Sermon March 7 - Jesus warned greed comes in many forms, e.g. things we can afford but shouldn't buy

Fred Craddock, the late, great Disciples of Christ preacher,

told a story. True story. After a sermon one morning, an

elderly woman approached him. She wanted to tell him

about the new home she was buying. When she mentioned

the name of the neighborhood, Fred said, “Hmmm, nice

house, I’d bet.” Oh yes, she said, proudly telling him it cost

1.4 million dollars. It was, she said, to be a dream home

for she and her husband but he died a few months ago and

she was moving into the house all alone. Fred said, “You are

moving into a 1.4 million-dollar house to live there alone?

Well, she said, my husband made a lot of money, you know.

Fred Craddock looked at her and said, “It doesn’t matter

how much money you have, you can’t afford that house.” Of

course I can, the elderly widow said. Rev. Craddock said,

I don’t mean economically. I’m talking about being a

Christian. A trophy house at the end of your life? Is that

how you want to be remembered? There are, he said,

some things you can afford that you shouldn’t buy.


You could hear the tables of the money changers being

turned over in the Temple.


Twenty-nine years ago this month, Pat and our children Peter and

Meghan and I were in Americus, Georgia just up the road

from Plains. We were training for an assignment as directors

of the Habitat for Humanity program in Nicaragua. On

Sunday mornings we drove over to Plains to hear the lessons

taught by their famous Sunday school teacher, Jimmy Carter.

Each morning, Carter would invite the church full of

visitors to say where they were from. Visitors were there

from several states. The sanctuary packed. One man raised

his hand and proudly announced he and his wife were from

New York, that they had a summer home there and a winter

home in Florida and a vacation home in Steamboat and were

touring the country in their motor home. I thought to myself,

“Does he know he’s talking to Jimmy Carter?” Carter smiled

that Jimmy Carter smile and said, “How nice that you have

four homes to choose from when so many people in our

country don’t even have one.”


You could hear the tables of the money changers being

turned over in the Temple.


If preached today, with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in

the other, as the theologian Karl Barth taught it should be, the

verses read this morning might sound like this. Good Friday was

near when Jesus went to Walmart or any one of the other “stuff

stores” whose shelves are lined with things that would soon cause

landfills to overflow with that which does not biodegrade for

decades and there he found people selling and buying things they

can afford but shouldn’t be buying, made in China or elsewhere

by slave labor and he overturned the shelves and the racks

and turned over the electronic cashier stations that replaced workers

who needed the job. He made a whip of cords and drove them all out

of the store and told those who were buying and selling, “Take these

things out of here and stop making the marketplace into a tool

of injustice for God’s people, and all of God’s creation.”


This story finds a place in all four of the Gospels; Mark,

Matthew, Luke and John. In the synoptics, i.e. Mark,

Matthew and Luke were the first to be written and in them,

the story comes during the week before the Crucifixion.

John is the last of the Gospels to be written and John

inserts this story very early in Jesus’s ministry. Another

interesting difference is that in Mark, Matthew and Luke,

Jesus overturns the tables and drives the money changers

out of the temple.


In John, Jesus overturns the tables and then chases

the moneychangers from the temple with a whip of cords.

Many read the four versions and see it as one story

told four ways. I’m not so sure. Given that John is the last

to tell the story, I’m reminded of those nights when my

brothers and I were in our downstairs bedrooms and my

Dad, after asking us 3 times to be quiet, said, “Do I have

to come down there?” Maybe, after clearing the temple

three times, Jesus has had enough and the fourth time

felt the need “to come down there” and use a whip of cords

to make his point. You might say Jesus cracked the whip


What’s his point? If you were teaching this story in the

second century soon after John wrote his Gospel, you’d

probably understand it as a way of distinguishing and

separating the Jesus followers from the Jews. If we want the

story to be relevant to our times, with the Bible in one hand

and the newspaper in the other, the narrative is about Jesus

overturning an unjust economic system, the kind of unethical

consumerism Jesus warned against. “Take care,” Jesus warned,

“Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does

not consist in the abundance of possessions.”


