This fall in adult Sunday School we have looked at what it means to be a Christian in the age in which we live. We’ve talked about what we believe, and how those beliefs compel us to act in the world.
We’ve talked about some hot button issues – misogyny, racism, immigration, poverty, the threat of nationalism, and the erosion of truth in our public discourse. We’ve talked about how we should respond to those issues – not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Christians.
We’ve talked about what it would look like if the words we prayed each Sunday in the Lord’s Prayer came true – if God’s kingdom were indeed established on earth as it is in heaven. We’ve talked about scripture’s repeated insistence that God is on the side of the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed.
Discussions have been lively and sometimes difficult. We are reluctant to admit that perhaps we are the beneficiaries of systemic racism, or that slavery abolished 150 years ago still effects the lives of many people today.
We find it difficult to admit that women and men are still not equal, not just in far off “developing” countries, but in our own. We find it uncomfortable to talk about an economy based on greed, and to examine our own habits of spending and consuming.
We become uneasy talking about how the policies and habits of our nation affect not just ourselves, but the rest of the world.
In other words, when we talk about issues of justice there is usually some tension in the air – not only among ourselves, but within ourselves.
I felt that tension within myself this week as I read the scripture lessons for today.
Before I read them, I had gone to the website, globalrichlist.com. Go there, type in your income, and you will find out where you stand in material wealth compared to the rest of the world.
For example, I found out that I am the world’s 51,263,593rd richest person. That doesn’t sound so impressive, does it?
But then I looked at the next line, and it literally took my breath away to see that I am in the top 0.85 percent of the world’s population when it comes to wealth. I may be part of the 99 percent in this country, but to the rest of the world I am in the one percent.
Those figures were in my mind as I read the Old Testament story of Hannah and her desperate prayer for a son, and then her song of joy when her prayer is answered, and her son, Samuel, is born.
The birth of a son has turned Hannah’s world upside down, changing her deep despair into great joy. But Hannah realizes that this birth has implications far beyond her own life, that through her son God’s work for justice continue.
“The bows of the warrior are broken,” Hannah sings, “but those who stumbled are armed with strength.
“Those who were full have hired themselves out for food, but those who were hungry hunger no more.
“She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away.
“The Lord raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap.”
In other words, in God’s reign, the social power of the world is reversed. The first become last, and the last become first; the mighty and the feeble change lots; the full and the hungry change places; the barren and the fruitful change destinies.
These are hard words to hear from the perspective of the top of the heap of the world’s riches. And I am aware that I am not the only person in this room sitting atop that heap. We all fit into that category.
Now I can hear the protests, because they have been ringing in my own mind all week. We’re not really that wealthy. You have to put things in context.
We debate whether we can really afford to send our children to private schools, we put off taking vacations or take the less expensive trip, we put off projects at the house and try to trim our expenses.
All of that is true, and I do not minimize the difficult financial situations many are facing now.
We also know that it is true that even the richest among us are not without problems. There is brokenness and despair and illness that no amount of money can fix.
But given all of that, we are still among the world’s richest and most privileged inhabitants.
And when I read Hannah’s song, or many other parts of scripture that call for justice, I confess that it makes me squirm a bit.
The purpose here is not to make us feel guilty for the riches and privileges with which we have been blessed. It is to make us recognize that we, all of us, are indeed blessed in so many ways.
But we also need to remember that scripture is clear that with blessing comes responsibility. Time and time again God tells the people of Israel that the blessings they have received are intended to be used to bless the world.
Blessings are to be shared, not hoarded.
In other words, God is heavily invested in the welfare of the weak, the powerless, the poor, the hungry, the marginalized, the oppressed, the barren.
As God’s people, as God’s church, God’s concerns must be our concerns. We must identify with those who wait for God’s reversals. More than that, we must work to help those reversals become a reality.
That means it is fine for us to be concerned about the quality of our children’s education, but we also must be concerned about the quality of education offered in the inner city, or to what I’ve heard school officials euphemistically call “the apartment children” of Sandy Springs, a code word for Hispanic children.
It means that we should be concerned not only about our health care, but about the care of every person in this country, whether they are here legally or not.
It means we should be concerned not just for our own family’s welfare, but for the welfare of the families slowly making their way to this country from Central America, desperate for safety and a better future for their children.
It means we need to be aware of who makes the products we buy and consume, and what impact they have on the environment.
It means we should hold accountable Wall Street executives who, in the words of Jesus, “devour the homes of widows,” instead of bailing them out so that they can add millions to their own coffers.
It means we should take a long, hard look at how much of the earth’s resources we are consuming, and find ways to live more simply.
Scripture makes clear God’s love and concern for the poor, and God’s passion for justice.
That does not mean that God does not love us who are on top of the heap. It does mean we have an extra obligation to work for justice.
As the presiding bishop put it, “We live in the tension between the world as it is, and the dream of God for a healed world.
“The baptized are God’s hands and feet in the world. Our job is to reconcile the world, and it takes all of us, and then some.”