the seven deadly sins, vi-vii.

Micah 6:6-14a
6 ‘With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
9 The voice of the Lord cries to the city
(it is sound wisdom to fear your name):
Hear, O tribe and assembly of the city!
10   Can I forget the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked,
and the scant measure that is accursed?
11 Can I tolerate wicked scales
and a bag of dishonest weights?
12 Your wealthy are full of violence;
your inhabitants speak lies,
with tongues of deceit in their mouths.
13 Therefore I have begun to strike you down,
making you desolate because of your sins.
14 You shall eat, but not be satisfied,
and there shall be a gnawing hunger within you ….

Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

Sermon
We’re down to the last two of the traditional seven deadly sins
and Gandhi’s seven societal sins, and we’re covering both today
so we can finish our series and
celebrate the John Duvall Mission Emphasis next week.
If you’ve been keeping track,
you know all we have left of the traditional seven deadly sins
are greed and gluttony,
which have always seemed to me to be pretty much the same thing—
one associated more with stuff, one more with food,
but both having to do with a never being satisfied with what you have,
an ever desperate need for more—for getting more—for consuming more,
and with some corresponding vague implicit undefined unnamed sense
that in some more lies hope or fulfillment.

We’ve been associating the traditional seven deadly sins
with Gandhi’s seven societal sins, and I tied greed
to commerce without morality.
Anyone take issue with me identifying
both sins as sins that undergird our economy?

And we could talk about how that’s manifest
in cutting corners to make more money.
We could talk about commerce without morality
as the logical extreme of deregulation.
We could talk about some of the most successful businesses of all
that do not pay taxes,
which are the cost we all share
for both facilitating and participating in the benefits of our culture, right?
But more and more I’ve been thinking about our economy as one
less about the services offered than the profits made.
Medicine is less about caring for people
than through caring for people making money.
Banking is less about helping people with their money
than through helping people with their money making money.
Insurance so much less about protecting people through unexpected circumstance
than through protecting people making money.
Too cynical? Never not been the case?
I don’t know. Seems to have been part and parcel of business getting bigger.
And if it all seems backwards to me, it’s not just me
because every commercial for every business touts the service
even while bottom-lining the profit.
I think that’s because we all have some sense
that service is supposed to be the focus—the priority.
Not that we don’t make money,
but that it is secondary—a byproduct.
Too idealistic?
Nowhere near as idealistic as claiming the market will regulate business.
Commerce without morality.

As is our custom, we also then consider the insights afforded us
by inverting Gandhi’s sin to a morality without commerce—
which I was thinking about much along the same lines
as the inversion from politics without principles to principles without politics—
the idea that we can passively accept the status quo
and think we honor our principles and priorities.
without factoring in economic realities and justice.
We’ve said it numerous times before:
the single most significant detail
when it comes to determining life expectancy in this country
is a zip code—which is an economic factor.
To think we can advocate for freedom, equal opportunities, and justice
without addressing economic inequalities is naive.

Which brings us to our prophetic text
which comes from the life and words and work of Micah,
an eighth century BCE Judean prophet
very much invested in the lives of ordinary citizens
who lived outside the swamp—the capital city—southwest of Jerusalem.
Micah and his contemporary Isaiah (who lived in Jerusalem) offer us
a “picture of a society where the rich and powerful use their influence
to exploit the vulnerable and to create even greater inequalities
of wealth and influence….
The economic situation of the poor was further aggravated
by [a defense budget] to hold off the threat from foreign empires …”
(Daniel J. Simundson in The New Interpreter’s Bible
The Book of Micah: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections
[Nashville: Abingdon, 1996] 534).
That is, just to be clear, eighth century BCE Judah.

