A Fair Balance
Sermon seeds for Labor Sunday, September 2, 2012
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8:1-4, 13-15
We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, "The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little."
In Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, he asks for donations of money for the church in Jerusalem where many people are living in poverty. He writes, “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, ‘the one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.
Paul instructs the Corinthians on the importance of a “fair balance,” where no one has either too much or too little. May we have ears to truly hear Paul's message today, a time when in both the United States and around the world, there are a few extremely wealthy people, far too many poor, and many in the middle who are struggling to avoid sliding into poverty. As Paul said, one person’s abundance is for another person’s need. There is plenty for all if we share. The Church is called to work for a world where there is a “fair balance” between abundance for a few and the needs of many.
In the United States and around the world, inequality is growing. The poor are falling deeper into poverty, the rich are getting richer, and those in the middle have seen their incomes stagnate or decline.
- Most working age adults receive all or nearly all of their income from a job. And our wages and salaries largely determine our income in retirement as well. But in the four-fifths of all jobs in the U.S. classified as “non-professional” and “non-supervisory,” wages and salaries have stagnated since the mid-1970s. As a result, average income for the bottom 90% of households today is lower, adjusted for inflation, than in 1970. But at the very top of the income scale – the top 1/100th of 1%, some 16,000 households – annual incomes rose by an average of $20 million over that same time period.
- Inequality is also growing in most countries around the world. Between the mid-1980s and mid-2000’s, among the 73 nations for which data are available, 53 countries (home to over 80% of the world’s population) had a rise in inequality while only 9 (with 4% of the global population) had a fall.
Such an unequal sharing of resources in both the United States and around the world has a direct impact on people’s lives including their health, access to education, and opportunities for advancement. In Bolivia and Peru, infant death rates are four to five times higher for the poorest 20% compared with the richest 20%. A baby boy born in the U.S. to a family in the top 5% will live 25% longer than a boy born into the bottom 5%.
Inequality among countries has also grown in recent decades. Rich countries have gotten richer and pulled further in front of poorer ones.
- For example, in 1990, the average American’s income was 38 times higher than the income of the average Tanzanian. In 2005, the American’s was 61 times larger.
- In rich countries, income per person, adjusted for inflation, has risen two- to three-fold since 1970, a much larger gain than in poorer ones. Tragically, in 13 poor countries, average income is lower today than in 1970.
As the apostle Paul wrote, “It is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need.” The world is richly endowed with God’s abundance. Surely God must be offended and saddened by such inequality.
The federal poverty line in the U.S. is $23,000 for a family of four. But even families with incomes above this level struggle and suffer. Experts estimate that a meager but minimally adequate income is roughly twice the official poverty level, or around $46,000 for a family of four. In the United States, one-third of people live below this higher, but more accurate, “adequacy” line. People with inadequate incomes not only lack essentials like adequate food, shelter, transportation, quality education, and health care. They also lack opportunities to improve their lives. They suffer from poorer health, shorter life expectancy, more mental illness, and higher infant mortality. They do less well in school.
In a rich county, and in a rich world, there is no justification for a high level of inequality that blocks people from reaching their potential and bars millions (and billions globally) of God’s children from becoming the unique, special people God created them to be.
What can be done to reduce inequality? The Church is called to a very important ministry of advocacy and prophecy. The Church and people of faith must advocate for fairer public policies.
- To raise wages for the majority of workers, we need strong labor unions, strengthened labor protections, a higher minimum wage, and more supports for workers such as childcare, early childhood education, and paid sick days.
- Our international trade and investment agreements need to be rewritten to level the playing field between corporations and workers in both the U.S. and around the world, and protect the environment.
- Congress must create jobs and put millions of people back to work.
- Declines in income taxes paid by wealthy households and corporations, as well as cuts in the estate tax that is paid entirely by the wealthy, reduce tax revenues and lead to cuts in government services and higher deficits. More tax revenue is needed to promote the common good and provide opportunities for all. An increase in tax revenue could make higher education more affordable; improve the quality of public schools; provide universal health insurance and early childhood education; support infrastructure investments that create jobs, boost productivity, and enhance the quality of life; strengthen the safety net; and clean up the environment.
