Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Integrity, Dignity, and Aristocrats

Integrity, Dignity, and Aristocrats
A Sermon Series on Economy


We are in a year of pioneering for our congregation. Part of our "heading west" is in the ways we think. In a culture highly divided, we contend as a congregation that the opposites need to stand in tension with each other. Out of the tension, a new thought may be imagined that is a blessing to humanity and creation. Joel Hunter, in his book A New Kind of Conservative, speaks about Salt--also known as sodium chloride. Sodium, by itself is highly harmful to people. Likewise is Chlorine. Brought together, one has a staple of human life and creation.

In the conversation on economy, I want to bring into tension two ideas from Scripture--Hearing and obeying God's commands and Seeing and being in the presence of God. Walter Brueggeman speaks of these two loving responses to a God who engages Israel in his book An Unsettling God. I borrow heavily from Brueggeman below and mark the next paragraphs with quotation marks to indicate that.

"God has initiated a relationship with God's people. There is an imperative dimension to that relationship. God's people are to order their lives in ways that are appropriate to that relationship. The appropriate response is to resonate with the will, purpose, desire, hope, and intention of God. Two appropriate responses are to listen to God and to see God.

This response includes an obligation to listen to God and do justice, as shown in Deuteronomy 10: 17-20. Listening to God is to attend to the needs of those who are too weak to protect themselves. Wealth and social resources are to be managed and deployed for the enhancement of those who are the weakest. See Proverbs 14:31 and 17:5. The weakest are entitled to such treatment for no other reason than that they are part of the community.

This response also includes an invitation to see God and to be holy. In Exodus 24: 3, 7, not only does Israel hear the commands of God, but in 24: 10-11, they see and behold God. So, God's people not only listen to God and do justice, but are to be in the presence of God, see God, and submit to the overwhelming nature of God. This is based on the concept that it is possible to host God, as we read in the Tabernacle and Temple traditions. This hosting of God is done with great care, costly investment, and scrupulous attention to detail. The investment is a purity or holiness code in which God's people engage to avoid defilement and vulgarity.

So, God's people practice justice for the sake of community and order life in such a way that one is qualified to be in communion with God. This creates a setting of opposites. To be with the weakest is many times to be with the unclean, thus violating the purity codes. To be pure and follow the holiness code, one is removed from those who are weakest and not able to engage in acts of justice.

We do not choose one over the other, but allow them to live in tension with one another. Integrity is the outcome of the two opposites living in tension with each other. To have integrity is to be whole, complete, coherent, innocent, unimpaired, and sound. It is to will one thing, living a life that is undivided, unified in loyalty and intention.

One with integrity practices justice with the weakest and lives with passion the disciplines of holiness. See Pslm 25:21 and 26: 1, 11-12. Every aspect of life--personal, public, cultic, economic--shows complete devotion to God." (Brueggeman, An Unsettling God)

This quality of integrity is what is believers bring to life and conversation about any issue that they face. It is my belief that the conversation on economics is best shaped by rooting it in the need to have integrity oneself and to honor the integrity of others.

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