Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Things didn’t look good in Jerusalem. The Babylonian army was attacking and many of its leaders had already been captured and forced into exile. And God, through Jeremiah, had said, the city’s worst days were yet to come. It would fall and even its people would be carried off into exile. Of course, this prophet of doom and gloom was not well received. As a consequence, he was imprisoned in at King Zedekiah’s palace.
It was during his imprisonment that God spoke to him and told Jeremiah to buy the field that his cousin Hanamel would offer to sell him. Now, we have to understand something about the buying and selling of property in those days, in that culture. Property, land, was a divine gift, understood to be a sign of God’s promise. A family held that land from generation to generation. One lived on through the continuation of the family and of the care of the land. So, if someone wanted to sell property, it didn’t go on an open market. The proper approach was to offer it to someone else in the family – because it was the family inheritance.
Perhaps his cousin’s decision to sell the land is a sign of his despair. He could see no future. Yet, by law, he had to offer that parcel to Jeremiah first. “For the right of redemption by purchase is yours.”
You might think that Jeremiah, this prophet of doom, would pass on the opportunity. After all, it wasn’t much of an opportunity. First, Babylon was threatening and Jeremiah knew that there was no future in the city. Furthermore, from all accounts, he was single. So, even if he bought the property, he had no children who would then inherit it.
All of this would have been known to those around him. So, his willingness to buy the land, and his desire to have that purchase recorded in a way that would last, was a powerful testament to hope. “For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” He must have known that he would not live to see that day. He would not experience the benefits of this purchase. Yet, he bore witness to hope.
It’s quite a story in our world that demands and expects instant solutions to the problems that besiege us. We want to see and know and benefit from our work, even our good works. I don’t know how many times I’ve been involved in church discussions – at many levels of the church – about how best to invest our mission monies. “Is this a successful program?” “Are we accomplishing anything here?” The institutional church, oftentimes constrained by financial realities, wants to make sure its investments bear fruit. So we evaluate and evaluate and evaluate. “It the situation changing? Is there progress? Can we feel good about what we’re doing here?”
One of the modern critiques of the church is that its vision is too small. We are pragmatic in our approach to faith. So we speak of what we can afford to do, of what impact we might make with our limited resources. If we looked at the world, at the magnitude of its injustice and pain and suffering, we are overwhelmed. So, we close our eyes and retreat into our small circles – and count our pennies.
A pastor told a colleague, years ago, that if you listened to a church’s story and God had gone out of its story, then the church had entered survival mode. I hear it in churches that say, “We can’t afford to do any kind of mission. We’re just trying to keep the doors open.” But, there are also churches with resources, with wealth, even, that don’t see a need to look beyond themselves. Their mission is to care for each other – and for those who might make it through their doors. “We only take care of our own.” I wonder if that was the rich man’s approach to life. He lived in a comfortable circle. So, he never even noticed Lazarus. It’s a wonderful irony in this parable that the rich man is unnamed, and the poor man named. It’s actually hard to learn this story because in our world we know the rich and the poor are nameless and faceless! We could easily name some of the richest in our own society. Do we know the names of those being evicted from the Mosley Motel? Do we want to know their names or their stories?
Again, this week, our nation has seen violence in the police shootings of two black men. In one, an officer has been arrested. In the other, the story is still unfolding. Pain and fear and injustice have been revealed once again – for those of us who are willing and able to see.
Erin Hensley Schultz, a white Southern woman, wrote a powerful blog about racism in our country that I found on Facebook this week. She wrote: “I have literally never been discriminated against in any significant way. I’ve been the target of unwelcome male attention because of my gender, but that’s a rant for another day.
The point is that I don’t have any right to complain about racism.
What I do have, however, is a duty to complain about racism.
It exists. It’s real. It happens every single day, in every single city in America, whether we see it or not, and as long as we avert our gaze, it’s pretty easy to feel indignant that anyone should imply that there are racists among us. ‘There’s a black man in the White House,” I hear them huff. “What more do they want?’”
I can’t imagine what it must be like to be profiled because of one’s skin color – and so to live in fear that a simple traffic stop will end one’s life – or having the car break down – or sitting in a parking lot waiting for children. I can’t imagine it. But, I need to hear those who say they’ve lived it. I need to hear the fear that is a constant presence in the lives of many merely because of their skin color. We need to see the disparity in our own area where certain schools are always numbered among the failing – where African American students are more severely disciplined than white students.