- Rich countries need to share more of their wealth with their poorer neighbors around the globe and enact policies that allow all nations to thrive such as cancellation of debts, promotion of food sovereignty, and fair trade and investment treaties.
- We also must protect the environment and quickly move to renewable sources of energy. Climate change will most gravely impact the poor.
The Church and people of faith must also be prophets announcing God’s intentions for our nation and the world. We must challenge cultural behaviors and values that idolize money and “things.” Greed is not good. The Church must speak in support of the common good and against consumerism and materialism. And the Church and people of faith must live out these values in our own lives. We must love our neighbors in word and deed. We must stand with the poor and those on the margins. We must use our money wisely to bring God’s vision to reality.
On Labor Sunday, we especially recognize that all workers – from those who clean hotel rooms and care for elders, to those who work in department stores, fast food chains, and warehouses – are children of God, worthy of respect and living wages.
God created a world of abundance. If we share there is enough for all to live in the fullness of life. Like the Corinthians we are called to follow Paul’s instructions, to find a fair balance between one person’s abundance and another’s need. The economy is not like the weather. It is created by people and can, and should be, directed by people to serve all people and the earth. Our goal is nothing less than a world where “the one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”
That They All May Be One - Solidarity Forever
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight; I will rejoice in Jerusalem and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. -- Isaiah 65: 17-23
I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will be believe in me through their work, that they may all be one. -- John 17:20-21a
Isaiah may have been focused on the violence and destruction of warfare, but he could have been referring to the economic violence and destruction that exists in the U.S. today.
- Farm workers - those who plant - often don't eat. Nearly two-thirds of farm workers live in poverty.
- And those who build don't always inhabit. In Washington, DC, unemployed men travel from W. Virginia to seek work on construction projects during the week -- while living under the bridges – then return home on the weekend. These people are building but not inhabiting.
- And although for most people physical safety at work is not a concern, each year about 6000 workers are killed on the job from the equipment and other hazardous conditions in which they work.
All workers are made in the image of God, the worker, and have dignity and value. All work that makes a contribution to the community has dignity and is not degrading. But many jobs are degraded.
A degraded job is one that pays too little. It is one of the over one-quarter of all jobs that pays a wage so low that even someone working full time, year round, earns too little to lift a family of four above poverty.
A degraded job is one that is potentially unsafe. Each year some 5.7 million workers are injured on the job or become sick due to their job.
A degraded job is one where the worker is treated unfairly or illegally. According to the Department of Labor, essentially all poultry processing plants and 60% of nursing homes fail to properly pay workers for overtime hours worked, pay less than the legally-required minimum wage, and/or violate of child labor laws.
A degraded job is one where the employer discriminates in hiring and promotions - abuses that occur even in apparently respectable firms like BellSouth and Texaco.
A degraded job is one where a worker has too little autonomy or control over her work, resulting in high levels of stress and even physical illness.
US labor law provides few protections against these abuses.
But workers need jobs, even bad jobs, if that is all they can get. How can workers improve their workplaces and gain dignity on the job - especially the three-quarters of all workers who don't have a college degree and have less bargaining power with their employers?
One important way that workers can address workplace injustices is by joining and participating in a labor union.
All of us are indebted to union struggles of the past for many of the workplace benefits we take for granted. Yahweh gave us the Sabbath but unions brought us the weekend, the 8-hour day, paid vacations and holidays, health insurance, and pensions.
Unions continue to work for justice today.
Unions reject the notion that any work is demeaning and remind us that all workers have value. Janitors, nursing home attendants, hotel and restaurant workers, and many other workers on the bottom of the hierarchy of jobs are trying to join unions to get dignity on the job, fair treatment, and just compensation.
Unions are working to bring living wages, health insurance, pensions, paid vacations, sick leave, and holidays to workers who formerly had none of these.
Unions are working to give employees a greater say in how their jobs are structured and the way workplaces operate day to day.
And through legislative action, unions are working to reform immigration laws, raise the minimum wage, and improve workplace safety.
Unions are some of the most democratic and diverse organizations in the US today. They can be avenues of empowerment that give workers the means to become active in their own liberation from unjust structures of domination.
Like all institutions including churches, unions are not perfect. But this is not a reason for us to fail to work with our union sisters and brothers to support their struggles for justice.
