Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunday Sermon Notes - 2.24.08

James 5:1-6 (TNIV)
1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.
2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire.

You have hoarded wealth in the last days.

4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.

5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence.
You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.
6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.


James has harsh words for these wealthy landowners who are withholding wages from their workers. Families who live day to day are going without food so that these rich farmers can have the most sumptuous foods.

As I began to work on this sermon, I was instantly reminded of a prior post on Blood Bananas. This kind of injustice doesn't go away, it keeps coming back in different forms. When will it end? What are we to do about it?

That's the question that keeps coming back to me: there aren't any rich farmers in our congregation withholding wages nor growing obese on the blood money. So what to do with the text? We don't have any employers doing this evil deed. And I don't know that we have any workers who are having their wages withheld in such gross injustice.

But do we know of anyone who is being oppressed like this?

The text says: The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. Do we hear the cries also?

Shane Claiborne writes:
The truth is that there is a lot of noise out there drowning out quiet voices, and many people have stopped listening to the cries of their neighbors. Lots of folks have put their hands over their ears to drown out the suffering. Institutions have distanced themselves from the disturbing cries. And God has a special ear for their groaning, regardless of who else is listening. It is a beautiful thing when folks in poverty are no longer just a missions project but become genuine friends and family with whom we laugh, cry, dream, and struggle. - Pg 128 Irresistible Revolution

The workers of this Scripture text live in poverty because of the overall empire economics: harvesters can only live day to day because of the wages they are paid. The wages are too low for them to save back any for hard times in the future. Poverty is their only option, no matter how hard they work. And there are millions of families around the world that this is also true of as well.

Beth Shulman researched the over 30 million individuals in America alone who are paid low-wage jobs, the result being that they don't have enough money to save for future hard times. They barely have enough to cover their current costs. And if they work more than one job, then they don't have enough time for those who need it. Which creates other problems.

What do we do if we do hear the cries of the underpaid or the paid withheld?

Shane Claiborne has this to say to Christians who ought to hear the cries:
And yet I am convinced that Jesus came not just to prepare us to die but to teach us how to live. Otherwise, much of Jesus’ wisdom would prove quite unnecessary for the afterlife. After all, how hard could it be to love our enemies in heaven? And the kingdom that Jesus speaks so much about is not just something we hope for after we die, but is something we are to incarnate now. - pg 117

Of course, everyone was forewarned that in this kingdom everything is backward and upside down – the last are first and the first are last, the poor are blessed and the mighty are cast from their thrones. And yet people were attracted to it. They were ready for something different from what the empire had to offer. - pg 118

As the old Franciscan slogan goes, “Preach the gospel always. And when necessary, use words.” Or as our seventy-year-old revolutionary Catholic nun, Sister Margaret puts it, “We are trying to shout the gospel with our lives.” Many spiritual seekers have not been able to hear the words of Christians because the lives of Christians have been making so much horrible noise. It can be hard to hear the gentle whisper of the Spirit amid the noise of Christendom. - pg 127

Maybe it is worth Christians asking whether they are contributing to the persecution of harvesters? Do the products we purchase fuel the abuses of low-wage workers? This is the case with the bananas. Remember Kathy Lee & Wal-mart? Children sewing clothes for pennies while others made hundreds of millions of dollars? This report briefly recounts some of the abuses.

Is it time for Christians, in this global economy, to make sure that our purchases don't fuel the cries of the harvesters? In this day and age we can work harder at tracking down where are money goes when we make a purchase. And in this day of innovation, there are many companies working harder to make products justly.

Isn't that something we could do? Out of love?

Or am I too lazy. Or worse, apathetic...


Anonymous said...

We heard your sermon - we discussed it as we drove from the service - we both were uneasy....some of our fellow parishoners have little choice but to trade with Walmart or other major importers because of their own financial circumstances - even if they now know of the child labor situation -- and then - if we boycott Walmart as a nation - do the children that make $.25 a day then have NO money?

It seems that a non governmental agency could oversee the labor practices and give products a "seal of approval" - like UL or Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval -- that way the consumers could easily determine how/when/who they want to support or who they want to avoid/boycott.

To challenge people to go and change the world is a bit intimidating for most - however if there was better documentation on the mechandise that could easily be understood - then perhaps we could collectively make a difference -

as a sad note - it is too bad that so many people make more money in the transportation and distribution of the merchandise than the ones that originally produced the items -- it is kind of like how cops in schools make more than the teachers.

it is big world - big problems exist - major injustices prevail -

most want to help - but it is too late when the merchandise is on the shelf and source is unidentified.

but do keep educating and challenging

Tim Hallman said...

I was a bit uneasy too.

It is really easy to tell people that Wal-mart has had a hand in promoting injustice; it isn't easy to come up with a good alternative for those of us in the US when it comes to purchasing products made justly.

There are non-profits that monitor these labor issues, I provide a link in my blog to a report by the National Labor Committee of Harvard University.

There are many good people out there trying to expose these evil deeds, hoping that when brought to light, justice in some form will prevail. Which is why I think Christians should begin to care more, for our LORD Jesus Christ is the only One who can bring about prevailing justice. Though our work will be incomplete until his return, I think it is the kind of work that he wants us to stay involved in until he comes to make everything all right.

In the meantime I think that we should put pressure on Wal-mart, we can care more about where the products we buy come from, a little research - if we care - may unveil more than we expected.

This link: provides one example of what one person is trying to do as an alternative.

Since most Christians have paid so little attention to this issue, I think that if we cared a bit more, we'd find others who already cared a lot, others that we could join, and together make more of a difference rather than making no difference.

There is significant evil and injustice in this world - though we can't bring it to an end, we can do something instead of nothing. We know who will bring it to an end, and so we do something in His name.

Thanks for the encouraging comments. Keep it up!

Another World is Possible said...

Hey if you're a fan of Shane Claiborne and his book, then you should really check out the Another World is Possible DVD series. It's a multimedia project by Shane Claiborne and Jamie Moffett (co-founders of the Simple Way) that emerged in response to their belief that things are not right in the world, and that they don't have to stay that way. There are three DVD's, one on war, one on poverty, and one on creation. You can find out more about them at