The Trouble with False Gods

Today’s story from the Book of Exodus raises a particular question: exactly which God do you believe in? You might be surprised how many Episcopalians confess privately to their priests and say, “I’m sort of, maybe, kind of an atheist. I love the tradition, the music, the message of Jesus, but I don’t believe in a big white bearded old man in the sky.” Some of you might be shocked. Others of you might be thinking, “me neither.” Well, for the record, I also don’t believe in that god.

Now, before you go reporting to the bishop that the rector of Holy Communion came out as an atheist this morning, hold your horses. Slow down. I do believe in God. If you identified with those words, with the possibility of atheism, I want to invite you to consider, maybe you aren’t an atheist. I want to offer you this morning that the trouble with believing in God these days is all of the false gods, all of the idols, the false images of gods that are on sale, cheap, in the marketplace of ideas.

That’s really the tension in this story from Exodus of the Golden Calf. While Moses was busy, for forty days, receiving the law from God, Moses’ people grew restless. They said to Aaron, “Moses’ God is taking too long. You, Aaron, you give us a god.” So Aaron produces a golden calf. A little bit later in the text, once Moses comes down and throws the tablets in fury over the idolatry, Aaron will lie. He’ll tell the prophet, “I did take their gold, and I threw it on the fire, and poof, the golden calf appeared.”

Aaron tries to cover his tracks. Why? Why is this such a big deal? Why do we talk about God as a “jealous God?” Why is the first commandment “you shall have no other gods before me?” If we believe God to be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, why does God care about the golden calf, about the false images, the false gods? God is more powerful than any false god anyway, right? I want to argue this morning, the stakes are high.

To name the stakes, I want to talk about two particular false gods. These false gods are ancient, old enough that they’re named in the Bible. And, I want to argue that these false gods are alive and well today. Fitting with our story today, both of these gods have been depicted as cattle. The names of these two twin horned idols: Mammon and Moloch.

Mammon

When I first came to Holy Communion for an interview and I saw the wall behind the altar I joked with the vestry. Those funny medallions back there, caught my attention. The one on the right is obviously a Christian Symbol. But the one on the left, let’s be honest, looks a lot like a dollar sign. I said to the vestry, “is this so you can choose each Sunday morning, whether this week you are serving God or Wealth?” (Jesus says in Matthew chapter 6, after telling the disciples to store their treasure in heaven: “You cannot serve God and Mammon.” That old name for wealth.)

Since I was trusted with the job after that interview, I should tell you: the Left Medallion is supposed to be an IHS, a centuries old sign for the first three letters of the name “Jesus” Greek: Iota, Eta, Sigma. The Right Medallion is a Chi Rho, the first two letters in “Christ.” Thus the Medallions are meant to represent Jesus Christ, but the one does look a lot like US Dollar.

And, if we’re honest, The Episcopalian take on God has often resembled Mammon. We are, per capita, the wealthiest and most educated Christian denomination. Episcopalians sometimes have a reputation for being snooty. Holy Communion bucks those trends a bit. We have a number of working class folk in our congregation. We’re an economically diverse parish. But you don’t have to be wealthy to worship the almighty dollar.

I’m not going to belabor the description of Mammon too much because I spent the last few weeks preaching on God’s economics. Mammon is the god of status, of access, and of cold hard cash. Our dollar bills may still say the words “In God we trust” on them, but often in this country we behave as if our only hope is in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

If you get caught up in the worship of Mammon, if you give your soul to wealth, you will always feel like you don’t have enough. Happiness will always come with a price tag. You’ll find yourself working late, missing family events. You’ll find yourself waiting to really live for after the purchase of the next item, after the money is saved, after the loan is paid off.

Aaron might have been lying to Moses when he said, “the golden calf just formed itself in the flame,” but can you understand why he said those words. Has worshipping wealth ever felt like a default in our society? The worship of Mammon can be easy to fall into, but the drive to accumulate, the quest to buy enough, save enough, own enough, that worship never satisfies. Worshipping Mammon can drive you mad.

