Sermon Topics I Haven’t Seen and Other Stories about my Mother.

By Felix Bearden (Abuelo)

When I thought I was an adult, my mother and dad were having a discussion about the politics of the day. I, at the time, thought I was a Republican and was extolling the virtues of the presidential candidate, whoever he was, and dad was telling me that he was voting Democratic because his dad had been a Democrat, and his granddad was a democrat and after all Lincoln was a Republican and responsible for the poverty that existed in the South. Even though he did not live during reconstruction, he was well indoctrinated by his father whose fathers were in the “Northern Invasion of the South” as some call the Civil War.

 My mother revealed in the discussion that she always went with my dad so she could “cancel out his vote”. Mother would be considered fundamentalist by most. As I get older I realize that she lived her life and all of her decisions were based on scripture. Abuelo just discovered Ecclesiastes 10:2, "The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left". You don’t suppose that this scripture influenced my mother’s voting habits.

During the Cuban missile crisis I was working at a site that was the precursor to the installation in Cheyene mountain that was part of our defence to a nuclear attack. My young and beautiful wife and beautiful daughter would be in danger should an attack be launched because of the information that was fed into that site. Personnel on duty had ways of notifying our families should a launch be launched. The safest place to be was in the mountains west of our installation and many families had contingency plans should it be necessary to evacuate. My mother, after learning of our plans, approved. Her scriptural basis was Micah 4:1 NIV "In the last days the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and peoples will stream to it.", or in mothers words, “In the last days, head for the hills”.

 As a result of my mother’s, sometime rigid, interpretation of the scripture, but yet unending faith that they contained truth and applicable advice in today’s world, I was inspired to study the scriptures and try to apply them to today’s problems. I have come to question some of the beliefs of the existing Christian institutions. I felt It may be interesting to challenge and defend some of our traditional beliefs in today’s environment. This article concerns the disuse and misuse of our Bible and our Judeo-Christian heritage. It provides a different look, mine, at scriptures that have been used to promote philosophies, and particularly secular justification of activities, usually with government tax dollars, that may not been intended, and some scriptures that tend to be ignored for reasons of which I am unclear but think contain advice that our institutions have decided to ignore.
Issues discussed will include the following topics (I will try to keep this list up to date):
  • Freedom Psalms 119:45, 2 Corinthians 3:17,
  • Sharing Wealth Acts 4:32-5:10,
  • Taxation Matthew 22:21,
  • Employer Payroll Responsibilities Matthew 20:1-16,
  • Profit Luke 19:12-26

Note that the opinions stated herein are those of the author. For full disclosure — Abuelo is more of a liberal (using the dictionary definition of the word):

Not bound by orthodox tenets or established forms in political or religious philosophy; independent in opinion; not conservative; friendly to great freedom in the constitution or administration of government; having tendency toward democratic or republican, as distinguished from monarchical or aristocratic, forms; as, liberal thinkers; liberal Christians; the Liberal party.


than a conservative.


Freedom

Psalms 119:45 “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.” We tend to forget that freedom has played an important part in the development of our tradition and faith. Today many are willing to exchange that freedom (their income, their control, …) for a (possibly false) guarantee of security provided by an institution (the government, church, …). The holidays Chanukah, the eight-day festival of light that begins on the eve of Kislev 25 — celebrates a victory over the Seleucids. where a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G-d. Many forget the numerous old testament stories of battles for freedom. Not to mention the Christians leaving Europe for the promise of freedom from oppression in the new world. The only promise at the time was the freedom to work and reap the benefits of the new world.


Sharing Wealth

A far back as I can remember, my mother taught me that I should share. Not that we had much in those days. We lived in a two room log cabin with a kitchen that was about five feet wide and maybe 10 feet long. And I barely remember the “Ice Box” which was exactly that, A wooden box that had a compartment on the top that held the ice and the food was kept below. There was a kitchen sink directly across from the ice box where my mother washed the dishes and my brother or sister dried them. There was no drain to leave them on to dry. But I do, barely, remember being told to share my toys with my cousins because I was blessed to have them.

We were always sharing our food with one or more of my uncles because we had it and they didn’t. Looking back, I’m not sure why because one of our most frequent guests was a postman. My mother worked in a school lunch-room to pay for my sister’s and brother’s lunches. From that background, even though I thought I knew what morality was, and what virtue was, I did not have a clear understanding of its application in my own life. Now I think I have it right. Morality is the obedience to God’s natural laws mainly as embodied in the ten commandments. Virtue is when you give of your self with no expectation of a return. An example of virtue is the parable of the “Good Samaritan” and “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend”. I believe that the line between the virtue and morality has been blurred.

