It’s just good business

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.

Well almost.

 

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.


 

References

Aymer, Margaret. Commentary on Acts 17:2231. 21 5 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Benoit, Arlette D. being a Witness for the God We Know, Easter 6 (A). 21 5 2017. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Bratt, Doug. Acts 17:22-31. 21 5 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 21 5 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 21 5 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 21 5 2017.

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/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. A Paraclete Kind of Life. 21 5 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

McCullough, David. John Adams. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

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&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

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/&gt;.

Wall, Robert. New interpreter’s Bible The Acts of the Apostles. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols.

 

There he is!

A sermon for Epiphany 2; Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, John 1:29-42

John has everyone’s attention; the Jewish leaders; and the people’s. He has a group of followers, disciples, people who are committed to his different teachings and expectations. We expect disciples to be dedicated and committed to their teacher or leader. We also expect the teacher or leader to expect their followers to, well, follow.

So, the other day, John is in a town near the Jordan river and has an encounter with Jewish leaders from Jerusalem, who want to know who he is. He says he is not who they think he is. His tell them someone else is coming.

The next day John is walking through town and shouts out “There he is! ‘The Lamb of God.’ The one who will take away the world’s sin!” He shares the story of Jesus’ baptism. It is a testimony to who Jesus is.

A day later John and a couple of his disciples are walking through town. John sees Jesus again and shouts out “There he is again.” The disciples may have made a curious face as John calls this unknown person the Lamb of God, which is a new title. Whatever their faces may have revealed, their action is unexpected. They give up their relationship with John and turn and follow Jesus. It’s almost like someone giving up their loyal following of the Hogs and becoming a fanatic Boll Weevil follower; it is unimaginable.

Jesus notices they are following him, and turns and asks them “What do you want?” They ask him “Where are you staying?” Jesus tells them “Come and see.” They followed Jesus till late in the day. Then Andrew went to find his brother, and tells him about their unusual day; and then claims to have found the Messiah, another new title for Jesus. Simon follows his brother to meet Jesus, who on first sight calls him by name and then renames him, Peter. It is such a simple story. But not really.

To begin with, ‘The Lamb of God’ is a completely new term, it has never heard anywhere before, and is not used anywhere else in the bible (Hoezee; Gaventa and Petersen). It is a reference to multiple ways God is present to Israel:

  • their liberation from slavery in Egypt
  • the sacrifice of Isaac
  • the Temple cultic sacrificial system and
  • the suffering servants from Isaiah (Gaventa and Petersen; Harrelson; Boring).

John says Jesus will take away the sin – singular – the sin of the world. Jesus’ purpose in not individual, it is universal. It is not about our specific moral misconduct. It is about the consequences of any action that

  •  creates distance in our relationship with God/Jesus/Spirit (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner)
  •  contributes to alienation and darkness or (Gaventa and Petersen; Harrelson;
  •  the world’s collective brokenness (Boring; Gaventa and Petersen; Harrelson).

So, this is not about me, or you, or even us. This is about everyone, the entire world, all the cosmos.

Secondly, the conversation between Jesus and John’s two disciples is simple. And not so much so. Jesus asks “What are you looking for?” But, because this is a bible story and because Jesus is asking a question, we know Jesus does not think these two strangers have lost their keys or its 1st century like thing. Jesus is inviting them to share from the depths of their hearts

  •  what are they seeking (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner)
  •  what they are longing for most hope for (Lose) and
  •  what motivates them (West).

The disciples’ answer is another question “Where are you staying?” Now, it is not unusual for a teacher to answer a student’s or follower’s question with a question. It is unusual the other way around. So, we know something is up which is that ‘staying’ is not reference to Jesus’ Inn number. What they want to know is where Jesus abides. (Clavier; Gaventa and Petersen). Later we will hear Jesus say:

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. (John 15:4.)

and a little later

… Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, … (John 15:5)

and just a bit further

and If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

All of which is about our relationship with Jesus, which reflects Jesus’ relationship with God. The disciples want to know about Jesus’ relationship with God (Boring). It also is their way of saying “We want to stay with you.” which really means “We want to follow you (Lose).” “We want to be your disciples.” There are also implications that they are also seeking some stability, some purpose in life (West; Boring).