The church has a special role to play in workers' struggles for justice.
A problem in the workplace is not just a problem for an individual worker and it is not just an economic problem. It is also a theological problem. The author of the book of John quotes Jesus praying that people "may all be one" (John 17:21). But how may we all be one when some eat very well and others do well just to eat? How may we all be one when some are safe at work and others are at risk? How may we all be one when, on the job, some people's views are sought out and others are ignored?
God gave us a world of abundance. Unions are helping some of the most oppressed workers in the US and around the world share in this abundance. And in ways not unlike the church at its best, unions are sometimes providing support and avenues of growth where workers move toward greater wholeness.
In whatever ways we can, may we join with workers and our union sisters and brothers in their struggles for justice and greater wholeness.
Hosting the Poor and Marginalized
Based on Luke 14:1, 7-14 (Year C, Proper 17)
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. … When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
As Jesus is on his way to dine in the home of a Pharisee, he tells his disciples a parable about hospitality. Surprisingly, he recommends against inviting friends, relatives, or rich neighbors to come for lunch or dinner. These guests would likely return the invitation and the host’s gift would be “repaid.” Instead, Jesus suggests inviting people who are poor or have disabilities, someone who probably would not, at least in Jesus’ time, be able to return the invitation. The host would be blessed for performing an act of generosity that would go unreturned.
Today, there are many ways we host the marginalized and less fortunate. We serve in soup kitchens, contribute food to food banks, donate clothes to thrift stores, open our church basements to the homeless, and give money to worthy causes. Some of us are involved in constructing affordable housing and creating community gardens. God blesses these ministries and our generosity.
But the needs within our communities greatly exceed our capacity to help. As David Beckman, president of the anti-hunger organization Bread for the World, points out, the food that churches and charities provide to hungry people is only about 6% of what is provided by federal government nutrition programs. Nationwide, the nearly 3,400 shelters (some sponsored by faith organizations) serve 600,000-plus homeless people. But many continue to live in our streets, parks, and vacant areas. Even with the combined efforts of government programs and the faith community, millions of people in the United States are hungry, homeless, without health care, and without opportunities for a better life. They are also forced to rely on charity, an experience many find to be humiliating and degrading.
Many of our neighbors are struggling because they do not have jobs. Unemployment is always a problem even when the overall economy is strong. But in recent years, joblessness has skyrocketed. While in recent months the official count of the unemployed has improved, this is largely due to people dropping out of the workforce. Someone who is not actively looking for work is no longer included in the count of the unemployed. Congress must enact a large program to create jobs and put people back to work. This would also boost tax revenue and reduce reliance on safety net programs, closing most of the deficit. Unfortunately, there is little political will to do this. Read more.
But on this Labor Sunday we need to also recognize that among the people who rely on our soup kitchens, food banks, clothes closets and government programs are many who work. They have jobs but their wages are very low. Or their employer may assign them too few hours. Or they may have been impoverished by paying medical bills. Or they may have borrowed money to pay for needed car repairs and then been drawn into a downward spiral of debt, extremely high interest payments, and poverty.
We are called to do all we can to meet our neighbors’ needs during a crisis situation: to feed, to clothe, to house, to care for. But what if the crisis is not just a one-time emergency? What if the crisis is a day in, day out, permanent condition? What then is our role?
This is a question we need to ponder and to pray over, especially on Labor Sunday.
Unless a household is independently wealthy, one or more family members must work. But just having a job does not necessarily mean a family is economically self-sufficient.
Over one in every four jobs (28%) pays poverty-level wages, so low that even a full-time worker cannot support a family above poverty.
Over 8 in 10 low-wage workers do not have a single paid sick day. If they get sick and cannot work, or if they must stay home with a sick child, they are not paid. And if they are gone too long they may be laid off.
Every week, over half of all low-wage workers are cheated – by their unscrupulous employers – out of some of their wages.
Over one-quarter (27%) of low-wage workers do not have health insurance, either from their own job or through a family member and, whether insured or not, nearly two-thirds of low-wage workers say it is difficult to pay for needed health care.
