What is important is the Spirit of God uniting everyone, the Holy One of God, our Christ, remembered and presiding over the Table, and our Creating God recreating the world anew through the unity we find in the sacrament.

Jesus is saying that eternal life is not living in heaven in the future… but it is also living fully now. It isn’t waiting for the world to be destroyed, or hastening that destruction so that Christ will come again and save us… eternal life is living the words of God through Christ. It is making Earth the place in which God’s kindom is fully experienced, and the rule of God wholly known – that rule of love and grace and mercy – just like it is in heaven.

Every Sunday we pray the Lord’s Prayer, and pray that Earth becomes like Heaven. That the eternal life of Heaven, the rich and fulfilled, the loving and peaceful, the understanding and merciful, the harmonious and whole life of heaven is also lived here. “Let thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven.”

Here, Jesus offers the balm of Gilead, the solution to our fatal disease: a well lived life. A Spiritual life. A life that doesn’t end when we die – die to greed, die to fear, die to hate, die from TMB or any other cause – but a life that continues on abundantly now and into heaven. And that complete, healthy, whole life is available for those who eat and drink Christ.

For we are what we eat! When we eat and drink Christ, we become like Christ, we do his words, and we live our lives in the eternal manner.

But death still happens. Fear still happens. Our bodies still break down, and still die. Bread still molds, drink still sours, and the physical passes away. So what are we to do when the fatal dis-ease, fatal – not- at – ease comes and makes us fear the future, hate our siblings, get depressed over the present, or defensive of our self, wealth, and lives?

That is what Paul is writing about.

When we feel threatened, war will not defend us. Swords will not be a comfort. Armor will always have weak spots and gaps. Walls will be circumvented. Every security measure misses something. Home-grown terrorism is a thing that banning people from nations with terrorist active will not prevent. Random acts of violence, random deaths by freak accidents, and even meaningless cruelty happen no matter who you are, where you are, or how Godly and Christian you are.

Evil is real.

Evil happens.

Evil always slips in, somehow.

So Paul reminds us that we’re not fighting enemies of flesh and blood. He reminds us that immigrants and refugees, transients and transsexuals, Muslims, Jews, skin-heads and Anti-fa, Republicans or Democrats and Capitalists or Socialists are not the enemies of Christians. These are people. Humans. Children made in the image of God. Somebody’s little daughter; someone’s beloved son. People with souls.

And people are mixed bags with good qualities and bad qualities all tossed into one body.

No; pointing out a group and labeling every member “My enemy” or “God’s enemy” is not Biblical. We’re not fighting physical people!

Instead, we are fighting systems. Fighting the status quo. Fighting the way things are. Our enemy is the world system that has policies which turn a beloved child into a terrorist. Our enemy is every government order this is cruel and inhumane. Our enemy is poverty. Power inequality. Greed.

Our enemy is the cosmic powers of this present darkness – the spiritual forces of evil. You don’t have to believe in Satan or the devil for there to be evil. Evil – intentional harm – is a cosmic power. A power outside of ourselves that is infused into our current world. A spiritual darkness bred out of our fatal disease of mortality makes us fear, and hate, and do harm to one another. Why are we greedy? Because the more we have, the more secure we are, and the further death feels from us. Why are we cruel? For the same reason. It makes us feel powerful. Like we can cause death on others but no one can cause death on us.

Our enemy is death, and all of the negative and hurtful things we do out of fear of death.

So Paul reminds us that death is defeated. Death has no sting. Death has no victory. Christ has saved us, redeemed us, made us no longer prisoners to all that the fear of death inflicts on us.

When we feel we need more protection, we’re not to pick up more arms and weapons. We’re not to build stronger borders and stronger alarm systems. We’re not to point to specific people and say ‘He is the Anti-Christ!’ or ‘She is pure evil!’ We Christians are to focus on boosting our Spiritual armor… for we are in a spiritual war. A war over the negative, life-stealing emotions that the fear of death inflicts in us.

So Paul writes: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day,” when fear and hate and insecurity invoke the devils and temptations in you to sin. “And having done everything” to be spiritually strong, “to stand firm” in your commitment to love and peace. “Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

This is the armor and arms we’re to have – truth, peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God, righteousness, and the words of God. All of these to be living in peace rather than living in fear.

“ Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.”

Pray for one another! Pray peace for yourselves. Pray peace for your enemies. Pray peace for the world. Pray peace and the only arms and armor we will ever need is the whole armor of God.

Amen.

Forgive – don’t forget

Matthew 18:21-35

Margaret Adams Parker Reconciliation
“Reconciliation” by Margaret Adams Parker

Romans 14:1-12

“The Bible says you should forgive and forget.”

How often I have been told that!

I wonder, was Jesus ever told that? What about Paul? Or Moses? Or God? Because none of them preach forgive and forget! Actually, they taught the exact opposite… to forgive, and don’t forget.

I get told to forgive and forget when someone does me a wrong. As a teen, it was me saying “I’m so angry SoAndSo stole from my purse! I should confront them!”

