Monday, June 29, 2009

The Economy of God - Sermon, Pentecost 4B

(btw...An alternate title for this post could have been "Has It Really Been Over Two Months Since I Last Posted Anything? I'm Quite The Sucky Blogger!")

Based on 2 Corinthians 8:7-15:

The Economy of God
June 28, 2009
Pentecost 4B

I spent this last week with our congregation’s soon-to-be eighth graders at Confirmation camp. It was a HOT week, but an incredible opportunity to reflect, learn together, and grow closer together as the body of Christ in a 317 acre outdoor sanctuary. Each morning, we had 2 ½ hours of Confirmation instruction time, then each afternoon and evening they had the chance to do so many of the traditional camp activities—boating, swimming, hiking, cookouts, that sort of thing. Waterfights were especially popular last week. Anyway, during our Confirmation time, we’d spend the first hour and a half discussing the five promises they will be affirming when they are confirmed (feel free to quiz them if you see them!), and the last hour or so of our time together was spent doing co-op activities. Co-op is a series of challenges that forces kids to think outside the box and work together as a team in order to accomplish something, and is a wonderful illustration of what it means to be the body of Christ on earth.

One of our co-op activities was called “Insanity.” The kids were divided into three teams, and three hula hoops were set on the ground forming a large triangle maybe 30 feet wide. In the middle of the triangle was placed a crate full of tennis balls. The object was to get all the tennis balls into one hula hoop, but there was a catch. You could only carry one ball at a time, and other teams were allowed to steal balls out of your hoop and bring them to theirs. The game started, and true to the name, insanity ensued. Kids were running back and forth, taking balls from the crate, taking balls from other hoops, yelling when balls were being taken from their hoop, over and over and over running back and forth like crazed chickens. The counselor let this go on for about ten minutes, as the campers ran themselves ragged trying to get the most balls in their hoop.

I have never seen a better picture of the way the world works. The economy of the world.

Those tennis balls…maybe they represent money. Or maybe they represent food. Power. Sex. Jobs. Security. Acceptance. Those things that we as individuals spend our lives clawing and scratching and running like crazed chickens trying to get, and spend the time that we’re not doing that trying to protect what we’ve gotten or worried that it’s going to be taken from us.

Remember the name of the game? It’s Insanity. And insanity is an apt description both of what happens at first in the game, and how the world teaches us we should live our lives.

So after about 10 minutes of watching this insanity, Scott, the counselor, told the kids to stop and return to their corners. He asked them if what they were trying was working. The answer of course was no. One team bragged that they had the most tennis balls so far, but they were reminded that the object was to get ALL the tennis balls into one hoop, and according to the rules of the game, they had failed just as much as the other two teams. Scott told them to think about the object of the game and try to figure out how they could accomplish it, because there WAS a way.

It took a while, but eventually, the campers discovered that if they put all the balls in one pile, then picked up all three hula hoops and placed them around the balls, not only could you win the game, but EVERYBODY could win the game.

The world teaches us the economy of insanity. What these campers discovered last week was the economy of God. The economy that teaches that we all have something to give for the good of others, that when we quit worrying about holding on to what’s mine, to what I’ve rightfully earned, to what’s coming to me…when I die to myself I gain the greatest treasure of all—living as the body of Christ. That’s cross-centered. That’s living as Christ did.

In our second lesson today, Paul was teaching the church in Corinth a little something about the economy of God. This church had begun a collection for the church in Jerusalem, which was quite poor. It seems things had started okay, but after some time had gone by they had quit supporting them. The Corinthians as a church body were pretty well-off financially, but they had gone lax in their support of another part of God’s body that was struggling financially.

In the world’s economy, you need to run for more tennis balls, while others try to take yours. In God’s economy, Paul reminds the Corinthians (and us) that we have the example of Christ, as he says in verse 9, “that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

Let me stop here for a moment. While Paul’s appeal certainly was about money, beginning here he turns this into MUCH more than just a plea for dollars. God’s economy may include how we approach money, but in stark contrast to the world’s economy, it’s certainly not all about money. In fact, money is just a small part of God’s economy as presented here by Paul. In a way, it would be easier if it were only about money. But as Paul said in Philippians, Christ did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.