Many low-wage workers have unpredictable work schedules that vary week to week and day to day. Their incomes vary also. Many are required to be continually on call, available to come in for additional hours, or risk being penalized with reduced hours or even layoff. Many are sent home during scheduled shifts if business is slow. Such scheduling makes workers’ income uncertain and variable. It also makes a second job, schooling, or scheduled child care nearly impossible.
What is the role of the church in a society where the needs extend far beyond our ability to respond? What must we do when the needs arise not just from an occasional crisis but are the day-to-day, long-term reality for millions of our neighbors? What is God calling our congregation to do when episodic interventions are not enough? More fundamental change is needed. Are we not called to rewrite the economic rules and to change the economic system so that everyone, certainly everyone who works, is able to care for themselves and their family?
We may agree that change is needed, but the specifics of what to do are not so obvious. It is difficult to know how to proceed, to discern what we are called to do.
In 2007, the UCC General Synod called for the creation of a new program to help congregations address the economic problems in our communities, the nation, and the world. The Economic Justice Covenant Program provides resources for congregations seeking to study economic injustices, pray and discern God's will for their economic justice ministry, draft and adopt an Economic Justice Covenant, and engage in actions to promote economic justice.
Is God calling your congregation to become an Economic Justice Church? Are you called to identify and support organizations in your community that are improving the lives of workers.
Jesus was a low-wage worker. (Request buttons with this message in English and Spanish.) He was also a person of infinite value, just like low-wage workers today. Let us extend our hospitality and our caring beyond the programs that meet our neighbors’ immediate needs for food, shelter, or clothing. On this Labor Sunday, let us covenant to work with God to create a world where all workers participate in the abundance that God provides for all of us to share.
"Let us be doers, not merely hearers" of Jesus' word
(Based on the lectionary selection: James 1:17-27 -- Year B, Proper 17)
Labor Day is the time we commemorate work and workers. In the church, we recognize that God, who loves us and cares about all aspects of our lives, is also concerned about our work lives. Our work situations can be fulfilling and empowering, or demeaning and humiliating. Our jobs determine the size of our incomes, and whether we have health insurance and a pension. Our jobs are the main determinants of whether we live in a big house or any house at all, whether we send our children to college or to bed with an empty stomach. Moreover, even at this time when the economy is considered to be "strong," one in every eleven people who want to work cannot find a job or can only find a part-time one.
If we are "doers of the word, and not merely hearers," as James urged, then we must respond to Jesus’ call to love our neighbors. We must work for justice in the workplace. We must help those who have too little. We must change employment situations that degrade workers. What might we be called to do?
We could work to ensure that all workers are paid a "living wage" adequate for the rich life that God intends for everyone. Currently, one-quarter of all jobs pay a poverty-level wage, one so low that a full-time worker cannot keep a family out of poverty.
We could urge Congress to raise the minimum wage. Pending legislation would increase it from the current level of $5.15 an hour ($10,700 a year) to $7.25, the first increase since 1997.
We could strengthen the right to form or join a union, an internationally recognized human right but one that is seriously eroded in the U.S. We could improve safety in the dangerous workplaces that threaten miners, meat packers, farm workers, and many others. We could provide health insurance to everyone including the one in every six people who currently are without it. We could improve contracting practices in New Orleans so that workers would not be left without a paycheck after weeks of work. We could ensure that everyone who wants and needs a job also has one.
God reign does not end at the door of the workplace. Our love for our neighbors must extend to their working lives also. Let us be doers, not merely hearers, of God’s word.
Seeking OGHS Ambassadors!
Join an amazing group of people who are excited about helping others, through sharing the ministry made possible by gifts to the OGHS offering. In 2018, the suggested OGHS offering date is March 11.
As an One Great Hour of Sharing® (OGHS) Ambassador, You agree to:
- Learn about the OGHS offering.
- Promote the offering in your own congregation.
- Connect the offering to ways your church is already responding to the needs of others.
- Meet people beyond your own congregation.
- Get involved in the wider church.
- Work with UCC national staff.
Working with church leadership, we encourage OGHS Ambassadors to share information they learn about the offering during Lent, or near the time your congregation will receive the offering.
OGHS staff will provide a live 1-hour training event through Zoom Video Conference or other technology.This training will equip participants to promote OGHS in worship and among groups and individuals in their own congregation, and in neighboring congregations.
