Sermon 09/25/2022 – The Love of Money

1 Timothy 6: 6-19

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it, but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches but rather on God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

Sermon Text

“Take hold of the life that really is life.” I want some of that. It is just two words in Greek, (ὀντως ζωης,) and yet it tells us so much about what we are chasing after in this race of life. God has offered us all of the abundance of Heaven here on Earth, in the communion of the Church and the life of our Christian call. What does it cost? It is a gift freely given for all those who have faith in Christ. What does that free gift call us to give up? Everything.

Strange as it seems, there is a central contradiction of the Christian calling. We are freely given the status of Children of God, but that reality means that we cannot keep going on in life like nothing has changed. Once we taste the spiritual food of Holy Communion and feel the life-giving coolness of Baptismal waters, we cannot act as though the grace each of those things give us simply sit stagnant in our hearts. The outpouring of God’s love is a ceaseless flood, constantly moving us toward being better than we currently are. This is not vain self-improvement, not books sold to us on the premise that we will be made whole if we only lose another pound or perfect our workflow. This is genuine life, life that bursts out from the real needs and circumstances of this life, but that reflects the glory of another one altogether.

The lesson here is directed specifically to those who have a lot in this life. As I’ve talked about before, it is hard to say how our modern world and its income brackets relate to ancient concepts of money. In a world where most people are near starving, the wealthy were those who had food and housing with any amount left over. The super wealthy in ancient urban centers might have lavish housing, but the day-to-day wealthy people in the rural towns would have just a little land and a bit of money put away. For us today, we can look locally and see that most of us are not as poor as we could be. Many of us are even fairly well off. We have our house and savings and pensions and, while we aren’t about to buy a Mercedes, we have plenty of recreational income.

The global reality is not so rosy. People struggle to live on a handful of cents a day. Large corporations come into communities promising opportunities, but often only destroy local business and create labor monopolies.

A company can offer three cents more than a local manufacturer to the workers and, while not really lifting the plight of these workers any higher, claim that they are giving opportunities that the people would never have normally. Those goods, produced with this cheap labor to get the materials needed to make them and for the production itself, are sold on our store shelves for a fraction of what their actual production cost would be in a just world.

Cheap electronics, make-up filled with mica mined by child slaves, and of course the clothing we wear, are made by people who could never buy them themselves. That is the global cost of our current economic reality. Even locally, we know the exploitation that companies can personally inflict or cause in a community. Why is rent $1,000 a month in Clarksburg? Well, when pipeline companies were paying for their workers to live here, landlords took the chance to make a profit. Even with the workers gone, so few were local workers, the landlords aren’t about to drop their prices. Profit is profit, and wealth demands more of itself.

We have neighbors who are going hungry in the richest nation on earth. More shockingly, people in this room are finding themselves constrained, cutting back in ways they never should have to, to keep their life going. Many months, Grace and I look at all the bills we have paid, even with the generous pay we get from our churches and find that there is next to nothing to put away for savings. The tax man takes his cut, the doctor their own, and so much more to student loans, car payments, and, of course, food and medicine.

The difficult work that we are called to as people of God, is not to lose ourselves in worries about money. Jesus puts it a different way than the writer of Timothy does, saying that the birds of the air and the flowers of the field do not store up food or weave clothing, and yet God sees them cared for. Rather than a flat denial of hardship in life, the ethic of trust that Jesus is asking us to take part in should connect us with the deeper truth of God’s provision in our life. When we trust that God will care for us, then we are unafraid to give to those in need, even if our own wallet seems light. We will not think that we need to take every chance to make money, or save money, even if the way we go about doing it is sketchy.

Remember last week? We looked at the dishonest manager and how Jesus seems to be asking us to think about the injustice of how money works. The best way to make money is to cheat people, and those who cheat people will take advantage of the most trusting people they can find. Alternatively, the desperate are a good mark for those seeking personal gain. Think back to the reality of the world around us. Companies profit on the global poor, and we in buying those products made in those processes contribute to the evil of the world. Our love of cheap products, the love of excess profit on the part of companies, and the needs of the poor, all lead to the central proof of our text.

