Can we talk about what we hear when we read these lines from Proverbs 22:
"The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all. Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail. Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the Lord pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them" (vv. 2, 8-9, 22-23).
What do you hear in this passage? Who do you think of when you think of the poor? Who do you think of when you think of the rich? Which one are you? And what does it mean to sow injustice? One person's injustice is another person's justice -- that's why we need to talk. One person's definition of rich is another person's poor. Where do we end up on this if we don't talk?
That's why I say that it's the heath care debate that I'm concerned about. I don't want to talk about health care plans or options or reform at this moment -- I'm having trouble with the way the debate is happening.
Across the nation, we are not talking. We're yelling, pointing fingers and wishing ill on our adversaries. What really makes me sad is that some of the meanest behavior is being done in the name of God, in the name of Christ.
Again, I ask, can we talk? Because some of what is being done, or being suggested, does not seem to follow the teachings of the Scriptures. It's just a slinging back and forth of beliefs and retorts and ill-will. There's no conversation. So, can we talk?
A few weeks ago, the Lectionary included the letter of James, which states "every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father" (1:17). James goes on: "You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for your anger does not produce God's righteousness" (1:19-20). The following week, we read the following verses in James: "You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors . . . For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment" (1:5, 8-9, 13).
Recently the media brought us news of a pastor, Steven Anderson, from Kansas, who has been praying for God to kill President Obama. He preached a sermon at the end of August titled, "Why I Hate Barack Obama," and in it, he prayed for the president's death. He is the preacher who has the opportunity to influence many people in his congregation, and he is using his platform to suggest this kind of hate?
This kind of behavior and speech is downright hateful, and so that is why, at this particular moment in time, at this juncture in public discourse and in history, I have decided to write inviting us to talk, one with another, with friends and family, with neighbors, with coworkers, to promote love, not divisiveness.
We all want to hear good news in Scripture, but we must also hear the challenges that are set before us. What are we hearing in the passages quoted? We're reminded that to God, there is no distinction in favoritism between rich and poor; in fact, if we read the Bible closely, we see that quite a bit of the time, the poor fare more favorably than do the rich.
And what is the Good News for us today? It is that if we walk in the ways of the Lord, if we do justice, and love mercy, and deal kindly with the orphan, and the widow, and the poor person, and the stranger, we are in good shape. If we listen to each other and we speak the truth in love to each other and we work together at showing peace and kindness, we are in good shape. If we encourage others to stop yelling and start listening, to bridle their tongues and open their ears and hearts, we are in good shape.
As we carry on with our lives of service, let us seek to quell heated discussions and hateful remarks in favor of sowing seeds of love and peace wherever we go. Let us hear the quiet voice of God, calling us to be gentle and kind with each other. Let us answer the question: "Can we talk?"
I hope we can. I believe we can. I know we can.
The Rev. Sarah Rentzel Jones is pastor of St. Peter's Lischey's United Church of Christ in Spring Grove.