The rich man in Jesus’ parable said, “Send [Lazarus] to my father’s house – for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He [Abraham] said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
The rich man could have seen Lazarus. He was not hidden. In fact, as the parable unfolds, we learn that he knew Lazarus’ name. He wanted Lazarus to serve him. Yet, Lazarus was his concern—that was the message of Moses and the prophets, not a new word from Jesus.
I watched a little of the dedication service for the New African American Museum at the Smithsonian. President Obama said that we need to look at our history, even if it makes us uncomfortable, because then we can make the future better and stronger.
We need to see where we have fallen short of God’s good intent. That’s actually one of the reasons that the prayer of confession is part of Reformed Worship. We acknowledge that, both individually and corporately, we fall short of who God calls us, invites us, creates us to be. We confess not to wipe the slate clean, but to look and see our shortcomings so that we might move forward as people more deeply committed to living as faithful disciples.
One of the powerful parts of the story about Jeremiah is that he bought that field knowing he would never benefit from the purchase. He would never see the fruits of his investments – nor did he have children who would benefit. Yet, he bought it to tell the community that God was faithful, that a better day would come. Perhaps, our vision is too short sided. When we want instant results, when we demand that we see the fruits of the work that we do, our investment is more in us than in God’s purpose. I spoke to a pastor a few years ago. He talked about his years in a parish, years that seemed wasted. He saw no fruit from his ministry. “Years later,” he said, “I got a call from someone –someone who complained frequently.” To his surprise, the man said, “I remember when you said….”(Something!) The pastor was astounded. He had sowed a seed that had taken root and finally borne fruit. His “wasted” years were, instead, an investment in God’s people and in God’s good news.
What can we do as a sign of hope in our own communities? What can we offer that speaks to our faith that God is at work, that we have not been abandoned to the powers that belittle, divide and destroy? How can we lift up hope for a more just, more inclusive, more accepting future that emerges out of the chaos of the present?
We are, like Jeremiah, to be people of hope, people who proclaim hope, people who work for and invest in hope—not as a way of denying the realities of the present, but seeing the Lazaruses, the faceless, and nameless, the downtrodden and despairing, the fearing and fearful. We do so looking toward God’s realm. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth.”
Jeremiah 8:18-9:1, Luke 16:1-13
“My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land.”
Well, the language is a little poetic -- but is this sentiment not all around us these days? Turn on the television. Listen to the political discourse. Listen to the feelings that drive that discourse. There is widespread discontent. There is widespread anger. There is widespread fear.
Now some of that is a general sense of dis-ease, perhaps perpetuated by the rapid change in the landscape of our culture and the inability to cope with that change. Yet, there are also real reasons for discontent, for anger and for fear.
Just this week a report came out that talked about the rise in income for the middle class. Yet, that report also indicated that the rise was not across the board. People in cities are better off. Yet rural areas continue to see and experience decline. There is poverty that is hidden because it is scattered in less densely populated areas. When I worked in a small town in New York State, we struggled to get the county government/social services to acknowledge the need for services that came out to where the people were. “We’ll provide space for you to enroll people in food stamps,” our group said. The county refused. Anyone who wanted help had to get themselves to the city where appointments were on a first come, first serve basis. Those without transportation had to find someone who would/could drive them and was then willing to wait – usually all day. The despair in rural areas is growing. Addiction problems are as extensive in the country as they are in the city. Someone told me of a small New York town that has found, finally, an industry. It is making Meth.
I thought, as I looked at the passage from Jeremiah, that we seem to be in a season of mourning in the lectionary. And, Jesus’ parable isn’t much help. It’s a very strange story! What’s going on?
Professor Barbara Rossing says that it’s not clear how we are to judge the characters in this story. But we do need to know about the culture to which Jesus spoke. It too was marked by injustice and the pain that such injustice brings.