The love of money, is the root of all kinds of evil. That is not to say that by loving money, we may plot to commit evil, though that is sometimes true. Instead, 1 Timothy speaks to a much harder truth. All kinds of evil, (some translate the Greek to “all evil,” and aren’t wrong to do so,) come from the love of money. Wars, exploitation, rapid price gouging in the midst of pandemics and recessions, all of these are examples of people putting the almighty dollar before the truly almighty God of the Universe.

We can fight back against this great beast, against Mammon in all its most insidious forms. We can buy products we know are properly sources – that means finding foreign made products that pay their workers a fair wage. We can check our coffee for that little fair-trade logo that tells us the growers are getting their due. We can buy local and support those around us trying to build up the lives of our neighbors. We do not have to contribute, at least not fully, to the nightmare of industry that has gripped the earth in its claws.

Beyond that, we cannot be so worried about making ends meet. Sometimes, we struggle. There is only so much money that comes in, and seemingly endless reasons for it to go out from us. However, a little budgeting goes a long way. When we take time to count the costs, we can streamline our lives and find there’s a bit more room than we might have thought before. For some of us, that still is not going to leave much, but it might make us feel confident enough to give five dollars to someone who needs it that we might have otherwise walked right by.

We live out of fear of scarcity, but we live in a world of abundance. I am not going to tell you that if you have enough faith that God will give you plenty of money to get whatever you want. Plenty of people the world over have more faith than any of us here, but still stuffer in poverty.

No, faith does not equal money, because the love of money only leads us to further sin. Instead, faith allows us to trust that the ends will meet, and that people can help us if we fall short. That only happens, though, if those with the means to give are willing to give. Not just to the church, but to people in need. Sometimes we might use an agency like Open Heart to mediate that giving, but we create a world free of scarcity when we live a life of generosity and love.

So let us abandon our love of money, and pursue our first love, our God and our creator. The life that is really life is open to us, but only if we can divorce ourselves from wealth. – Amen.

Sermon 09/18/2022 – Weighing Good and Evil

Luke 16: 1-13

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly, for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much, and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If, then, you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters, for a slave will either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Sermon Text

Not long ago we wrapped up a series on questions. Well, I’m sorry to say that the next few weeks of preaching are going to raise some questions for all of us. Through what I have to hope are the machinations of the Spirit and not just simple bad luck, I have planned our preaching through Advent to be stuffed with scriptures you do not often hear from the pulpit. We enter, therefore, a sermon series in miniature, a bizarre look at the texts we do our best to ignore. From the ghost of a prophet to Jesus seemingly supporting business fraud, we are going to practice from the pulpit what we should carry into our life – an inquisitive faith that allows for uncertain answers.

The scripture we are looking at today is a triumph of weird and difficult interpretations. In my studying for this week, I found a quote that matches my own feeling exactly. An article in Neotestamenticum opens by saying, “As far back as in the sixteenth century, Cajetanus declared that it is impossible to expound this parable…”[1] Impossible! How do we come to the opening of a chapter from the Gospel and find something impenetrable! Do we rush to find someone who does offer us an answer, or do we struggle with this to find a more fulfilling understanding of what Jesus has to offer us? Can any good come out of weighing good and evil and finding that which is dishonest, can have some utility?

I want us to go into our discussion fully understanding what is happening here. Jesus wraps up the Parable of the Good Samaritan, everyone is thinking about the ways they have been the older and younger sons to those around them, and how they have known the love of their heavenly father. Suddenly, Jesus begins a new parable. All ears open up, all eyes turn to Jesus, and then something strange follows.

A man deals in property – he gives people resources and money for them to make their own money and then asks for some amount of it back. It is unclear what the trade exactly is, but he seems to accept product as payment. He gives you the money to start your olive oil business, you give him some of the product to sell at a premium. He gives you the axes you need to start a lumber company, and you give him some amount of lumber. Money and supplies and this and that. He is a big mover and shaker and he is making money moves to make any shark blush in their tank.

