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The heavy yoke of American slavery is only three or four generations away from most of us. Yet, it seems like a million years ago. Since we still hold the repugnance toward the act of slavery that a new convert possesses it can be hard for us to conceptualize what our text from Matthew this morning is telling us. Unless you understand the worldwide sex slave trade slavery seems to be something that is hard for us to comprehend.
So we might want to imagine a little this morning. You are wretchedly poor or have been in a conquered country. So, you loose your entire independent identity. You are no longer Jim, Beth, Linda, Margaret, John, but are one of a Master’s property. The owner has fields of grain, a mansion, livestock and slaves. You go where you are told, you work as long as you are told, you live with whom you are told, you accept violence and sex from the master without complaint. You are not a citizen, you have no rights and you certainly have no voice. It is not believed that you could possess intelligence. In the view of most of society you are nothing. Your life and death are seen as insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe. You have lost everything, your liberty, your thoughts, your significance and your value.
This is where we begin this morning. Jesus makes the claim that you cannot lose yourself to money as a master and lose yourself to God as a master as well. It is a seemingly simple idea that President Lincoln used rhetorically and beautifully to help preserve the Union and he took it from this morning’s text. Yet, instead of trying to save a nation this text talks a much different type of unity.
Let us begin with money.
Have we lost our identity to Mammon? Well, can be a money-obsessed country. This should be no surprise since we are one of the richest countries that the planet has ever known. We have powerful banks, insurance companies and brokerage firms whose power rivals most of the world’s countries.
Yet, many of us live with guilt or shame when it comes to money. We hear the past paragraph and we feel that we are involved in an intractable beast that could devour us whole and we are defenseless creatures. We have debt that makes us feel like failures, we are tired because we are constantly providing, credit card, student loans, car payments, utilities, aging parents and on and on and on.
It doesn’t help that in the financial crisis each individual who may have done on a tiny scale what hedge funds, mortgage backed securities and risky banking investments have done. Yet, our society, press and politicians has pilloried individuals about their responsibility while the powerful have scurried away relatively unscathed and in some instances prospering.
In the midst of daily contradictory reports about economic recovery, rising gas prices, budget cuts and political posturing we may feel the anxiety that is expected of us that comes with financial uncertainty. So, have we lost our identity to Money?
Now to a discussion of the Divine.
Have we lost our identity to the divine? These words sound funny coming from my lips. We are told that slavery is wrong and then we turn around and say we should be enslaved to a deity? It is because of the cruel aspect of slavery that I believe convinces many people to become atheists. They see the cruelty of the divine’s followers and conclude that this is what their master requires of them.
Slavery to a deity seems to fall on tin ears in a country that abused so many through the brutal lash of human ownership. Yet, it seems that it is what is required of us to follow our God. Humbling ourselves willingly to the point of surrendering our complete identity to God is what Matthew tells us is required for faith. Such an all or nothing prospect is a bit scary and antithetical to the self-actualized gospel that is part of our American mythology. So, surrender to your slave master, God.
If this were all we had to expect it would seem a pretty bleak conversion from slavery to worldly worries to slavery to a powerful deity. To put it into economic terms the transaction does not seem to yield returns. That is when Christ turns the nature of slavery on its head. Christ contends that the benefit of slavery to the creator is that we will be set free. Freedom is what follows submitting to the Christ’s papa.
Christ claims that the divine spark is more powerful than the Federal Reserve, Bank of America, State Farm, Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Wachovia combined. The divine is able to overcome our anxieties and replace them with serenity. Because our deity is in control of the universe that creative force can certainly feed our deficiencies, can miraculously fill our dried creek beds with living water. This is not too extravagant of an expectation from one who makes sure unseen birds are fed. So, have we lost our identity to God?
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