Sunday, November 13, 2011

Does God Have Favorites?

Today is the 58th day of Occupy Wall Street, my fifth time to occupy with faith.  Three worship services on Sunday is certainly enough prayer, praise and protest for one day.
The Path Train from Hoboken delivered me to Christopher Street in the West Village which was an easy walk to the Church of the Village: A Progressive United Methodist Church.  “Bishop J” is senior pastor (who had set up several shalom zones when he was Bishop for New Jersey Annual Conference.  It was stewardship Sunday and the economic theme was “lend your heart, invest your soul, maximize your ROI.”  I loved how the worship team performed a Broadway tune—“I’m into Money” complete with tap dancing and showmanship.

The gospel text was the Parable of the Talents and the Separation of the Sheep and Goats (Matt 25:14-30).  District Superintendent St. Clair Samuel preached a very fine radical stewardship message on God’s ownership and our stewardship of has been entrusted to our care.  “What we have is not ours,” the preacher said, quoting Psalm 21).  “God has rights and we have responsibilities….  The question is--are we faithful in service?  Do we hide or do we invest our time, talent and treasure? ... There will be a day of accountability….  We will be audited by the Almighty….  What did you do with what I gave you? …  To whom much is given, much is expected…  If we are faithful with what we have been given, large or small, God will someday say”  “Well done good and faithful servant!”  

I learned from the sermon that Five Talents in Jesus’ day was equal to fifteen years of a laborer’s wages.  That would be over $300,000 in today’s currency.   Not all the servants were given an equal amount, but apparently only what they could handle. And they were held accountable for how they invested it.  Whether we have one, two or five talents, we are expected to invest it wisely and justly.  “Use it or lose it,”  the preacher said.

Since I was heading to Occupy Wall Street after the service, I could not help but judge my neighbors—the big boy bankers and tight-fisted tycoons who seem to conspire to rig the system to keep the 1% permanently rich and the 99% struggling to make ends meet.  It is easy for me to condemn the politicians whose votes can be bought by lobbyists, major contributors, and special interest groups that fund and shape their campaigns, and even outright bribe.   The prophets Amos and Micah certainly judged those who “sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted" (Amos 2:6-7).  

But then I remembered that I’m among the top 5% of the wealthiest people in the world, possessing silver and gold, shoes and sandals, homes and mortgages, a privileged job, and “all the cattle on a thousand hills” (at least metaphorically), compared to the 95% who have not.  Sure, I want to have my 401 (k) Plan invested in socially-responsible retirement funds, but I like my Chase Presidential Plus Card for elite access in boarding planes and enjoying Star Alliance Lounges.

Okay, I don’t want to think about that right now;  Bishop J. wants me to offer a Table Blessing, Benediction, and invite folks to join us at 3:30pm for the OccupyFaith Service on Wall Street.

 My next stop was the Lamb’s Church of the Nazarene in Chinatown where Pastor Gabriel Salguero asked me to stop by on my way to the Financial District and speak to the college mission team they were hosting this weekend.  I arrived at 41 Rivington in time for the church offering and musical postlude.  When it was time to speak to the kids about Communities of Shalom, I shared by own journey from being a college student feeling called to urban ministry, working at the Lamb’s Church in Times Square in the 1970’s, and moving to San Francisco in the 1980’s to plant a church and start a mission for the poor of Haight Ashbury.  And how after decades of doing mercy ministry, relief work, charitable services, evangelism and discipleship for the poor, I finally understood the need for ministries of community organizing, community development, advocacy, doing justice, and peacemaking with the poor.  Mine was an evangelical journey from “Just As I Am” (without one plea) to “Justice I AM” (God calls me). 

I told the students about the six threads of SHALOM by which we re-weave the tattered fabric of communities with both obvious needs and hidden resources.  I shared the SHALOM acrostic of ShalomZone Training:  The S in Shalom is for systemic engagement, structural change and sustainable transformation.  The H in shalom is the focus on health, healing, harmony, wholeness—all that we mean by the big word shalom. The A in Shalom is for Asset Based Community Development (in contrast to Need Based Social Services). The L in Shalom is for Love of God, self and neighbor (and stranger).  The O in Shalom is for “organizing to beat the devil,” as John Wesley said.  And the M in Shalom is for multicultural, multifaith collaboration required to create a shalom zone in a particular community.   See www.communitiesofshalom.org

 Finally, I told them that God had favorites (the list includes: “the poor, maimed, the lame, the blind, the sick and imprisoned, the hungry and homeless, the orphan and widow in their distress; the sojourner and the uninsured); and that world history is a long struggle between the haves and the have-nots, the rich and the poor, the great and the small.  And in the struggle of survival of the fittest, God takes sides. And the side God takes is the side of the underdog, the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, and the socially-disinherited.  In liberation theology we call this “God’s preferential option for the poor.”   I think it was a new concept to most of these college students.  But they listened respectfully and considered all that was said.  And they had their own thoughts and ideas about urban ministry and why they came to NYC to meet the poor.

My time at the Lamb’s was up and it was time to get to Occupy Wall Street for the Multifaith Service.  Rev. David Best joined me for what was my third service of the day, and several faculty and students from Drew University (home base of Communities of Shalom) were in the park as well.

Dr. Tracy West, Professor of Ethics at Drew, was one of the featured speakers. She lifted up the name of Mary, the Prophetess, who proclaimed truth and hope for the woman abused, the immigrant arrested, the working poor without a living wage.  For Mary was inspired and bold enough to proclaim:

 “My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.  
His mercy extends to those who fear him, 
   
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; 
   
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones 
   
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:46-53)

Other leaders of faith communities shared their witness in shouts, prayers, songs, and silent meditation.  Afterward, four us--Rev. David Best (Former Shepherd of the Lamb’s Church and Founder of Towel and Basin Ministries), Dr. Tanya Bennett (Drew University Chaplain), and Harriet Olsen (Deputy General Secretary of the Women’s Division) and I--spent an hour walking through the densely occupied Zuccotti Park, talking to many interesting people about why they chose to be here now.  We all agreed to return on December 4 for OccupyAdvent—a service in the Park to be hosted and led by Communities of Shalom.   Join us!