One of his clerks, the people who actually write the bills and settle accounts, is doing a bad job. His deals are not bringing in any profits and he has shown himself to be more trouble than he is worth. The master says that he has to bring all existing contracts up to date and turn them in to be turned over to another manager. The clerk wonders how he can survive without this job and makes a plan. If he can underwrite all his contracts before they are turned in, then maybe the grateful contract holders will help him out. Suddenly, the $100 dollars you owe becomes $50. “That lumber contract? What lumber contract?! While we are at it though, can I stay with you for a little bit?”

The master gets the managers paperwork and is suddenly left with the realization that he has lost a lot of profit. The master holds his head in his hands and says, “Well, I could be angry, but in all honesty I’m mostly impressed.” Jesus ends his story by saying that worldly people are better with money, and more willing to cheat than Godly people. Thus, we should use dishonest money so that, when the money runs out, we still have support networks that are somehow holy.

What? I will say it again. What? What do you mean that scam artists are out there lurking, so I might as well play the game? Am I supposed to embezzle money from the office so that when I’m caught embezzling, I can have friends to take care of me? That is bad advice! If Jesus means that then I have to take issue with this teaching, because we you get caught embezzling money you go to jail, you don’t get to sleep in someone’s guest room. Thus, taking the lesson at face value is the wrong idea, there has to be more going on.

Some, like the article I mentioned earlier, have taken this parable and make it a story built upon sarcasm. The obvious duplicitous nature of the manager means that we who hear the story should never think that this is the right kind of thing to do. You cannot steal and not have it come back to bite you. Also, distantly I remember there being a commandment that says “You shall not steal.” Unless we make up, as some people do, an explanation that the manager was just dropping his commission from the bills – these rewrites are theft from the master’s pockets to the benefit of the manager.

Part of me, in this age of megacorporations, honestly wants to say, maybe that is not such a bad thing. Companies get insurance so that they can account for theft. They can lose lots of property and not feel it at all, meanwhile people who need baby food and diapers live another day. That feels just! People over profits! But it looks to the wrong answer to the question. The problem is that mothers cannot afford to care for their children. Our answer should not be that they have to resort to theft – it should be that the world supports them more and companies do not price gouge so that those mothers feel the need to steal.

 Similarly, I think Jesus is asking us to reroute our thinking through this parable. Jesus is well aware that it is easy to scam church people. It just is. Tell them that the world is ending, and they will probably buy your book. Tell them you saw heaven for 5 minutes and they will go see your movie and all its sequels. None of it has to be true, it just has to sound true. Jesus does not endorse scamming and say the church should follow suite. He highlights that there are many scammers out there, that they are very good at what they do, and then says that money is in itself tainted.

Next week, we’ll go more into what that might mean, for money to hold some evil to it. For now, though, let us look into this parable as a question to be answered. Jesus closes his thoughts by telling us that being faithful with our possessions is important. We cannot, after all, serve God and wealth. So why then, are we constantly chasing after money at any cost? We vote, not base upon our conscience, but upon our wallet. We plan how we can help our community, not based on what is best, but on what balances the checkbook effectively. We work hard in our offices, and with our investments, not for good in itself but to make sure we get all the unrighteous wealth we ever could want. We dishonestly manage our lives, and to what end?

The parable is a question, the answer is found somewhere in not being so money-minded in our lives. Yet, Jesus’s words still remain obscured. Next week, delving into the idea that “The love of money is the root of all manner of evil,” we will find some of the fog lifted, but still some other words of Jesus here are further blurred. Digging deeper, we find more living waters than we can imagine, but also blockages that seem impenetrable. I do not, standing here preaching, or as a devotee reading, think I have a good grasp of what Jesus is going for here in Luke 16, but I know that it made me think a lot about the world, and money, and companies, and poverty.

Today, as we close our reflection. Let us take this parable as a nucleus we can use to grow from. As hard as it is to break through and understand, maybe God gives it to us to simply make us think harder what we do with money, and how we get it. Let us take time to think, let us take time to question the shrewdness of the world and the righteousness of God. – Amen.