“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property.” That sounds fairly straightforward. Yet, Jesus’ hearers would have understood a lot that is not readily apparent to us. Rossing says we have to know something about the economic structures of the day. Rossing writes, “Rich landlords and rulers were loan-sharks, using exorbitant interest rates to amass more land and to disinherit peasants of their family land, in direct violation of biblical covenantal law. The rich man or "lord" (kyrios, v. 3, 8), along with his steward or debt collector, were both exploiting desperate peasants.”
We often forget that the Biblical mandate was that interest was not to be charged, because it exploited the poor. Those who heard this parable would have known that although the rich man didn’t charge interest directly, he probably had hidden fees. New Testament scholar William Herzegovina said, “The hidden interest rates appear to have been about 25 percent for money and 50 percent for goods.”
We might look with disdain at such practices. But, can we?
There are many ways we exploit the poor in our own society. Human slavery is not just a TV plot, it is a reality for many who have been brought into this country for various reasons. Some are “in debt” to those who brought them – a debt which they are told can be paid for with work -- farm workers, domestics, sex trade workers. Yet, the debt is never repaid because the “interest” is exorbitant. I was astounded when I moved to Florida at the fee I was charged to get license plates for our cars. For two cars it was over $800. How does a poor person who might need a car to be able to work afford such a great expense? Fees disproportionately impact the poor. Or, our society complains about the poor and demands that they work. Yet affordable child care is not easily found. So, the poor work and spend all they earn to care for their children.
There is pain that comes from economic injustice in our own society. We are, as well, tied to the economies of other countries and cultures. Where was what you are wearing today made? Who produced the food that you will eat? What about the furniture in your house?
“My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land.” Perhaps it is God’s call to us, to ask us to look at our world realistically and see its pain, mourn the ways in which it is broken and hurting. God’s good news does not deny the realities of this world. It wades into the midst of its pain, its suffering, its brokenness and brings hope, transformation, and healing. The prophets tell us again and again that closing our eyes and speaking easily and glibly of God’s love and of hope will not do. We need to look deeper than the façade, deeper than empty promises. We are the people who know that God has promised a new heart, a new creation.
Some scholars muse that what happened in the parable is that the manager cut out the interest and reduced the amount owed to the original debt. We don’t know if the rich man was a Jew or Gentile. If he was Jewish, he may have felt compelled to act according to the Torah and forgive the debt. Or, it may be that the steward reduced the debt by his own cut. We don’t know!
In the verses following the parable, Jesus personifies wealth, calling it Mammon. (Although the New Revised Standard just uses the word wealth. We may lose something in that translation.) “If then you have not been faithful with dishonest Mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches?” It is a strange statement. Rossing wonders if the idea Jesus is presenting is “to use the master's tools (unrighteous Mammon) to dismantle the master's house (the unjust debt structure).”
Such an interpretation might drive us to consider the ways that debt enslaves so many in our world. She cites the crippling debt that many third world nations have – debt accepted by leaders without regard to the impact it has on the general population. Again, in our own country we can talk about the ways that those who are struggling are often faced with debt that becomes burdensome. Those who have little often pay much higher interest rates than those who have resources. Or, one of the issues that has come to the forefront this campaign year is student debt. I heard an NPR program that talked about the ways that debt became a source of income for businesses, so interest rates surged. I can see the burden in my own daughter’s life.
Rossing goes on to note another difficult verse. “And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?” Our hearing of that tends to side with the rich man. It was his wealth. We think that the steward cheated him out of what was rightfully his. But, Rossing says, we could as easily hear it the other way. “Jesus might be talking about being faithful to what rightfully belonged to the peasants who were being disinherited of their land.”
I remember when Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream first became nationally known, the founders of the company decided that they would make sure that their salary would be limited so that the employees of the company could fully share in the company’s success. They saw, they recognized, they supported the idea that the company could exist only with good, well-paid employees. Now, I don’t know what happened in later years – especially when it was sold to a parent company and the founders left. Because we know that, too often, corporate heads are paid exorbitant salaries and bonuses while employees struggle. The gap between rich and poor – even the working poor—has grown in our country.
It is a season for mourning. But, we, God’s people, do not mourn without hope. We know that there is a balm in Gilead. We face the ills of this world, of our own nation, of our own communities, of our own lives because we know that God is present in the midst of them, calling and inviting us to move forward in ways that seek God’s good intent anew. We do so not just for ourselves, but for this world, this world that God created in love. The balm is truly God’s presence. But that balm is spread in and through the lives of God’s faithful – who dream of better days, of fuller justice, of God’s intent revealed to those who despair and who work and speak on behalf of that vision.
