Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, February 23, 2014: Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

Texts: Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18  +  Psalm 119:33-40  +  1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23  +  Matthew 5:38-48

As books of the bible go, Leviticus has kind of a bad rap, mainly because of its preoccupation with rules and laws.  This is, after all, the book that gave us such gems as:

It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, in all your settlements: you must not eat any fat or any blood. (Lev. 3:17)

which rules out the best steaks I’ve ever had, and

You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. (Lev. 19:27)

which I regularly defy every time I pull out my electric razor; not to mention a range of laws defining who you may and may not lay with that has left many of us a little beaten and scarred in the great culture wars of the last fifty years. So, it’s not often that I preach on Leviticus.

The lectionary seems to have picked up on our aversion to this book of the bible, since this morning’s passage is actually the only time we’ll hear from Leviticus all year long.  That’s right. In an odd twist of liturgical fate, the book of the bible most often cited to support legislating human behavior is one of the least read books of the bible, at least in terms of the portions we read together in worship.

Lucky for us then that the passage we read this morning is a bit of a greatest hits medley from the book of Leviticus.  Today we hear verses that sound quite an awful lot like the Ten Commandments,

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God. (Lev. 19:11-12)

And we hear words that we associate with Jesus, though he himself is quoting Leviticus,

You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Lev. 19:18)

But the verses I want to inspect with you for just a few minutes this morning are not that familiar and, on the surface, not that applicable to our everyday lives. The passage we hear Jossy read this morning begins,

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God. (Lev. 19:9-10)

When we study rules and laws, one generally safe assumption is that the rule exists because it has already been broken.  We don’t tend to make rules about things no one does, or ever could do.  We don’t legislate how quickly pigs are allowed to fly, or how much wood a woodchuck may chuck if, in fact, a woodchuck can chuck wood.  But Leviticus does set rules for how a landowner should go about reaping the harvest for which she or he has labored.

Apparently in ancient biblical times landowners would become so zealous to make a profit from their hard work that they would strip their vineyards bare, they would gather not only the grapes of the vine, but the ones that had fallen to the ground as well.  Whatever could be used to make the wine that sold at market and brought wealth and security to the landowner’s family.

Actually, come to think of it, this just sounds like good business.  The whole point of laboring all throughout the growing season is to bring in a harvest that will generate a profit, after all.  Landowners don’t go into business, whether in the vineyard or in real estate, to just get by.  They work, and often they work very hard, in order to turn a profit. To do well for themselves and their families.  In fact, not just land owners, but all kinds of business owners, work under a set of governing assumptions about the way the market works.  Assumptions like the idea that supply and demand are the best way of determining the value of a good. There’s nothing terribly Machiavellian about that idea, it’s just business as usual.

That’s what makes this law, buried in the book of Leviticus, so provocative to me. It seems to suggest that there’s something flawed, something wrong with some of the most basic structures that undergird our ways of interacting with one another.

Apple Orchard 2

There’s something poetic about the way this law is stated: “you shall not reap to the very edges of your field… you shall not strip your vineyard bare.”  It paints a picture.  Sometimes I go apple picking in the fall, around October, so I can bake some real homemade apple pies. If I go late in the season, I can see that the trees have already been picked over. The low hanging fruit has already been harvested, and now all that’s left are the hard-to-reach apples, or the ones that have fallen on the ground and already begun to rot just a little.

Leviticus imagines a very different kind of operation, one in which not only the easy money, but the marginal profit has been squeezed down to the very last penny.  If a good has any value at all in the free market, then it belongs to the owner who is entitled and even expected to strive to get the highest price she can; even when the good, the item being sold, is something required for life. Something like food, or housing.

If you’ve been at Community Dinners, then you’ve seen this Levitical law at work.  We serve food from the second harvest — leftover bread from Panera, vegetables from the Greater Chicago Food Depository that was sourced from larger food distributors and producers. In the summer, we send volunteers out to the Logan Square Farmers’ Market to gather the gleanings of that harvest for the poor and the alien in our land. There is a generosity of spirit and a beautiful kind of neighborly friendship that has developed between Pat and Dorothea Kuhlman and the farmers who wait for them each Sunday, knowing that the leftovers that didn’t sell will still provide for people who need what the land produces, whether they can afford it or not. There is a law at work, deeper than supply and demand, that these landowners and laborers remember: that we belong to each other, that we rise and fall side by side, that we’re all in this together.