Moloch

Mammon has a twin, another horned god, Moloch, the false god of security. Some of you might recognize the name from Alan Ginsburg’s poem “Howl.” Ginsburg repeats the name again and again like a terrible chant. Moloch. Moloch. Moloch is a name of terror in literature and for good reason. Moloch is one of the most ancient names for a false god.

Moloch rises up again and again in the scriptures, often as background noise. Scholars tell us that Moloch was Hebrew name for the god who demanded child sacrifice. In early Mesopotamian cultures families would sacrifice a child in order to get the god’s protection. For the safety, for the security of the many, a few children were offered up, killed.

We are well beyond that barbarity, aren’t we? Are we sure? One might argue there seems to be a rising tide of worship in this country at the altar of security, and some people’s children are being sacrificed.

Some time ago I spent the better part of the afternoon with a friend who happens to be African American. As we talked, I noticed she kept checking her phone. Her son had just started his freshmen year of college at a school in Appalachia, a few hours drive from their home in Washington, DC. He was driving home for the weekend with another student. My friend was visibly nervous. She finally explained to me: “I’m worried what will happen if they get pulled over by the police.” My friend’s son arrived at his parents house safely that day. But these days I know her fear wasn’t uncommon for a mother of a black son. Security and safety aren’t uniformly ensured in our society.

I wonder how much the current president’s rhetoric about refugees and immigrants also stokes Moloch’s flames. Through our parish’s connection with Cristosal and El Salvador we have heard the story of Episcopalians in Central America whose lives are at risk. Children, minor children, keep making treacherous journeys across the deserts of Mexico to escape threats of murder at the hands of gangs, only to be told they are not eligible for asylum in our United States. These days our security is apparently more important than our invitation to the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. How often does protecting our “security” require allowing suffering or violence?

In a few minutes we’ll confess our sins. We’re using a modern prayer right now at Holy Communion. Your worship committee chose this confession because it seems important to confess “the evil we have done and the evil done on our behalf.” Moloch is a dangerous false god, dangerous because it is easy to allow the evil to be done on our behalf without asking questions, without knowing that someone is making this sacrifice in our name, to preserve our “security.”

Atheism or Iconoclasm?

I don’t mention Mammon and Moloch to terrify you, or to guilt you into proper behavior. Without describing the stakes, this story from Exodus can seem a little silly. Even Sunday School lessons will often make fun of Moses’ people for worshipping a little golden calf. I mention the ancient false gods, Mammon and Moloch, because history has shown us that worshipping at their altars brings real suffering.

As I began this sermon, I told you that many Episcopalians confess a sort of casual atheism. Now I want to surprise you further. I think what so many of you call “atheism” can actually be a good thing.

Hear me out. You see, I don’t actually believe most folks when they tell me their atheists. I say most because I do have a few thoroughly committed philosophical atheist friends. I believe them. But I don’t believe people who call themselves atheists and then come to church week in and week out. I don’t believe they are actually “atheists.” I think there is a better word: “iconoclasts.”

The historians among you will know that there have been several iconoclastic movements across the centuries. Iconoclast means “image smasher.” In Christianity, about every 500 years, there has been a season of smashing. A group of faithful believers have decided their culture has depicted a god that is too small, and they have started smashing. We might be less violent this time around, we might simply choose which images are allowed in worship, in public spaces, and which are kept in museums for study.

I was back at my seminary this week for an alumni meeting, and we heard about the progress on the new seminary chapel. When I was a student the old chapel burned. At the meeting the dean of was updating the alumni on three pieces of stained glass that will be incorporated. The announcement came out a few weeks ago that three new windows will represent the Trinity. The dean said many Episcopalians had written in worriedly to ask about what would be displayed, particularly would the windows feature an old white guy, a blonde Jesus, and a bird? (The old chapel windows featured a lot of very Victorian blonde Jesuses and at least one old white guy in robes). I think it was telling that the room full of seminary alumni, Episcopal priests, breathed an audible sigh of relief when the dean said there would be “no people” in the windows.

