Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Money Pit: Gospel Revisited

The Headlines are pouring in from around the world: "500 point market 'adustment' evaporates billions." "Major banking institutions disappear overnight." "Government bails out major insurance company." Global Economy. Foreclosure crisis. Consumer Debt. Energy Consumption declines with economic downturn... etc. etc.

"Yes, yes, all very interesting, author, but you're here to talk about spiritual things, So please, a little Bible study?" Since you asked... here we go:

James 5:1 tells us that we who are rich will have our own share of miseries so that, rather than rejoicing in our riches, perhaps we should acknowledge that they've often come at the cost of unjust treatment for those who live elsewhere, far away from our sight lines, working for wages that fail to provide adequately, and lacking access to clean water, health care, or basic education.

I Timothy 6:10 reminds us that the love of money is the root of all evil, and that those who leave their love of Christ behind in the pursuit of riches fall into a ditch somewhere along the way, finding themselves filled with grief. The might just mean that all that speculative buying of real estate, rooted as it is, in the desire to get rich quickly, might actually be as serious of a spiritual problem as sleeping with your neighbor's wife. Of course, we evangelicals don't see it that way because we've often elevated workaholism and the acquisition of wealth by any legal means to high art, so that men and women guilty of these sins are put on boards, honored for their wisdom, and courted for their donations. This is not to say that all wealth is evil, but Timothy pleads with us to avoid the pursuit of more than we need, and you can learn about that in I Timothy 6:8. My desire to acquire more than I need might just be making a contribution to the present global crisis... might just be sin.

Jesus had a lot to say about money too; in fact, he spoke more about money than heaven or hell. He told us to live like birds and flowers, intent on declaring and displaying the glory of God, working at our callings, and leaving the results and provision in God's hands because, as He said, God will take of us. You can read about all that stuff here.

Before Jesus, John the Baptist was on the scene offering a foretaste of Messiah's coming. Interestingly, when people asked what they should do to be saved, he said nothing about praying the sinner's prayer, nothing about atonement, nothing about getting to go to heaven when you die. These elements of the gospel aren't illegitimate, but they're only part of the story. John the Baptist told people that if they were going to follow Jesus they needed to change their financial priorities. You can read about that here

Shall I continue? We could talk about caring for the poor, speaking to the power structures that oppress the poor, assessing our own lives to see if our economic ethic of operating in our own self interest by always paying the cheapest price for a product is in keeping with Jesus pirorities, or Adam Smith's, whose economic gospel has framed our buying and selling in America for two centuries.

It turns out that this present economic crisis is, indeed, not only a crisis, but a spiritual opporutnity, if we will but open our eyes to see the economic implications of Jesus kingdom ethic, adjust our own lives towards generosity, and see that when core values of a culture are shaken, there's a glorious opportunity to rebuild on a better foundation. It's an opporunity that many might take advantage of if the church is able to offer an alternative to the gospel of Adam Smith. For some of us though, we'll be unable to offer an alternative until we see our complicity with the structures that are presently melting, and repent.

I've written more on this subject in the chapter on generoisity, offered in o2: Breathing New Life into Faith. May we pray for eyes to see and hearts to respond in the midst of these amazing days.

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At 17/9/08 09:35, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your chapter on generosity in O2 was my second favorite only to solitude.

I think those two were the ones I needed to hear the most.

At 17/9/08 16:15, Anonymous donte said...

You probably don’t want to be called a prophet, but you saw this one coming long ago. I don’t remember exactly which sermon it was, but you boldly stated that “this generation will know need!” I am not happy that this is happening, because I think those in the lowest economic quartile will suffer more than those who should be responsible. However, I agree that this may be the wakeup call that we need to get us focused on the more important things in life.
If you remember what sermon that was, please let me know. I ‘d love to listen to it again.

At 18/9/08 21:14, Blogger Joanie said...

Right on, Richard!

God has been speaking to Blaine and I about this lately. We're spending time in prayer and seeking God's leading on how He would have us respond. Our thinking has definitely changed in some specific areas and we're willing to make some changes in our lives if He shows us this is the path for us to walk... More to come as He reveals His plans and timing for us!

Now is the time for His children to reach out and I'm praying we are hearing His voice...

At 20/9/08 09:31, Blogger Dave said...

Keep preaching it Richard. This is exactly what we need to be hearing in America, especially the American Christian.

Any chance you are going to partner with Advent Conspiracy this year? Consumerism as you know well is at the root of the current global crisis we are in and the Advent Conspiracy conversation seems to be a great way to educate a congregation on the power of congregational generosity.

Just a thought.


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