And I was told, “Now, now, it’s better to forgive and forget. Let it be.”

As an adult, I’ve had people tell me of their spouse beating them, and then the victim says, “But if I hold my love’s violence against them, then I’m not forgiving them. So I choose to forgive and forget. I know in their heart they didn’t mean it.”

Good Christians – don’t forgive and forget. You are NOT floor mats, to be stomped on, ripped and torn, and hurt. You don’t have to be a victim to be Christian. You don’t have to forget who and how others hurt you. You are not called to abuse.

“However, if by “forgive and forget” one means, “I will act as if the sin had never occurred and live as if I don’t remember it,” then we can run into trouble. For example, a rape victim can choose to forgive the rapist, but that does not mean she should act as if that sin had never happened. To spend time alone with the rapist, especially if he is unrepentant, is not what Scripture teaches. Forgiveness involves not holding a sin against a person any longer, but forgiveness is different from trust. It is wise to take precautions, and sometimes the dynamics of a relationship will have to change. “Being cautious doesn’t mean we haven’t forgiven.” ((https://www.gotquestions.org/forgive-forget.html))

Listen to our scripture today:

Peter asks Jesus “how many times should I forgive a brother?” and offers the generous 7 times. Then, just as now, we say something like fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Or, 3 strikes you’re out. Seven times is an awful lot of “second” chances.

But Jesus says no – forgive your brother an unlimited amount… and then he tells a parable to explain what he means.

In this parable, a king has loaned an absurd amount of money to his servant. The king called this guy in and said it is time to pay back what you borrowed — but the man didn’t have an absurd amount of money to return. So the king said – well, then, we’ll sell you and your wife and kids and home and all you own into slavery.

The guy in insane debt fell on his knees and begged for forgiveness. He promised to make all things right if given time. He begged for mercy.

The king had pity. Instead of saying – okay, I’ll give you another year. Or, okay, I’ll sell only you and not your family into slavery. Instead, the king said — I forgive you of this 300 million dollars. You don’t have to pay me back. The indebted man got so much more than what he asked for.

Note – the king did this when the servant asked for forgiveness from his heart. Additionally, the king did it out of pity — you can only have pity on someone or something from a position of power. Otherwise, you commiserate. The king looks down on this guy, and out of his power over the man, chooses to forgive everything when the weak one asks.

This isn’t a situation of an abused person forgiving their abuser. That would be the weak forgiving the powerful. This is a case like your bank choosing to forgive your house mortgage entirely because you wrote to them about how you can’t pay the mortgage right now and you’d like more time before they foreclose.

So the deeply forgiven man heads out. He passes someone else who owes him some cash and he says – hey! Pay up!

Just like the forgiven man had done, this guy also falls on his knees and pleas – give me some more time! I’ll pay you everything back!

But the forgiven man doesn’t forgive this guy or give this guy more time. Instead, he throws the man in prison.

Sorta like your bank forgives your whole mortgage, but then you sue your cousin because he missed a payment on the car you cosigned for him.

So word gets back to the king about what the forgiven man has done. The king summons the man back, and says – hey! What’s the deal? You pleaded with me for more time, and I gave you way, way more than more time. Your coworker pleaded for more time from you, and you didn’t forgive his debt like I did yours, or even give him the time. Instead, you chose to throw him in jail. I guess that’s the way you want to be treated too. So, into jail with you until you pay the absurd amount you borrowed from me — just like you did to your brother.

Jesus then concludes his story by saying God treats us the same way – if we forgive, we are forgiven. If we demand payment, God will demand payment.

Now… did anyone FORGET in this story?

Absolutely not. Actually, remembering is a major part of the forgiveness. The forgiven guy is supposed to remember how much mercy — unwarranted gifts — he has been given. He is supposed to remember the kindness he has been shown. And then he is supposed to give that mercy and kindness to others when they are in the same situation he was in.

The king remembers too. He remembered the forgiven guy wronged him, but that the guy had asked for more time to make it right. The king remembers he gave the slave great generosity. And he remembers that the slave chose to respond to this generosity not with love and gratitude, but with greediness.

If someone you forgive uses your mercy as a blank check to do more and more wrong… don’t forget. Take that mercy back.

Forgiveness is never supposed to be power to do harm. It is supposed to be a balm to bring people back together into right relationships.

Forgiveness is not something to do and forget.

And the Bible says no where that it is easy.

We’re told about forgiveness in the Bible from the perspective of the person who forgives, the person who asks for mercy, and the people who witness it. Everywhere, scripture notes… forgiveness is hard.

The prodigal son must reach utter rock bottom before he is willing to admit he has done wrong. He is so stubborn! When he comes back, he comes back about crawling on his belly. He is deeply ashamed. He intends to beg his father to take him in as a slave – not as a son. This year, scientists looked at our brains and our bodies when we are proven wrong. They found that it PHYSICALLY hurts — hurts like being slapped — when we know we’re in the wrong. People avoid admitting their wrongs not just out of pride, but out of fear of the pain, and fear of rejection, and the dual punishment the wronged person and their own bodies will do. When someone actually admits their wrong to you, and asks for forgiveness, they have already suffered and are suffering.

