A sermon for the 6th Sunday of Easter: Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66:7-18, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21
The author of the 1st Letter of Peter writes
Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.
This is exactly what Paul does in Athens. He has seen all the idols around the city, and it upsets him terribly. But, there is also this idol to an unknown god; which is a customary just in case practice (Harrelson). It is an opportunity Paul seizes. He does not shout at the people. He uses their culture, to witness to them (Benoit). Paul recognizes that God is uniquely present in every place, in every human story, so it does not matter the that people worship the unknown god; because it is really God in Jesus. Athens is the home of Socrates, great Universities and Philosophical schools of the Epicureans and the Stoics (Wall). Paul makes use of those customs in shaping his speech. He begins by noting how religious Athenians are; perhaps a bit tongue in cheek (Ellingsen). He quotes Epimenides, and Aratus well-known philosopher-poets (Harrelson). Then he introduces God who is not local, who is not bound to a specific place, who does not require human offerings, and who is the true source of all life (Gaventa and Petersen). Paul emphasizes God’s universal judgment and salvation for all. He welcomes all Athenians into the life giving, life changing presence of God through Jesus Christ. He does all this with the help of the Spirit. So, can you. Here ends the lesson.
I think our challenge today is not to defend the source of the hope that is in us. I think today’s challenge is to put the hope that is in us to work. This involves telling the truth about our community locally and globally (Bratt). And the truth I am beginning to see is deeply disturbing.
At Friday Families, we watched Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Throughout the story, Lord Cutler Beckett makes all kinds of inhuman decisions and actions, from killing Elizabeth’s father, to entrapping, enslaving, betraying, lying to, and blacking mailing most every character he encounters, all in the name of good business. The United States is the leading economic force in the world. We are not merely the largest, we set base standards of right and wrong. As a nation, we are remaking ourselves in the image of “It’s just good business.” We are leading the unmaking of humanity in the name of “It’s just good business.”
A couple of observations. We have commoditized agriculture to the extent that the few corporations who own the patents on seed stock are controlling who plants what. Farmers can no long save back some seed from crops they grew for seeds for next year because they don’t belong to them, they don’t own the patent. It constrains farmers’ prosperity, but it’s just good business.
We have almost completely commoditized university education through student loans. These loans are government guaranteed made to individuals from major financial institutions who sell education as the way to a bright future; which it can be. But These public and private Universities are not accountable for the results; it’s just good business.
There are some changes emerging in University accountability. But, they are cost reduction efforts by the states, not a careful examination of how best to provide education for all the people; it may be another form of its just good business. We have completely lost sight of John Adam’s (our second President) ideal that educating its people is a primary concern of any nation, any government (McCullough). The current trend is to abandon all public education and allow the market to improve a declining education system. Is it good for education? The results are very mixed, as it is for public schools. But we go that way because it is good business.
We have nearly commoditized our health care system. The efforts to make health care available to most Americans are primarily focused on insurance. There is an inspired change to shift the vision of health care from an individual event in a single person that a provider or providers diagnoses and implements a defined protocol to fix toward a system that understands that everything is interconnected when it comes to nurturing good health. You may not know that 50 to 80 percent of health care outcomes have nothing to do with medical providers but is determined by social drivers of health. Can you get back to the doctor, can you get your prescriptions filled, can you get your bandages changed, do you live in standard housing, do you have clean water, can you eat healthy? All these things determine health. There is a move among providers to invest in improving these social drivers. However, as far as I can tell it is limited to large systems with potential saving to fund these investments. More importantly is the complete lack of conversation about the behaviors of pharmaceutical, equipment, and supply businesses in health care They determine the cost of health care, and they are doing so largely without moral consideration. EpiPen’s cost increased ten times in ten years, without any change in medication or mechanics; it was just what the manufacturer believes is good business (Layton).The cost of Daraprim (a 62-year-old highly effective drug that is the standard treatment for a life-threatening parasitic infection) rose from $13.50 to $750 a tablet, (Pollack) because the new owner believed it was justified. Experts believe it is just economics (Seidman). Once again, it’s just good business. True there was dramatic pushback in these cases, and changes were made. But, the troublesome observation is that anyone, any business could ever allow such egregious decisions to be ever considered never mind brought to market.