Our text comes from an imagined courtroom scene
in which God is the plaintiff in a covenant lawsuit against God’s people.
Having laid out what all God has done on behalf of the people,
comes the response:
“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?”
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
It’s a progression of liturgical offerings and sacrifices
up to the religious equivalent of a record-setting stock market
and the sacrifice of children to the system.
Of course in the Bible, that’s recognized as absurd.
Not that there aren’t always those few who could afford and would attempt to bribe God,
but that the vast majority would recognize the absurdity.
Yet there’s a meme going around social media you may have seen
that highlights the backwards hopes and fears endemic to our own culture:
we are always three bad months away from homelessness;
we are never three good months away from being a billionaire!
And yet, we consistently protect the unlikely possibility of vast wealth
even as we increase the probability of poverty and homelessness.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

It’s not what you can theoretically do with lots of money if one day you had it.
It’s not symbolic acts in worship.
God names good the everyday life of the people
invested in justice and what’s right and humility.
Again, let me remind you, in case you were wondering,
this is the prophetic word for eighth century BCE Judah.

Affirmed throughout the prophets,
God listens and watches—
hearing and seeing not just the lives of God’s people,
but the various contexts in which those lives unfold.
And God cries out to the city:
Hear, O tribe and assembly of the city!
Can I forget the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked,
and the scant measure that is accursed?
Can I tolerate wicked scales and a bag of dishonest weights?
Your wealthy are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies,
with tongues of deceit in their mouths.
“God cannot forget or tolerate the wickedness that is so prevalent,
particularly in the cheating, stealing and lying that goes on
in the name of commerce” (Simundson, 581).

I am most familiar with the lies told by the tobacco industry,
but who among us truly thinks the fossil fuel industry
is primarily invested in giving us the facts—in what’s best for us?

But the hard word is it’s not just what they are doing—
what big business is doing.
You cannot be a moral person in this or any culture
without careful consideration of your personal, local, and national economies.
Every budget is a highly moral document
and injustice in the marketplace—the wrong priorities in a budget
comprise the sin of a culture
for which all members of the culture bear responsibility.
We tend not to like that.
We want our goodness contingent on us—
not on larger social realities of which we are a part
that create and maintain profound inequities.

Also persistently affirmed throughout the prophets
is God’s response to what God sees and hears.
“Therefore I have begun to strike you down,
making you desolate because of your sins.
You shall eat, but not be satisfied,
and there shall be a gnawing hunger within you ….”
Sometimes called a curse of futility,
who among us thinks that’s something God does to us
and not what we’ve done to ourselves?
A consequence, not a punishment.
Sometimes what we call God responding in judgment is God naming judgement.
We’ll come back to that.

Then there’s gluttony which is what the church has largely turned faith into
when we consider Gandhi’s societal sin of worship without sacrifice.
Let me unpack that.
In the first century CE, someone wrote to the Ephesians in the name of Paul saying,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith,
and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—
not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”
And I get it.
There is the need to acknowledge our limits
and to stress the initiative, power, and will of God for salvation—
especially in our rugged individualistic, privatized
culture-shaped way of looking at the world and so at faith too.
There’s something powerfully and fundamentally true about needing grace.
about admitting upfront, I can’t do this—can’t buy it—acquire it—
arrange it—coordinate it—enable it—facilitate it.

And so we sing, “Jesus paid it all.”
celebrating the uniqueness of Jesus—
who is who we cannot be and who does what we cannot do.
But then that significant, needed affirmation crosses a line
(like when a service becomes profit-driven)
a line in which everything gets turned back on itself in some twisted inversion of itself—
and even worship becomes just a matter of what someone else did for us—
someone else’s commitment—the risk someone else took in their way of being,
not about the commitment expected of us—
that same risk to incarnate that same way of being.

But how is that gluttony? you might well ask.
Jesus paid it all. Jesus forgives it all.
And so what difference does it make what we do and keep doing?
And we get more and more and more and more of the same
even as we affirm transformation—profess transformation—
and never change.
Long before the White House was naming and blaming
and practicing and preaching fake news,
preachers perfected the art of turning hard news that’s good
into cheap news that’s heresy.

Walter Brueggemann in an article called
“The Liturgy of Abundance, The Myth of Scarcity”
identifies the “conflict between the narratives of abundance
and of scarcity” as “the defining problem confronting us …”
(https://www.religion-online.org/article/the-liturgy-of-abundance-the-myth-of-scarcity/).