To those of you who have found a home in the Episcopal church and still flirt with atheism, I want to say this: I admire your faith. I think in this church at this time in history it makes sense to question what our society describes as “god.” There are so many false images out there. Some of them have ancient names like Mammon and Moloch, wealth and security. Others are new, or new incarnations: allure, power, ego. Even religious institutions, especially so-called “Christian” institutions can get caught up in false worship. Power corrupts.

This is why I think it is important that week come here week in and week out, looking for the true God. As St. Paul says in the letter to the Phillipians:

Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen…and the God of peace will be with you.

We come here week in and week out to be reminded, because there are so many gods on offer, so many gods out there in the marketplace. It is important to reorient ourselves, to come back to this altar.

If you are struggling with God, I want to invite you to keep wrestling. Keep denying the false images. Moloch and Mammon are easy names, cheap names. Moses’ God’s name is more difficult. The true God takes time. And consider, is your doubt really an act of devotion? Do you have a hunch, a hope, that the true God is out there? The God that invites us all to the wedding banquet, the God who loves us more deeply than we can love ourselves, the God in whose worship true riches and true security can be found, not just for the few but for all God’s children? Is your so called atheism a denial of the true God, or do you simply reject the false gods on sale today?

 

God’s Economics (part 2): Perspective and Generosity

This week we’re returning to a sermon series on “God’s economics.” Last week we took a pause to bless the animals. Gosh it was nice to have that blessing last week. It’s good to have a little fun in church, especially these days, and to remember that God blesses all creation. In a way, blessing creation is a reflection on God’s economics as well. But this week, we’re back to the formal discussion.

Two weeks ago I preached about two characteristics of God’s economics: abundance and equity. Where we struggle with scarcity, with anxiety that there will never be enough, God provides abundantly. And God invites us to work for more equity, so that regardless of the color of your skin, or the profession of your parents, all might know God’s abundant blessings in this life.

This week, I want to look at two more facets of God’s economics. These two are pretty intimately linked. This morning I want to talk about economic perspective and the practice of generosity.

Perpective

Jesus’ parable from Matthew describes a group of tenants who have lost all perspective. As was true with the parable I spoke about two weeks ago, this is a story that is often interpreted as being about Jewish/Christian relationships. There’s an element of the religious in the story. Jesus means the religious authorities to question their place, and they do after he tells the tale. But again, as I did two weeks ago, I’m going to lay aside the question of Jewish relations today. I want to look at Jesus’ economic message.

After his strange story, Jesus asks his followers, “when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” The tenants who have conspired to steal fruit, killed his messengers, and his son, what will the landowner do to them? Jesus followers respond quickly: He’ll knock out the thieves, the murderers, and he’ll lease the vineyard to someone else.

As I said, this is a story about tenants who have lost all perspective. The story makes no sense on a literal level. How could a group of tenants think they could get away with this scheme? Remember, this is a parable. It’s a story with a message. The message is about perspective. They’ve lost perspective.

One of the best explanations of sin that I know comes from the Confessions of St. Augustine. Augustine talked about sin as dis-ordered love. Sin arises when we get our loves out of order.

I want to argue that the tenants in this story have sinned, they’ve lost perspective, they’ve gotten things out of order. They’ve put their love of wealth above their relationship with the landowner. They have a disordered relationship with wealth, and this disorder drives the drama of the parable.

Now, it’s pretty clear, no matter how you read the parable, the landowner in the story represents God. The stakes just got higher. Remember that first commandment to Moses and the people Israel: “You shall have no other gods before me.” The people have made an idol of wealth, they’ve set wealth up as the ultimate test. There’s an economics to this story.

This week, as we heard more and more about the man who committed acts of domestic terrorism in Las Vegas, I was stunned by one question. I heard the question again and again, from the news, in casual conversation. One question kept coming up: “Why would he commit such terrorism, wasn’t he wealthy?” Wasn’t he wealthy?

