Sunday, April 25, 2010

Thoughts on Paul's instructions

This morning our Epistle lesson in Church was Acts 20:17-35. The first seven verses is Paul saying goodbye to the Christians in Ephesus. But two parts of the sections really spoke to me, to the two parts of my personality that I share on this blog, the parts that might seem paradoxically contrary to one another but that over and over again here on PP&P I explain not only coexist comfortably, but are in fact integral to each other. The theologically conservative part and the politically progressive part.

In verses 28- 31, Paul warns that there will be those who will try to mislead the Church.

28Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

Lutherans teach that the enemies of our souls are the world, our own sinful natures, and the Devil. From my point of view, selfishness, fear, materialism, and sociopathy are all pressures we should be careful of succumbing to. I'm also of the opinion that blind commitment to extreme political ideology has a way of eclipsing the genuine laws of God, His commands of love and reconciliation, with inflexible absolutist moralism and the myth of "rugged individualism."

Verses 32-35 address my progressive side. Paul preaches the Democratic family values of empathy with responsibility. We all need to pull our own weight, work is important- but so is compassion and sharing. He writes against greed and materialism (coveting). Life's not about accumulating and then defending wealth or possessions. The purpose of and reward for our labors is to help others. Notice the famous Christmas time idiom- we might think its a pithy proverb from Ben Franklin, but it's God's own word.

 32"Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. 34You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' "

A lot of right wingers like to stir up fear of "socialism" by accusing the Democrats of  trying to engage in the "redistribution of wealth." Like the government is trying to steal what you've worked so hard to acquire by taxes. That's why Republicans renamed the inheritance tax the "death tax." They've propagated this selfish belief system where it's absolutely immoral to interfere with free markets by regulating them and a heinous, unspeakable sin for the government to expect its citizens to contribute to the common good.

They've convinced people that it is somehow immoral to help the poor because it might inadvertently teach them to become dependent and enable whatever  ungodly behavior that must have condemned them to poverty in the first place. Forget about the fact that chance or greed or unbalanced systems or, dare I say it, racism, may have been to blame for their plight. And what God tells us through Saint Paul is that the TRUE purpose, and indeed reward for earning wealth is actually to help others!

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