Now you have the power. The upper hand. This person has admitted they are in the wrong. You are in the right. What will you do? The law and common sense says you can take all the revenge and should take all that you’re owed. Sue them for every penny. Burn the relationship to the ground. Tell everyone what a mess up they are. It is your right.

And the Bible says that we are permitted to loosen and bind what we will. You can choose punishment in this situation for the wronged person. You can also choose mercy. You can choose love. You can choose to walk away even without an answer.

The power and right is in your hands. What will you do with it?

Giving it away, forgive- forgo- to give away – means giving up your right to extract vengeance for the wrong committed to you. This is just as hard as asking for forgiveness. This is acting against our nature, and acting against our culture. It is purposefully stepping out of the patterns of the world around us and forging a new way.

Who wants to give up power? Who wants to lower themselves and say – we are equals? Who wants to admit someone did them a horrible wrong, and then say ‘but I am choosing not to get my pound of flesh from them.’

Forgiving, and asking forgiveness, is very hard.

So, too, is witnessing it. Remember that brother of the prodigal son is furious. And often people who watch Jesus forgive sins are incensed. How can he do this? It isn’t just! It is against the balance books! It isn’t fair.

Forgiving isn’t fair. It is mercy. It is unearned favor.

Forgiving is not how the world works.

Forgiving is choosing to live into God’s realm.

Remember, part two of Jesus’ story says rules we apply to others, God will apply to us. What we do on Earth is reflected in heaven. If we demand every penny be paid back to us, God will demand we pay back every penny we owe others – and owe God.

Jesus suggests our debt to others and God is so absurdly large, that we can never pay it back. Instead, we need forgiveness and mercy. Therefore, we should practice forgiveness and mercy.

Because forgiveness is not an easy task, not easily given.

Remembering is what makes forgiveness worth so much.

No where does Jesus say forget – just forgive.

A Living Sacrifice

Matthew 16:13-20 polyp_cartoon_rat_race
Romans 12:1-8

I am a consumer. I am told that every day. It’s my identity given to me. It means I am defined as one who consumes. Who uses. Who devours.

So I am defined as one who spends, who is not satisfied, who is always hungry for more.

I literally buy into this idea.

Therefore, I go into debt. I pretty much have to, to survive. I don’t have $100,000 lying around for a house, let alone the cash for a car. Some of us don’t have the cash lying around just for normal bills like electricity and water. On the cards it goes, and sign the dotted line.

I often feel we are defined as worth only what we can spend. Worthy people are those who have  steady income, some savings, and therefore also get prime rates, their checks cashed for free, and are offered more and more loan money. Unworthy are all of us under employed, unemployed, or living hand to mouth and are rewarded with high interest rates, are charged to cash checks, and get stuck in pawn and payday loan schemes.

Can you spend a lot? Then you may eat healthy food, and wear clothes that fit, and sleep in secure neighborhoods. Can you spend a little? Then you may eat only highly processed food, wear ill-fitting clothes, and sleep in dangerous neighborhoods… maybe in a house, maybe just under a bridge. If you can spend a lot – you’re worth more – and preventative health care is available. If you can’t spend a lot… prepare for crowded ER visits.

My worth is so calculated, that I actually get a “credit score” to tell me what my value is. Low value? No company wants to deal with me. High value? Everyone wants to deal with me.

I am a consumer and I am told it is my patriotic duty to consume. If I save, I’m told I’m hurting the economy. After 9-11, there honestly were billboards telling people these very words. Eat Out – Support America.

But guilt over my “duty” to my country isn’t the only way I am trapped in my definition of an ever unhappy, insatiable, consumer.

My world also tells me the source of my problems are what I have chosen to consume. Consuming alone isn’t enough. I have to consume continuously to keep up with the Joneses and to prevent my life from being a catastrophe.

For instance, I know my husband and children are arguing with me because I am a bad cook. Luckily, I can order out. Advertisements promise me that if I just order out dinner, all my problems are solved.

Want a happy family? Easy. Throw money at them.

The world also tells me my friends secretly hate me and think I am fat. If I lose weight with name-brand shakes, I’ll be popular. Not only will I get friends – I’ll get my dream guy, dream job, dream house, and dream life – all because I shed 20 lbs in 2 weeks! Send in the cash.

What’s more, my world tells me if I don’t splurge for the highest cost cat food, I am a terrible pet owner. My cat is slowing down in her old age because once, when she was 2 year old, I bought the second most expensive cat food. If I just got the higher brand her whole life… she’d never age.

So says the world, if I really want a vacation in Hawaii where no one is around for miles and I get all the vistas to myself with perfect weather… all I need is a new car.

I also know: every man loves powertools, ties, and sports cars.
Every woman loves fashion, home goods, and bath supplies.
Every boy wears blue.
Every girl wears pink.

The best gifts are bought, new, from the store, never regifted, never handmade, never received from thriftstores or yardsales, and a gift or theme or purchase is needed for some holiday every month.