Do you hear the implicit assumption in that question? How could you be unhappy if you’re wealthy? Friends, that assumption is just plain wrong. I’ve known some wealthy people who are miserable. We say “Money doesn’t buy happiness.” But do we believe it? Really? Truly? It sure didn’t seem so this week.

Another word on Las Vegas, if you’ll permit me. The killer who took the lives of all those people a week ago tonight raised again the question about gun control in this country. We have a disordered relationship with wealth, and we have a disordered relationship with guns in this country. Former Supreme Court Chief Justice William Burger once remarked that the Second Amendment has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat that word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.” Strong words from Justice Burger.

I choose that word “disorder” specifically. Our constitution does contain a qualified right to “keep and bear arms.” But before the Bill of Rights, in the Declaration of Independence, our founders spoke about “certain inalienable rights.” Among them were life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those rights come first. The right to life comes before the right to keep and bear arms. It has to. But we’ve been behaving as if that were not the case. How many people have to die before we’ll have a serious conversation about sensible gun control in this country? We have our priorities out of order. It’s a disorder. And people are dying.

In Jesus story, the tenants resort to violence. Their lack of perspective on wealth drives them to murder. Sin tends to compound. Human beings are not meant to put wealth first. We’re not meant to serve mammon. When we do, when we lose perspective we can end up in strange and awful places.   

Generosity

One of the best ways I know to keep perspective, to let go of the idol of wealth, is to practice generosity. Now there are a couple of problems that occur when a pastor preaches generosity. I want to head one of them off at the pass. I won’t promise you that practicing generosity will be some kind of magic. I won’t ask you to put ten dollars in an envelope and send it to the church, and tell you you’ll receive it back ten fold. Some so-called pastors run pyramid schemes and call them churches. We’re not that kind of church.

I will tell you practicing generosity can change your relationship with money, not magically, but like any spiritual practice. Generosity is inner work. Generosity is soul work. A practice of generosity can help shift your perspective and lower your anxiety.

When I meet with couples for pre-marital counseling, one of the pieces of homework I give them in our sessions is to do a “pie chart budget.” I tell them that money is a factor in the overwhelming majority of divorces. Conversation about money is essential to a healthy marriage. So I ask them to prepare a budget, and to make a visual representation of that budget. I don’t ask for figures, but I do ask to see percentages. I especially ask them to show me, as a part of their homework, what percentage of their money they plan to give away, and what percentage of their money they plan to save. I emphasize this part of the homework: “Talk together about WHY you are saving, for WHAT. And talk about WHERE you want to give your money,” I say. How many of those couples, when they come back with their homework, do you think have giving and savings on their pie chart? (I’d say only about two in ten).

When we get talking about money, we tend to talk about it from the perspective of scarcity. How are we going to have enough to make ends meet? How are we going to pay the rent, the mortgage, pay off the student loans? How can internet service be that expensive? I tell these couples don’t start there.

Too often we treat generosity as a “last fruit.” We give $20 here or there. We say, “I can spare that bit of money.” The Bible asks God’s people to give away their “first fruits.” Have a practice of generosity that auto-debits on the first of the month, just like your rent. Give away a percentage of your income, if you can. Give so that you notice. And do it first, make it a priority.

My grandmother’s generation used to say that before you did anything else, you set aside ten percent for your tithe, and ten percent in savings. Too few of us are saving. I’d encourage you to have a practice of savings, and to talk with your spouse or partner about why you’re saving, for what you are saving. Why are we saving tends to be a pretty hopeful conversation. You talk about education, your dream house, retirement.

But generosity is even more of a perspective shift. Talk about where you want to give this money you are prioritizing. What causes or organizations would you like to support? Where do you want your work to be a blessing? Think about this: if you give away a calculable portion of your income, you can think of your workday a little differently. If you had a long work week, if you put in more than your forty hours, how many of those hours did you work so that you could help feed someone, help wash someone’s clothes, help support a scholarship for a minority student?

