Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘caring’

EnTRUST-ed

Isaiah 5:1-7 Matthew 13:42,43

Love-one-anotherOnce again, let’s talk about trust.

In my last post we looked at how authority and trust go together, i.e. we give authority to the things and people we trust. And we focused on the idea that trust is not something we should blindly give; rather, that trust needs to be proven. Now, let’s take that same word trust and look at a variation of the root word in entrusted. If we entrust someone with something or someone, it means we give that person a responsibility to protect, care for, and handle. You give your beloved cat to your friend to take care of while you are on vacation. You entrust that person with your beloved cat. You put some money in a bank account. You entrust the bank to protect your funds, and in some cases, to grow the funds with interest. You send your teenager to college and entrust the professors, administrators, and RAs with your son or daughter.

So when we say we are entrusted with someone or something it is a responsibility to care for, protect, and in some cases, help to grow. I wish to connect the previous conversation about authority and trust to being entrusted. We give authority to political, religious, educational, and business leaders. By doing so we show that we trust them to do their jobs effectively and to serve the people they are supposed to serve. They are entrusted to do so.

And then, I look around. Yes, with social media and 24/7 news we are getting a heavier dose of politics than ever before. The issues, though, are the same ones we have always struggled with since the beginning of the human race. We give authority to political leaders, for example, like the White House Administration, and we expect certain things. We entrust these leaders who were voted in to care for human society, protect people, and serve the community. Sadly, I argue we have put far too much trust in people who since the very start didn’t have much of an interest in caring for or protecting people. And it’s not just in politics. Religion is no different.

How much are religious institutions and their leaders caring for and protecting people?

The issue of self-preservation is obvious among both political and religious leaders. And when you are afraid losing your authority and people’s trust in you is waning, then you will have the tendency to protect only yourself and the people you have around you. And that’s what is happening now.

A government that turns a blind eye to insane violence in places like Las Vegas, an individual who was able to plan out such a terrible shooting because it is far too easy to obtain automatic weapons that even people in the military think are unnecessary. Our own Conference Minister of PA SE the Rev. Bill Worley, stated after Vegas that as someone who served in the military and as someone who is a gun owner, he could not be more incensed and sad about the lack of interest in creating gun control policies that prohibit such terrible events and make it difficult for people to stockpile powerful weapons. It really doesn’t matter what political party you identify with or don’t, this issue is about people. And violence. And our political leaders continue to fail us. And I will also say that churches are far too silent about this. Far too many churches get all up in arms about Black Lives Matter signs or kneeling during the National Anthem and then say nothing after Sandy Hook, Vegas, and other mass shootings. None of us are that obtuse to insist that political leaders are not receiving money from the National Rifle Assoc., right? Those who have been entrusted to care for and protect are not following through.

Likewise, the AG of the U.S., at the same time of this horrible tragedy in Vegas, and during the continued suffering of people in Puerto Rico and Mexico, decides to rescind an Obama administration policy to protect LGBT people, undercutting federal protection, telling agencies to do as much as possible to accommodate those who hide behind so-called “religious freedoms.” So, in other words, it’s a license to discriminate. If that were not enough, the Trump administration issued a new rule that substantially undermines women’s access to birth control under the Affordable Care Act. Protection? Not unless you are white, male, straight, and wealthy.

And all this sounds so very familiar.

You see, in the Hebrew prophetic writings like Isaiah, the same things were happening. Governments were corrupt, self-serving, and refusing to care for the people—particularly those on the margins. Likewise, the religious institutions and leaders were silent and did not deem it their responsibility to care for and protect vulnerable people. YHWH, God, is not pleased with this. The image of the vineyard begins with a beautiful image of God’s good creation—the choice vines, the fertile soil, the potential to grow amazing grapes. But God notices that the beautiful vineyard that was entrusted has been neglected. YHWH expected justice, but saw violence; compassion, but saw indifference and silence.

Jesus of Nazareth knew the Hebrew scriptures and made the connection to Isaiah on various occasions in the Gospels. For Jesus, the vineyard was the kin-dom of God, i.e. the whole of creation, all living things. And this creation has been entrusted to human beings, to you and me. And those who produced the fruits of compassion, of caring for and of protecting, would experience this kin-dom and be in line with God’s great wishes for the world.

Friends, this is a critical time. It’s tempting at times to become overwhelmed with grief, sadness, and even anger over the break in trust that is happening now. So it is essential that we care for each other.