1902752_1405070206413799_1846997853_nA few months ago I got a call from Terry, one of the guys who volunteers regularly at the Community Dinners, some of you know him pretty well.  He lives in the neighborhood, he helps source some of the food we serve and he’s handy in the kitchen.  He’s also fighting the mass evictions going on in his building and in scores of other buildings in the blocks surrounding his home.  A handful of housing developers, and one in particular, are buying up properties in Logan Square, issuing 30-day notices to residents — many of whom have lived there for decades with their families — and flipping the units.  Cosmetic upgrades: a new refrigerator and some marble counter tops, and then the rent goes up a few hundred dollars a month, or it doubles. The point being, the people, the families, our neighbors are gone. Where they go, who knows? Certainly not into the hundreds of boarded up units of public housing sitting vacant at Lathrop Homes for the last fifteen years.

OPS2012

Terry wanted to know if the churches could help.  You see, there’s a story going around the neighborhood about a handful of congregations who leave their buildings each spring to occupy the public square and demand an end to business as usual in our homes, in our streets, throughout our government and all of society. They wave palms and carry signs that read “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” and “en los ohos de Dios, todos somos iguales.”  There’s a story that these churches marched through the ghost town at Lathrop Homes in the dead of winter, knocking on doors to ask if there was room for Mary and Joseph to come in from the cold.  Terry’d heard that story, and he wondered what it meant for people like him, neighbors fighting to keep their homes in the face of landowners reaping to the very margin and stripping the streets of Logan Square bare of any trace of affordable housing.

I wonder too.

Not every injustice is illegal, in fact most injustices have been made legal by laws that support a vision for our life together as human beings that privileges power over people, money over mercy.  The fact that a thing is legal, that it can be done, doesn’t mean that it should be done.  But we get confused.  Isn’t that what we were all taught to be?  Good, hard-working, law-abiding citizens.  Even when the laws seem stacked against us, when they tell us where we can live or who we can love; even when they seem to strip us of the things we need for life — food to eat, a warm home, a living wage, affordable healthcare.

When Jesus says, “You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’” he’s talking about the law.  The saying comes from a legal principle of the Roman empire that lives on in our legal codes today. We hear it in sayings like, “let the punishment fit the crime.” It is the kind of law that fits well in an economy of scarcity, in a worldview ruled by fear that there isn’t enough and that we must each fight our whole lives long to get what we can, and to keep it.

By contrast, Jesus says, “if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you” (Matt. 5:41-42). It is a divine logic, rooted not in compensation and proportional retaliation, but in compassion and solidarity.  Jesus, drawing on the wisdom of his Jewish heritage paraphrases the book of Leviticus, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” Then he expands upon the law,  “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” These are the kinds of laws that fit well in an economy of grace, in a worldview ruled by the assurance that there is already always enough and that we can trust that the care we provide to others will also be provided to us.

Two very different economies — the economy of scarcity and the economy of grace.  Two different sets of laws.  Echoes of last week’s reading from Deuteronomy, “choose life, that you and your descendants may live,” (Deut. 30:19) and Jesus, who has been delivering this sermon on the mount for weeks now, “do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5:17)

There is a movement building in Logan Square to protect our neighbors, to stop the mass evictions, to call upon our elected officials to support us in this cause, and to recognize that land and housing are more than just a commodity to be bought and sold in the marketplace for whatever value the law of supply and demand dictates. To recognize that every good needed for life must be treated as a right for the poor and the strangers among us. It is a movement toward an economy of grace, and we’ve been called, literally, by a neighbor who saw us marching out in the streets and wondered if we meant it.

Amen.

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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, July 21, 2013: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts:   Amos 8:1-12  +  Psalm 52  +  Colossians 1:15-28  +  Luke 10:38-42

Here’s a topic you’ve not heard me spend much time on: God’s wrath.

So, let’s go there.  It doesn’t take an especially close reading of the bible to uncover the fact that God is quite frequently represented as angry.  And when God is angry, it’s at humanity.  Whatever relationship God has to sharks and redwoods and geological fault lines is really beyond our knowing, but our scriptures are not silent on the point of God’s feelings toward humanity.  God loves us.  God pleads with us.  God forgives us.  And God is angry with us.