Many of you have heard me quote my former rector in Washington, The Rev. Dr. Luis Leon, when talking about money. You’ll probably here me say this again this season: “Money is a powerful tool. If you can give away some of your money, you have power over the tool. If you can’t give away some of your money, it has power over you.” I hope you have a practice of generosity. I hope you value the work that Holy Communion is doing enough that you want to give some of your money here, and I hope you are giving money to more organizations and causes beyond Holy Communion. Generosity helps us to remember that all that we have comes from God. Practicing generosity helps shift our perspective toward money.

You should have received a pledge letter from the church this week in the mail. The theme for this years pledge drive is an oldy, but a goody:

“All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.”

Those words come from the book of Chronicles. We say them as we bring up the gifts at church. We raise the collection plates, and the bread and wine, and we remember. All we have comes from God. We give back what belongs to God. We keep perspective by remembering that all way have comes from God. We keep perspective by practicing generosity, giving back so that God’s work may continue in our world. 

God’s Economy (part 1): Abundance and Equity

Our Biblical stories this morning, by accident or design, touch on a common theme: economics. The story of Moses and God’s manna from heaven may not deal directly with currency, but God’s provision is the clear message of the story. Jesus’ parable about the workers and the employer makes an economic connection pretty obviously. Jesus was pretty direct about economics. “Give us this day, our daily bread.” There’s an economics stake in this life of faith we practice. This morning, we’re beginning a sermon series on God’s economics. We’ll begin today, pause next week to bless some animals, and pick up where we left off on October 8. In this first sermon, I plan to present two perspectives that I believe at least partly characterize God’s economics: abundance, and equity.

Abundance

Walter Brueggemann is a deeply respected Biblical theologian with ties to St. Louis. He received his PhD from Saint Louis University and his Divinity Degree from Eden Seminary, where he later served as academic Dean. Some of Brueggeman’s most influential work is in the Biblical description of God’s abundance over and against human perceptions of scarcity.

Brueggeman argues that for the first 46 chapters of the Bible, we hear of God’s extravagant abundance. God is lavish in creation. God creates more than God’s creatures need to survive. “Be fruitful and multiply,” God says. There’s room, there’s plenty. This abundance continues through the sojourn of Abraham and Sarah, making them and their descendants a blessing to all the people.
This blessing, this abundance, takes a sharp left turn in the 47th chapter of Genesis. Listen to Brueggeman describe chapter 47:

Pharaoh dreams that there will be a famine in the land. So Pharaoh gets organized to administer, control and monopolize the food supply. Pharaoh introduces the principle of scarcity into the world economy. For the first time in the Bible, someone says, “There’s not enough. Let’s get everything.”

Because Pharaoh is afraid that there aren’t enough good things to go around, he must try to have them all. Because he is fearful, he is ruthless. Pharaoh hires Joseph to manage the monopoly. When the crops fail and the peasants run out of food, they come to Joseph.

And on behalf of Pharaoh, Joseph says, “What’s your collateral?” They give up their land for food, and then, the next year, they give up their cattle. By the third year of the famine they have no collateral but themselves. And that’s how the children of Israel become slaves — through an economic transaction. (Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope: Contested Truth in a Post-Christian World).

As we know, the people Israel eventually escape Pharaoh. Last week we followed them through the Sea and out into the wilderness. While they have left Egypt behind, that culture of scarcity is still hard to shake. Out there in the Wilderness, they grumble and complain. They miss the storehouses of food. Moses tells them that God will provide. God sends bread from heaven, Manna.

Manna: That Hebrew word translates “what is this?” What is this stuff? God’s people have been so shaped by Pharaoh’s scarcity that they don’t know what it is to receive bread they didn’t pay for, to receive a gift from God, to know God’s abundance. And they don’t know how to trust that God will provide. Despite Moses’ warning, they try and store the manna.