Recently there has been a lot of conversation about driverless cars and trucks in the news. There has been some conversation about the impact of the potential loss of millions of jobs; taxi drivers, Uber drivers, Lyft drivers, truck drivers and delivery service drivers. Some conversation about guaranteed income for all citizens is popping up as visions of a worker-less artificial intelligence economy dance in our imaginations. But no one, no one is talking about the loss of human interaction. How many stories of a passenger or cab driver helping the other have you heard? How many times have you seen a car or a truck pull over to help a stranded driver? You may remember that in fall of 2015 I was coming home from Little Rock and blew the timing belt in my SUV. I was able to get off the road. I called AAA, they recommended a repair shop and dispatched a wrecker. When the wrecker arrived, I asked the driver if he could get me to a hotel. He looked at the work ticket and then recommend a different repair shop because there was a hotel across the street. In part, the recommendation was made because of the original repair shop’s location. Would a driverless wrecker have been able to do that? Would an AI desk clerk offer a toothbrush as I checked in because she asked how my night was?
There are all sorts of human interactions that advanced technologies and Artificial Intelligence will eliminate. It all may well be good business, but it is remaking humanity. Business has become the forest of idols in which we increasingly live and move and have our being. Paul would be aghast. So, should we. Paul acted, so should we; and Paul is our model.
Paul did not rant against the culture or the many, many idols to numerous gods. We should not blindly rant against technology. I cannot; I use a lot of technology every day. I preach from a tablet, a technology, that is still changing things. What we should do is start the conversation about where is God is all this. How does the business opportunity respect the image of God in the customer? How does the business opportunity reflect the image of God to the customer and the world? Does this inject religion into business and politics? Yes, it does, but Paul’s speech is every bit as political as well as religious, for the worship of the gods was as political as it was religious (Aymer). If we take our faith seriously; if we see the image of God in everyone, and the image is there, no matter how suppressed or hidden, if we are serious about witnessing God’s universal judgement that brings salvation then our religion, our faith must be the foundational value for every thought, word, and deed.
Can we ignore it all this and hope for the best, believing that “it’s just good business” will eventually lead to life nurturing decisions; after all religious based decisions do not have a good history of universally life nurturing? We can; but, at the very end of World’s End Lord Beckett eerily walks through a maelstrom of cannon and musket fire, and flying bits of shattered ship mumbling, “it’s just good business” until he is consumed by erupting flames as his ship The Endeavor explodes. Make of the imagery of searing flames what you will.
Is it difficult and risky to inject religion into business and politics? It is. It was for Paul. Yet Paul spoke, in part, because the other advocate, the Spirit, was with him, every step of the way. You also have an advocate who stands with you and goes with you everywhere. The Spirit is also with you.
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Bratt, Doug. Acts 17:22-31. 21 5 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.
Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 21 5 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/>.
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Layton, Chris Woodyard, and Mary Jo. “Massive price increases on EpiPens raise the alarm.” 22 8 2016. usatoday.com. 20 5 2017. <https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2016/08/22/two-senators-urge-scrutiny-epipen-price-boost/89129620/>.
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Pollack, Andrew. “Drug Goes From $13.50 a Tablet to $750, Overnight.” 30 9 20015. NYtimes.com. web. 20 5 2017. <https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/21/business/a-huge-overnight-increase-in-a-drugs-price-raises-protests.html?_r=0>.
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Seidman, Bianca. “Drug price increases 5,000 percent overnight.” 21 9 2015. cbsnews.com. 20 5 2017. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/generic-drug-price-increases-5000-percent-overnight/>.
Wall, Robert. New interpreter’s Bible The Acts of the Apostles. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols.