Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Two Competing Paradigms

August 22, 2012 -- Week of Proper 15

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 981)
Psalms 119:145-176 (morning)       128, 129, 130 (evening)
Judges 18:16-31
Acts 8:14-25
John 6:1-15

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Power and money.  These are the idols of our age.  I've said for a while that the biggest threat to our nation is the pattern of concentration of power and wealth into fewer and fewer hands.  It's has been happening under our radar for the past thirty years.  Now unlimited anonymous super PACS can buy even more power and influence for those who already have it.  How dare you imply that they pay more taxes or accept regulation for the common good?  Meanwhile, income for the middle class and poor has been flat or declining for a decade.  But if you whine, the rich and powerful will blame those who try to give voice to the needs of the vast majority.  And I pay twice the percentage of taxes as a multi-millionaire presidential candidate.  It's a system fixed to favor power and money.

Power and money.  These are the idols that establish the house of Dan in our story from Judges.  They found the unsuspecting city of Laish, "living securely, ...quiet and unsuspecting, lacking nothing on earth."  (Judges 18:7)  Along the way to war they came across the home of Micah and his household shrine attended by a Levite priest.  The Danites stole the idol and vestments, they bribed the priest and set off.  When Micah protested, they told him to shut up, "'or else hot-tempered fellows will attack you, and you will lose your life and the lives of your household.'  Then the Danites went on their way.  When Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his home." (18:25-26)  The Danites then proceeded to destroy the "quiet and unsuspecting city" of Laish, rebuilt it and named it Dan, and they set up the idol in the temple sanctuary of Dan. 

A few years ago I heard the story of an Ozark craftsman who built an attractive birdhouse.  It was picked up by a nearby major retailer.  They asked for so many orders that he borrowed to expand his production and hired new workers.  But after a couple of years the retailer had the product reverse-engineered in China, where they could supply it for much less, and the local craftsman was bankrupted, his workers left unemployed.

We have witnesses to another way.  In the Acts of the Apostles we read how Peter and John and the other disciples gave themselves to service, healing and bringing coherence to those who were troubled.  When "a certain man named Simon" saw their power, he was fascinated.  He saw Peter and John lay hands upon people, "and they received the Holy Spirit."  Simon offered the disciples money, trying to buy their power.  The disciples rebuked him strongly.  "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God's gift with money!  You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God." (8:20-21)

The gospel story offers a challenging and competing paradigm to the claims of power and money.  We see Jesus preaching.  There is a large crowd.  They are hungry.  The business assessors do their calculations.  It's impossible.  "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."  (6:7)  Philip notes that there is a boy present who has five barley loaves and two fish.  It doesn't say whether Philip asked or the boy volunteered.  But the boy generously gave them his food.

The little boy was the 1% in that crowd.  He had the food.  He could have kept what was his.  It belonged to him.  He might have decided it wasn't in his self-interest to share or to give it away.  But that depends on how you define self-interest, doesn't it?  The boy offers what he has for the common good.

Jesus has the people sit down.  He give thanks.  In that atmosphere of Jesus -- always an atmosphere of love and compassion -- generosity combined with thanksgiving makes all the difference.  All are fed.  All are satisfied.  And there is abundance left over.

Two competing ways of being in the world: 
     Power and money. 
     Love and compassion expressed in thanksgiving and generosity.

How different might our nation be if we embraced the values of Jesus?


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About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at

Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 9:11 AM, Blogger LL Montgomery said...

Thank you for expressing this. I almost give up when so many Christians believe it is more important to protect the wealth. Even middle class friends feel it is necessary to protect the wealthy. I hear "you can't do that" or "It's not realistic" or "You are an idealist" or "You are a pacifist" like these are all symptoms of some dreaded disease.

At 9:38 AM, Blogger Vaidehi said...

Power and money are false idols, indeed. I have, though, wondered if whether our negative emotions--our lack, jealousies, competitive natures--that fuel our search for power and money are not false idols in themselves. We 'worship' our negative emotions in that we feed them with time, energy, and mental space and lose sight of the Cross. Our salvation, surely, must partially rest on each of us discerning (in the truest Ignatian sense) the ways in which certain contexts elicit these negative emotions in us and turn us away from Love and toward power and fear.

At 6:47 PM, Anonymous MIke Wertz said...

I like Lowell, he is such a dreamer. What would happen if our nation if we embraced the values of Jesus? Well, the Danites would eventually come along and name it Uncle Sam or something like that. They would tempt us with pretty baubles and we would go after them like they were gold and silver.

It is just an old story. God apparently does not want a United Nation of Jesus people. That much seems obvious. God seems to want us to break free of the Danites, each one of us, as we turn to God instead of the very tempting temptations of money and power. Our desire for money and power is our desire to Lord over the earth and others. That puts one in conflict with the Really Real Lord of Lords. If one’s security is based in gold and silver then it is not based it God – or if I am mistaken about that, please feel free to correct me. I think it has something to do with mammon.

And it is an individual choice. That is the only way I think that it works. Persons like Lowell are so important to remind us of that, and to keep the light burning – but he really gets carried away with a United States of Jesus. Who would be President?

Love, MIke

At 8:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd vote for a Buddhist monk as president - one that lived the values of love and compassion. I don't think you need to take the Jesus values idea so literally - Jesus values are those of many who follow a spiritual path and I too hope for Congress, Justice and Presidential candidates that embody those values. We would have a different focus.
My personal challenge is that when you actually do start living the humble, love, and serve life (because you understand the complete humility of our God and that is how you are called to live) you are spit upon, economically challenged by each tiny paycheck, and you receive the brunt of the actual workload and the blame for what isn't organized or set up efficiently (over which you have no control). I think Lowell's example is all too common. That is why I relate to Christ's words and to Lowell;s (no I am not equating them) because they have harsh and true words for the powerful. I pray for one moment of kindness from someone who doesn't have to be kind each day, and usually I am amazed at our cruelty to one another. And I do have much to say but I come home from work so tired that I have to lay down on my yoga mat and sometimes can't move very well for hours. Please think about saying a kind word or giving a kind action to someone who is in a position of powerlessness in this tough world.


At 7:35 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks for the good comments on yesterday's reflection. And Janet, I'm with you. I'd rather have Buddhist monk who practiced love and compassion as a President than a Christian who practiced some of the prejudice, judgment and violence that many Christians promote.

Your comments about your life remind me of the promises of the Beatitudes.



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