It’s hard for me to say that.  Even as I wrote this sermon, I had to stop myself from softening those words.  I wanted to say, “And, sometimes, God is angry with us” or “God is angry with some of us.”  But those are both dodges.  Those both imply that either we are, for the most part, doing the right thing — doing well — and only occasionally breaking God’s heart with our disregard for and neglect of the weakest and most needy, the despised and neglected among us; or that most of us are doing right by one another from the point of view of God, and that the real problems of this world can be laid at the feet of a few wicked evildoers.

These are the sorts of dodges that people make all the time as we deal with our relationships with one another out here in the “real” world: anger can be minimized because we imagine that we are “good” most of the time, or that most of us are good.

These rationalizations, while they may serve to shield us from our own fear of accusation, our discomfort with anger, and our resentment of any authority that asserts itself over us, raise two basic theological conundrums.

The first, our urge to assert that we are each basically good, is so difficult to challenge.  Particularly from a pulpit.  While it may not be the case across the spectrum of Christianities practiced throughout the world, and certainly is not the case for Christianity across time, it is the case that in the global north and west, in the mainline Protestant tradition to which we as Lutherans in the United States belong, there is a great reluctance to speak of God’s judgment.  We don’t want to be affiliated with those other kinds of Christians.  The kind who preach hellfire and brimstone.  The kind who divide the world into us and them, clean and unclean, pure and impure.

So, instead, we join the broader culture in a kind of psychological Christianity, or therapeutic Christianity, that begins with the affirmation that God created the world, looked upon it and called it good; and that ends with the affirmation that God “so loved the world that God gave God’s only begotten Son” without giving much attention to the reality of sin that necessitated a divine intervention in the life of the world in the first place.

When we make that first move, to say that we are mostly good, in a sense we are saying that we mostly didn’t need God’s intervention in Christ.  That we mostly had this under control ourselves, and that we’re mostly able to clean up our own messes.

This kind of logic reminds me of my senior year of college.  I was mostly done with my coursework.  I’d lived abroad in Costa Rica for a summer.  I’d completed a 3-month internship in adolescent mental health.  I was finally living off campus in a grown up apartment.  I was living life on my own terms, taking care of myself.  Except near the end of the semester, when I hadn’t quite budgeted to make my students loans and the paychecks from my part-time job stretch, and I needed to call my folks and see if they could help me just a little bit until the beginning of the month.

We’re mostly good, most of the time, and isn’t that enough — or so we wonder in a question that mostly misses the point.  Because when we aren’t “good,” when we can’t pull ourselves up, when we come up short, when we find ourselves insufficient to the crisis at hand, the question isn’t whether or not we’ll  somehow become better than we’ve ever been before.  It’s whether or not there is a power and a presence beyond our own that can sustain us through the crisis.  It is not, fundamentally, our goodness — our sufficiency — that counts, but God’s.

If, when faced with God’s anger or wrath, our first dodge is to assert that we’re good most of the time, the second is to claim that most of us are good.  That it’s just a few really rotten apples that spoil the bunch.  Week to week our minds turn to different names to populate that list.  We have our favorite politicians to blame.  Then there are the easy targets, the perpetrators of heinous crimes, the public figures whose private scandals come to light.  The constant parade of big news stories in the papers, on the news, across the internet, conspire to make it possible for us to believe that somehow all the responsibility for the world’s brokenness can be laid at the feet of a few mutually agreed upon failures.

This is not how the prophet Amos sees the world.

“The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by… shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again … The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” (Amos 8:2b,8,11)

For the prophet Amos, the nation of Israel is not a community of mostly good people who do good most of the time.  It is a community of people who cannot separate themselves one from another.  It is not the king or the people, but the whole nation together that must give an account for the treatment of the needy and the poor among them.  The faithfulness of Israel is not counted by the prophet as a private affair, but as a public witness to a public relationship between God and God’s people.

To the prophet Amos’ way of seeing, the ongoing and persistent presence of poverty in Israel testifies to an economy that values profit over people, such that business owners are trying to squeeze more labor out of the workers, asking “when will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath so that we may offer wheat for sale?” (Amos 8:5a)  It is an economy that offers less and less of value for more and more of people’s savings, “we will make the ephah small and the shekel great and practice deceit with false balances.” (Amos 8:5b)

Amos accuses the entire nation of “buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”  The prophet suggests that the greed of Israel’s economy has grown so great that creditors are foreclosing on those who cannot pay their debts for even minor purchases, not just home mortgages but even the sandals on their feet.  The economy has grown so greedy that the ancient tradition of leaving the gleanings of the field for the hungry has been forgotten, and even the most basic of necessities, food, cannot be counted upon.

