It's the Season of Money:
- Our churches are cranking up our Fall Stewardship Campaigns;
- Congress is debating (or rather crashing) the Federal Budget;
- and the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus shows up as the text for this week.
As much as we might not want to talk about money in church, this is surely the time for it.
It's time to look around for signs of that parable in our day: who's the Rich Man? Who's Lazarus?
It's time to see what the Rich Man could not see until it was too late. The Rich Man in Luke's parable sees Lazarus only after he dies, when he notes that Lazarus occupies a place of honor with Abraham. He apparently never saw him lying "outside the gate."
Looking at Congress is a handy place to start to see:
Congress just slashed $40 billion from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) --a huge cut that reduces eligibility to food support for low-income families (76% of SNAP recipients are children, the elderly and persons with disabilities.) That sounds like Lazarus writ large.
Our task is to see, (and I would add to see the names on that vote, listed over atSojourners) to name what we see, and to respond to the One who issed the manifesto "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
That first Beatitude was a first-century manifesto because Jesus was not saying that the poor are blessed because there is some "special place in heaven" for those who suffer. The poor are called blessed because God's first concern is for the poor and the oppressed, as the Hebrew scriptures say in so many different voices and so many different calls for justice, from Exodus to Zephaniah.
Jesus is signaling, (as the prophet Isaiah did before him) "God cares about this" or "God commends this."
The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, just like that first beatitude, is an invitation to shift our own perspective on what we might consider a blessing, and an invitation to participate in God's transformation of our world.
Look at it this way, Jesus is saying: This is what God commends: our alliance with the poor, the meek, the peacemaker, and the persecuted. The good news and blessing, Jesus announces, is that we are invited into a new way of joining with God in creating the kind of world God wants everyone to inhabit.
It's hard to see, sometimes, and it's hard to talk about money and wealth, and the ever-widening chasm of wealth disparity in our country. But it's time. In fact, it's too late for too many. But we keep on.
Echoes from the Edge
By John Helmiere - September 23rd, 2013
Last spring, I was among 100 airport workers and community leaders who attended the Alaska Air Group annual shareholders meeting to speak out about poverty wages and unfair working conditions endured by contracted employees at SeaTac Airport. We all bought a share in advance and had a legal right to voice our feelings about the ethics of the company we partially owned. A group of interfaith leaders decided to pray before the shareholder meeting began as a show of support. The group nominated me to lead the prayer, which I was not pleased about, but my protests and excuses were warmly dismissed.
On the day of the shareholder meeting, we walked into the auditorium at the Seattle convention center and found seats among our brothers and sisters in the executive class. When the meeting seemed about to begin, a dozen faith leaders stood up and walked to the front of the room, lined up facing the audience, and grasped hands. I had prepared to talk over a loud room, but at this strange sight in a corporate shareholder meeting, the congregation silenced itself and I said,
"Peace be with you. Salaam Alaykum."
"Some workers and faith leaders and shareholders asked me to pray before this meeting began, so if you are a praying type person, you are welcome to pray with me."
I closed my eyes and bowed my head. Then the prayer I had carefully prepared and memorized escaped my mind. I had no words. The prayer was written out on a piece of paper in my jacket pocket, but my hands were being held by sisters and brothers in faith. Very inconvenient. So, I prayed in my own mind, "God! Help me!" And help came. Words came out and they were from the Heart. Then I heard some of the words from my prepared prayer coming out of my mouth, but it was Spirit-led, not a memorized recitation. This is the gist of what I prayed:
"God of Mercy, God of Justice, God who transforms our hearts,
"We give thanks for the privileges and powers that we have been given.
"We are grateful for the profits produced by hard workers and skilled managers.
"God, teach us to use these blessings in the right way.
"Save us from the snares of selfishness.
"Guard us from the gravity of greed.
"Forgive us where we have gone astray,
"And grant our leaders the wisdom and courage to make our company a beacon of success in business AND in ethics.
"Help us to live your ultimate and eternal truth that we belong to each other and to you." Amen.
I said thank you and we sat down. Afterwards, I talked to the CEO, Brad Tilden, for quite a while. We had a real dialogue. He said he had no choice but to play by the rules of the market system. I said that we always have a choice when conscience conflicts with the accepting the rules of an unjust system. We have a choice to do whatever we can with the power that we are given. I don't make the right choice every time, not by a long shot. I'm glad I believe in forgiveness. But I also believe that the Jesus Way is resisting the temptation to accept easy excuses to escape from morally complex situations, and allowing the creative tension that this produces to generate an alternative vision, an alternative system, and an alternative set of desires within our own hearts.
The contracted workers of Alaska and other Sea-Tac airlines are still living on $19,000/year wages without benefits, job security, proper training, safety measures, and respect on the job. But they are determined to find an alternative and I am determined to walk with my brothers and sisters along the way.
John is Convener and Minister of Listening at Valley & Mountain Fellowship in Seattle.
Finally, the Poet
By Walter Brueggemann - September 23rd, 2013
We all know about being entitled
and then growing careless
We all know about self-indulgence,
even amid work to be done.
We all know about being - for a moment -
beyond Torah requirement and
outside of your world of command
We know about seasons of life not given over to us
and grief at being failed selves
We also know that you circle back among us
in harshness and in mercy
in rigor and in generosity
Now our world has gone careless and
So circle back, we pray - one more time,
among us with your mercy,
our only source of comfort,
for we belong to you in your faithfulness.