One kind of greed is buying thing we don’t need knowing that

the low price is a result of employers paying less than livable

wages even while selling products with low labor costs

attributable to workers sentenced to slave labor

camps in China and other nations. That is what the Bible

calls greed


In the 12th chapter of Luke he told them a parable: “The land

of

a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to

himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store

my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down

my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all

my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul,

you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat,

drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This

very night your life is being demanded of you. And the

things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So, it is

with those who store up treasures for themselves but are

not rich toward God.”


I tell those stories this morning to ask you to do

two specific things during Lent. One…take a stroll

through your home, the kitchen, the family room, your closet.

Pick out 4-5 items. Note where they were manufactured.

I tried this myself as I wrote this sermon. The first item I

picked up was a coaster. MADE in China. The plaid shirt

I was wearing had a “Dakota Grizzly” label that said,

“Made in China” as was my beard trimmer, as was my old

west décor living room lamp, the coffee pot that brewed

my morning cup of coffee and the toaster that toasted a

piece of bread for breakfast. The frame on my desk,

holding the photo of my grandchildren, yep, Made in

China. Same with the vacuum cleaner, television, and

the Old Maid deck of cards Opi and grandma play with as

well as the chess board Rhyland and I play on.


Finally, I see it. “Made in the USA.” It’s the Bose radio on

which I was listening to NPR, where I learned about a book

entitled “Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the

Hidden Cost of America’s Cheap Good” by Amelia Pang.

Of course, it’s not only China. Whether it is clothing or

electronics or even chocolate, a little research discloses

slave labor, child exploitation, hazardous use pesticides,

and other immoral practices throughout the world, all in

the name of free trade. Lest we think it’s only “them

fuuriners” given the black market here, where there are an

estimated 100,000 children trapped in the US sex trade.

Inmates in some US prisons do grueling, sometimes

dangerous work for nickels and dimes, while corporations

rack up billions of dollars in profit off the cheap prison labor.”


But, I digress. That’s a subject for a different sermon. Back

to China from where most of the consumer goods we have

in our homes were manufactured and where Ms. Pang

documents the existence of hundreds of forced labor camps,

producing billions of dollars worth of goods serving a global

consumer demand for budget prices and the latest trends.

The middle men are many of the best-known corporations

from which we buy cheap goods, made cheap by the fact that

those who produce them are slaves. It is a market that fuels the

enslavement of millions while contributing to China’s

colossal economy, replacing American workers and filling

American landfills.


Workers in these labor camps are largely political

prisoners and racial and religious minorities whom the

Chinese government is trying to eradicate. They are

worked 15-18 hours a day, sometimes 24 hours to meet

consumer demand in the US and elsewhere. They are

tortured and beaten if they fail to meet burdensome quotas. A

particular target are the Uyghurs (Wee-gers), a Muslim

ethnic minority. The Chinese Communist Party not only

forces them into labor camps but it uses forced sterilizations

and abortions in an effort to wipe out the entire ethnicity.


The NY Times reports, “China’s roundup of Muslims in

internment camps — which a Pentagon official

called concentration camps — appears to be the largest such

internment of people on the basis of religion since the

collection of Jews for the Holocaust.” And you and I make it

possible by the choices we make in the stores in which we shop.


Major US corporations have lobbied to continue importing

goods made in these camps and, along with the Chinese,

have developed schemes to avoid inspections. Pang says

these US businesses include Walmart, Kmart, Amazon, Nike,

Apple, Target and others. Pang says the Chinese and the

international corporations doing business with them have

too much at stake and will not be the catalyst for change. If we are

buying, they are selling. She says the only hope is consumer

education and boycotts.


And so, it is that during Lent, I ask first that you to educate

yourself and then to boycott Chinese goods. Read Amelia

Pang’s book or do other research on how the items we all

have in our homes are made and the huge price paid by

these slave laborers and the world-wide environmental

expense. Second, give up all “Made in China” purchases, not

for the 40 days of Lent, but start with just one week.


I hope you will commit to join Pat and me in giving it a

try. Journal about your experience and we will talk among

ourselves about how difficult it is to go one week without

China. It may mean making some tough choices between

what we need and what we want, but if we can see the faces

of the tortured bodies and souls on the front end of those

things, we will grasp clearly what Fred Craddock said, “There

are some things we can afford that we simply should not

buy.” As Jesus warned, “Be on your guard against all kinds

of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of

possessions.”


AMEN








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