Amos’ anger is not directed against one leader, or a handful of elites.  Amos brings a word from the Lord to Israel to say that this nation as a whole has forgotten who they are before God.  In response, God’s wrath will take the form of a famine — not of food or water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.

Again, in my own efforts to understand divine anger and divine punishment, I draw on my experiences of having been a child, and the ways my parents tried to offer me correction.  After many patient explanations, after plenty of warnings, there did come a time, especially as I grew older, when my parents decided that the way I would learn best was to suffer the natural consequences for my decisions and actions.  If I stayed up too late reading under the covers, dawn still came at the same time and I would have to go to school exhausted.  If I spent my money on junk food and diversions, there would be no new clothes for the new school year.  Actions had consequences.

That’s how I hear Amos’ forecasted famine.  If the nation continues to ignore the terms of God’s covenant; if the people continue to enjoy the privileges they reap off the backs of the poor, the needy and the neglected; then they will suffer the natural consequences of a society that has gone bad from the inside out.  Like a bowl of overripe fruit, what had been given them for nourishment will go bad and spoil.  If the people refuse to listen to God’s word, then they will be unable to access the abundant life it brings.  Natural consequences.

My friend Anne Howard, Executive Director of The Beatitudes Society, an ecumenical leadership development program that identifies and nurtures an emerging generation of Progressive church leaders for the sake of the common good, has taken to signing off on all her emails with the phrase, “we’re all in this together.”  It’s the perfect closing for correspondence from an organization that takes its name from Jesus’ most famous sermon, the one in which he said, “blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” and “blessed are those who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.”

Jesus, whose own prophetic ministry drew on the legacy and authority of the prophets of Israel, shared their concern for the poor and the hungry, the grieving and the reviled.  Like the prophets of old, his ministry was an earthy, embodied, political ministry.  He, too, talked about the needs of the sick, the poor, the outcast, the stranger.  In fact, when he spoke of heaven, it was almost always to say that it had drawn near, that it was breaking into this world, and not breaking us out.

In her classic essay on feminist Christian ethics, “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love,” Bev Harrison writes,

“Otherworldliness” in religion has two very different sources in our social world of knowledge.  One sort of otherworldly religion appears among the poor and downtrodden, reflecting a double dynamic in their experience: It reflects a hopelessness about this world that is engendered by living daily with the evil of oppression, but it also fuels and encourages an ongoing struggle against the present order by conjuring a better time and a better place, beyond the oppressive here and now.

However, an entirely different form of otherworldliness appears amongst those of us who have never been marginalized, who have lived well above the daily struggle to survive, when our privileges are threatened. This form of otherworldliness is merely escapist, and its political consequences are entirely reactionary. Its result is to encourage denial of responsibility for the limited power that we do have, and it always results in reinforcing the status quo.”

Harrison connects this observation about our tendency to privatize religion and assign it to some other world with her insights on anger when she writes,

It is my thesis that we Christians have come very close to killing love precisely because we have understood anger to be a deadly sin.  Anger is not the opposite of love. It is better understood as a feeling-signal that all is not well in our relation to other persons or groups or to the world around us. Anger is a mode of connectedness to other and it is always a vivid form of caring. To put the point another way: anger is — and it always is — a sign of some resistance in ourselves to the moral quality of the social relations in which we are immersed.

God’s anger, God’s wrath, is not a sign of God’s abandonment.  It is a vivid form of caring that signals God’s resistance to our human desire to pull away from God (“I’m mostly good”) and to pull away from each other (“most of us are good”).

Let me try and wrap this up with an anecdote from my own life over the past week that may illustrate what I’ve been trying to say here.

trayvon-martinThe thing that send me searching my bookshelves for Bev Harrison’s essay, “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love,” in the first place was my abiding anger over the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin.  I was in Atlanta with friends, Black and White, when the verdict was made public, friends I’ve known for over a decade and with whom I’ve engaged in some of the most intense political, ethical and theological conversations in my life. As we shared the news with one another, we barely spoke.  The pain of the wound of racism that is at the heart of the public furor over this verdict is overwhelming.