We will pair OGHS Ambassadors with congregations that suit the participants comfort level (i.e. giving UCC congregation or non-giving UCC congregation). OGHS staff will initiate contact with the other congregation(s) to arrange for an invitation for OGHS Ambassador to visit.
In addition, we will offer recognition of the work of the Ambassadors on the OGHS Facebook, Twitter Pages, and through possible news stories resulting from participation in the OGHS Ambassador initiative.
The OGHS Team is eager to assist you in planning your personal OGHS Ambassador strategy. We can provide direction to make participation a breeze, as we provide tips for promotion, connect participants to the materials, share ideas, and help participants discover "their own why" for connecting with the wider church and world.
This experience is designed to get more people involved in the mission and interpretation of OGHS.
When we share our resources, including our voice, it really does change lives!
To register send an email to email@example.com saying: Sign me up!
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Volunteers serve in full-time placement for terms of one month to a year or more. The Partners in Service program does not discriminate against applicants on the basis of religion, race, color, national origin, sex, age, sexual orientation, or disabilities.
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It is to be understood by all concerned that placement is full-time, approximately 40 hours per week, for the residential and international programs. Additional part-time employment is strongly discouraged. Any exceptions should be decided by the parties concerned. Schedules often vary from week to week and may include evening and weekend hours.
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Our faith is 2,000 years old. Our thinking is not.
We believe in God's continuing testament. This is why we are committed to hearing God's ancient story anew and afresh in our lives and in the world today. We try to remain attentive to God's creative movement in the world. Religion and science are not mutually exclusive, and your head and heart are both welcomed into our places of worship. We prepare our members and leaders to be engaged in ministry in the present and future church, and we embrace all kinds of communities and new modes of thinking. Why? Because God is still speaking,
No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here.
We believe in extravagant welcome. This is why we insist that God's communion table is open, not closed, and God's gift and claim in baptism are irrevocable. We advocate justice for all. Our congregations extend hospitality as a sign of God's inclusive love. We teach that evangelism — offering bread to those in search of it — is God's mission. Our perspective is global, not provincial. We work with — not against — people of other faiths. Why? Because God is still speaking,
Never place a period where God has placed a comma.
We believe the church's mission is to change lives — individually, systemically and globally. We work to make transformation possible, but trust in God's grace. This is why we insist that churches must be places of vitality in worship, learning and advocacy. We are committed to working for justice, and we believe that lives are changed through global experiences and friendships. Why? Because God is still speaking,
Interrupted by God
Based on lectionary selection Exodus 3:1-15 and Romans 12:9-21, Year A, Proper 17
Moses is out tending the sheep of his father-in-law, minding his own business. It’s just a typical day in the hot and dry hills of Midian: sheep, sun, dust, brush and, hopefully, a little breeze. Just an ordinary day, or so it seems.
Then Moses sees a bush that is on fire and, on closer inspection, he notices that it is not being consumed by the fire. This is remarkable and Moses turns aside to find out what is happening. His attention has been captured. He stops what he had been doing, puts his own agenda on hold, and even neglects his sheep while he investigates.
It is only after he has turned aside, and looks beyond his own plans for the moment that God calls to him: “Moses, Moses.” And Moses, surely bewildered, responds out of trust and faith, “Here I am.”
God has big plans for Moses. Moses the shepherd is to become Moses the liberator of his people, Moses the law giver, Moses the prophet. But it all starts when Moses notices something that shouldn’t be happening, something out of the ordinary, and turns aside to investigate. He is paying attention and is ready to be interrupted by God. His ordinary day is turning out to be a very extraordinary one.
There is much more to come in this story: plagues, famines, drought, death, the parting of a sea, a 40-year journey through the desert, the liberation of a people. But it all begins when Moses pauses, turns aside from his ordinary business, and answers “Here I am.” It’s true: the longest journey begins with a single step, and the first step may be the most important one.
So what does God ask Moses to do? God knows the sufferings of God’s people in Egypt. God had heard their cries. God says “I have come down to deliver them.” Note that God says “I” have come down to deliver them. It could hardly be clearer. God will deliver the Israelites but Moses will be God’s instrument to bring this about. Moses’ actions will bring God’s justice to God’s people.
