LOOK BUSY––JESUS IS COMING!
Rev. Dr. Joyce Antila Phipps
Old First Church
August 11, 2019
Texts: Wisdom of Solomon 6:1-7; Luke 12:32-40
I had to laugh. On the pastor’s wall was a bumper sticker with the words, “Look busy––Jesus is coming.” Where on earth did you get that?” I asked. “Don’t you think that these words reflect what is so often wrong with the church?” he responded. As I thought about it, how important it is for us as the church to have activities, primarily to show the world––and ourselves ––that our church is not dead, I realized there was more than a germ of truth in his statement.
The bumper sticker is a parody, of course, but it reflects a truth about our lives. Busyness is the hallmark of our gener-ation. We are all busy. In fact, we are often so busy that we do not have time to pull back, sit down, and reflect. Summer used to be the time to do that, but now we even have the term “working vacation.” It’s as if no one can take any time off any-more because time off, relaxation, or reflection are not impor-tant. It is my guess that they are not considered important because time off and reflection do not produce what our society considers most important––economic value.
Friday night as I was trying to decide what part of my study to tackle and organize. No surprise to any of you, I am sure––it is a mess––I caught a snippet of David Brancacco’s interview with Beth Shulman whose book, The Betrayal of Work addresses the real questions about work and poverty in America. She and many other writers have pointed out the growing income gap in the United States, which is really the gap about what we preach and what we practice. If we really be-lieved in family values, then why is the United States the only first world country without a real family leave policy? Why do most of our workers still have to choose between taking care of children or sick relatives and getting a paycheck? Why do we have abysmal child care for low income workers?
The answer is, of course, that as a society we really don’t care about much more than bottom lines for corporations. You and I care. Most working Americans care, but so many people in politics are beholden to corporate dollars that they push aside these kinds of concerns. Why else would so many members of Congress not have looked at these issues on a broader scale rather than simply posturing for the media?
In 1896, Mark Hanna, the man who created the modern political campaign, said, “All questions in a democracy are questions of money,” as he established a corporate campaign system that brought William McKinley more than $16 million against the populist William Jennings Bryan who lost in a finan-cial landslide with his measly $600,000 as well as a political one.
So in 1907 under Teddy Roosevelt’s prodding, Congress passed the Tillman Act, prohibiting direct––note the word direct––corporate contributions to political campaigns. Expanded to include labor unions in 1946, this monumental legislation has been cracked wide open by corporations claiming that such legislation restricted their “free speech rights,” until this past spring, any such ban was virtually gutted in the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision, Federal Elections Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, permitting so-called issue ads up to election day.
But this is not a sermon about corporate influence in America. I want to focus on how we as individuals and as a church have swallowed hook, line, and sinker what I will call for lack of a better term, the Protestant work ethic approach toward religion. Look busy, Jesus is coming.
Max Weber defined the term in his Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in 1905. Simply put, released from the burden of the Roman Church hierarchy and its disdain of worldly work and buttressed by Calvin’s theology that God rewarded those in this world who were predestined to be rewarded in the next, Protestants were free to show through the benefits of work that they were indeed predestined to be rewarded in eternity and developed the entrepreneurial spirit in response. Look busy, Jesus is coming.
The writer of this morning’s Gospel reading tells us that Jesus warns us to be alert for we do not know the hour when the Master returns. How is it that we are to be alert for the kingdom, for the realm of God? What oil do we use to light our lamps? We should use the oil of faith and the oil of under-standing, of mercy and justice. The reading from Wisdom this morning is a warning to those who rule; we claim to rule in a democracy so it serves as a warning to us. If we do not rule rightly making our decisions in accordance with God’s law, we will reap the whirlwind. This is more than merely looking busy. It means reflecting on justice and mercy in the critical context of Scripture not in the context of how we want to make and spend money.
We in this congregation are not among the one percent of Americans who make more money than the bottom fifty percent put together. But, I daresay most of us are somewhere in be-tween. Most of us have worked hard during our lives struggling to make ends meet. Scripture makes real demands on us and often those demands are really difficult to meet. It’s not just looking busy; it’s living a life of preaching the gospel, using words when necessary as Francis of Assisi said.
Even when we think about the church, a corporate body, we also need to consider ourselves individually. As I said before, busyness invades our lives. Taking the time to reflect, to sit back and think is important to us especially as a people who confess Christ as Lord.
If we look at the Gospels, like us, although obviously not in the same way, Jesus found himself pressed by the demands of others. He, too, needed to pull back, find time for solitude. In order to be alert, to be more prepared, we, too, must find that time for solitude so we can be truly ready when called upon to serve.
As a church, a community of faith, what is it that we are required to do? As we begin thinking about the fall even in the midst of summer, we need to take this time to reflect, to think, to pray about how we can be the face of Christ in the world––right here in Middletown.
Think about and reflect on our community; it is not just bound by these four walls but includes the world outside. How can we be a church without walls, a fully welcoming community to the wider community that includes all kinds of people? Jesus the Master has a habit of showing up when we least expect it.
Let us pray: Grace-giving God of welcome, you come into our lives when we least expect you. Light our lamps with faith and expectation for your coming in the midst of our lives. May we be ready for the surprise. Amen.