The Sunday Sermon: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 23, 2020
Scripture: Romans 12:1-2
I’ll recap this month for us with this brief summary: All will be well … when we are judged by, and trust in, Love … and as we make choices in our lives that reflect that Love, the Love of Christ for all.
Pray with me …
Last week we recognized one of the most profound revelations of our COVID-19 world: We can choose to live differently! We are seeing, all across our world, that we do have the capacity to act collaboratively; to change radically; to distribute wealth more justly; to reduce our carbon footprint; to pay living wages; to find housing for the homeless; to see the value in labor we too often overlook; and, to change the entrenched routines and systems of our lives that we feel so bound to. We are seeing this all across the world!
Is all this (and more, surely) only possible because we are in an “emergency situation?” Is all this only possible because we “have to?” Is none of this – different practices and different ways of seeing each other – sustainable once our emergency is over? That’s what our “common sense” would tell us. That is what our government at all levels is telling us. That’s what our world would have us believe. But …
Listen for the Word of God. Read Romans 12:1-2. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
“So that we may discern what is the will of … God.”
This pandemic has revealed to us – not for the first time – the deep imperfections of our societies and our social structures. We have seen with new eyes who is “essential” in these structures and we have realized, if we dare to acknowledge it, how many of these “essential workers” are paid far below the value of the role they play in our lives. Long-term care providers, grocery store workers, truck drivers, waitresses, and hairdressers. We have seen how decisions about work conditions like sick pay and overtime should be decided by people who are served and cared for by them, rather than by “gig economy employers” whose bottom line is always the dollar.
We have spent trillions of dollars in the blink of an eye, and are considering more trillions, to respond to the immediate needs of millions of our brothers and sisters when, had we provided just wages, adequate housing, and sufficient safety nets for all to begin with … we would not have had to scramble so furiously or provide so excessively. So will we make different choices now?
Will we now look in fresh and critical ways at how our society is structured? Will we use the lessons learned in this time to help rebuild a new community that moves more and more toward the Kingdom we pray for every time we gather together? Will we change, or in Paul’s wish “be transformed” by the renewal of our minds, and repair our lives together? We need to make choices.
Following this crisis, or even as we endure it, we need to take on structural changes to our economic policies to ensure that the necessary health and economic infrastructure is in place for the next time our country faces an “emergency situation.” We need to choose to close the unjust racial wealth gap in our country that is disproportionately determined by race.
Following this crisis, or even during it, we need to reverse a decades-long trend in which productivity grows faster than wages. One of the primary reasons that stocks have done so well for thirty or forty years is that we have allowed our brothers and sisters to work and produce more for us, for less income to them. Fairness and equity should be sufficient reasons themselves, but higher minimum wages can boost work force productivity and save lives, as well. We need to choose to provide a living wage to those we deem “essential.”
We need to find ways to provide safety nets to those who live one paycheck or less away from losing the roof over their heads. Moratoriums on evictions and closures, emergency grants, rental assistance, unemployment insurance, and relief aid should not be “emergency policies.” They should be part of our “standard operating procedures” for our most vulnerable brothers and sisters, those in danger of losing their homes. We need to better ensure that the most basic need of all, shelter from the storms of life, is not a luxury, but a basic requirement for all of us.
Since this global pandemic, and the quarantine measures that quickly accompanied it, began back in March, our carbon footprint has dropped dramatically. Global carbon emissions are projected to be seven percent less in 2020 than last year in 2019. Those are levels not seen in a decade. In a report in Time magazine early last month, I read that “if there’s a lesson to be learned from history” it’s that world crises throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries like the Spanish flu, the Great Depression, the end of World Wars, oil crises, national recessions and Covid-19 cause drops in carbon emissions. I also read another lesson to be learned from history: these drops have never been sustained. In the years after each of them, the world not only squandered the gains made, but increased the production of carbon dioxide to higher levels than before. What about this time? Is it inevitable?
I know what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling, because I’ve thought it and felt it too. More truthfully, I’m thinking it and feeling it, too. Every time we begin to talk about real, systemic and structural change, we think and feel it: What can we really do to change the monolithic, foundational standards in our society. And, from my, from our, place of comfort and security, Why should we care? Why should we even try. Because …
Jesus said, “You give them something to eat,” didn’t he (Mark 6:37)? Jesus said, “Blessed are you when you hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). Jesus said we are here to release the captives and let the oppressed go free (Luke 4:18). Jesus said, when you give your hearts to all this, “you will see greater things than these” (John1:50). As disparate as our Gospel accounts are, they are univocal in calling for the Kingdom of God to come on earth through the choices we make for all of humanity and creation itself. Does it really require emergency situations, global crises, or national disasters for us to learn that? We’ve been Christians all our lives!
And even when we decide we must make different choices, how in the world can we?
I don’t know … how we do all this … and more. At least, not off the top of my head. I don’t have quick, tidy answers to the powers and principalities of this world that convince us to take care of ourselves first and foremost and at any cost to others. I don’t think Jesus did either. But I suppose, like he did, we can begin one person at a time, one congregation at a time, one larger faith community watching recorded messages at a time. I suppose. I suppose we can keep telling ourselves, like Paul told us two centuries ago, not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewal of our minds so that we may discern the will of .. GOD. I suppose that we can make choices in our personal lives and ask others we share life with to choose differently. I suppose we could take the new choices we make and the new life they lead to into our families and into our workplaces and into the world so others will know who we are by our Love. And I believe that if, and when we do that, the world will begin to turn.
We mustn’t give up on ourselves, on one another, and most certainly not on the least among of us. All will be well … when we are judged by, and trust in, Love … and when we make choices in our lives that reflect the Love of Christ for all. This time may be different if only because we won’t stop trying to choose full life for all this time.
I want you to listen closely to our anthem this morning. “We are all poor wayfarin’ strangers, traveling through our world of woe. But there’s no sickness, toil or danger in that bright land to which we go,” the song begins.
What if … that bright land was meant for this world, too? God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. If so, then we would have some work to do, making choices to make it so. “Dark clouds (have) gathered round us and the way is rough and steep.” Indeed it is. But, “beauteous fields lie just beyond where souls redeemed their vigil keep.”
May it be so. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / August 23, 2020