Monday, 27 January 2014 00:00

"Sacred Economies", January 26, 2014

“Sacred Economies”
Matthew 4:12-22
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
January 26, 2014
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

Sure enough, we talk about Sacred Economies and the world turns to a tundra.  People stay home in droves.  Is this some kind of judgment on bad sermon titles? We recognize with new eyes how important shelter is.  We are blessed with food harvested in the summer and fall and thawed out to eat during these cold months.  We remember how important it is to look out for our neighbor who may be a bit cold today.  Tomorrow and Tuesday, we will open the church for warm cider and a fire in the fireplace as respite for our neighbors from the cold.

So today, we imagine sacred economies and try to find out how close we are to God’s plan for us.

What makes economics sacred?

Does declaring something sacred make it so?  Does declaring something profane make it so?  The easy shorthand we first world people have is that capitalism is sacred. And if capitalism is sacred, then unrestrained capitalism is super-sacred. I mean, Jesus said “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”  The truth is, it has been said, that capitalism is good and you can be free of regulations or even the need to care about anyone but yourself.  For to have someone tell you to care about another is a stomping on your sacred freedom.  In fact, caring for another, since it is anti-freedom must be profane.  Therefore freedom is sacred and anything that disagrees with freedom is profane.


Well, that might not hold water.  What if another good Bible-loving Christian were to read scripture and recognize that the early church shared everything in common and gave out as people had need?  This sounds like a great system.  Even a sacred system. It might have started out as a small community practice, but why not have whole societies be based upon this.  We’ll call it sacred communal life.  No one will go hungry.  Everyone will have health care.  No one will be unemployed.  We’ll call this sacred communal society communism.  It’s sacred.  It’s in the Bible. Those who don’t want this system must be profane.

But we know full well that such a system has been flawed.  The state becomes the god. Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. Just as the capitalist system is flawed because of it’s lack of communal responsibility, so is the communist system flawed because of its lack of liberty.

It might surprise you to know that the Bible actually says very little about social or economic systems.  Sure, there were small economies, neighborhoods, families, clans, even tribes. But a theme of the Bible is that leaders can become corrupt, profane. They took a gift from God meant to bless the world and made it into a system that punished people, especially poor people.  And to continue to ignore the profanity of sacrilizing unjust social systems is given the Biblican moniker, idolatry. You shall know this truth and that shall set you free.

So what is a sacred economy?
What is a profane economy?
How do we benefit from one or the other?
How, then are we to live, with all of our sacred responsibility?

I’m not going to answer all of those questions this morning.  Instead, I’m going to give you some things to think about that might jump-start larger discussions about sacred economies and our roles in them.

Farmer/Theologian/poet Wendell Berry had some insightful things to say on this subject.

While reflecting on the Lord's Prayer, Berry wondered if the text were being translated today instead of in England under a monarchy 400+ years ago, the word "kingdom", might be translated differently.  What would capture the new image that Jesus was trying to get at?  He makes the bold statement that we ought to translate “Kingdom” as "economy". The kingdom/economy of God is an economy in which "everything is counted" or everything is taken into account and valued.  No there’s a radical idea.

He called the Kingdom of God, the Great Economy.

When we think of the Great Economy, we think grand things, like everyone being treated as equals, like the end to wars, like joy and rapture and laughter and singing and bell ringing and celebration. But it’s also hard work, because the Great Economy, the ultimate sacred responsibility, is a threat to the profane order of the day.  
Think of the Lord’s Prayer. We say it every week.  Thy Economy come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Then look at the economic words.  Give us this day our daily bread.  This is a reference to the manna from heaven that sustained the people on the way from Egyptian slavery to the Promised Land of freedom.  God gave them bread every day because God loved them.  They were blessed as they unchained themselves. And everyone was fed.

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.  This is not simply forgive us our trespasses or our personal sins. This is a call to remember that we are no longer slaves.  It’s a reference to the jubilee year, where once every 50 years, all debts are forgiven.  All slaves are set free.  All land is returned and we can start again as a beloved community.  Forgive us our debts.  Institute the year of jubilee.

And lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.  It is tempting to go back to an old way of life, to not take the Great Economy seriously, to forsake our sisters and brothers in need, to keep the dominant system in place to the detriment of us all.  For to forget a sister or brother is to do damage to our own souls.

For thine is the Economy and the power and the glory forever.  Amen.

In his essay, entitled “Two Economies” Wendell Berry wrote:

“Once we acknowledge the existence of the Great Economy…we are astonished and frightened to see how much modern enterprise is the work of hubris, occurring outside the human boundary established by ancient tradition.  The industrial economy is based on invasion and pillage of the Great Economy.”(p.194)

“In the Great Economy all transactions count and the account is never “closed”…We see that we cannot afford maximum profit or power with minimum responsibility because, in the Great Economy, the loser’s losses finally afflict the winner…the ideal must be “the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption,” which both defines and requires neighborly love.”(p. 199)

He said, “the difference between the Great Economy and any human economy is pretty much the difference between the goose that laid the golden egg and the golden egg.” (p.190)  You can’t eat the egg.  The goose is alive and has value, but cannot reproduce.  What we see as valuable, the golden egg, is finite and cannot last forever.  “Though a human economy can evaluate, distribute, use, and preserve things of value, it cannot make value.  Value can originate only in the Great Economy.”(p.191)

“Humans can live in the Great Economy only with great uneasiness, subject to powers and laws that they can understand only in part.”

