Sermons

Rev. Dr. Russ Daye

21st after Pentecost – GLI Sunday Service

October 17, 2021

Amos 5.6-7, 10-15 

Seek the Lord and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.

Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground!

They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.

Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.

For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins – you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.

Therefore, the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time.

Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said.

Hate evil and love good and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

Mark 10.17-27

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone.

You know the commandments:  ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’”

He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

And the disciples were perplexed at these words.  But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be save?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

You may have noticed that I often begin sermons with a story, but today I am going to jump right into some biblical reflection, even some teaching.  In order to understand Jesus’ preaching, teaching, and action, it is essential to get a handle on a reality to which Jesus pointed again and again in his teaching:  the Community of Heaven.  English translations of the Second Testament don’t usually use this term. They use the terms Kingdom of Heaven, which is a translation of the Greek term ‘basileia tōn ouranōn,’ or the Kingdom of God which is a translation of the Greek ‘basileia tou theou.’  In both cases the word ‘Basileia’ is the word being rendered in English as ‘Kingdom.’  In the last few decades, many scholars and preachers have rejected the word ‘kingdom’ because of its patriarchal resonance, and have chosen instead reign, realm, commonwealth, or kindom.  This latter term picks up the idea that all in God’s realm are “kin”:  family in the household of the Divine.  I prefer to use the term ‘Community of Heaven.’  Like kindom, it implies the collective good, mutuality, interdependence, economic justice, and regard for others’ well-being.

Much of Jesus’s teaching was oriented to helping his listeners recognize this realm, which was present to their lives.  He taught that the Kingdom was “within you,” and “among you” (Luke 17:21), a living dynamic with the potential to reshape individuals, families, communities, and whole societies in harmony with God’s love.  Many of his parables were taught to help his listeners adjust their consciousness into resonance with this realm and to help them live in God’s way.

The Community of Heaven is alive and well and living “within us and among us.” It may be that the Community of Heaven’s existence in human consciousness is akin to a kind of quantum potentiality.  In the quantum realm, things can be understood to “exist” only as probabilities or potentialities.  An agent, such as a human being, can actualize a potentiality, making it a reality in our world of experience.  So, the Community of Heaven can be continually emerging, becoming real, in our midst.  The Community of Heaven resonates with a future much more in tune with God’s love and God’s values and holds that future before us, inviting us to step into it.

In today’s reading from Mark, this is the reality into which Jesus was inviting the young man.  But the man went away ‘shocked and grieving’ because Jesus made him understand all that he would have to give up, to enter the Community of Heaven.  He would have to completely abandon his worldly privilege.  While Jesus’ instruction hurt the man, it seemed to be offered gently.  Amos, on the other hand, never seemed to be gentle.

His words were not directed toward one man of privilege, but toward the powerful and privileged class of Israel, whom he perceived to be living completely at odds with the divine vision of a nation of fairness, love and justice.

Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.

For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins – you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.

As alluded to here, Amos predicted a day of great reckoning.  He speaks of ‘the Day of the Lord’:

Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!  Why do you want the day of the Lord?  It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall and was bitten by a snake.  Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?

A time would come when God would punish the nation.  To get a taste of this prophetic anger in more contemporary language, listen to these two verses from Bruce Cockburn’s song Mighty Trucks of Midnight:

Used to have a town but the factory moved away
Down to Mexico where they work for hardly any pay
Used to have a country but they sold it down the river
Like a repossessed farm auctioned off to the highest bidder
Mighty trucks of midnight
Moving on, Moving on

Wave a flag, wave the Bible, wave your sex or your business degree
Whatever you want — but don’t wave that thing at me
The tide of love can leave your prizes scattered
But when you get to the bottom love’s the only thing that matters
Mighty trucks of midnight
Moving on, Moving on

All three prophetic voices we’ve heard today – Jesus, Amos, and Bruce Cockburn – rage at inequality and its consequences.  The kind of inequality that was on the rise in the last quarter of the 20th Century and seems to have been put on steroids in this one.

I wouldn’t say that the suffering of greatly unequal nations is God’s will, but destabilization unrest and violence are proving themselves to be inevitable consequences of economic disparity.  The United States used to become more unequal under Republican presidents and more equal under Democratic ones. But this uncannily regular trend ended with Clinton and GINI coefficients, which economists use to measure inequality, have grown under every president since, including Obama.  And look at the consequential developments:  polarization, falling trust, violence, and corruption.  Biden seems to understand this.  One of the few nations more unequal than the US today, is Lebanon.  Just look what is happening there.  They seem to be living Amos’ ‘day of the Lord’ in all its fullness.

So how does a whole nation respond to what we know about inequality?  What does a faith community trying to live the values of the Community of Heaven advocate for?  There is no economic policy that will evoke the Community of Heaven in all its fullness, but there is one that is compatible with its values, that can reverse in some measure rising GINI coefficients, and guard against national instability – not to mention make millions of lives better:  Guaranteed Livable Income (GLI).  And on top of all this, it has potential to streamline bureaucracy, save tax dollars, and make spending on the marginalized more efficient.

Now, I am not saying that the nation of Canada will magically enter the Community of Heaven by implementing a form of GLI, or even that GLI will erase all inequality.  But it does seem clear that GLI has the potential to be one of the most powerful medicines to treat rising GINI coefficients and start addressing the ills produced by inequality.  I am not going to argue that by advocating for GLI privileged church folk are going to magically slip through the eye of the needle and fully enter the Community of Heaven, but I am willing to assert that it is definitely a step in the right direction.  It is compatible with Community of Heaven values.  I’m pretty sure that Jesus would say that most of us are in danger of making choices similar to that of the man in today’s story from Mark.  We have more to do to make sure we aren’t seduced into storing our treasure in the wrong place.  But advocacy for a GLI would be a step in the right direction and perhaps a kind of medicine itself.

 

Image Credit:  Sharjah Desert Park – Unsplash.com

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