There was the time, and I remember the tail end of it, when we as Christians bore the responsibility of those who were facing difficulty. We did not depend on city, state and federal agencies to do it. In fact, we did not respect those of our family who took money from the government that was not earned. Now, we expect the government to take care of those problems for us. In the process, we have even invoked what many believe to be a Christian tenant to take from the haves and give to the have-nots. We have institutionalized, and made impersonal, one of our very personal Christian virtues.

One of the philosophies of politicians of all stripes, but particularly from the left, is the idea “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” If you have little, or nothing, this sounds very attractive. For those of us who have plenty, and have been taught that we should share, this is not all that offensive and in keeping with the teaching of our church. Unfortunately, many have seized on this to justify programs to minister to the poor, but with other peoples money. To be clear, this concept did not originate with Karl Marx but rather from our own new testament. From Acts 2: 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Note: I understand the concept was first promulgated with Confusius. (Contribution of a citation would be helpful.) Does the scriptures mean that we should have Christian Communes, and, as during the time of Acts, a government, like, at that time, the apostles, to distribute the wealth? Firstly, if you read the rest of the story about Ananias and Sapphira, you will find that that commune failed. Sorry, I really can’t believe a forgiving God would take the lives of those two Christians. Otherwise we wouldn’t have many of our members who pledged financial support to the church left. And after all, the punishment was because Ananias and Sapphira lied to God, not because they withheld money from the commune. Secondly, assuming that God is distributing the wealth, then, in today’s capitalistic economic system, who is to say that the investors are not getting what they need. The question is now obvious, is it virtuous for us to take money by force in the form of taxes, and give it to others, even though they may need it? In fact, is it even moral? (Exodus 20:15). I know, some will point to Matthew 22:21 ”Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” But read that scripture carefully. Government, Caesar, provides certain services to its citizens. We owe for that and should pay for it. However, what about the so-called services that are contrary to God’s law? What about taking, then, giving one persons wealth to another? Is that not a violation of "Thou shalt not steal"?


Employer’s Responsibility to Employees

We spend a lot of effort lobbying for “more pay and benefits” for our workers. We are very sensitive to “equality in the workplace” and “equal pay for equal work”. Our news media will crucify, at least punish, employers who they see as paying their employees too little or inequitably. One case comes to mind — Cathy Lee — who was criticized, ridiculed, and pretty much driven from the entertainment scene by “fair-minded” media and her associates because she paid employees in another country less than what they would have been paid in the U.S. Never mind that these employees would have had no job at all except for producing the clothing at less than “minimum wages”.  Better they should starve than to accept wages lower than what a number of “fair-minded” critics determined they should be paid.

And now, when we have an economic crisis, we expect our government to “bail out” employers, who have failed to properly manage their resources, including their labour costs. And what do you suppose would happen if a wise employer asked the employees to take a pay-cut to enable them to survive bad economic times? Do you suppose managers, who, after all were responsible for the bad decisions, would offer to lead by volunteering to take the initial cuts in pay. (Note, I am reminded that Clark Howard reported on a toll that said employees would take a 10% cut if they could save the jobs of their co-workers.  And, I worked for a company that asked the professional staff to take a 30% cut to save the company and the staff agreed.)

No, better that the taxpayer gets stuck with the bill or the company goes down un-employeeing large numbers of people than for them to give up their union promised benefits and corporate jets. When was the last time you heard a sermon on Matthew 20:1-16? I remember having attended a study of the scripture that in hindsight only emphasized the 1st and the 16th verses. Granted, verse 16, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last”, does tell us what to expect in God’s Kingdom. However, verse 1 points the way to understanding another lesson found in 13-15, especially 15 “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?” Another lesson is the sanctity of the contract. Verse 13 “… I’m not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?


Acceptable Profit Margin

A lot has been made of the record profits Exxon-Mobile realized of late, $22,570 million on $254,926 million revenues during the first half of the 2008. Because this was a record amount for Exxon-Mobile during a time of high gasoline prices, the implication was that the cruel “Oil Companies”, granted special privileges by the administration, was gouging its customers. But let’s put it in perspective. The profit on the $254,925 million was 9%. Considerably less than the 29% that Microsoft realized on $60,429 million in 2008. Looking at the parable of the minas we discover that Jesus may have given us a clue in Luke 19:12-26. Note that the master gave each of 10 servants a mina (a mina was equal to about 100 days pay). The first returned 11, the second 6, and the third 1. The profit - the first had 1000%, the second 500% were acceptable. However the master expected some profit on the money he left to be “put to work” because the servant that returned only the one he was given initially was rewarded with “you wicked servant”. Matthew 25:14-30 is a telling of the parable using talents (which equals about 60 minas). In this telling the profit gained by the servants never exceeded 100%, only 10 times the amount that Exxon-Mobile realized. In a capitalist economy, the profit represents the increase of wealth of the economy.