Does God still call people, today, in the midst of our busy lives? Are we willing to stop what we are doing, to put aside our plans? Are we ready to be interrupted by God? Or are we too preoccupied with what we want to do? Too intent on checking off the next item on our to-do list? Are we too focused on our own agenda to pause long enough to hear God’s call? Do we talk so much or listen to so much TV that we cannot hear when God calls? Have we walked or driven right past the burning bush without seeing it?
Paul’s letter to the Romans lays out some of the things that God might be calling us to do. Love genuinely. Rejoice in hope. Extend hospitality to strangers. Live in harmony with one another. Associate with the lowly. Overcome evil with good.
On this Labor Day Sunday, is it possible that God is calling us to participate, even to help lead, another journey of liberation? Is God waiting for us to notice something – right here in plain sight – that should not be happening, to pay attention, and to respond?
• To see the people held in the chains of poverty and to free them.
• To hear the cries of those who work but don’t still can’t get by and to seek justice.
• To liberate those working in unsafe or abusive environments.
• To increase the minimum wage so a job will lift workers out of poverty, not keep them there.
• To ensure that everyone can freely choose whether to join a union without being fired or suffering retaliation.
• To lobby for better enforcement of our labor laws so that workers will receive all the pay they earn.
• To stand with those who work hard all week but still don’t have sufficient income to pay for food, and rent, and medicines, and gas.
These are not good times for American workers. One-quarter of all jobs pay poverty-level wages, a wage so low that a full-time worker cannot keep a family of four out of poverty. One in every 10 people who want to work either cannot find a job or can only find part-time work when they want full time (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). One out of every eight people (and one in every six children) lives below the official poverty line, a higher share of the population than in any other industrialized country, and more than double the levels in Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland (Economic Policy Institute and U.S. Bureau of the Census). Wage theft – failing to pay wages in accordance with U.S. labor law – is epidemic. In violation of U.S. law, workers are not paid for all the hours they work, do not receive overtime pay when it is due, or are paid less than the minimum wage (see Wage Theft). There is much that should cause us to pause, to turn aside.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the 20th century prophet, had a successful and busy career as a theologian until he was interrupted by God and turned aside from this path. He was executed in 1945 after attempting to assassinate Hitler and end the Second World War. In Life Together (written in 1938) he wrote:
We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks…When we do that we pass by the visible sign of the Cross… God’s way must be done. ... [D]o not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God (p. 99).
This Labor Sunday, may God open our eyes, unstop our ears, and slow our pace. May we really see the custodians who clean the floors of our office buildings. May we hear the cries of the hog and poultry processors who slaughter and cut up our meat. May we walk the picket line with those seeking more just working conditions. May our schedules for the day be disturbed by the workers who do not receive their fair share of the resources God provides to be used by all of us. May we live our lives ready to be interrupted by God, ready to say “here I am” when God’s calls our name and asks us to be part of God’s action for liberation.
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God's Call to End Oppression
Based on Exodus 3:1-15 and Romans 12: 9-21 (Year A, Proper 17)
The Exodus scripture is a familiar one. It tells of God’s call to Moses to deliver the Israelites from Egypt where they are oppressed and forced to labor for the pharaoh.
Moses was born the son of Israelites and grew up in Egypt in the household of the pharaoh. But after killing an Egyptian who was beating one of his fellow Israelites, Moses flees the country, ending in Midian. There he marries, fathers a child, and tends sheep for his father-in-law. Years pass. Life is good. Maybe Moses forgot, or tried to forget, his previous life in Egypt and the oppression of the Israelites.
But God had not forgotten and God won't let Moses forget either. Speaking out of the burning bush, God tells Moses, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians.” God is going to deliver them but Moses is going to do a lot of the work. And he is reluctant: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites of the Egypt?” Exactly. Who would not have said the same thing? But God replied, “I will be with you.” And so Moses went. The rest is history and also a very good illustration of God’s vision for God’s people: liberation from bondage and freedom from oppression including oppression in the workplace.