We must. Care. For each other.

Especially those who feel marginalized, vulnerable, lost, pushed down. We must care for each other. Because that is what God wishes for God’s good creation. Because that is what Jesus taught and did and passed on. It doesn’t matter what so-called authorities say or do, if they do not care for and protect people. We can. May it be so.

 

 

 

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An Economics of Caring

Mark 12:38-44

Stewardship of Each Other

Many Christian churches, on a particular Sunday in November, call it stewardship Sunday. So right from the start, I have to explain what the heck that means. Stewardship? Are we going somewhere, like, on a boat? And what’s a steward? Well, according to Webster’s Dictionary, a steward is:

 1] One employed in a large household or estate to manage domestic concerns (as the supervision of servants, collection of rents, and keeping of accounts)

2] An employee on a ship, airplane, bus, or train who manages the provisioning of food and attends passengers

3] One appointed to supervise the provision and distribution of food and drink in an institution

4] One who actively directs affairs: manager[1]

 Okay, so put steward together with ship and what do you have? No, not bippity-boppity-boo…

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Stewardship, remember? A word defined as:

 The conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.[2]

Apparently, it is all about focusing on all of our roles as managers or supervisors of something—maybe a house, maybe money; perhaps boats, cars, or trains; maybe food and drink; or maybe even…people.

 Typically, on a stewardship Sunday, though, a church would focus on one thing: money. Oh yes—sometimes we do talk about money in the church! Well, at least we try to once a year. Look, I don’t blame you if you don’t want to hear someone preach at you about money. I’m with you. Maybe you’re thinking, Man, I do NOT want to hear another sermon about money. I am constantly bombarded with people selling me things and asking me for my hard-earned money. And besides, my money is my own business. Preacher Man, just preach on Jesus and leave my money alone.

 Okay, will do. Let’s talk about Jesus today. But, I’m a little nervous about that, because uh-oh, it seems like Jesus didn’t follow our rules of avoiding money in sermons. But I guess we’ll make an exception. After all, he is Jesus, right? Okay, I’m being a little funny, but I’m also being truthful. Clearly, at times we have an avoidance issue in the church as it relates to money. But I think this particular story in Mark will help us. Really, I do. Because Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t ambiguous about this concept of stewardship–of being managers or caretakers of something. So let’s dive in.

 Our passage begins with the word beware. So right away, we know that Jesus has experienced something earlier that rubbed him the wrong way. What was it? Well, it’s pretty clear. Remember the scene when Jesus enters the Jerusalem temple and starts tossing tables around like a WWE cagematch?

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Well, this story is also about the temple. Scribes [named here] and priests were the ones in charge of the temple. But they weren’t just religious leaders or theology teachers and preachers. They were in the business of money, too. Scribes and priests got a cut from every temple sacrifice that people offered and collected five shekels of tax for every first-born child.[3] Temple scribes and priests made it rain. And because they had money and charged taxes, eventually the temple scribes and priests figured out that they could also lend money to people. Of course, that meant that if someone borrowed money to pay for his home, the scribes and priests could foreclose his property.

Beware indeed.

 So Jesus was not pleased. These religious leaders, who were supposed to be lifting up the poor, standing up for God’s justice, and showing mercy to people — were playing the exploitation game. And religion is a perfect tool to use for exploitation. So they went about exploiting, in their long robes, accepting with pleasure all the respect and compliments of people in the marketplace. They were honored, exalted, and praised.

 Of course, in order to get wealthy and gain this high status, they had to step on a few people. I’m sure they devoured more than just widows, but Jesus chose to mention only widows here.The temple scribes and priests were exploiting their poverty, lending them money, charging them taxes, and bleeding them dry. And if ever anyone questioned their religious authority or started to smell a rat, they knew what to do. They stood up and prayed long, proud prayers. They schooled people in religious doctrine. That way, the people would all forget about the exploitation. That way, the scribes would get the best seats in the house and all the praise. Jesus was ticked off.