Jesus came onto his ministry scene at the time of John the Baptist’s arrest.  It was his time, his Kairos.  Today’s scripture says that when Jesus heard that John was arrested, he left home and made his home by the sea of Galilee in the town of Capernaum.  This was the ancient territory given to Jacob’s sons Zebulun and Napthali.  700 years earlier the northernmost areas of Israel, Zebulun and Napthali were conquered by the Assyrians.  The prophet Isaiah promised that their shame will not last forever.  One day a new messenger will emerge from their land.  This new leader will bring light to those caught in the gloom of despair.  Those who felt forgotten would see and feel and smell and taste the hope of God once again.  The brutality of their past will be exposed and they would be a part of this new community.  This means upsetting the status quo—looking for and at a new economy.

In today’s scripture, Jesus is all grown up.  He’s returned from the wilderness. He’s ready to get on with it.

John the Baptist has been arrested and he needs to take up his mantel.  For when one prophet is cut down, the movement needs another prophet to carry on the work.  That’s the way the movement becomes immortal.  It is resurrected each time a new person takes up the mantel.

Jesus took up John’s mantel and repeated John’s words.  “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near.”  Or maybe he said, “Repent, for the Great Economy is at hand.”

He sees some people by the water mending their nets.  They weren’t ice fishing. We know that for sure.

He tells them that what they are doing is great, even noble and sustainable for their families.  It’s a good economic plan.  Fish and provide for you community.  But something that Jesus said caused them to stop, think again and imagine not just fishing for walleye or pike, but for people.  Luring them to a new way of being in the world.  Engaging them with a new set of tools.  Setting their minds free.  Unbinding them from the chains and the nets that have entrapped them.  Opening their eyes to see, perhaps for the first time. I’m going to make you fishers of men and women. Let’s take care of this small economy, but let’s also look at the Great Economy.  The really good news.

And they left their nets and joined in a new economy.  The Bible never tells us how they ate or provided for their families.  But the foolhardy idea to follow Jesus was compelling enough to cause them to imagine and then practice something completely different.  A Great Economy a sacred economy.  No more bowing to profane empires.  No more waiting for the revolution to eventually come by the benevolence of the King.  This is a Great Economy.  A new responsibility.

They weren’t the only ones to engage in this.  Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give to the poor before following Jesus.  Unencumber yourself with the profane economy and seek out the sacred economy of God.  Where all are valued, all are new.

I think that it’s no accident that Jesus chose fisher people, people who struggled with tangled nets.  He told them to leave their nets, those things that ensnared them.  Jesus gave them a more compelling option.  “I’ll make you fish for people.”

Embrace the Great Economy.  It’s your sacred responsibility, your calling, your Good News.

So what does a sacred economy look like?  Wendell Berry says it looks like a neighborhood.  We need each other to work and tend the soil.  We need to keep each other safe. We need to look out for the elderly and the infirm.  We need to share the burdens.  Imagine if we embraced a sacred economy so much that we held things in common.  Imagine one snow blower for an entire neighborhood instead of six or seven.  Imagine one sturdy ladder for everyone to share.  When a September storm hit our neighborhood a decade ago, downing over 1,000 trees, people shared chainsaws and strong backs as we cleaned up the mess.  It’s all part of the sacred economy.

We are situated in a neighborhood that is changing so fast we can hardly keep up.  Beloved stores have gone, parking has disappeared (as we all know) and new people have arrived or will be arriving soon.  We can bemoan all we want about the bad economic decisions that have placed us here in this place at this time, or we can get about the business of welcoming our new neighbors and finding different ways for us to be in ministry.  For we are beholden to the mystery and majesty of the Great Economy.  And this neighborhood needs us here to help them navigate the way through thorny ways.

We are like former fisher people who had an old way of doing things, and now we are told to imagine a new way.  Cast our nets so that we can introduce people to the Great Economy of God, where no one is left out, where there is joy and vision and community.  Where there is a neighborhood clamoring for a direction.

Those fisher people looked down at their eternally tangling nets, feeling like Sisyphus—untangling them just so they can be tangled up again.  And they took the opportunity to imagine a new sacred responsibility: to help people to be ensnared by the Great Economy, which would ironically set them free.

What has you tied in knots that seem to never end?

I tell you, the Great Economy of God has a better way. Embrace that.  It’s your sacred responsibility. It will make all the difference.

(“Two Economies” by Wendell Berry copy write 2005 World Wisdom, inc.