Third Sunday after Pentecost Lectionary Reflection, Year A
June 29, 2014
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:23
God teaches us about stewardship in both surprising and not so surprising ways. Jesus talked more about the right use of money and about the treatment of the disadvantaged and marginalized than he did anything else. And for God, our worth (or our wages/pay/compensation) is intimately bound with grace, mercy, and salvation. God removes from the economic picture our capacity to earn wages, to merit our own eternal existence, and to “matter” on our terms. In short, it’s not about us at all.
In the United States there has been much heated debate and disagreement over the minimum wage a worker should earn. In fact, there’s significant disparity between the Federal statutory minimum of wage of $7.25 per hour (mandated in 2009) and what is termed a “living wage” whereby a person can actually enjoy a basic standard of living on what he or she earns. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) recently posited that the minimum wage should be $22 if it had indeed kept pace with worker productivity. Others claim that raising the minimum wage would cost jobs and adversely affect the overall economy. Whatever stance one takes in the debate, it is safe to say that human sinfulness and greed play a major role in the issue.
So what does this have to do with Paul, with God’s economy, and with preaching and teaching this week? Frankly, quite a lot; and it’s also the stuff that makes those who proclaim and teach more than a little nervous. On the one hand it’s always risky to touch on economics and justice in the church, because of our age-old bondage to sin and the will. We humans have a tough time seeing beyond our own self-interests to the in-breaking of God’s reign and desire for good for all God’s children. We make judgments. We assign values. We protect our own turf. We have a remarkable capacity to justify our sinful actions and desires.
On the other hand, it’s even more risky NOT to address the divine perspective on grace, sanctification, and what it means to realign one’s life as a slave to God. There is a seemingly fantastic freedom that such utter dependence and trust brings, in opposition to the slavery to fear, sin, death, and navel-gazing that is the unfortunate alternative dressed up in socially-acceptable clothing. Yes, dear preacher and teacher, the contrast is pretty stark when one confronts it head-on. But will it preach?
Well, if it doesn’t preach we are all in real trouble. This is the counter-cultural, radical nature of the gospel message. This is where discipleship rubber hits reality road. In presenting this alternative way of being — one that is life-giving, process-oriented, and dominant-culture-challenging — we truly offer life in the midst of the death humans so furiously deny. To borrow a phrase from this week’s gospel lesson, this is a cup of cool water to those little ones. Or, to use words from Jeremiah, this is a prophecy of peace, a view of life that ultimately offers to all God’s abundant promises and reward. And that, dear friends, is truly good news–a vision of hope that exposes the lies of the world, stanches the insidious creep of evil, and releases real life for all people. Yes, in God’s economy we’re the priceless recipients of an eternal living wage.
Consider using a “living wage” pay stub for a visual. Think of the basic principles of discipleship that Jesus teaches in the Bible: love of God (faithful worship, prayer, study of scripture and its application), love of neighbor (relationships, justice, serving others), and generosity (faithful and just use of resources and sharing of those resources), plus any others you might identify. Invite worshipers to consider their “worth” and “performance” based on those categories as if they were performing an evaluation or conducting a hiring interview. Where would they rank on the wage scale based on these categories? Would they even earn the US mandated living wage? If forced to rely on tips and the minimum tip wage, could they survive? Thankfully, God’s economy doesn’t work that way, and God grants an eternal living wage to God’s beloved people. If you make a visual “living wage” pay stub, use one side to craft the discipleship wage, and on the other side make it clear that the “eternal living wage” reflects God’s view of us–thanks be to God! This visual would also work for the parable of the workers who are hired later because in God’s economy there is no such thing as “too late” to be hired.
What does it mean to be a prophet of peace? This is the kind of prophet the LORD sends according to Jeremiah (28-5-9). Note that you may need to unpack the context of these verses somewhat. There are plenty of people who come in God’s name singing doom and gloom, but the prophet who proclaims peace and works for it is truly sent by the LORD. What does that look like? Are there prophets of peace in your own context? Do you see more folks proclaiming gloom and doom?
This also might be a good time to explore the historic “peace churches”–Mennonite, Brethren, Society of Friends, along with others who have groups that promote a witness of peace. What do you know about their history, their theology, and their current stances on world affairs? What other examples of prophets of peace can you identify?
Finally, explore with them how they might promote peace in their homes, schools, communities, congregations, and in this world.
There are a couple of good ways to approach time with children today. The first way is to use the verses from Psalm 89 and particularly the writer’s declaration that he will “sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.”
This is a good time to sing “Jesus Loves Me” and reflect on the fact that the song is a powerfully simple statement of faith about God’s love and care. When we sing this song, we are also proclaiming God’s faithfulness to us and singing about God’s steadfast love and care. For more information about the history of the song, click here.
Another approach to time with children this week is to focus on the three short verses assigned from Matthew’s gospel (10:40-42). What does it mean to welcome others in Jesus’ name? Ask children how guests are welcomed in their congregation? Do you give out welcome packets, a welcome gift, or have a welcome station? Use the cup of cold water as an example. We often take for granted the power of water and its life-giving properties when we’re thirsty. Jesus talks a lot about water in this way. He was even the recipient of the gift of water when he was thirsty. If you have a tin cup or tin dipper, bring it as a visual. Maybe you can remember drawing water from a well or pumping water. This might be a time to kick off a “well project” for friends in a developing nation. If your denomination has folks working on water issues, consider inviting them to Skype with your children’s group or to send a letter and photos. Maybe the rest of your summer children’s offering or your congregation’s special offerings could go toward a well project as a strong reminder of basic welcome in Jesus’ name.