God's Economy

I grew up in the Black Church, where the milkman and the accountant sat together on Sunday. Singing spirituals and hearing scripture rooted us in God's vision to end discrimination, share resources and promote peace. It was the vision that gave my parents and their parents hope; it inspired their struggle for civil rights. They taught their children how to be leaders on Wednesday, marched for racial justice on Saturday, and gave what they had of their time and their finances to make the church run.

Once enslaved Africans were freed, there was always an economic gap. Some went to college, others took up the trades, and still others worked in menial but necessary jobs. As wealth increased, folk did not forget from whence they came; they reached back and pulled someone up and helped someone out. I have not forgotten those lessons of community and caretaking and pulling together as a village.

The early church was like that as well, learning from its Jewish leaders -- including Jesus himself -- that in God's Economy, the poor, the orphaned, the widowed, the sick and the lame were the responsibilities of the community. In our country, there are divisions and anger around class. I want to change the conversation from class warfare to class collaboration. A faithful coalition of people can have a greater impact toward a more just society when they pool resources, enact strategies, build bridges and challenge the status quo.

In the early church conflicts arose about who should be first and who should go last, but they were resolved by evoking the teachings of Jesus: In God's Reign there are new rules. Everyone is invited to God's banquet, the first will be last and the last will be first. These radical teachings guided the first congregations; they shared what they had with one another and took care of the least among them. I think we need to resurrect these ideas and ideals and not waste time on us-vs.-them tactics.

God's Economy does not have to be a dream in our faith communities. This is, to my mind, what it means to be faithful. On several occasions, members of my congregation at Middle Collegiate Church have made donations directed to benefit someone else. "Give this to someone who really needs it," they tell me as they quietly pass me a donation.

All of us know someone out of work. Fifteen percent of Americans live below the poverty line. No one of us can do all of this, but churches and other faith communities, non-profits, private citizens and our government can partner to care for one another. We can adopt a family or a classroom. We can create jobs for teenagers and help them get ready for college. We can put people back to work as we build our infrastructure and create new technologies. We can restore the American Dream. But more importantly for me as a Christian pastor, we can live into God's Vision, God's Economy.

The prophet Isaiah reminded the atoning faithful that the true fast that God desires is for us to share our bread with the hungry, to take the poor into our home, to clothe the naked and to not ignore our own families (Isaiah 58:7). When Jesus was teaching his disciples about the reign of God, he told a parable of an owner of a vineyard who hired laborers at various times during the day. At day's end, he paid the ones hired early in the morning, the ones who were hired at noonday, and the ones hired at the end of the day the same wage (Matthew 20:1-16). The workers who came early were angry that those who came late to the vineyard received the same pay. How dare that landowner treat everyone the same! How outrageous is the kind of love in God's Economy!

I must admit the state of our present economy outrages me. And the Occupy Wall Street movement has our country talking about class and financial inequalities again. Many children eat only one meal a day through their school lunch program. It is not acceptable for a nation with this much wealth to threaten that program with tax cuts. Older people should not have to choose between medicine and food. I am less concerned about how we got here or whose fault it is. I am focused on what can we do now and how will we pull together to do it! The questions before us are not just economic, they are ethical and moral.

Middle Collegiate Church is incredibly diverse around race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and finances. Some of our members own several houses, some bring their belongings to church in a bag. Most of us are in the middle, struggling to make ends meet, or saving a little for our future and our children. No matter where we are on that continuum, we pool our resources to make sure we provide more than 1,500 meals every month to people who are hungry. We provide warm coats and back-to-work clothing for hundreds of people as well. We partner with programs that address homelessness in our city. But we want to do more.

We want to change the systems and structures that make our programs necessary. In this rich nation, we have enough resources to care for all of us and then share with our global neighbors. We are calling for an interfaith coalition of caring people to join us. Students and senior citizens, homemakers and the homeless, brokers and bakers, clergy and computer software designers, teachers and technicians -- if you are out of work but ready to work for systemic change, if you are tired of the bickering and ready to broker God's Economy, we want you with us. Let's put our minds and hearts together. Let's talk and blog and ask the hard questions. Let's recommend courses of action and then hold our leaders accountable. Let's fuel our revolution with prayer and Spirit.

It is too simplistic to demonize all of the people who make more money than we do. Good people with wealth share it every day. Wealthy people share my middle class critique of a system that allows lobbyists to protect corporations from the appropriate tax; a tax code with loopholes that poor people will never find or fit through; and a bailout that benefited banks while the poor are still poor. There has to be some accounting for that, some rectifying of this situation. Let's turn our restlessness into revolution, our anger into action, our despair into demonstration. And let's never forget the Power at work within us that is able to do more than we can ask or imagine. That Power is Love.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Cowardice asks the question -- is it safe? Expediency asks the question -- is it politic? Vanity asks the question -- is it popular? But conscience asks the question -- is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right."

On Sunday, Oct. 30, join us online as we stream worship at 11:15 a.m. (EST) at MiddleChurch.org and then stay as we stream a town-hall conversation about God's Economy. You can add your questions and ideas to our Facebook page or tweet @middlechurch for a town-hall conversation about God's Economy. Let's change the conversation.