Like other people in the Hebrew Bible who are called by God for a special task (Jonah, Jeremiah), Moses was reluctant to answer yes. But he did, with the assurance of God’s help and constant presence. Today God continues to call God’s people to action, and continues to provide help and a constant presence to those who respond.
God may call us more often than we realize or want to admit. The call may, rarely, come in the life-changing, awesome moment when we see a burning bush that is not consumed. But God’s call might also (and maybe more often) come as a soft nudge, a gnawing urge, a quiet whisper that maybe, just maybe, we ought to do something about a particular problem. The quiet, more frequent, but much less dramatic calls are easy to ignore. Is it God? Do I really need to? How can I fit more into my busy life? How can I say yes? Does it help to remember that God will be with us, to see us through, that God expects us to find time for God’s priorities?
In the passage from Romans, Paul encourages us to get involved, to follow these gentle urgings. “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” In an unjust world, in a nation with millions living in poverty, genuine love demands our involvement. Loving our neighbors means standing with people on the margins who seek a better life for themselves, the life that is God's intention for them.
In the U.S. today, 47 million people (nearly one in seven) live in poverty and over one third of us (some 106 million people) live below twice the poverty line,[i] the amount that many researchers think is a minimally adequate income level. At the same time, there are 1,591 billionaires[ii] and 7.1 million[iii] (or 8.4 million[iv] or 9.6 million[v]) millionaires, depending on whose study you read. Over one in seven people in the U.S. is receiving food stamps that provide, on average, less than $1.50 per meal, per person. The dire statistics go on and on. Some 9.5 million people are unemployed.[vi] Millions more are jobless but have given up looking for work and, therefore, are no longer counted among the unemployed.
Over one-quarter of all jobs in the U.S. (28%) pay poverty-level wages, so low that a full-time worker cannot keep a family out of poverty.[vii] In 2013, 42% percent of Hispanic workers, 36% percent of black workers, and 23% of white workers earned poverty-level wages.[viii] Read about the difficulties faced by young workers. Learn about wage theft, the common practice in which employers fail to pay workers all the wages they earn.
The federal minimum wage, $7.75/hour, has not increased in five years. Some states or cities have a higher minimum wage (check your state) and in a few places the minimum wage is nearly high enough to support people at a meager, but adequate, standard of living. But in most locations, the minimum wage needs to be raised. Corporate profits are at record levels (more). Corporate giants can well afford to raise their workers’ pay.
The United States is a wealthy country. There is no justification for poverty, oppressive work conditions, or lack of opportunity. Things do not need to be this way. Our involvement could make a difference. Do we feel a gentle urging to get involved? Are we called to support fast food workers, Wal-Mart employees, and others who are marching and striking for living wages? (See organizations in your location who invite your participation.) Are we called to stand with immigrant workers without papers who are easily abused? Can we pressure Congress to raise the minimum wage? Is our congregation called to be an Economic Justice Church? What else might God be calling us to do?
The world today is a very troubling place for anyone concerned with justice. Can we doubt that God is calling us to get involved? Let us seek to “overcome evil with good.” Let us follow Jesus and walk with those on the margins, knowing that God walks with us.
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Contact: Sharon Tarver-Evans, Registrar for U.S. Builds
701 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Americus, GA 31719
E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Phone: 229.924.2900 or 208-786-6013
The Fuller Center for Housing faith-driven and Christ-centered, promotes collaborative and innovative partnerships with individuals and organizations in an unrelenting quest to provide adequate shelter for all people in need worldwide.
Projects/Focus: Building new and repairing existing homes working with families in need. The exact projects will be determined close to group arrival and based upon the progress of previous accomplishments of our volunteers and available resources.
Educational/Advocacy Components: Each group will receive an orientation about the community they will be serving. This will include a discussion about poverty housing in the area, and the economic benefit of our “hand up-not a handout” approach and how this builds a Fund for Humanity, recycling homeowner payments to serve other people in need in the community. Churches do mission work by empowering the people they serve.
Time: Spring and Summer
Group Size: Up to 10 (or 5 couples)
Work Week: Tuesday - Saturday
Minimum Age: No restrictions - Open for RV Builders
Accommodations: RV hookups (at volunteer's expense; we partner with local RV owner at reasonable rate)C
Cost: $100-$160 per person