In God’s economy, Christ emptied his entire being so that through him we might become, not financially rich, but holistically rich. Authentically rich. Rich in spirit, with those riches that moth and rust do not destroy. Luther had a term for God’s economy—he called it the “happy exchange.” Lutheran pastor and theologian Lisa Dahill explains it this way: "In this exchange, Luther said, Jesus on the cross takes on our poverty, receiving our uncleanness, bearing in his own body our need and our sin, and in exchange he pours out all his holiest, most precious divine gifts to us: his power flowing forth, his heart poured out, his love and mercy, his body and blood, his breath and Spirit and life. He becomes poor to make us rich; and we the impoverished, the weak, the unclean, the unworthy, the desperate – we receive all that is his and are beloved, washed, fed, cherished, and showered with riches. Even our most wretched sinfulness can’t separate us from him. He bears our sins in his own body; we are united with him and held in him in a love that doesn’t defile him but transforms us completely, making exiles and outcasts into daughters and sons."

And so we are called as well to participate in God’s economy along with the Corinthians in verses 13 and 14 of our second lesson. Paul says, “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.” In our own happy exchange, we have been blessed with gifts that others need. And others have been blessed with gifts that we need. And we as the church, we as the body of Christ, are called upon for the good of the world to empty ourselves, to become servants for each other, to use those gifts that we have been blessed with for others, all the while being blessed by others with those gifts that they have but we need.

We see a glimpse of that at work in our downtown ministry at The Table. That’s the whole philosophy behind what we do—bring what you have, give what you can, minister to others, and be ministered to through food and relationships. It’s really a very simple thing, but theologically it’s very profound. Some folks come able to share more than their fair share of money, but maybe they’re in need of something else. Some come with no money at all, but are able to bring gifts of listening, caring, love. Some come completely empty and leave filled…filled with food, and filled with the idea that there ARE people out there who want to know them as a person and who genuinely care about them through conversation.

God’s economy.

Shane Claiborne, in his book “The Irresistible Revolution,” described a conversation he had with a friend. He had asked his friend “if you could ask God one question, what would it be.” The friend hesitated. Shane could tell that he wanted to say something, but was unsure about it, so he pressed him. “Well,” the friend said, “I’d really like to ask God why there’s so much pain and hunger and suffering in the world…but I’m afraid God would turn around and ask me the same question.”

God’s economy asks why, in a world where there’s enough food for everyone, one in six of his children, over a billion people, go to bed hungry every night, according to a recent study by the World Health Organization.

God’s economy asks why one country with 6% of the world’s population uses 40% of the world’s resources.

God’s economy asks why millions of people die every year from completely preventable or easily curable diseases.

God’s economy asks why cheap clothes or coffee are more important than justice for those who work in unbearable conditions for little to no pay.

God’s economy asks why celebrity deaths are more important than those everyday people who are lonely, or struggling, or hurting.

God’s economy asks some hard questions, especially for those of us who in the eyes of the world are affluent.

We could debate all day on what the government’s role ought to be in the redistribution of resources. But there’s no question whatsoever as to what the church’s role ought to be. “As it is written,” Paul writes in verse 15, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”

Again, this isn’t just about money. It isn’t just about material resources. Although it includes both of those things, we’re talking about so much more than that. It’s our whole selves. It’s a complete attitude of servanthood.

Back to camp. The camp’s theme this summer is “Love to serve.” Each day focuses on a different aspect: freed to serve, created to serve, saved to serve, called to serve, and sent to serve. God’s economy calls us to see our relationship to the world as one of service, always looking for those gifts we may have been given that the world needs. Is it money? Is it time? Is it our talents? Is it love? Compassion? Skills? What part do you have to play in the economy of God?

You do have gifts. You have been uniquely gifted by God. You have something that the world needs.

And we, together, as the body of Christ, working together in lives of service, sharing the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, are called to reject the insanity of the world and the way it values people and material goods as things to be grasped, not given. Let’s stop running around like crazed chickens and instead allow God to transform us into saved servants, participants in God’s economy of healing, wholeness, and life.

The economy of the world says your value is based on what you can accumulate. The economy of God says your value is found in being a child of God.

The economy of the world says you are an owner, and need to hold on to what you have earned for yourself. The economy of God says you are a steward, and the gifts you have been given are for the sake of others.

The economy of the world says self-sacrificial giving for the sake of the world is insanity. The economy of God calls it the way of the cross.

The economy of the world says you need to get what’s coming to you. The economy of God says you get precisely what you don’t deserve and could never earn: love, forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.

Thanks be to God!