[1] I J Du Plessis. “Philantrhop or Sarcasm?” in Netestamentica 24 (1) 1990.

Sermon 09/11/2022 – Defending one Another

Exodus 32:7-14

The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ” The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, and of you I will make a great nation.”

But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Sermon Text

The Lord changed his mind? Can you think of a more baffling sentence in all of scripture? The one for whom there is no shadow of change, the prime mover who set all the stars in their courses, this God… Changed their divine mind? This sort of thing is hard to square with a God who knows everything and who holds all of time and space in hand. The idea of God, sitting in eternity, coming down and being swayed by a conversation with one of his servants, is probably one of the stranger things we could come across in the pages of scripture.

Yet, here it is, in the black and white of the page, a fire of inspiration for us to gaze into and find some kind of illumination. In the face of the bizarre, I ask us to do what I so often do on a Sunday, ask some questions and be content in not having quite a complete answer. I’ll go ahead and spoil the end of this message by saying that we are not going to be able to have a coherent statement on what God has done in this passage, but we will have an example of how we should act in Moses and his own fiery words spoken in the very presence of, face to face to, God.

This episode is the culmination of Israel’s time at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses has been gone for days, raptly attending to God’s every word and movement. Glory sits on the mountain and the people speculate what will happen now that Moses is gone. He has not come down to eat or drink, they have nothing to say he has found any rest on the mountain. The people conclude then that Moses is dead, or at the very least not coming down anytime soon. With the prophet who has been the voice of God to them gone, they begin to panic, they need something to comfort them. Aaron, trying to lead in his brother’s place, placates the people with the creation of a brazen creature. Gold hastily thrown into a fire and beaten into a facsimile of a calf.

The calf, and more specifically bulls, would be used to describe the God of Israel several times throughout the history of God’s people. Most famously, the words of Aaron as he consecrated the golden calf to Israel is reflected by Jeroboam centuries later. When the king sets up two bull statues to take the place of the temple in Jerusalem, saying, “Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”[1] Adonai, the great bull, was an enduring image in the eyes of God’s people, and in their plight under the mountain they called upon it. Even in the presence of God’s being, the physical heat of Glory radiating down from the mountain, they felt a need for something immediate, something they could touch and comprehend. They exchanged the full presence of God for a lesser image of the same.

God did not let this go unnoticed, and told Moses the moment the people had fallen away. God commands Moses to leave him, so that he can begin the work of wrath without anyone present to see the terror to come. God is angry, and that anger is not going to be stopped for anything. The crackle of energy must have been intense, but even in the face of all that rage, Moses stood up and told God, “No. You are not going to destroy these people.”

As shocking as it can seem to us today to talk back to God, the prophets never had much problem with it. Moses especially seemed to be able to speak frankly to God in a way few others could. Moses here lays out a clear explanation to God – whether people deserve to be killed here or not, whether your wrath is justified or not, this is not the kind of God you are. The God who promised the descendants of Abraham so much, that comforted Isaac after his binding on the mountain, who walked Jacob to Egypt under the reign of his son Joseph, that same God would not abandon the people he loved. And imagine what the Egyptians might say?!

The rush of emotion was intense on that mountain. Though the text is sparse, I borrow from Elijah’s meeting with God to imagine the fire and earthquakes and thunder that accompanied God’s presence. To imagine that presence in the midst of a moment like this – it could only be amplified. The waves of splendor that emanated from God rushing all around, and yet a resolute servant stands firm before God and attests that this is not how God has acted before, and it should not be how God acts now. That fire, that crackling lightning and rushing wind… All begins to die down, leaving only the still small voice of God behind with Moses.

This is an incredible show of commitment by God. To yield in anger and preserve those he has called to be a part of his nation, his people. That does not mean they get off with a free pass. The sins committed that day do not go unpunished, there are immediate consequences from Moses and from God. Worse, the people never fully recover from this breach of covenant. Still, God does not abandon the promise made in ages past, God holds fast, God shows that God is still willing to live and work and love alongside God’s people.