When Foster Care parents are trained, they learn to watch kids closely at the dinner table. Many foster children, even in St. Louis, come from hungry homes. Often for weeks after they arrive, care providers have to very patiently clean out the kids’ pockets after meal times. These children have learned to hoard food. When there were calories available, when the cupboard is full, they know they should save some for later, when they would be hungry. It takes weeks, sometimes months, for kids to trust they will consistently be fed, no matter the time of the month.

When you have learned scarcity, it can be hard to unlearn.It takes practice to trust abundance. Again and again the Bible tells us, “there is enough, more than enough.” God has provided enough food, clean water, and other necessities for all of humanity. No one should go hungry. But people do go hungry every day. Those of us who live in the developed world, who might stand to loose a few pounds (let’s be real), have a hard time hearing these words. I am not here to scold you. I don’t want to be like that nagging mother who says, “eat your food, there are children starving in…” (you fill in the blank). It really isn’t that simple.

Because really, even when you have enough to eat, Pharoah’s scarcity mentality can have an effect. We receive marketing messages almost 24/7 telling us we don’t have enough, we are not enough, we can’t do enough, unless we purchase these new shoes, or that new computer, we won’t be enough.

How do we practice abundance? How do we move away from scarcity? The sociologist Brene Brown, an Episcopalian, does research on questions related to shame and anxiety. She specifically studied a group of folks who emerged in her research. This group could be categorized as folks who defy the norm. They are not anxious about money. They are not anxious about whether they have enough. These folks, according to Brown, came from every economic strata. What unified them was their lack of anxiety. The researcher calls this group: “whole-hearted.”

What made this group different, she found, the one thing they had in common was a practice of gratitude. Note, that’s not an attitude of gratitude, but a practice. When anxiety came knocking them, they had a practice that helped them to pause, to get perspective, and to give thanks. All of us, all of us, have so much for which to be thankful. When scarcity comes knocking, what is your practice? How do you pause and give thanks?
God says, “you are enough. You are more than enough. I created you as a blessing. Go and bless somebody.” If you are anxious about money, join the club. We live in a society that breeds that anxiety, even among the wealthy. But God created us for a different relationship with economics. God created us for abundance.

Equity:

The early laborers who grumble in today’s parable, they are not moving from a place of abundance. It’s easy to judge them. On the one hand, I feel for them. The pay seems unequal. Yet, I would argue, this story teaches us about equity. I have to confess, I have not always had the same reading of this parable. my reading of this parable has shifted a great deal over the last few years.
Growing up, hearing Jesus’ story about the latecomers who receive a full days wage, I always thought this story was about Jewish/Gentile relations. In the early church there was a debate about whether you had to be a practicing Jew in order to become a Christian. That’s why Paul’s letters make us cringe talking so much about circumcision. I always read this as a metaphor for Jewish/Gentile relations. But in my first year of ordained ministry, that reading had to take a back seat to the economics in this story.

In my first parish I served a Latino Congregation. I remember the September when this story came up well. Many of the members of my congregation were undocumented immigrants. For the sake of this specific story, I’m going to call one member Juan. Juan and I had spent quite a bit of time talking to a lawyer through that late summer and early fall. Juan had worked a construction job with a local contractor, but when payday came, the contractor told him to scram. When Juan said, “we agreed on a wage,” the contractor threatened to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Rent was due. Kids were hungry. Juan had worked, but this employer had exploited his labor. Juan was never paid, and he was having a hard time finding work again. Meeting with the attorney was a dead end as well. The brokenness of our immigration system means that millions of laborers have no protection from their employers.
Having spent time talking through Juan’s story with an attorney that month, when I sat down to write my sermon, this parable really presented itself differently. For the first time I saw the story as a teaching about God’s economy of equity. In God’s economy there is enough work for everyone. And in God’s economy everyone receives a wage that allows them to provide for their family. Our reaction to this vision of equity can be strong, and strongly negative. “Why are they getting more?”