The world assures us if we worship scarcity,
we won’t have to sacrifice anything.
We’ll just have to buy and hoard everything.
And what we do sacrifice (though the world never tells us this)
is our peace—our well being.
The gospel assures us, asserts Brueggemann, we “can live
according to an ethic whereby we are not driven, controlled, anxious,
frantic or greedy, precisely because we are sufficiently at home
and at peace to care about others as we have been cared for.

But if you are like me, while you read the Bible
you keep looking over at the screen to see how the market is doing.
If you are like me, you read the Bible on a good day,
but you watch Nike ads every day.…

According to the Nike story,
whoever has the most shoes when he dies wins.
The Nike story says there are no gifts to be given
because there’s no giver.
We end up only with whatever we manage to get for ourselves.
This story ends in despair.
It gives us a present tense of anxiety, fear, greed and brutality.
It produces child and wife abuse, indifference to the poor,
the buildup of armaments, divisions between people,
and environmental racism.
It tells us not to care about anyone but ourselves—a
and it is the prevailing creed of American society.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if liberal and conservative church people,
who love to quarrel with each other, came to a common realization
that the real issue confronting us is whether the news of God’s abundance
can be trusted in the face of the story of scarcity?”
Now that, my friends, is a prophetic word by an Old Testament scholar
aimed straight at us.

In conclusion, we invert worship without sacrifice into sacrifice without worship
to see what there is to learn.
My guess is Dad might say I’m reaching again!
But it is David Dark’s idea,
articulated in his book Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious,
that we all worship—all make sacrifices to honor that one value or priority—
that controlling story to which our lives testify.
Yet we resist calling it worship; we resist calling it God.
We resist the idea that spirituality defines us too.
You may remember I mentioned the world asking us to worship scarcity?
Our culture asks us to worship stuff—
not anything in particular—just stuff.
Greed and gluttony are both symptomatic
of such worship—defined by the terrible fear of emptiness.
And fear is what makes those who are small
grasp for anything to make them feel bigger and more.

As we wrap up our Epiphany worship series on these sins,
we remind each other, yes, sin is heading down a way not God’s.
It is a way of fear and anger,
but sin is also the means by which we are invited
(through recognition—confession—repentance)
to intentionally choose to grow ever more into the way of God.

Martin Niemöller, the German pastor who heroically opposed Adolf Hitler,
was a young man when, as part of a delegation of leaders
of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, he met with Hitler in 1933.
Niemöller stood at the back of the room and looked and listened.
He didn’t say anything. When he went home,
his wife asked him what he had learned that day.
Niemöller replied, “I discovered that Herr Hitler is a terribly frightened man”
(https://www.religion-online.org/article/the-liturgy-of-abundance-the-myth-of-scarcity/).
1933.
Who are you going to follow?
Inasmuch as you can, make sure they’re not small and afraid.

Blaise Pascal, French mathematician, physicist, inventor, and writer
in his posthumously published apologetic Pensées wrote:
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness,
[this smallness, right?] proclaim but that there was once
in [human beings] a true happiness,
of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?
This [they try] in vain to fill with everything around [them],
seeking in things that are not there
the help [they] cannot find in those that are,
though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only
with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God”
(Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII(425)).

But don’t listen to Pascal.
Don’t listen to Brueggemann or David Dark.
Don’t listen to me. Don’t listen to the Bible.
Just watch your screens.
Well, watch your screens with your mind turned on as well.
Commercials tell us our lives are empty.
Social media tells us our stories are empty—especially compared to others.
Popular media tells us our time is empty. Watch this inanity—this insanity.
Politics tells us to be afraid of them who want to take from us—
to be afraid if our guns are empty,
economics is too much about telling us to get more and more—
as much as we can to protect ourselves from
empty—empty—empty.

But God says, you were created full—
full of personality—
full of giftedness—
full of joy.
You were created to fill your time not with stuff
and not with stuff to do,
but with music and with stories and with relationships and conversations.
You were created to create.
You were created in the very image of God.
There is a fullness that overflows you enough to baptize all creation,
not an emptiness in need of any kind of filling.

Gospel is not about making the best just within the way it is;
gospel is rejecting the fundamental premise of the way it is
to be opened on another way to completely new and different hopes—
unfathomable without a fundamentally different premise of what is most real.
My friends, you were created full—full—full!

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