Christmas, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Saint Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, President’s Day, Labor Day, Independence Day – all of them turned into a commercial masterpiece designed to cater to the consumer.

And we are those consumers. So the world, the culture of the United States of America, tells us. And we’re told to make fun of those who cannot, or will not, participate in the consumer culture. Just as in the story we read today in our kid’s chat, (My Princess Boy) we get trained to laugh and point at the different person.

I think we’d laugh and point at Jesus.

For who was Jesus? Who is Jesus?

A consumer?

Absolutely not.

When Jesus found sellers and consumers in the temple, he took a whip, ran them out, and tipped over the tables.

Jesus didn’t ask Tabitha’s parents how much their daughter was worth to them – were they willing to give their house to Jesus? He just went and healed her. Jesus didn’t ask to see cash before he healed anyone.

Instead, Jesus actively went and told people – you are precious. Beyond worth. You are a beloved child of God.

He also told us that “the heavens are witnesses of the people and things that we imprison and the people and things that we set free.” (Rev. Dr. Mitzi J. Smith) When we reduce others to their pocketbooks, or credit scores, or purchasing power, or conformity to world norms… and when we fall into those traps… heaven knows and is also impacted.

Scripture tells us over and over again – when you throw a feast, invite those who can’t afford a feast. When you find you have time, knowledge, or money– share.

Jesus told his disciples not to tell others Jesus is the Messiah. Don’t preach with words. Preach with your lives. Tell people who Jesus is by the way you live your life. Fill the world and heaven with the love of Christ by living lives of love.

When the world pressures you to be a consumer, live your life as a child of God.

When the world promises products to make all your woes go away – whether in the form of lotto tickets, new vitamins, gadgets, or diets – know the world is lying. And live your life as a living sacrifice.

At one time, food and drink were burned on an altar for God as an act of worship. Paul is referencing this moment. He tells us – be a living sacrifice. Let your life, your daily life, be an act of worship.

A living sacrifice means being aware we are defined by who made us: God. Who is remaking us: God. Who redeems us: God.

It means being aware that in the beginning, God made our bodies and called them good.

Made our minds and called them good.

Made our souls and called them good.

God calls us very good… each of us, as individuals, with different talents, each very good… and not a one better or worse than another.

Flesh and blood — our normal minds – won’t understand. But wisdom from God understands. The world won’t understand we belong to the Messiah. But we understand.

For Paul, worship is full-bodied. It happens in community as we live out our faith by serving one another to build up the body of Christ. The quality of our worship is not measured by what happens on only Sunday mornings, but by what happens when we are together Monday through Saturday.

A living sacrifice is a living a Godly life that resists the world’s pressures to think in dollars and cents, stereotypes and static roles. Resists the world’s pressure to dehumanize and demean others. A living sacrifice accepts others just as they are, and welcomes each part of the body as a valued member of the community.

A living sacrifice means living a life of worship – one focused on God and others, rather than items and appearances. One that knows these good bodies God has gifted us with are meant to be used assisting and loving one another.

In no way will our world suddenly stop calling and considering you and I consumers. We are numbers, dollars and cents, to many others.

But we ought never to view each other as such.

Rather, may we strive to always see each other as the diverse children of God.

Amen.

Vanities of Vanities

auction_bySheltonReality.jpgEcclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Luke 12:13-21

Have you been to an auction? I used to go all the time with my dad. It was our daddy-daughter bonding time. I remember this one auction very well: it took up the entire farmhouse yard, went into the barnyard, and into the two barns AND the house. There were tables of tools, boxes upon boxes of pots and pans, antique furniture around every corner, and enough holiday decorations to decorate the White House. The front lawn had a long line of folding tables divided into lots — lot 1, lot 2, — and so forth. Whatever was in your half of the folding table is what you were bidding upon.

I stood at the head of one of the tables and looked in the boxes. It was photo albums. Book after book of black and white photos; book after book of Polaroids; and Christmas cards with photos and address books with photos. About half were carefully labeled ‘Danny’s First Christmas’ ‘Hannah and Chuck’ ‘Whitehall, 1960’ and so forth. Weddings. Birthdays. Picnics. Men ready for war. Women holding little babies. Kids in bathing suits.

I suddenly realized a woman, an elderly woman, had died. We were rifling through her possessions. Soon we would be taking some, giving her family or her medical bills money, and then all she owned would scattered across the state.

These weren’t extra dishes. These were the dishes she ate with every day.

This table she had toast at, and fed her children.

These were the clothes she washed, wore, repaired, for decades.

And here, these photos in my hands, this is her nice cursive handwriting detail the people she loved. What would be done with the photos now? No one here even knows who Danny or Hannah or Chuck are. Would the buyer throw the photos away and reuse the antique albums? Who collects old color out of focus Polaroids? Why didn’t the family take these?

… Maybe she doesn’t … didn’t… have any living family left.