There’s a difference between equity and equality. Equality means treating everyone the same. We need more equality in this country, but we also need equity. Equity is economically important. Equity means making sure everyone has the same chances. This parable makes us question the wisdom that everyone is able to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. There is a certain danger when those of us with wealth begin thinking, “I worked hard for what I have” or “I got mine.” We may be adopting blinders to an inequitable system of advantages.

We are seeing in our city a struggle over the meaning of equity.  Do children of different races, different classes, grow up with equitable opportunities? Do we all get the same chances when we encounter law enforcement? Study after study show: Black men are more likely to be found guilty of a crime, more likely to serve jail time, more likely to be denied parole. Black children are more likely to attend an underperforming school, to know domestic violence in their family, to know hunger. Systems like these self-perpetuate. They have inertia. Unless an intervention is made, the ground will remain uneven.
This week we have seen a series of economic protests. Activists have shouted: “If we don’t get it, shut it down” and “you kill our kids, we kill your economy.” Yes, the Stockley verdict was the precipitating factor that led to the anger in the streets, but the anger is deeper. The anger is about a lack of equity. We may have laws that protect equal opportunity, but we are not all standing on the same structures that help us to clear the bars on the way to success.

This week Marc and I ended up the poster children for the protest somewhat inadvertently. On Tuesday afternoon we, along with some lay leaders and other Episcopalian colleagues, attended an Interfaith Prayer vigil for Justice and Peace, organized by the office of the Roman Catholic Archbishop. Like good Episcopalians, we were standing at the back of the crowd. I’m looking at you back pew. Then some of the black clergy decided we needed to pray with more than our words, we needed to pray with our feet. At the end of the service they pushed through the crowd, grabbed the clergy at the back, and marched us to City Hall. The last shall be first got a new meaning.
I wasn’t comfortable with all of the protests I attended this week. The news keeps talking about “protest organizers.” I think organizer is a bit of a strong word for many of these actions. They’re not very organized. There is a difference between a crowd and a movement: a movement is going somewhere. A movement means that you have concrete proposals, and you are acting to bring them about.

If the protests lack of organization made me a little uncomfortable, the police response scared me. Last weekend and this weekend we have seen officers injure and abuse those who are being taken into custody. Including clergy, including an air force officer, including journalists. Do not hear me say that I am anti-police. I have several friends who are officers. I respect many of the policewomen and men I know. I pray for them often. We live in a society where gun violence is out of control, and officers put their lives on the line every day. If we want to change police behavior, we could start by changing our relationship with guns. Still the documented behavior in this city of officers of the law toward peaceful protestors has been atrocious and illegal in many instances. As citizens of St. Louis City and County, we deserve better.

The action that made Marc and me accidentally famous on Tuesday afternoon was the most organized I’ve seen, and the police presence was calm. The officers protected our right to assemble and to free speech. They did their job. As I shared in our weekly email, I was particularly moved by the words of my colleagues: The Rev. Dr. Cassandra Gould. She spoke about the peace that we seek, the shalom of God, that Hebrew word means both peace and wholeness. She spoke about wholeness, and it brought tears to my eyes. She said, Missouri as a state came into being by compromising. Missouri became a state by compromising the identity of black people, by holding them as slaves. We don’t have streets named after the enslaved Africans that LaClede and Chouteau brought with them as they founded St. Louis. We began with inequity, and, if you look at the statistics, the inequity persists.

God’s economy is one of equity. God provides enough, more than enough, for us all. In God’s economy there are plenty of jobs, there is plenty of wealth, so even those who don’t find a full days work can be paid enough to bring home the daily bread. This parable continues to challenge us today. How do we really provide equitable opportunity? How do we make our economy and our education system work so that all St. Louisans have access to the abundant life?
When we speak about economics, there is a great deal at stake. Life and livelihood. God’s economy does not look like our economy. Where we struggle with scarcity, with anxiety that there will never be enough, God provides abundantly. And God invites us to work for more equity, so that regardless of the color of your skin, or the profession of your parents, all might know God’s abundant blessings in this life. Amen