Sunday, March 24, 2019
Third Sunday in Lent, Year C

Prayer of the Day
Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son. Help us to hear your word and obey it, and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 55:1-9 Everyone who thirsts, come to the water; seek the Lord
Psalm 63:1-8
1 Corinthians 10:1-13 Israel, baptized in cloud and seas, ate the same spiritual food as Christians
Luke 13:1-9 Unless you repent, you will perish: parable of the fig tree

Title:  God is Not a Capitalist!  Thank you, Jesus!

Productivity. It is the cornerstone of capitalism.  There is a need in the community.  You create the product or the service to satisfy that need and then offer it at a price that folks will be willing to pay.  You receive money so that you can buy other peoples’ products and services.  And by doing so you are contributing to the market.  And when everyone is doing this, the system rolls on.

When Europeans settled in this land, they began building societies built on the principles of capitalism.  This economic system predates the beginning of our country.  And so, it is no surprise that capitalistic philosophy is so interwoven into our nation’s identity.  You can hear plenty of people speak as if being a good capitalist means being a good patriotic, flag-loving, American.  It’s why people are led to believe that someone who appears to have been successful in the marketplace will also be successful in governing.  And any economic system or government policy that suggests something other than the purist form of capitalism is believed to be downright treason.  We’re already starting to hear some of this kind of talk among presidential hopefuls and the election is still 21 months away.

But fear not, mine is not to argue the strengths or weaknesses, the freedoms or the injustices of any economic system.  However, I would like to suggest that just as our nation has developed and grown in this capitalist environment, so has American Christianity.  And just as capitalism has shaped our national identity – for good or ill, you decide (probably both) – so has capitalism shaped our religious identity.  And in this case, I for one, feel that the pairing has been more for ill than for good.  If any good has come of it.

I know, the protestant work ethic has motivated many to “make the most” of their lives.  The amassing of wealth has given some very good people the opportunity to give large sums in the name of charity and compassion.  But where the danger lies is when we, seeing the wisdom of this system that can build a strong and developing society, are then led to think “wow, this is so perfect and wise, it must be the way that God does things.”  And if this is how God does things, then it follows that, if we work hard, do lots of good, behave rightly, obey God’s laws – all those good works and that narrow-way obedience that must be the desired commodities in God’s market place, right? – they must be.  So, do all that we imagine God values and we will be paid back in…well, how does God pay us?  As creator of everything, God can use anything for currency.  Maybe we’ll get paid in blessings, maybe with good families and friendships, perhaps good health.  But, of course, it would be really nice, and helpful, if God would reward us with currency that we can use in the market place of our creation, in which we do all our shopping and buying.  “Hey God, how about paying us with material wealth?”  To which we hear God in Isaiah saying:  8For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

Perhaps, rightly so, you are laughing at how ridiculous I am sounding.  Shaking your head at what may sound like nonsensical thinking – this capitalistic Christianity.  But look around and look inside.  You may be hearing this kind of capitalist theology more than you realize.  Perhaps the air that we breath is so pungent with capitalist thinking that we can’t but help to let it permeate every element of our life – including our faith in God, our trust in Jesus, and our walk in the light of the Holy Spirit.

And it doesn’t help that capitalistic Christianity is being taught and preached by so many.  So many who have very loud voices, big churches, and a whole host of media platforms.  All of these are signs of success in a capitalist system, right?  How many people are brought in to those arena churches because they are thinking, “well, these preachers are “successful,” so they must be right”?  God capitalistic reasoning.

And, of course, the reverse is also said.  If someone is suffering, it must be that they didn’t pay God enough with those commodities that God loves:  good works, good behavior, good thoughts.  How many times have you heard others say or your own mind think:  why is God punishing me with this?  I’ve done…and then the list of payments begins.  We think that we have enough on account to cover better treatment than what we are getting.  We should be getting more love from God.  We deserve it.

Hearing the readings for this morning, we can certainly see that much of this thinking that I attribute to American Protestantism and Capitalistic Christianity is not new.  It is not limited to either our place or our time.  In fact, it may be as old as humanity.  Look at the story of Cain and Abel.  Cain saw that Abel received blessings from God in the form of acceptance of his offering, and so Cain took out the competition.  He was a successful capitalist.

The people who have come to talk to Jesus in this morning’s gospel reading certainly are thinking along the lines of Divine reward/punishment capitalism.  Some folks have been brutally murdered by the Romans.  Others have had a tower fall on them.  Who can we add to this category of sufferers of tragedy?  Flood and storm victims.  Earthquake victims.  Shooting victims.  Worshippers killed in mosques, synagogues, churches and schools.  I can still remember Pat Robertson, a bold practitioner of American Capitalist Christianity (also known as glory theology), claiming without hesitation that the earthquake in Haiti a few years ago was divine punishment for past sins of the Haitian people.  And certainly, many of us can remember, and perhaps still hear, that HIV/AIDS is God’s punishment on the godless gays and drug users.  Yes, the list of suffers is long.  Life is that way too often.  And, unfortunately, the mis-guided accusations that God is raining down well-deserved punishment is just as long.  8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

But Jesus will not have any of this pay up or receive payback thinking.  He will not hear it.  He does not buy it.  And he certainly does not preach it.  He says to the misguided: “Do you think that because they suffered in this way, they were worse sinners than others?”  And then he goes on to answer his own question with a very direct “No, I tell you.”  Hey Pat and others, did you get that?  Jesus said, “No, I tell you.”

With that, the dead are relieved.  But then he goes on to say something to and for the living. Jesus says: “And if you don’t repent, you’re gonna die the same way.”  No, he isn’t changing his tune and suggesting punishment will be theirs if they don’t confess.  His word repent means change your thinking.  Change how you look at things.  He is actually being quite compassionate in telling them to repent.  Jesus is saying: “Change your thinking about God. Otherwise you will die with the same horrible and wrong-thinking fear that all bad is God’s payment and punishment, just as those poor victims had been taught, and probably believed.”

A message for our country:  God is not a capitalist.  Hear the invitation God is extending through the prophet Isaiah.
Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
2Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
3Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.

And see what the gardener says to the vineyard owner about the tree that is not producing – the gardener being Jesus.  “Let me work it more.  Let me nourish it more.  So that is might live.”  The work is not done because the tree has produced.  The care is given because Jesus the gardener is God’s grace in human form.  Grace.  Mercy.  Love.  Those are the commodities in God’s economy.  It’s not that we need not purchase them or earn them.  We cannot purchase them or earn them.  In God’s economy, we produce as much as that barren tree does in Jesus’ story. All we can do is see ourselves as dead and fruitless.  Thus we are prepared to receive with thanksgiving what God gives us freely and undeservedly.  Grace.  Mercy.  Love.  And then let it shape and nourish our lives, so that it shapes and defines our purpose in whatever economic system we may deal in as God’s grace, mercy, and love flows from us and into our world.

The Rev Mark Erson,

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