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
“The whole land shall be a desolation…”it says in Jeremiah. “All its cities were laid in ruins.” Today marks 15 years since the planes flew into the towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the field in Pennsylvania. For days, weeks, we were gripped by the pictures of desolation. Even now those images are disturbingly gripping. Consider how that event has changed us – even those of us far removed from the immediate disaster. It's changed the way we travel. It’s changed the way we look at those who are different – especially those who are Muslim. We bear the scars of that day in our societal fractures and in the pervasive fears that are so easily stoked.
I was going to have this day be a remembrance of the events of September 11th. But, that day is one day of many that are touched by violence, by horror, by brokenness and loss. We should remember Sandy Hook, the Pulse Nightclub, the streets of Chicago. We need to acknowledge the ongoing suffering in Aleppo and other parts of the Middle East. Or we might think of the girls kidnapped in Nigeria by Boko Haram. And there is violence in our own communities. A young man selling an iPhone is shot and killed. A child asleep in her bed is struck by bullets. People live in fear of those who claim to love them.
“…all its cities were in ruins….The whole land shall be a desolation…” We know of human violence. And there are times when the world itself seems to turn against us. Floods ravage. Fires consume.
I found a wonderful poem prayer by Jan Richardson titled “Blessing When the World Is Ending.” It begins:
Look, the world
is always ending
the sun has come
it has gone
it has ended
with the gun,
it has ended
with the slammed door,
the shattered hope.
it has ended
with the utter quiet
that follows the news
from the phone,
the hospital room.
it has ended
with a tenderness
that will break
The world is always ending somewhere. We see much more of the world than Jeremiah could see. We see that desolation is not a one time, one place event. Sometimes it is something we see at a distance. At other times it is all too close, too personal.
As I was reading about the scripture passages for today, I came across a powerful reflection on the gospel lesson for this morning – on being lost. The Rev. Karen Wiseman reflected on being lost. She wrote, “The truth is that you can easily get lost in today’s world – in the real world and the virtual world. It’s easy to get lost in cyberspace and all of the options for social media interaction, online gaming, and surfing the net. Lost in the fear and anger that is perpetuated in almost every sphere of our lives. Lost physically through isolation and the void of “pseudo-connection.” Lost from our families and friends due to bad relationships or bad decisions. Lost to greed, temptation, addiction, and obsessions. And lost from connections to faith, the church, and God.
Being lost is scary. Being alone and fearful is rough. Feeling lost can bring us to our knees. It can lead to depression and addiction in frightening ways.” Desolation comes in many, many ways. It wreaks havoc in communities and nations. It wreaks havoc in individual lives. In the aftermath of 9-11, we saw physical desolation. There is the ongoing desolation that manifests in continued brokenness, in feeling lost, disconnected, and fearful.
Wiseman’s reflections came with a video about depression presented by the Odyssey Network.
Depression is leading disability in the world, affecting all ages.
9 % of Americans, 28 million people
40% of those who have post-traumatic stress disorders
think of first responders
think of veterans
think of those who have suffered tragedy and loss
25% of those with cancer
27% of those with substance abuse
50% of those with Parkinson's
50-75% of those with eating disorder
36,000 Americans commit suicide yearly
10th leading cause of death
Social connectedness is a large factor in mental health
60% of those who are lonely suffer from depression
Hear the good news! Those who were actively involved in religious and community life were significantly less depressed.
Jesus’ parables about finding the lost are also about the restoration of something larger. The community is fractured when someone is lost. That was always part of Jesus’ message to the religious of his day. When they ignored or excluded people or particular groups of people, they, too, suffered, because the community was not whole. So the shepherd went in search of the one sheep that was lost. The woman turned her house upside down to look for the missing coin. Time and effort was given to make sure the lost had been found.
As I look back on 9-11, I think of those gripping images that remind me of the desolation. But there are other images – powerful ones of New Yorkers who were known for their aloofness reaching out to minister to each other. People brought food and drink to first responders. Others opened doors to those fleeing the devastation. People gave blood and time and hospitality. New York was fundamentally changed by that day. As a family we visited the city the following summer. People went out of their way to help us find our way around. A new sense of community emerged.