Divine punishment, and Divine mercy, is a whole conversation unto itself, and we have spent a long time looking into the details of even just this one situation. It is high drama, and it shows God being calmed, changing the divine mind, at the urging of one of God’s own. That is a lot to take in. As I said at the outset of this message, we cannot fully explore how God can change direction, but we must acknowledge that it happens here. God ends up conforming more to what we expect of God by relenting, so maybe the change is not as drastic as it first appears. Maybe our ancient author is explaining something beyond our grasp in terms we can cling to. Either way, the mystery of divine freedom is there to behold, and we will end our time together with it still unresolved.

Rather than trying to explain what is ultimately mysterious, let us look at the person we can understand a bit more fully. Moses, standing before the divine and not backing down. I already said that this seems impossible for us to do. Honestly, I’m not sure any of us will ever find ourselves in the position that Moses is in. I have not led people through a wilderness, compelled by my God and witnessing that same God’s presence like I would a friend. Yet, I have been in situations where I have had the chance to defend people or to let other people go after them. I’ve been in situations where people deserve to have someone go after them, and situations where it is completely unwarranted. Have I ever been able to stand up for them like Moses does here?

Moses looks at the sin of his people and immediately decides that God is right to be angry, but asks for God to reconsider what that anger means. Moses arbitrates for God’s people. Have we arbitrated for our neighbors in disputes? Have we, when a family member is berating another one, taken up for them? Not to wade into the middle of a fight that isn’t ours or to create a conflict triangle that doesn’t need to be there, but simply to say, “Hey! This is not how we do things!” Conflict, that thing which we fear so intensely, is going to happen, but are we willing to be people who speak to it as it ought to be.

God relents, not because Moses denied wrongdoing by his people, but because he knew that there was something else that could be done. God sees in Moses’s refutation, a reflection of God’s own soul. The truest thing to God in that moment is to relent, we see for a moment a reflection of our own tendencies to rush to an answer, only to find a better one after sitting and reflecting for a moment longer. Moses had everything to lose in that moment, but his love for God and God’s people was enough for him to stand up and defend them. Is our love great enough to do the same? For our coworkers, for our neighbors, for the enemies we cannot stand, and the inconveniences we try to wish away. Is our love great enough to quell wrath? Let us, like Moses, be unafraid to test it out. – Amen.

[1] Ex. 32:4 cf. 1 Kings 12:28

Sermon 09/04/2022 – Love the Laborer

Ecclesiasticus 38: 27-32

So it is with every artisan and master artisan who labors by night as well as by day; those who carve the signets of seals— each is diligent in making a great variety; they set their heart on painting a lifelike image, and they lose sleep in order to finish their work.

So it is with the smith sitting by the anvil, intent on his ironwork; the breath of the fire melts his flesh, and he struggles with the heat of the furnace; the sound of the hammer deafens his ears, and his eyes are on the pattern of the object. He sets his heart on finishing his handiwork, and he loses sleep to complete its decoration.

So it is with the potter sitting at his work and turning the wheel with his feet; he always lies down anxious about his work, and his every work is taken into account. He molds the clay with his arm and makes it pliable with his feet; he sets his heart to finish the glazing, and he takes care in firing the kiln.

All these rely on their hands, and all are skillful in their own work. Without them no city can be inhabited, and wherever they live they will not go hungry. Yet they are not sought out for the council of the people, nor do they attain eminence in the public assembly.

Sermon Text

If you pick up your pew Bible, you will not find this morning’s reading. The text we used is from the “Apocrypha,” a collection of books which has always existed alongside the 66 books we call the Holy Bible. They were not given quite the same prominence but were always used and enjoyed by the people of God. When Martin Luther began the reformation, one of his major charges against the Church was that it had never decided whether or not these books were actually scripture. He took those books and said that they were unfit to be called “Scripture,” and so they were thrown out of the protestant bible, now put to the side as the “hidden books,” to be used for study and not to be considered scripture. Catholics, meanwhile, canonized them as scripture at the Council of Trent, calling them “the second canon,” or “Deuterocanonical.”

