New Economy, New Energy: Lessons from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount

Editor's Note: Huffington Post Religion has launched a scripture commentary series, which will bring together leading voices from different religious traditions to offer their wisdom on selected religious texts. Next month we will have Muslim commentaries for Ramadan, and in September Jewish commentaries for the High Holidays. Each day this week we will have commentaries on the Gospel featuring reflections by Rev. Jim Wallis, Dr. Serene Jones, Dr. Emilie Townes, Sister Joan Chittister, and Rev. James Martin, S.J. They will all be offering their meditations on the same passage from Matthew 7: 24-27, in which Jesus says:

24Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell -- and great was its fall!

We live in a culture that is obsessed with the new, the different and the cutting edge. Countless hours are consumed with discussing what was painted on Lindsay Lohan's fingernails during her most recent court appearance and countless more spent on the virtues and vices displayed by Lebron James' choice to leave Cleveland. Special praise is given to those commentators who can tie these celebrity happenings into commentary on the Democrats' chances in the 2010 elections. But by next week, these stories are all but forgotten and we are on to the next celebrity mishap or moral shortcomings of professional athletes.

One of the things that I love about the Christian tradition (and is true of many religious traditions) is that it is part of our DNA to spend a lot of time thinking about things that are very old. Each week at church we open the scriptures together and think about, talk about and meditate on very old stories and commentary on life, culture and even politics. It is a recognition that while the world is changing at an alarming rate, there is much that always stays the same. My faith gives me hope that the world can continue to become a better place.

In the midst of your internet browsing and link clicking, take a second to slow down and consider some old wisdom with me: Matthew 7:24-27, delivered during Jesus' Sermon the Mount.

The house that Wall Street built has fallen -- and great was its fall! President Obama alluded to Jesus in his speech at Georgetown University marking the occasion of his 100th day in office:

We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand. We must build our house upon a rock. We must lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity -- a foundation that will move us from an era of borrow-and-spend to one where we save and invest, where we consume less at home and send more exports abroad.

Economists argue over whether the Great Recession is technically over, but in reality, our deep economic crisis continues -- people continue to lose jobs, houses are foreclosed, savings are destroyed, and future hopes are dashed. We are in the midst of a fundamental shift in which the old foundations have shown to be nothing but the shifting sands of speculation. Building a "new" economy on more and endless consumerism and casino-like financial risk-taking would not be new at all, and it would neglect the old wisdom of not building on a foundation of sand. I got a good response a few weeks ago when I spoke to top executives at a business school summer conference on leadership. I asked them to consider what it would mean to build a new economy not on an ethic of endless growth, but rather on an ethic of sustainability -- more rock than sand. We are experiencing a moral deficit that is increasingly apparent and a growing hunger to recover former values -- and not just on Wall Street.

The house that Big Oil built has fallen -- and great was its fall! For the sake of our children and the planet, oil cannot be the foundation upon which we build our future. That old foundation has cracked and spewed oil all over the Gulf Coast. Instead, this oil catastrophe in the Gulf must be an epiphany for our nation, a wake-up call to build on new and better foundations of clean and renewable energy. The devastation this crisis in the Gulf has wreaked and the quickly collapsing foundation it has revealed must bring us to see the world and our energy use in a new light.

It is not enough for any of us to be sad, feel guilty, or say we are sorry. We must repent. This oil spill is not only BP's problem, it's our problem. We have to turn away from the way things have been and move forward on a new path on a new foundation. We need to turn away from our addiction to oil that has hurt our neighbors and the planet.

To simply go back to business as usual would be to ignore all of the pain and suffering that has occurred along the Gulf Coast and elsewhere during this recession. We need to consider how our crises might change us. We need to rediscover some of our old values on which we can build a truly solid foundation for the future.