The auctioneer began his fast pelt of questions and calls and the people around me began to nod their heads or flick their little paper numbers. But I was lost in thought looking at that stack of albums. It made me begin to wonder about this dead woman I’d never met, and, what it will be like when I am the dead woman some day. What will I leave behind when I die?

Another death. Nuns and monks have their own private rooms although they share a big house. A UCC minister told this story of her aunt who was a nun. One of the nuns passed away, and, eventually, the sisters needed to clean out the deceased’s room. When they opened the door to her bedroom, they found it was completely stuffed with things: maps and books, little nicknacks and silk flowers, photos and paintings and everything you can name — all piled into that little room. I think it must have looked like my closet when I was a kid: one of those ‘Open Only If You Dare’ situations. It took days to clean and clear out.

Later, the minister’s aunt herself was diagonsed with incurable cancer. The minister was called by her aunt to come visit. When she got there, her aunt handed her treasures: her favorite painting, little ceramic cats the two played with, and pictures the minister had made her aunt when the minister was a little girl. The minister knew her aunt treasured these things, and was so surprised she was parting with them. But the aunt was adament, “I know you’ll treasure these like I do. Take them.”

When the aunt died, the sisters gathered one day to clear out her room. They found it was completely empty but for its bed, nightstand, and dresser. The aunt had given away everything.

The minister realized then that STUFF is for the living. We can’t take it with us at all. By giving away things, the aunt had seen all the people she loved one last time before passing away. She knew what true wealth is, and how to share it.

The writer of Ecclesiasties sets out to learn what is true wealth. He wants to know: what brings lasting happiness? What brings lasting joy? What is worthwhile to do? How should one spend their life?

And in woe, he finds that most things we do are meaningless in the big picture of the world. Every joy and every meaning is fleeting, is a vanity, a puff of smoke or is dust in the wind. Like cleaning the house, or weeding the garden, our toils never end and just seem to come to nothing.

He writes that if we work really hard and build up something to pass on to our kids: wealth, a furnished house, a business, or even photo albums labeled and organized… we have no guarantee what they’re going to do with those things. They might not appreciate the money and blow through it. Or they may not want to live where we have the house. Maybe they don’t want to work the business. Maybe they don’t want the photo albums.

Yet we want to have lives that MEAN something. If we can’t trust even our own kids to pass on our mark, our stamp, our memory, on the world, what can we do? Is life a vainity? Is life meaningless?

The Teacher in Ecclessiasties struggles with this. In the end, he concludes that the truest meanings of life we mortals can’t know. God alone knows. So, while we are living, live well: relax, eat, drink, be merry, enjoy time with your family and friends. Whatever you do, do with joy. Obey God and the commandments, for whatever life is, (a test? a dream? a proving grounds? a place to learn?) and whatever death is, we can ask God once we have passed away. What is certain is, he writes, “Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands.”

Our second reading echos, refers back to, Ecclesiasties. Did you hear it?

A man has come to Jesus and said, “Tell me brother to divide the family inheritance with me!” You see, each son was entitled to some of their father’s wealth when their father died. Usually Rabbis could step in and use scripture to chastize the greedy one not sharing.

But Jesus turns the tables, and warns everyone: don’t be greedy at all! Sure, this boy deserves his share by the law… but the real issue is that greed — greed of the older brother and younger brother — is tearing the family apart. One’s life does not consistent in the abundance of possessions. What you own isn’t who you are.

I can’t tell you how many families I’ve seen torn apart when somebody dies. My own included. Countless. Theft during funerals; hiding or changing wills; hiding possessions; changing locks; lawyers and police and decades of hurt feelings. Over what? Possessions. Jesus reminds us that who is right and who is wrong in these situations isn’t going to make us happy. Getting a laywer or a judge or pastor to say, “You’re right!” doesn’t knit the family back together again. Guard against all kinds of greed. It tears us apart.

Then Jesus tells the story that echoes Ecclesiasties. He says a rich man had land that made him even richer. He had so many crops they didn’t all fit in his barn. So he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. Then, like the teacher of Ecclesiasties, he chose to relax, eat, drink, and be merry. However, the Teacher told us to enjoy time with our family and friends, and to honor and obey God. He also told us that wealth is meaningless. The rich man chose to hoard his wealth all to himself. He didn’t share it with family and friends. He didn’t honor and obey God by sharing with the stranger and the needy. And God called the man a fool, and that the man was going to die that very night. “All the things you prepared, whose will they be?” All that toil was in vain. All that hoarding was in vain. The man didn’t need barns of food after he died. So who owned them now?

Greed tears us apart. Clinging to poscessions tears us apart.

Poccess your poccessions. Don’t be poccessed by pocessions.

When you store up treasures, store them up for God- not yourself! Store up good deeds, good memories, fun times, prayers, times of comfort and sollace, times of generosity, times of worship; store up heavenly treasures. Store up love for others — and share that love abundantly.

The treasures we hoard for ourselves all alone, without others enjoying or God invited, these we lose.

