Thursday, November 12, 2015

No More Turning Away


On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say
Which we won't understand
Don't accept that what's happening
Is just a case of others' suffering
Or you'll find that you're joining in
The turning away"

This is, of course the opening stanza to Pink Floyd’s, On the Turning Away, written by David Gilmore. Interestingly these words were written in the mid-1980’s, a time that researchers say began a trend toward income inequality that has now become greater than at any other time in our nation’s history.

You can blame whomever you want for that, but the reality is – according to a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research – the top .01% of income earners control 22% of our nation’s wealth. Now, I’m no economist, and I’m certainly not a politician. I’m also aware that figures can be manipulated to work for each side of an argument.

And yet we live in a time where we argue over when and how to feed children because their nutrition levels are impacting their educational opportunities. We live in a state that generates tremendous wealth and opportunity and yet has an increasing level of food insecurity. That is something I think we can all agree is just wrong.

It's a sin that somehow
Light is changing to shadow
And casting its shroud
Over all we have known
Unaware how the ranks have grown
Driven on by a heart of stone
We could find that we're all alone
In the dream of the proud

And yet, we are not alone. That is abundantly clear in the texts that we have received today. The story of Boaz and Ruth is a tender story of love and fidelity between Ruth and Naomi – then further still between Boaz and Ruth. It’s interesting that God is silent in this book. Not only that, but the one who demonstrates the character of God is someone who is not bound by the covenant God made with Abraham and Sarah.

Ruth was a Moabite, and her loyalty to her mother-in-law is what won her the right to glean in Boaz’s field. Boaz was moved by her “hesed” – her loyalty and undeserved compassion – and he treated her with the same. Ruth, acting on Naomi’s intuition, went to Boaz at night so that no one would know and neither would be at risk for rejection.

I’ll spare you the discomfort of exploring the intimacies that followed, but the good news is that the child of Boaz and Ruth brought hope and restoration that eventually impacted the whole of Israel and Judah. In fact, you could even argue that the kindness and loyalty of a Moabite woman eventually impacted the whole of creation through Jesus of Nazareth, born in the city of David.

Wealth and poverty had a conversation on the threshing floor – the place where wheat is separated from chaff – and compassion was born. Sometimes finding the space for that conversation can be the hardest part. When the conclusions are drawn about need, or the value of a person, or anything else before the conversation begins, there is no conversation.

Yet there are times when silence speaks loudest. There are times when the space between hearing about a problem and realizing that we are not sure what to do about it can be very fertile ground – even if it only creates a feeling of compassion that opens our hearts to the concerns of others.

Of course compassion without action does little to change the world, let alone to restore and transform our lives. I think that is why Jesus condemned the “scribes” in our reading today. Truly the whole passage was not so much about wealth and poverty as it was about a temple system that didn’t include compassion. And because of that, the ideas of abundance and poverty were flipped.

Did you notice it? The wealthy gave out of their abundance and she gave out of her poverty, and yet her gift was the greater. Truly this passage is not about wealth or generosity. It is about fidelity and trust. Jesus did not say that the wealthy donors were stingy. He just said that they gave out of their abundance. The widow gave all that she had. She put her trust in God alone.

And so, by comparison, the large sums of wealthy donors and the demonstrative prayers of the scribes were not about glorifying God. Essentially these offerings turned them away from God’s active presence of grace and mercy. Certainly they would not have seen the abundance of value in the widow’s offering. It makes me wonder – do we?

Do we listen to the silent chorus of those that live by God’s grace alone? Do we truly understand that we are equally dependent on God’s grace? I think we do – most of the time.

I see it in the conversations of care and concern that pass between you. I’ve seen it in the consecration of our commitments to support our mutual ministry in this place. I’ve seen it in the Session and their increased commitment to local and global mission as reflected in our proposed budget for 2016.

We are still searching, still discerning what God is doing and will do through us in the years to come. Our answer won’t be found in the middle of threshing the wheat, but it might be found on the threshing floor in the relationships God gives us. It might be found by listening to those whose views are defined by a dependence on God’s grace, and who have otherwise been silenced with indifference.

That song – On The Turning Away – does not end with the sin of indifference. Mr. Gilmore also wrote about the strange hope found in connecting compassionately with others.

No more turning away
From the weak and the weary
No more turning away
From the coldness inside
Just a world that we all must share
It's not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream that there'll be
No more turning away?

I suppose if David Gilmore can dream that we’ll stop turning away from each other amidst the excesses of the 1980’s, I can dream that we’ll stop turning away in the inequality of 2015. And while I would doubt that any our members are .01%ers, we are all people blessed with an abundance of grace.

My hope and my prayer is that we can find our place in the story of faith that is unfolding before us by looking and listening for those who have been silent. I pray that God will continue to move us from generosity to compassion. And I pray that we can continue to develop relationships in the community that will bear forth hope and restoration. In all of this, we must remember that it must be done to the glory of God. In all of our relationships, we must demonstrate the grace and mercy that we have received.

Otherwise, we may find that what we think of as abundant is truly impoverished, and what we see as impoverished is abundantly valuable in the eyes of God.

May this God, the One in whom we place our trust add understanding, give you eyes to see and ears to hear with compassion, and may you be transformed by it today. Amen.
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