As the following week wore on, as Kerry and I sat at our dining room table, as you and your families sat at your dining room tables, my anger has only grown.  My anger is so deep on this point that it is difficult to speak.  And I wondered, “is there anything redemptive about this anger?  Can anything good come from these feelings that surface and are submerged over and over again?  Is there any value to this wrath?”

Bev Harrison’s answer is: yes.  The power of anger in the work of love is to give us the visceral evidence we need that the fabric of our relationships is torn, and that action is required.  The power of anger in the work of love is the voice of the prophet Amos, delivering a message from an angry, loving God that the creation, which God looked at and called good, for which God sent God’s only begotten Son, is aching under so much political, economic, and environmental abuse.

The power of anger in the work of love is the sound of the organizer knocking at your door, or the call from the program director looking for volunteers, or the letter that comes to your mailbox asking for a donation.

The power of anger in the work of love is the energy required to pull ourselves out of the hopelessness that is always trying to own us, to convince us that the world as it is is the world as it will always be.

The power of anger in the work of love is that voice that rises up inside each one of us, that voice that comes first from God, that says, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.”  It is the voice inside us that has always known that we are all of us in this together and that refuses to be silenced.

The power of anger in the work of love is the end of the famine of hearing the words of the Lord, and when we understand the power of anger in the work of love in this way, then God’s wrath is not to be feared but to be longed for.  For it is God’s anger, spoken through God’s prophets, like Amos and you and me, that sets the spark that starts a revolution.

Amen.

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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, June 16, 2013: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts:  1 Kings 21:1-21a  +  Psalm 5:1-8  +  Galatians 2:15-21  +  Luke 7:36-8:3

2013 Bangladesh Factory Collapse

Not quite two months ago, in the capital city of Bangladesh, an eight-story building collapsed killing over 1,100 people, and injuring an additional 2,500.  The building housed a garment factory, one of many in Bangladesh which pays some of the lowest wages in the world. According to reports by the Center for American Progress and the Workers Rights Consortium, garment factory workers in Bangladesh earn about $136 per month and labor in “buildings largely unpoliced by local officials, many of whom themselves own stakes in the factories.”  So, even though cracks had appeared in the building and the owners had been warned to evacuate the factory, the labor force had been ordered to report for work on the morning the building collapsed.  It was the deadliest garment-factory accident in history, and the cost of clothing manufactured cheaply in Bangladesh cannot be correctly counted if it does not include the cost of those lives.

About a year and a half ago the New York Times ran a series of reports on the “iEconomy,” by which it was referring to the economy that has grown up surrounding high-tech industries.  Their reporting highlighted the harsh working conditions and frequent injuries in manufacturing plants that produce products for Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, I.B.M., Motorola, Sony, Toshiba and others.  In one case “137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens.”  Reports of underage workers, excessive overtime, and hazardous waste continue to haunt the high-tech manufacturing sector.  The cost of the smooth, shiny, miracle devices so many of us — myself included — have come to love cannot be correctly counted if it does not include the cost paid by the workers and even the environment.

For the purposes of sermonizing, the “iEconomy” couldn’t have been better named.  It’s not just high-tech devices and cheap clothing that come with unbearable costs.  We all know that.  We’ve seen the documentaries, we’ve even screened some of them here at St. Luke’s, about the costs of an unsustainable food-subsidy policy, of fracking for natural gas, of cheap oil.  Here in the United States, and throughout much of the northern hemisphere, we reap the benefits of the “I-Economy,” an economy that caters to the wealthy at the expense of the poor.

15 Facts About US Inequality that Everyone Should Know

We don’t like to think of ourselves as wealthy in the United States, we like to think we’re all in the middle.  We’re all middle class.  But, objectively speaking that’s just not true. We are living in an era in which the gap between the rich and the poor has been expanding faster than at any time in recent history, not just here in the United States, but globally.  The Bangladeshi factory worker earning $136 each month does not buy the clothing she makes.  The Chinese factory worker cannot afford the iPad he polishes.  The undocumented farm laborer in the United States could never shop at a Whole Foods or a Mariano’s.

The “I-Economy” exists to serve those with money and power, to give us what we want at the price we want to pay, and there’s nothing new about it.

In this morning’s story from First Kings, we return once again to King Ahab and his wife Jezebel.  The king spies a vineyard in the fertile Jezreel valley, next to his palace.  He wants it, regardless of the fact that it belongs to someone else, so he offers to buy it from its owner, Naboth.  This may sound fair to us, but in the context of the story something affronting has already begun to take place.  During these times, the land was understood to be more than a commodity, more than real estate.  Land was the source of a family’s income and security, but even more, it was understood to be a God-given gift.  It was a birthright passed from generation to generation.