 So Jesus broke another one of our rules. We’re not supposed to watch people as they give money to the church, right? I mean, I’m a pastor, and I don’t even know what people give to the church. It’s private. But Jesus was nosy. He sat down opposite the treasury of the temple and with eagle eyes looked at the people giving their offerings. Rich people put in some nice sums of moolah. But then one of those aforementioned widows came in. Jesus was already fuming, so you can imagine his angst when the widow [the word for widow in Greek means a person poor enough that she has to beg] plopped in her two copper coins. Seeing this as a teachable moment, Jesus called his disciples to him and said: Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on. The phrase truly I tell you is one you always have to pay attention to. When Jesus says that, it means that what is to follow is an important teaching. So the widow, according to Jesus, was all in. She gave her whole life, literally all she had to live on. Meanwhile, the others were putting in larger sums of money, but it didn’t really put a dent in their lifestyle.

 The story ends like that and the sermon usually ends with this interpretation:

The widow gave all that she had and so should we. We should be inspired by her generosity to give more than just a little bit of what we have. We should be all in. We should be more generous. Happy stewardship Sunday, everyone! Cue 1-800-GIVE-MORE-TO-MY-CHURCH and hear scratching of pens on checks.

 But the classic interpretation isn’t all that true to the actual story. Remember what happened before the widow dropped her coins in the treasury? Remember the temple’s system of exploitation, greed, taxation and a little religion mixed in for good measure? No, in Jesus’ book, the widow is no hero. She’s an anti-hero at best. Jesus doesn’t necessarily exalt the widow for the amount of money she gave. She puts in, according to Jesus, “more.” What is that more? Is it her devotion? Her faith? Her unselfishness? We don’t find out. But what Jesus does tell us is that he was upset–mostly that the woman had to give anything at all. Isn’t the church supposed to give TO the poor, not bleed them dry? Maybe it’s not the widow’s mite or her giving of money [money she desperately needed, by the way] that we should be applauding. Perhaps this story is not to be applauded at all.

 I think this story is about Jesus economics, or as I like to think—the economics of caring. You see, in our society, we tend to think about economics in this way: if you have money, you are blessed. If you’re poor, you are cursed. We start to equate wealth with God’s favor and poverty with God’s absence. And yet, throughout the Hebrew Scriptures [OT] and in Jesus’ NT teachings, God is a God of justice and stands with the poor. Wealth is equated with exploitation instead. Poverty is equated with being exploited. This is of course placing the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of humanity. If you are rich, don’t think you are somehow more blessed by God than someone who is not. Likewise, if someone is poor, remember how the majority of people become poor in the first place—someone exploits them.

 In short, I shouldn’t have to remind us all, but we’ve bought into this idea of looking out for number one. As individuals, we protect what we have with every ounce of our strength. During this time when we’re told again and again that we live in an age of scarcity; when we’re bombarded with negative messages about the economy; when we’re seduced by the lure of wealth at any cost. Beware, says Jesus. Beware of such thinking. We are not isolated individuals pushing our way to the top and exploiting and praying at the same time. We’re meant to be neighbor-focused. We’re made to be community—a group of people connected because each person shares a mutual need and a mutual desire to care for the other.

 In such a community, we don’t ask the widow to give all she has. Instead, we ask what we can do for her. In the economics of caring, we say on this stewardship Sunday, if you don’t have a lot of money, your gifts are just as important. So come, be part of this community, offer your gifts and talents; your time; your laughter; your honesty; your love; your wisdom; and that will be more than enough to bless. And then for those of us who can give, we give in order to love our neighbors—both here and out there. We give to lift up the single mom with two kids and no health insurance who needs to make a rent payment or she and the kids will be out on the street; we give so that all people—those who have never been to a church out of fear or discrimination or prejudice or abuse will feel welcome; we give to show hospitality to the stranger; to embrace the rejected; to share our whole selves with the needy world. And we don’t do it in a long prayer or with a long robe.

 Friends, any temple, any church institution–is part of the widow’s story, relived today. We too walk this line. We have to pay the bills. We want to keep the lights on, so to speak. We want to pay salaries for staff so they can share their gifts of leadership and special skills and so they can make a living, too. We want to make repairs to the roof and keep the building from falling apart. We want to offer dynamic programs for learning, faith growth, and enlightening education. In and of themselves, none of these things are bad. But none of that supersedes our economics of caring. This community, all of you, is meant to be connected in love and care for each other and for the world. So how will we be good stewards of people? How will we love and care for our neighbors, the marginalized, the left out and forgotten, the pushed down, the exploited?

This is the more that we have to offer. This will bring renewal, life, blessing, justice, and love. Amen.


[1] Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

[2] Ibid.

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