The Teacher writes in chapter 5 of Ecclesiasties:

Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless.
As goods increase,
so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owners
except to feast their eyes on them?
The sleep of a laborer is sweet,
whether they eat little or much,
but as for the rich, their abundance
permits them no sleep.
I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:
wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners,
or wealth lost through some misfortune,
so that when they have children
there is nothing left for them to inherit.
Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb,
and as everyone comes, so they depart.
They take nothing from their toil
that they can carry in their hands.
This too is a grievous evil:
As everyone comes, so they depart,
and what do they gain,
since they toil for the wind?

Wealth – financial stability – comes and goes. Work – what we do to survive – should never consume our whole lives. Our lives are meant for more than labor. No matter if you have no income, a fixed income, make $30,000 a year, or 50, or 100, or a billion dollars a year… you always will think you could use a bit more. So instead of worrying about money, enjoy what you do have – and share it with others. In the sharing we find we all have enough to go around.

Jesus economics are like garden economics. This week I have so many cucumbers I beg you to take some and use them. Next week, you’ll have so many tomatoes you’ll beg me to take some and use some. By sharing, we all have richer summers, richer relationships, and richer lives. We store up in heaven our love for one another.

When we apply this to money, it means that some years of your life you’ll have more income than you need. Then is the time to share, because in later times of your life, you’ll not have enough. And there is no shame in taking tomatoes or cucumbers. There is no shame in taking offered finanical assistance.

For while one has more money than they need, another has more time, another has more skills in gardening or cooking, another has abundant repair skills, and another abundant stories. We each are blessed with more wealth than we can ever count. And together, when we share it, we always are an extrememly blessed community.

Where is your treasure? Stored somewhere fading and passing away; or stored in our heavenly home? Amen.

I’m Too Busy!

maryandmarthaAmos 8:1-12
Luke 10:38-42

 

Last week, Jesus was approached by a man who had studied scripture, memorized it, and knew all the commentaries. A super well educated man. And that man who knew all the writings asked Jesus – what must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus told him he can’t just read and study God… he must DO what he reads and learns God wants done. He can’t just know he’s supposed to love God and our neighbors; he also needs to LOVE those neighbors. Even the ones who are enemies. He can’t just read; he can’t just know; he must GO AND DO.

Today, the story continues. Jesus walks on and now is at Martha, Mary, and Lazarus’ house. And Martha is DOING. She’s being the good Samaritan and helping others. She’s getting dinner ready and making sure Jesus and his disciples have fresh water from the well to drink, and comfortable cool places to sit, and caring for everyone. She is being a good host, a good neighbor, and she’s clearly GOING and DOING.

Yet, Jesus says Martha’s sister, Mary — who is sitting at Jesus’ feet not going, not doing, and just listening and learning — has chosen the better path.

Didn’t Jesus say just the exact opposite to the lawyer last week?! Didn’t he say going and doing was needed to inherit ate eternal life? How he is saying the opposite?!

It’s no wonder people of all walks of life – pastors and professors and lawyers included – get lost in the Bible.

The Prophet Amos gives a little insight into the nuanced, the particular, truth Jesus is trying to communicate to God’s children. There is a little nugget of insight he is trying to give to you and me.

Long ago, centuries before Jesus, Amos arrived on scene. We know almost nothing about him other than he is the earliest prophet we have writings from. He has received a vision, and a word, from God: This is the end of God’s people. Amos cannot fathom what this means, (you see, he foresaw the Assyrians defeating the area, and the exile to Babylon, but Amos had no words to explain what the vision meant.) So Amos tries to explain what he saw again and again. God gives him a total of four visions to share and with each, Amos cannot believe that there is an ENDING coming. How can God do a new thing, and this new thing be the END of the promised land?!

And so God tries to explain: God’s chosen people have not been acting like God’s chosen people. They have been oppressing, harming, one another. The rich prey on the poor, and each other, and the poor prey on each other, no one cares for the land, and the weakest of the weak have no where to turn.

People observe the holidays, and the day of rest, but they complain about them. I could be out selling wheat! But instead, all the shops are closed today. I could be out selling grain! But instead, everyone’s home resting with families. There is money to be made!

We’ll mark the packages “One pound,” but actually it’ll only be 3/4 of a pound. We’ll say other people’s silver is worthless but our copper worth gold. We’ll fill part of the wheat sacks with floor sweepings instead of all good wheat. We’ll cheat, we’ll steal, and we’ll get ahead.

People will sell their lives to us for silver to pay their rent; and others will sell their lives for shoes. Everyone needs something! Everything — everyONE– is for sale at SOME price!

Why oh why isn’t this day of rest over yet?! We’re too busy to rest!

These are men and women who are DOING what is found in scripture. They are resting on the Sabbath. They aren’t selling or buying. But, their deeds haven’t God’s love in them. They simply are GOING and DOING because society expects it.

Today, many businesses are open every day of the week. Some are open 24/7. People get greedy. On the holiday of Thursday Thanksgiving, the day of giving God thanks, stores have begun to open so that no one has to wait for Friday. They can shop on the holiday. Stores wouldn’t open on holidays if it lost them money – so there are people wanting and willing to shop on these days — just like they were almost 3000 years ago.