Now, I’m not sure that sense of community has stayed. We often respond quickly, yet it’s easy to fall back into familiar patterns of disconnect. People responded to Hurricane Katrina right after it happened. But many didn’t stay for the long process of rebuilding. How often have you heard the complaint, “We’ve been forgotten”? Wiseman says of this gospel passage, “In the passage, the language about the sheep and the coin are in a passive voice. But the language used for the shepherd and the woman are in an active voice. The searching is a vigorous reality. There is intentionality and purpose in the searching. I believe that in all we do, in all of the places where we are lost, and wherever we are – God is searching for us.” We were created to live and move in the community that is God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, and in our human communities. As those who have known in some manner the grace of being found, we are to share that grace with others.
God searches for us. God seeks us out – in our desolation, our isolation. Even the passage in Jeremiah has a note of hope. “Yet, I will not make a full end.”
Richardson's prayer poem “Blessing When the World Is Ending” goes on:
this blessing means
to be anything
It has not come
to cause despair.
It is simply here
because there is nothing
is better suited for
than an ending,
nothing that cries out more
for a blessing
than when a world
is falling apart.
will not fix you,
will not mend you,
will not give you
it will not talk to you
about one door opening
when another one closes.
It will simply
sit itself beside you
among the shards
and gently turn your face
toward the direction
from which the light
as the world begins
Jeremiah 18:1-11, Luke 14:25-33
Someday I plan to take a pottery workshop. I’ve always wanted to learn to “throw” a pot, to work the clay on the wheel. I’m fascinated by the ability of artists to take lumps of clay and turn them into beautiful pieces. The passage from Jeremiah picks up on that imagery – reminding us that the modern “art” can be traced back to much earlier human civilizations. “So I went down to the potter’s house,” Jeremiah said, “and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel as it seemed good to him.”
Jeremiah likened the potter’s work to God’s work with the community that was Israel. “’Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done?’ says the Lord.” He hears God’s judgement on Israel. “At one moment I may declare concerning a nation of a kingdom, that I will pluck it up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it.” The passage ends with, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.’”
“God’s gonna get you!” Isn’t that the way we hear these judgement passages? Or, sometimes, we might say, “This is the Old Testament God. The New Testament God is merciful.” (Dismissing the God portrayed in the Old Testament was declared a heresy in early church days! Dismissing that God is dismissing God!) Jesus certainly did not dismiss the God to which the scriptures witnessed. So, we need to wrestle with these difficult passages. What is God saying to us? What judgement do we need to hear? What are the consequences of that judgement?
Scholars have noted that we tend to hear this familiar image in a personal, individualistic way. “Have thine own way, Lord, have thine own way. You are the potter, I am the clay,” it says in the old, old hymn. The newer hymn that we will sing shortly also hears this passage in an individualistic way. “You are the Potter; I am the clay. Mold me and make me; this is what I pray.” That hearing, that interpretation reflects our cultural bias. In our western societies, we tend to rank individuality as the goal. However, Jeremiah spoke and wrote not to individuals but to the nation, to the community that was the House of Israel. Jeremiah was addressing a nation in trouble – a nation on the verge of catastrophe at the hands of invaders. The vision was, scholars say, much broader than the personal piety which is often the way faith is interpreted today. Jeremiah was speaking about God’s judgement on a nation, which was at the same time, a community of faith.
Professor Sally Brown wrote of this passage from Jeremiah that it tells us that God is deeply invested in our communal life – and that community is broad! The imagery of the potter also indicates that God’s relationship is robustly dynamic. Now, that doesn’t mean that personal piety doesn’t have a role, a part, a significance in the life of the larger community. But never can faith be reduced to a “me and my God” approach that does not consider the broader context – neighbors, communities, nation, nations and the creation itself.