It is, in some ways, a complete shame that the books of the Apocrypha have fallen out of use in protestant circles. They tell us a lot about the time between Malachi and Matthew, shedding light on how the people of God existed in diaspora and under the oppression of Greeks and Romans alike. There are also massive collections of proverbs, histories, and even some of the earlier pieces of texts describing angels as we understand them today. The apocrypha is a treasure trove of information, even if it is not a place we acknowledge as fully inspired by God.

Today we read one of the hardest truths of life, transcendent into the Biblical era and even beyond it. The plight of the worker in society. Those who build our roads, who put up the electrical infrastructure, that connect water lines from place to place – are often those who are pushed away and reduced to the faceless masses. The cashier at the grocery store and the fast-food worker, the receptionist, and the facilities manager – just cogs in the great machine of our consumption. Without the essential work they do, we would be lost, and yet we do not think of them, hardly celebrate them, and often malign them.

When we open scripture, we may think of it as mostly moral lessons about how to live in general with one another. However, if we really break down the stories within it, we will find that God is a practical deity as well as a transcendent one. The words of the Torah, of God’s teachings through Moses, are centered squarely on the idea that there are real world interactions that need to be mediated through a set of laws and ethics. This is no clearer than the many protections that God gave through Moses to the workers in society. To every laborer was due their pay, and that pay was to be prompt. Even animals could not be withheld food during their work. If cattle were being used to grind grain, or to plow fields, they were to be allowed to stop and eat whenever they felt the need.[1]

We live in a culture that has little regard for workers. Even in West Virginia, once known for open rebellion in the face of corporate oppression, we find ourselves sliding into a mindset that fails to see in the worker the full value of what they give us. Right-to-Work laws in this state weaken the power of Unions, organizations that prevent the abuse of workers by the company that employs them. At-will employment allows for employers to fire their workers for any reason not connected to protected statuses, limiting the legal recourse an employee has for egregious termination. The balance of power has long shifted away from the working people of this world, and toward the rich and powerful. When have we ever seen a working person take public office? Rarely, except maybe locally, and even then they usually have made a good amount of money in their ascent.

As Ecclesiasticus tells us, we all depend on skilled laborers to live. Yet, we never regard those who do this work as equal to those who have found more “developed,” careers. Beyond skilled labor, we have invented the concept of “unskilled labor,” that outside of technical knowledge required for certain positions there are those who simply fill space in assembly lines of life. Those who worked in service industries know that there are skills needed to do those jobs well. We’ve all had bad waiters, because there are skills we need to be a good waitstaff, ask my mother who was a waitress for most of her working life. Those who work in service know that even something like how onions are cut is often highly specified and important work.

The laborer is not someone who deserves denigration, and yet we refuse to fight for them. We support companies who union bust, because we see workers as a threat to our way of life. Yet, we look at people fleeing our state and wonder why. Teachers who cannot legally strike, not able to fight for fair pay, flee to states that will treat them with respect. Young people, fresh out of school and ready for trade or out of college and ready for something new, cannot stay in a state that will not regard their work as significant. We have to see in those around us, as we’ll elaborate on more next week, people worth fighting for and not enemies to fight against.

God has blessed us richly, as people and as a nation, but can we show that blessing to those who keep this world running? Can we love the laborer who serves us?  Not letting society tell us there are haves and have-nots who must be at war, but instead create a solidarity that transcends and transforms these distinctions. The janitor that cleans is no less than the CEO who leads – one works forty hours of hard labor and the other sits in meetings – yet we treat the one with wealth as though they alone were worthy of our regard. James, in his epistle, asks the church if they truly love God, and then says that if they did they would not show preference to those with money and power. Yet, we do so often neglect the poor, the struggling, the working people trying to make ends meet. I proclaim today what Christ proclaimed long ago, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Or, perhaps more simply, Solidarity now, and Solidarity Forever!

[1] Deut. 25:4 Lev. 19:13