Shekinah Glory

Common Wealth
January 25, 2009, 2:16 pm
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Psalm 62:5-12

In August this year at the age of 79 one of the most notorious men from my Nebraskan childhood, Marvin Copple, passed away. This meant that all three of the most infamous people with this last name had passed away. I was four years old when the Copple’s first became a household name across the Nebraska’s plains. They were to become one of the most reviled people that I would ever hear. There was never a time when their names came up in a conversation amongst good Christians at church that people’s anger didn’t overflow and righteous indignation was sure to follow.

What could a family have done that was so heinous, so dastardly, so immoral that it would illicit the almost unanimous ire of an entire conservative rural community. It was the activities of brother’s Marvin and Newt, as well as, their notorious banking father S.E. Copple in the Savings and Loan ironically named Commonwealth that made everyone so queasy when their name was spoken.

By the time that Commonwealth was declared insolvent on November 1, 1983 the extent of fraud and theft that was at the core of this institution was only beginning to come to the surface. Newt had put loans in the name of a friend’s wife without her knowledge, S.E. made false bank entries to deceive bank examiners and Marvin had given himself two loans of $250,000 dollars each. By the time they all went to prison Commonwealth had already failed, losing $65 million dollars and taking with it the money of 6,700 depositors. In the weeks following the saving and loans collapse, story after story carried the tragic realization that many of these depositors were elderly and they had lost their entire life savings.

To compound the human chaos that ensued most thought that their Commonwealth deposits were insured, but instead of FDIC protection there was only a meager backing by the Nebraska treasury. In the end the $30,000 guaranteed to each lender by the Nebraska Depository Guaranty Corporation only contained $3 million that Commonwealth was managing itself. It was only a fraction of the money these people had been promised. Years of litigation followed. The Attorney General was impeached and the State Treasurer resigned in scandal. It would take until 2002 until the depositors would have only 59% of their original money returned to them. Many of them had given up by this time or had long since passed away. How pathetic, how frustrating and how typical in our country.

Fraud, theft, shell games with other people’s money, depleted funds, personal enrichment on the backs of other peoples, risky investments, very little government oversight…hmm…sounds vaguely contemporary. We are currently flooded with stories in the press of ill gotten gain and the crushing personal tragedies that they bring to the public who trusted its financial institutions. All the while my bank has become Wells Fargo, $700 billion dollars is being shoveled into our banking institutions while many individuals have filed for bankruptcy, students whose loan officers lied to them are crushed under the load of debt, there is rising unemployment and default on mortgages whose terms individuals could neither understand nor realistically fulfill. It seems that our society and the church is in chaos and panicked about money. It is fun to put on my righteous anger and point my finger at all the societal problems that these corrupt individuals have wrought on our society. Though they have participate in societal evil, my focus turns itself from my responsibility outward, to something well out of my control. This indignation feels good for a moment, but it covers my own personal responsibilities.

This is where the psalmist’s message is still as contemporary today as it was when sung in the courts of David. We have a mountain fortress that is God. Our life is God’s. Whether we are rich or poor we are like ether and feathers in the wind. Here today and gone tomorrow. We should not put our religious dependence upon wealth whether it is extorted thievery like the credit card companies or if it is produced by the most ethical of means.

What, Brian, I thought that you were going to merely rail against the Milkens, the Keatings, the Skillings, the Lays, the Copples, and every other corrupt millionaire/billionaire that our Capitalism creates. It is easy to rail against the CEO’s who pay $87,000 dollars for trashcans when their employees are being laid off, but that is only part of the point the Psalmist wants to make. Any kind of dependence on money for security or assurance is idolatry. Idolatry is the act of worshipping something non-living or life-giving in place of worshipping the one true God.

As a pastor I have taken notice of how many of us, including me, have talked during this period in our history about money. We have defined it as a financial crisis. “It is scary,” someone tells me one day. “What do you think will happen next? I don’t know what I will do if the money situation gets worse” someone else will ask me nervously. The leadership of this church has used dire words like survival. Three people from council have stood up during services and talked about money at announcement time in very different ways. I have said in private, “what if we don’t make up the pledges that we have lost this year?” Even though I preached against fear, I have found myself sometimes frightened by money.
In the end I have missed the point by being sucked into the miasma of worry, fear and anxiety over money. In the view of eternity we are merely feathers in the wind. We must once and for all break the shackles that money holds on us keeping us from dependence upon God. We must quit looking to money as a savior. Even if we do not get enough pledges to make budget next year it will not change the reason that we are here, to praise God. Even if our foundation quadrupled in size it would never be able to represent for our community life and salvation. Even if everyone gave liberally to the church, unless it was out of a sense of giving back to God in true worship it would be meaningless.

It will not be the first or the last time this congregation has faced harsh economic realities. After all this church survived, flourished really, through the great depression. The Stottlemeyers reminded me that when they were building the educational wing next door Roland went door to door soliciting donations and that building was built due to both our church and the neighborhood’s generosity. The preschool was started as a help and minister to families our community. I have seen it amongst you. In both young and old members of our community, the care for each other that typifies people who see their neighbor as Jesus Christ. We have nothing to fear. Because with every ounce of my being I believe that we are here because a good, gracious, merciful, just and loving God created this place for us to praise the almighty. God is in control of the destiny of the Palisades Community Church and its future is as glorious as the one in whom we put our faith, our fortress, a loving and living God. We are witnesses today to that same God in our community.


3 Comments so far
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In the opening sentence didn’t you mean to say “August 2008?
When you started your sermon, I wondered where you were going to take us. You did fine. I agree totally that “Our life is God’s. Whether we are rich or poor we are like ether and feahers in the wind. Here today and gone tomorrow.” My parents were poor during THE DEPRESSION. I was a child of the depression but they didn’t make us worried or afraid. We were never hungry. We went through many hardships (being incarcerated during WWII, for instance). Between you and me I lost faith in God for a while. At the same time I felt things would turn out all right. And, like you, now I believe God is in control of our destiny.
You are doing a good job working hard for PCC and the community. Don’t overextend yourself, however.

Comment by May Ishimoto

It is a time of great concern. We are a comfortable people for the most part and changes of this magnitude have impact. In the end as you stated all will work out. Everything happens for a reason, this to, happens for a reason, there are many lessons to learn and in the end we will be better then we were before. Thank-you for sharing your thought process!

Comment by tobeme


Thank you this was a dear and important comment for me to hear.


I have a tendency to agree that no matter what we are better than we were before. Thanks.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

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