Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Church, God, Inspiration, Jesus, Religion, Spirituality
Sermon on Matthew 1:18-25
I am not an investor, nor do I wish to understand all of the intricacies of market forces. I just want to make that little disclaimer before I launch into my story. During the better part of my adulthood the stock market has had an impressive boom in growth. Many who wisely invested in stocks with names like Microsoft and Wal-Mart saw their stocks grow and flourish in the 90’s.
Living as a poor pastor in South Louisiana and Rhode Island I regularly gave contributions to a 503b plan through Fidelity Investments. It was a paltry amount on my $18,000 dollar a year salary, but it made me feel like I was doing something for my future. It made me feel a part of the investment growth that was going on around me. I know it wasn’t much because I heard the reports from my prominent church members. It seemed like they were cleaning up on their investments.
Watching everyone around me make money while I struggled in poverty left me jealous. I wanted some of that cash. So, I devised a plan with my wife Carol to have some fun with what little money we made presiding at weddings and funerals. We would take the cash and compete against each other by buying stocks online through Sharebuilder. Over time we would track the stocks and see who was better at picking them. We called our little game “The great stock race.”
With $100 dollars apiece we would think about companies that we liked and would put the money into buying shares. We were relatively safe investors. My shares of Lowe’s stock did well, Carol’s Target stock did well also. Over time it appeared that we were pretty much tied in who could pick the better stock. That is when I thought I would take a risk.
My epiphany occurred while I was reading Mother Jones magazine (not known as a place investors visit). In its back advertising section I kept seeing companies encouraging investments in their socially responsible businesses. Many were companies that were heralding their exploration and commitment to turning our dependence on fossil fuels into something much more green. Socially responsible and green, of course! It only made sense that a green company would make money with gas prices beginning to rise. I needed to get in on the ground floor of one of these companies who were turning toward solar, wind or methane technologies.
So, I picked one. I would like to tell you it is because I looked at their prospectus and saw that their assets and profits were all in line, but to me those charts and commentary were like learning Greek again. All I explored was which company’s stock had preformed the best over the last two years. Then I purchased $200 dollars worth of stock. It was exhilarating. I just knew that it would do well, and I kept telling Carol that I was going to finally beat her with my superior investing prowess. I was confident.
When the news began to break about the unfolding scandal at Enron the headlines were nothing like the glossy green ad that I had seen in the back of a magazine. Gone were the environmentally sensitive energy company that boasted of being so responsible. They were replaced with my generation’s stereotypes for excess, political misuse of power, price manipulations and greed. All I need to say is Arthur Anderson, Enron, Jeffrey Skilling, Andrew Fastow and Ken Lay to hear the groans of people who lost pensions, investments and confidence in the one of the largest companies in the United States history. Plus, my $200 in stock had dropped below the price of the stamps on the court documents that I now receive. I lost the Great Stock Race resoundingly. I was totally wrong.
Have you ever been wrong, I mean really wrong? The kind of disorienting perception shift where everything that you were certain of melts into the ether and you are left disoriented and confused. You have a moment of clarity to realize that everything that you based assumptions, beliefs and faith into are completely erroneous. I know that it sometimes runs counter to our D.C. culture to admit the sheer folly of ones thoughts or actions that have proven to be reality challenged, but this part of our current culture is wrong.
Joseph is wrong. His piety and his faithfulness have not protected him from his initial reaction to his pregnant fiancé Mary. When he is presented with her growing belly he tries to have her secretly put away for her own well-being. From all that he knows, all that he believes and all he has been taught to him Joseph knows what is right, but it takes a celestial visitor to remind him that God’s ways are not his ways. He must do things that go counter to the incomplete facts and he must admit that his first impressions are wrong if Joseph wants to participate in the incarnation.
It is no different with us today. Everything must change for us to follow a vulnerable and defenseless baby. Power structures must fall, money’s value must be upended, growth will be measured in hours spent with those suffering, leadership must use the word servant and wisdom must appear to be folly. We must at many points admit that we are wrong so that we can be right in what matters the most. Being right at displaying to each other that God is truly with us.
Paul reminds us that, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.” It is no difference for us this morning. A child shall lead us, teaching us about salvation and breaking sin’s cruel shackles in our lives. If you think you know where a faith like that will lead you, you are wrong.
Picture by Amber Rhea
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