Don't Mourn, Organize!

The Episcopal Cafe's section, "The Lead" posted a thoughtful piece on breaking the taboo on talking about money in church. Read it HERE. As usual the Episcopal Cafe provides a rich and varied fare of thoughtful pieces and this is no exception. The Lead calls attention to an article by James Hudnut-Beumler on the Alban Institute's web pages, "Our Worth Comes from God, not Money."Episcopal Cafe posted its article Monday morning.

Yesterday I preached at St. Peter's in close parallel to the article and so post it here, for what its worth. The sermon was well received for if for nothing else it broke the taboo. There seems to be some interest in following up.

Don’t Mourn, Organize: Sermon for 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Oct 12, 2008

I’ve been away for two weeks and I have to say I miss St. Peter’s when I’m not here. So this return is a rich blessing. It is a rich blessing indeed because of the community we are.

It is good to keep this blessing in mind since I intend to touch on matters this morning where the blessing seems veiled in fearful events: I speak of course of the worship of golden calves in the reading from Exodus, Jesus' parable of the unprepared guest at the Wedding banquet, and the amazing economic tsunami wave of the past week.

Where is the blessing in getting caught out worshiping gold, and worse in the form of idols? Where is the blessing in being hauled in off the streets to a feast you were not meant to attend and being dressed down for not being dressed up? Where is the blessing in the economic mess of the past weeks?

For some reason I am reminded of something Hunter S. Thompson once wrote, “There are many cruel rooms in the mansion, and many deep holes in the Road.”

The people of Israel at the foot of the Mountain ran into a deep hole in the road and just dug themselves a deeper one.

Lets start with the gold. Where did the gold the Israelites gave Aaron come from? In Exodus 11:2 it appears that the people of Israel asked neighbors in Egypt for gold and silver earrings and bracelets. In the ancient Near East such items were amulets, not just decorations, and used to ward off evil spirits, or encourage good spirits or good luck. Many carried symbols of power… snakes, birds or more abstract symbols. In many places today we do the same. So perhaps the Israelites asked for these amulets as protection on the journey, or were given them for good luck. At any rate, the gold came from the Egyptians, and the point is, the gold was not simply about wealth, it was about protection. It was in the form of symbols that helped stabilize life and made people secure. It had value both in itself and in the objects made from it. It was to provide both wealth and security.

Moses seemed to provide neither. He brought them into the wilderness and left them there. What good was the gold when there was nothing to buy? What good was the amulet when there was no security to be had? In the kvetching that followed Moses’ delay in coming down from the Mountain Aaron proposed they put their gold into a common amulet – it turns out a common stock – the golden calf.

The hole the Israelites dug in the road involved putting their trust in collected wealth and by gathering seemingly innocent amulets made into a protective idol. Into this hole they crashed head on, believing that what they brought from Egypt was good enough material from which to build a secure house. It turned out to be a hole in the road. Seem familiar?

God was not fooled. God knew idolatry when he saw it, and knew the love of the old ways, the ways of Egypt and Canaan and every other nation of the world. He was not pleased.

This past week we have all been watching the amazing economic storm sweep over us and over the world. I cannot pretend to know what we ought to do to respond. I’m mostly dumbfounded. But not surprisingly I’ve a guess or two about what we might do.

Last Thursday I went to Yom Kippur services held by the Seaside Jewish Community. In the middle of the service there is a period where the congregation stands and reads and contemplates a series of prayers and self examination meditations meant to provoke repentance, atonement and a desire to begin again. It was a spiritually healthy and enlivening exercise. It was sort of a half hour confession.

Knowing the lessons for this Sunday, and listening to the news of the stock market and the banks and so on, I could not help thinking in my self examination of the extent to which I and perhaps we have all placed more confidence in the golden calf and the amulets of protection than we have in God, Our Lord, and one another.

It turns out that a good portfolio and wealth stored up in things which was meant to give us confidence have failed us to some extend and have become is a source of fear – fear that we will lose our gain and worse fear that we will lose the self-sufficiency such wealth brings. Once again we are having to face the fear…the fear that President Roosevelt spoke of when he said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

And like the guest pulled in off the streets to attend the banquet, we seem at times unprepared for the moment. When we are called, what can we say? Oops, sorry, I’m not prepared?

How are we to greet these days of economic unrest and turmoil and times where we are filled with dread, or lack confidence, or seem so unprepared?

I think we can turn to our blessings: We are blessed to be in this faithful community. So let us use that blessing. When the apprehensions of these days hit us, use the blessing of community.
I hope and trust that every one of us knows that if we are fearful and apprehensive we can talk to one another or to one of the clergy here and draw comfort and support on a one-to-one basis. There is great blessing in the mutual building up we do with one another.

But let me suggest something more.

Joe Hill, a union organizer, was executed for murder in 1915. He hotly denied the crime and it appears he was unjustly charged. In a last letter to a friend just before his execution he wrote, “Don't waste any time in mourning. Organize.” This was shortened and became a call to arms for the unions: “Don’t mourn. Organize.”

Don’t mourn. Organize!

In hard time, times of fear and apprehension, it is one thing to mourn the gold and safety lost and to take that mourning to a friend or pastor. It is another to come together in community and to find common cause and support – to organize.

Perhaps one of our responses here at St. Peter’s to our fears about the economic crisis might be to support one another in organizing to face the consequences together in one way or another
– to meet with other concerned parishioners who are losing confidence or facing fears about work or retirement income,
– or around specifics: being out of work or living in a retirement community on a fixed income or simply being apprehensive about day to day expenses.

We have all sorts of community organizing around dealing with various addictions, around health issues, around education, why not around economic concerns?

I have no idea what might come of organizing, but I do know this:

We are all a blessing to one another, often untapped. In times of fear and apprehension we come together to pray, but lest our prayers be turned to mourning only, let us also come together to organize – for living into the fullness of God’s abundant blessings which are always available to those who turn from the idols and the amulets to the loving-kindness which is of God.

And as for being prepared, my sense is that clothed with the loving kindness of God, the abundance of God’s blessings and a thirst for justice and the fullness of life for all, we are ready for the feast to which we are called by Jesus Christ as well.

There it is.

Don’t mourn, organize!

1 comment:

  1. In the bible people get pulled in to forcibly celebrate?
    Are you sure? Was this a reward or a punishment?
    I remember from school days when we had 'celebrations' that were mandatory, they were horrible.


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