When I was in Pennsylvania I got involved in community organizing. It was presented to the church I was serving as a way of finding and developing a new vitality. One of the basic understandings of the parent organization was that as people discerned their basic concerns, they would find a new unity with others and be able to work for a stronger community. One summer, early in the organization’s life, each church was challenged to come up with a concern and develop an approach to address that concern. I hoped that the congregation would look at the neighborhood in which it was located, a neighborhood from which they had become disconnected. The neighborhood had a growing drug problem. People in the church were often afraid to be at the church in the evening. Being concerned about their neighborhood and the well-being of their neighbors seemed like a good goal. But, the congregation chose a different concern. They decided to fight, instead, for themselves – for preferred parking. I was away when they went to city hall and asked for privilege – at the expense of their struggling neighbors. And city hall granted their requests. Instead of working toward the health of the neighborhood, they contributed to its fracturing. They didn’t realize that their well being as a congregation was tied up with the well-being of the neighborhood in which they existed. They thought that their “individual” freedom to practice their faith could be pursued without regard for others. There was a fundamental flaw in that organization’s approach. Their emphasis on individual concerns at times blocked the ability of individuals to perceive communal concerns.
I said earlier that I’ve always wanted to try out the potter’s wheel. I’ve heard of church services where this Jeremiah passage is demonstrated by having a potter present, working clay on the wheel. The congregation gets to see the artist at work. Now, more recently, I’ve seen a wonderful commercial that shows someone taking a pottery class, sitting at the wheel. The clay flies. Soon we see everyone covered by the mess. I’ve been told that the commercial is an exaggeration, but we know the potter can’t do the work without getting dirty. The potter learns the clay – what will work, what won’t work. The potter creates with an awareness of what the particular clay will support. In Jeremiah’s reflection, God never gives up. God just changes the creation – working something new when the original intent no longer succeeds. God judges –but not to completely destroy.
God has been called, by some, the Great Innovator. Maybe we could also say God is the Great Artist who takes the medium that is available and creates something new, something functional and something beautiful. Yet, that is no easy task. It costs God to be deeply invested in this world. That cost is evident in the story of Jesus – the beloved Son – who came to earth to create a new way of relating to God and each other, and ultimately paid with his own life.
In the gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus spoke about the cost of discipleship. I met a woman, years ago, who had decided that she knew the cost of discipleship. “I send $25 dollars to the Presbyterian Church in town every year so that they will be obligated to have a funeral for me when I die,” she told me. She didn’t go to worship. She wasn’t a member. She had no interest in the work of the church. She had no interest in the lives of her neighbors or the well being of her community. But, she paid a minimal cost so that the minister would be obligated to her.
But Jesus tells his disciples that it is no easy thing to follow him. It will cost them. But his description of the cost is strange to our ears. He doesn’t speak of money – not here. (Elsewhere money often appears as a concern.) . Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciples.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Cost of Discipleship wrote, "…Discipleship betokened the separation of the disciples from all their old ties, and an exclusive adherence to Jesus Christ." So, discipleship is the separation from old ties – putting following Jesus first. It is not just fitting faith into already busy lives; it is making discipleship the priority that informs all other aspects of life. Discipleship directs how it is we live.
Bonhoeffer goes on to reflect, "Does their separation from the rest of society confer on them special rights and privileges? Do Christians enjoy power, gifts and standards of judgement which qualify them to exert a peculiar authority over others?” For many the answer in our society is “YES!” But, Bonhoeffer’s answer is a resounding “NO!” On the contrary, disciples have to recognize that following Jesus means getting involved in the messiness of the world to share, to demonstrate the love we have known in and through Jesus the Christ.
This is Labor Day Weekend. The Department of Labor says that the purpose of the holiday is to recognize the contribution of the nation’s laborers, of its workers. It is a timely reminder as we struggle with issues related to labor in our nation today. And, as we think about labor, we should not think merely of our own nation. We are dependent on the labor of many outside our country. We need, constantly, to ask ourselves if laborers are being treated fairly, justly – even compassionately. That is a question to ask about the laborers in our own country and those around the world. The church has a strong history working on behalf of those the world has used and abused. The church was part of the movement to limit child labor and to set limits to the number of hours people should be forced to work. It was a voice in the efforts to set fair wages in our own country. Again, the work never ends. We struggle in our own day – both in our own country and as we look at the ways we are enter-twined with the economies of other nations.
God calls us to be re-worked and re-shaped so that the justice concerns of God can be revealed in new times. `It is out of love that God reworks and reshape a and reforms us, to be the new creation that more fully reflects the good world God intends for us and for all people.