The connection between land and lineage is symbolized in the story by the crops each owner would grow.  Naboth has established a vineyard on his land, and as anyone who loves wine and knows how it is made can attest, vines are precious and require cultivation over generations.  When immigrants came to the United States from the wine countries of the Mediterranean they would sometimes bring cuttings from the vines of the old country to plant in the new world as a sign of continuity with their ancestors.  By contrast, King Ahab wants the land for a vegetable garden, the kind of crop you plant again and again at the start of each new season.  Ahab proposes to destroy a lineage and an inheritance for the sake of a fast crop, a quick profit.

Bolivia QuinoaIn Bolivia, where quinoa has been cultivated for over 4,000 years — so, literally, since the time of Ahab — the global demand for this cash crop has actually begun to destroy traditional agricultural practices as farmers take cash incentives from the government to abandon other crops in order to keep up with the demand in American health food markets.  As a result, farmers have stopped rotating crops, and the land is quickly becoming depleted.  This has devastating local impact in this nation, where one in five children suffers from chronic malnutrition.  The cost of quinoa cannot be correctly counted if it does not include the cost paid by the families whose own children are not being fed.

But the king wants what he wants when he wants it.  When Naboth rejects his offer, Ahab takes to his bed in an almost comical tantrum.  He didn’t get what he wanted, and so he feels like he is the aggrieved party.  Isn’t this how the “I-Economy” works?  It so distorts our sense of what is fair, that we can actually imagine that we are the injured party when gasoline prices rise, or food prices rise, or manufacturing prices rise.  We punish our legislators with angry phone calls and the threat of being ousted if they touch our crop subsidies.  We look the other way when troops are sent to protect oil, knowing the bottom line lines our pockets as well.

There is, however, another economy in the world.

We catch sight of it in the gospel story from Luke, in which a woman comes to the place where Jesus is sharing dinner with Simon the Pharisee.  This woman is known to be a sinner, what kind of sinner the scriptures don’t say, but whatever her debts are, Jesus has forgiven them.  Her jubilee tears are the signs of joy you might experience when a crushing load is lifted, an unimaginable debt is forgiven, an incurable illness is healed.  She spends her tears on his feet and she pours precious and costly oil over his skin to anoint him.

Simon is confused by Jesus’ interaction with this woman, his transaction in this economy of gratitude and grace.  It did not fit within the accepted business practices of the day.  Simon was a Pharisee, the woman was a sinner.  We don’t even know her name.  She could have been one of the women crushed in Bangladesh.  She might have been a factory worker in China.  She may have picked the quinoa served for dinner that night.  But to Jesus, she was a person who mattered.  Her suffering in the I-Economy was seen by God, and challenged by Christ, and this nameless woman was grateful, so grateful, to be seen and loved by such a good and gracious God, that she poured herself out at Jesus’ feet.

Sisters and brothers, we live in the tension between two economies as well.  We all know this.  Our cupboards and our closets are filled with signs of one economy.  Our church is filled with signs of another.  We are so tightly entangled in systems of production and consumption that distance us from one another, that benefit some while punishing others, that we barely know how to begin to extricate ourselves.  But we must begin, we must continue, to try.  Because the woman who stitches our clothes, the man who polishes the glass on our smart phones, the children who pick our crops do have names, and they belong to God, which makes them members of our family.

When we baptized Zoey Charlotte White this morning we washed her with water and anointed her with oil, just like the nameless woman who touched Jesus’ feet.  Like that woman in Simon the Pharisee’s house, we too are sinners.  We too have been caught in systems of suffering and oppression that have lured us away from our birthright, our baptisms, our utter belonging to God.  But today, in this baptism, in this naming, we see how good God is.  We see that before we ever chose God, God chose us.  We see that no one is nameless before God — not the workers in the factories and the fields, not the woman at Jesus’ feet, not Mary, called Magdalene, or Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, or Susanna, or Zoey or me or you.

In our baptisms we were called out of the “I-Economy” and into the economy of grace.  That means it matters what we eat, and what we wear, and what we buy because somewhere, another child of God just as beautiful and precious as Zoey has labored to bring these things to you and me.  May we learn to love those whose names we do not know as deeply as God has loved us.

Amen.

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