Seek first God's kingdom
In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples not to worry about what they will eat, drink or wear. Just as God cares for the birds and lilies of the field, God will also care for God's people and provide them with all they need (6:25-33).
These are comforting words. Usually. But do they sound a little hollow as our country and nations around the world fall deeper into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression? Some 22 million people in the United States cannot find work — a 50 percent increase in the past year. One in 10 homeowners is either in foreclosure or behind in their mortgage payments. We certainly have reason to worry. As the saying goes, "if you aren't worried, you haven't been paying attention."
To understand what Jesus is saying we need to read the passage to the end. Don't worry about what you will eat, drink or wear. God knows you need these things. "But strive first for the kingdom of God and God's righteousness [which can be translated as justice], and all these things will be given to you as well."
Jesus is not asking us to be irrationally optimistic. He is telling us that the problem is not scarcity. God is providing all we need. If people have too little, it is because the community is failing to strive for God's kingdom and God's justice. It means that instead of a world based on sharing and helping, we are more focused on hoarding and looking out for number one.
Certainly the activities that sparked the current crisis had more to do with striving for personal wealth and luxury than for God's kingdom. Consumers sought bigger houses, larger vehicles, exotic food and more "stuff" even if they had to buy it with credit and boost their incomes by working long hours that short changed their families, congregations and communities.
In response, Wall Street and the housing industry created new types of loans and financial instruments called derivatives. These high-risk investments including mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps initially brought in huge amounts of money. But now they are responsible for most of the enormous losses that threaten our future.
The U.S. government has so far committed $8.8 trillion in loans, investments and guarantees — the equivalent of two-thirds of our annual gross domestic product. It is very likely that more money will be needed before the banking system regains solvency and full lending capacity.
The financial boom built on debt, credit and high-risk investments is decimating the economy and people's lives. Across the nation, average home prices have fallen by 27 percent in the past three years and in some places the losses are much greater.
The stock market and many workers' retirement accounts have lost over 50 percent of their value since peaking in late 2007. Sixteen banks failed in the first two months of 2009 compared with 25 in all of 2008 and three in 2007. The U.S. Director of National Intelligence told Congress in February that instability caused by the global economic crisis is the biggest security threat facing the United States.
People are hurting and the economic damage will likely grow. But we are not helpless. As a nation, we are making decisions about how to handle the crisis. Will we seek first God's kingdom and share God's resources so everyone will have enough? Or will we primarily take care of ourselves only?
There are indications that we do care about our neighbors. The $787 billion stimulus package passed by Congress in February may not be large enough. But it will create jobs, expand unemployment insurance and ease access to health insurance. Another $272 billion plan will help nine million mortgage holders stay in their homes. The President's 2010 budget proposal shifts some taxes to the wealthy and businesses, boosts money for food stamps and affordable housing, moves toward fundamental health care reform and invests in green jobs.
There are no blueprints to follow that will get us through this crisis. But we do not need to worry. God continues to provide all we need. Now it is up to us: to seek first God's kingdom and God's justice, and make sure that everyone gets a fair share of the abundance God provides.
Rasell is the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries minister for workplace justice. Starting in April, Rasell will blog at <community.ucc.org/Edith/blog>. For more information about the financial crisis, go to <ucc.org/justice/financial-crisis/>