Jesus’ answer “Come and see.” sounds equally ordinary, but as the question is more than it sounds so is Jesus reply. “Come and see” is an invitation, but an invitation to what (Clavier)? Well, invitations usually have some sort of relationship feature (Lose). Here it is an offer to come to know Jesus through the eyes of faith (Boring).

The structure of the story also teaches us something about Jesus’ invitation to “Come and see.” We know the disciples spend a good deal of the day with Jesus. The next thing that happens is? Well – what does Andrew do? That’s right, He goes and tells his brother, Simon, they have found the messiah. The invitation to come and see Jesus is evangelism (Lose).

And here the story links back to John. John’s witness leads to his disciples becoming Jesus’ disciples (Harrelson). Their story of hearing John’s witness, and moving into Jesus’ presence is not complete until they witness to someone else (Harrelson; Boring). We cannot see it in English, but the form of ‘see’ is a completed past action whose effect continues into the present (Boring). So, just as John’s witness of Jesus’ baptism is not complete until he witnesses to his disciples, and the disciples’ witness is not complete until they witness to someone our witness of their witness, which we experience by reading and hearing scripture, is not complete until we invite someone else to “Come and see.”

A final observation. In the other Gospels, the disciples give up a way of life to follow Jesus. This morning, John’s disciples give up their previous religious commitment as disciples of John to become disciples of Jesus (Boring). Together with the new title of “Lamb of God” this is a reminder for us not to limit God/Jesus/Sprit to our preconceived ideas, and to always be open to new images or metaphors for understanding and experiencing different relationships to the faith community (Boring).

God/Jesus/Spirit does not change; however, the world, the time and space we live in does change (Lewis). This means the nature of our relationships with each other and the universe changes, and so the way others encounter God/Jesus/Spirit will be different, and the way, the language others can receive our witness to our experience of God/Jesus/Spirit changes. Which mean to be open to new expressions of the presence of God is to be faithful to God’s presence right here, right now. It means that you are free to witness, share, your new experience of God/Jesus/Spirit as you dive deep into what in life you are looking for.


References

Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.
Clavier, Anthony. “There Goes a Lamb, Epiphany 2(A).” 15 1 2017. Sermons that Work.
Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 8 1 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 15 1 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 1:29-42. 15 1 2017.
Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 6 9 2015.
Lewis, Karoline. Timely Matters. 15 1 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.
Lose, David. Epiphany 2 A: A Question, Invitation, and Promise. 15 1 2017.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
West, Audrey. Commentary on John 1:2942. 15 1 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

OH! Oh! oh …

I cannot imagine how Peter, James and John feel coming down the mountain. First they witness Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. That’s got to be like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln speaking to … a pick the least likely presidential candidate. Then they actually  hear the voice of God, it speaks to them! and they live!!  And now Jesus tells them they can’t tell anyone; at least not until … can’t tell anyone.

A couple of times I’ve been the bearer of great news that I had to keep to myself. Both involved a family member, neither wanted to go to the particular event, and it was my assignment to get them there. With help I did, and they were over whelmed by the events of the evening. But neither of times comes close to the conflicted sense of exuberant joy and utter frustration the disciples must have coming down the mountain .God is on our side, and we can’t tell anyone! Wow.

Well of course, we know why, we know they don’t yet understand, they don’t even comprehend that Jesus will die. That being so, they don’t know what they think they know, which is more dangerous the Donald Rumsfeld’s observation that what you don’t know that you don’t know is the most dangerous.  It is reminiscent of John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand when Jesus perceives they are about o come and make him king, and Jesus withdraws to the mountain by himself.

There is a time for seasons, there is a time to wait, a time trust, because we may not know what we think we have witnessed.