Humans are greedy. God instituted days of rest to curb our greed, curb our desire to do and do and go and go, and give us balance in our lives… but most of us resist rest. We resist balance in our lives.

Amos’ time? They did as God asked… to the letter… but not with the spirit behind their actions. They observed the holidays because they had to, not because they wanted to. They went to church because it was expected, not because they felt God’s presence there. Lots of doing without knowledge of God in their deeds. God’s new deed would be showing them that there is resurrection after death; hope in hopelessness, and a return to balance between work and play, study and doing, prayers and actions — all focused on love of God.

And Jesus’ time? Martha is doing. Lots and lots of doing, because it is expected. And she is angry her sister doesn’t follow the expectations too. Again God is doing a new thing and returning the people to balance: reminding us that we must work and rest, hold still and listen in the silence for God and be busy doing God’s work. Both – done in love.

Just like the lawyer was reading and studying, lots and lots of knowing, without any doing. No balance. No studying out of love and working out of love.

Jesus advocates balance; just as his Father does. Balance: knowing God, loving God, and doing God’s work in the world. Taking time for scripture, time for reflection, and time for doing good things.

There is a time for everything, it says in Ecclesiastes, and a season for every activity under the sun. Sometimes we need to read scripture more, sometimes we need to do scripture more, and always we need to do both out of love of God and self and neighbor.

And if you’re any normal person… you find there just aren’t enough hours in the day. I’m certain Martha would have loved to sit at the feet of Jesus! But then, who was going to prep the house? I’m certain the lawyer would have loved to do more good deeds! But then, who was going to study the scripture and argue the cases to put bread on his family’s table?

Again, the wisdom of Solomon: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun.

Jesus calls us from our business to look at what is really most important. Calls us from shopping and errands to reflect. Calls us from studying to do good deeds. Calls us from doing good deeds to sitting in quiet prayer and meditation. We are called to wholeness: balance.

My calendar has something written on it every day of the week. Check up for Selena, visit my mother, call a friend… and I write on it things I HAVE to write or else my life loses its balance. Left to my own devices, I know I’d fill up every little minute with something. I struggle with balance. It doesn’t come naturally.

We need a Sabbath day every week. A day where we don’t plan anything. A day where we are free to lie in the grass and count clouds, or free to do crossword puzzles, go visit a friend for coffee that lasts three hours, or just not get dressed all day long. Whatever it is that brings us rest – we need that day. A day of physical and mental and spiritual rest. Guard that day on your calendar. Don’t let is pass unobserved – it is a holiday. A holy day – of rest.

And we need a day of study too. A day to think and ponder God’s words. Most of us, this is Sunday and church and Sunday school. So – on the calendar – study God’s word.

And we need a day of deeds. Helping each other, doing good things, assisting our community and volunteering. I know we have 4-H advisors who are working double-time right now doing just this. We have people working the food pantry, and Foundation dinners, and visiting ill neighbors and friends. On the calendar: volunteer. Check in with friends.

Sabbath. Study. Works. Balance. A time for everything.

We will always be busy. ALWAYS. There will always be more to get done than we have hours of the day or night. 24/7/365 is not enough. We will die with books unread, dishes not clean, house projects half done, and a to-do list.

We will have an end. But, by the grace of God, may all we leave undone be the unimportant things. By the Grace of God, may we come to the end of our day, the end of our lives, with a balance: having fully known about the love of God, fully given others the love of God, and fully experienced the love of God. Study, work, rest.

May you be resurrected! May you find the new thing God is doing in your life! May you know the centering love of our savior! Amen.

Grace of God

divine-chocolates-300x3001 Kings 21:1-21a
Luke 7:36-8:3
We know this story: someone rich goes on vacation to the countryside and they see something they just HAVE to HAVE. A handmade quilt, an antique tractor, a piece of land. So they offer money. “My dog loves that quilt, give it to me! How much?” “My house will look perfect in that soy field! How much?” When their money is turned down, because of values other than money, the rich person is incensed. Angry. Is my money not good enough?!

King Ahab today sees the vineyard – a sign of God – that Naboth owns. It is growing near Ahab’s vacation house. Ahab tells Naboth to sell it to him so Ahab can tear up the vineyard – the sign of God – and plant a vegetable garden – which in the bible tends to symbolize Egypt. Naboth hears Ahab say: “Naboth! Sell me the land God gave you, and told you not to sell, so I can uproot God and plant Egypt.”

No amount of money is worth this to Naboth. He sticks to his values – and he values God more than money.

Ahab can’t understand. He rules the Jews. He used to BE Jewish before he married Jezebel and began to follow Baal. But he’s forgotten there are things in life more important than money, land, wealth.

He sulks at home and obsesses over what he’s been denied. Jezebel sees her husband acting like this, and she tells him to king-up! He is the king! Act like it! By act like it, she means… use your wealth and power to do what you want anyways. So we read how she arranged to bring false charges against Naboth, and got Naboth killed on a lie. She then gave the vineyard to her husband.

Ahab doesn’t ask questions! He doesn’t ask how Jezebel got the land. He doesn’t WANT to know. He just wants the land, and now he has it. The dirty little behind the scenes stuff, done in his own name, he doesn’t want to face.

I don’t want to face the deeds done in my name to get me chocolate.

Its so tasty, right? And right nearby – a part of holidays. I’m aware there are things called “free trade chocolate” but I really don’t want to know the dirty behind the scenes stuff. I’d rather eat my Hershey’s bar and be happy. Just like Ahab would rather enjoy his vegetable garden and be happy.

But, Ahab is accused of his crime by the prophet of God. Accused of doing evil; and angering God… because Ahab turned a blind eye for his own self-comfort and security.

I am doing evil, and angering God, when I turn a blind eye to where my food comes from. When I accept there might be bad things in the making of it, but I don’t look – because I don’t want to know. I am abusing my wealth, my position, my status to ignore the plight of those who make my food.

See, chocolate is grown in tropical areas like West Africa.

“In Western Africa, cocoa is a commodity crop grown primarily for export; 60% of the Ivory Coast’s export revenue comes from its cocoa. As the chocolate industry has grown over the years, so has the demand for cheap cocoa. On average, cocoa farmers earn less than $2 per day, an income below the poverty line. As a result, they often resort to the use of child labor to keep their prices competitive.

The children of Western Africa are surrounded by intense poverty, and most begin working at a young age to help support their families. Some children end up on the cocoa farms because they need work and traffickers tell them that the job pays well. Other children are “sold” to traffickers or farm owners by their own relatives… Often, traffickers abduct the young children from small villages in neighboring African countries… Once they have been taken to the cocoa farms, the children may not see their families for years, if ever.

Most of the children laboring on cocoa farms are between the ages of 12 and 16, but reporters have found children as young as 5. In addition, 40% of these children are girls, and some stay for a few months, while others end up working on the cocoa farms through adulthood.

A child’s workday typically begins at six in the morning and ends in the evening. Some of the children use chainsaws to clear the forests. Other children climb the cocoa trees to cut bean pods using a machete. Once they cut the bean pods from the trees, the children pack the pods into sacks that weigh more than 100 pounds when full and drag them through the forest. Aly Diabate, a former cocoa slave, said, “Some of the bags were taller than me. It took two people to put the bag on my head. And when you didn’t hurry, you were beaten.”

Holding a single large pod in one hand, each child has to strike the pod with a machete and pry it open with the tip of the blade to expose the cocoa beans. Every strike of the machete has the potential to slice a child’s flesh. The majority of children have scars on their hands, arms, legs or shoulders from the machetes.

In addition to the hazards of using machetes, children are also exposed to agricultural chemicals on cocoa farms in Western Africa. Tropical regions such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast consistently deal with prolific insect populations and choose to spray the pods with large amounts of industrial chemicals. In Ghana, children as young as 10 spray the pods with these toxins without wearing protective clothing.

The farm owners using child labor usually provide the children with the cheapest food available, such as corn paste and bananas. In some cases, the children sleep on wooden planks in small windowless buildings with no access to clean water or sanitary bathrooms. Forget about school. Depriving these children of an education has many short-term and long-term effects. Without an education, the children of the cocoa farms have little hope of ever breaking the cycle of poverty.” (source: http://www.foodispower.org/slavery-chocolate/)

Big name companies: Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestlé, refuse to look into this issue. The cheap cocoa, the cheap chocolate, the wealth is more important. They work as Jezebel — handling the dirty work, the childhood slavery — so that people like me can act like Ahab, and reap the benefit without the guilt.

But just as God still found Ahab guilty for stealing from Naboth… I know God finds me guilty for stealing from these children.

What is there to do? For awhile, I honestly didn’t know about this Sin. And now that I do know – what now?

Our second reading gives us the answer: fall on the mercy, the grace, of God. Confess the sins, plead for forgiveness, and stop the sinning to the best of our ability.

I confess I have supported childhood slavery in the form of cheap chocolate. I pray God forgives me. I will educate myself, learn more, and purchase from companies that use Fair Trade policies, or policies against childhood labor. Chocolate like Divine, Honest, Newman’s Own, even Kroger brand have these policies. ALDI’s, Starbucks, and the makers of Girl Scout cookies are beginning to take steps. We speak with our money: what we purchase. We can choose to encourage these companies, these steps, towards chocolate that comes without the slavery of children.

It means more expensive chocolate.

But, it means a living wage for the workers.

And it means valuing God more than cash.

And I’m still going to end up eating some chocolate that was made with children slaves. This is because I’m stuck in a world full of Sin – Sin, harms against each other and God – are embedded into our systems. We just don’t know all the wrongs occurring, and so participate in them unknowingly.

This is why we pray God forgive us for the sins we commit without knowing. And forgive us for the sins we commit we know we’ve done.

This is why we can’t afford to be Simon, and consider ourselves above the need of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness. May we be the unnamed woman, at the feet of Jesus, praying for forgiveness, hearing the sweet words: Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.

Amen.