Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Stone Chapel, Proctor Academy, Andover, NH
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WEALTH WITHOUT WORK

Sermon given by Rev. Dick Dutton on 3/20/2011

at Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

In the African-American Church the pastor was beginning his sermon on the future for their church …

            Brothers and Sisters, to move the church … we gotta walk …
                                    "Let 'er walk."

            Brothers and Sisters to move the church  … we gotta run …
                                    "Let 'er run."

            Brothers and  Sisters … we gotta fly …
                                    "Let 'er fly."

            And, Brothers and Sisters, its gonna take a lot of money …
                                    “Let 'er walk."

It's never easy in the church to talk about money.

I had the great idea at  FBC that we ought to really promote tithing … so I preached about it and then we created a pledge card where individuals could indicate the amount of their pledge, and then simply check a box indicating "I am a tither."  The day after the cards went out, we got phone calls like you wouldn't believe.

"Nobody's gonna check tither . . . if we do everyone will know what I earn, my total salary."

Talk about unintended consequences!  'Oops' - or that one sermon a year on money and the budget … and the response … "All this church ever does is talk about money."                       

We are touchy, aren't we!

It is instructive that Gandhi's discussion of the Seven Deadly Social Sins, that this second listing focuses not on how we spend our money … but on how we receive our money.

1.  The first danger of 'Wealth Without Work' is the vast money divide it creates among people.  Talk about timely.  Every place we turn recently we read about the increasing gap between the rich and the poor … and even the divide  between the rich and the middle class in our own country.  Here are some of the facts.

We now have 1,000 billionaires in the U.S., billionaires with a "B".                     

           We have in the U S Congress, half of its  members in the House and the Senate, who admit that they are millionaires.          

           While the bottom 4/5ths of the country struggles to stay afloat, the upper 1/5th cautiously treads water. The very top 1% continue to accumulate wealth at a staggering rate, with the wealthiest Americans, even in the midst of a recession, have quintupled, that's 5 times, their net worth at the same time one out of ten Americans is out of work, food stamps demand sets new records every month,   and the so-called trickle-down theory of shared wealth has been revealed as a cruel hoax.

An article in the Times two weeks ago asked, "does the financial system in America have any social value … or any ethical guidelines?"

Look at the inequities in the varied sources of our income . . .

            Work is paid for at the minimum wage.
            Work is paid for 'under the table.'
            Work is paid for according to one's production, or sales, or profit.
            Work is paid for by salaries.
            Work is paid for in the context of socialism.
            Work is paid for by stocks and bonds and share.
            Work is paid or on a bartering or exchange system.
            Work is paid for in bonuses and benefits.

Work is paid for by incredibly different - and imaginative means … but the common denominator is that there is always, always some expectation that "work is paid for  … work is done and payment is made" … work and pay are inextricably connected … no work, no pay!

No work … no pay … no fooling!

What happens when there is wealth without work … when there is no connection between work and reward?  It is then we experience this vast divide, this gap between rich and the poor.

These days there are some whose wealth comes from Wall Street … this is a vast segment of society that creates no product, is involved in no physical labor, expends little energy for the common good, and is expanded largely by greed.  When a CEOs make 400 times the wage of their lowest employee … when the NFL is fighting over $9 billion and seemingly couldn't care less about us and the loss of their season, … when the Banks and Wall Street  are experiencing record profits … at the same time Main Street is beginning to express anger and bitterness and jealousy and hostility and at some point there may be demonstrations and possible violence … and all this because 14 million are unemployed and hundreds of thousands have lost their homes … there's something hugely wrong!

2.  But it's not only the disparity … There is an immoral gap between rich and poor. The other major danger of wealth without work is the shattering of the sense of community … our inter-dependence!

When hundreds of men, women, and children demonstrated at the State House in Madison, Wisconsin, against Governor Walker's legislation to destroy the 'collective bargaining' of unions … those marching were celebrating in part their sense of community and oneness!  They saw union organizing as a fundamental right of democracy … supported by the vast majority, 64%, of Americans across the land … a declaration of inter-dependence and ­mutual strength.

We need each other.  This is suggested by a parable by Kermett Bailey …

"A certain man had two sons.
One was rich and the other was poor.
The rich son had no children,
            While the poor son was blessed with many sons and many daughters.

In time the father fell ill.
He was sure he would not live through the week.
So on Saturday he called his sons to his side.
And gave each of them half of the land of their inheritance.
Then he died.
Before sundown the sons buried heir father with respect
            As custom requires.

That night the rich son could not sleep.
He said to himself,
            "What my father did was not just.
I am rich, my brother is poor.
I have bread enough and to spare,
            While my brother's childen eat one day and trust God for the next.
I must move the landmark which our father has set in the middle of the land
            So that my brother will have the greater share.
Ah -- but he must not see me.
If he sees me he will be shamed.
I must rise early in the morning before it is dawn and move the Landmark."
With this he fell asleep
            And his sleep was secure and peaceful.

Meanwhile, the poor brother could not sleep.
As he lay restless on his bed he said to himself,
            "What my father did was not just.
Here I am surrounded by the joy of many sons and many daughters,
While my brother daily faces the shame
            Of having no sons to carry on his name
            And no daughters to comfort him in his old age.
He should have more of the land of our fathers.
Perhaps this will in part compensate him for his indescribable poverty.
Ah -- but if I give it to him he will be shamed.
I must awake early in the morning before it is dawn
And move the landmark which our father has set!"
With this he went to sleep
            And his sleep was secure and peaceful.

On the first day of the week --
            Very early in the morning,
            A long time before it was day,
The two brothers met at the ancient landmark.
They fell with tears into each other's arms.
And on that spot was built the city of Jerusalem."

Built not on justice … but on mercy!  Their declaration of interdependence!

We need each other in the deepest of relationships.
We need each other for creative discipline.
We need each other thru times of suffering.
We need each other when sorrow comes.
We need each other for sharing greatest joys.
We need each other to overcome loneliness and despair.
We need each other to enable our spiritual growth.
We need each other to celebrate community.

Wealth without work brings the danger of creating vast disparity … and the frightening danger of shattering the sense of community.

How much we desperately need this inter-dependence!

But so much of the world struggles to go it alone, especially when it comes to achieving wealth …

Remember the bumper sticker, "He who dies with the most toys wins."?  Is that what it's all about?  According to an apocryphal story, eight wealthy men gathered for a power lunch at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago.  The year was 1923.  Listen to who was there.  The President of the nation's largest independent steel company. The head of the country's largest electric utility.  The President of the nation's biggest gas company.  The President of the New York Stock Exchange.  A member of the President's cabinet.  The greatest bear on Wall Street. The head of the world's largest monopoly.  The President of the Bank for International Settlement.  These eight men representing the zenith of power and success and prestige and wealth in their various fields.  Now, listen to where they are twenty-five years later.  And this part is absolutely true.  Charles R. Schwab, President of U.S. Steel, died bankrupt.  Samuel Insull, head of the electric utility, died a fugitive from justice.  Howard Hopson, who headed the largest gas company, was hopelessly insane.  The President of the New York Stock Exchange, Richard Whitney, had just been released from Sing Sing.  Cabinet member Albert Fall was pardoned from prison so that he could die at home.  Jessie Livermore, the Wall Street 'bear' died a suicide as did Ivar Kruegar, the head of the world's largest monopoly, and Leon Fraser, the President of the Bank for International Settlement.

Lonely men … we desperately need each other.  Wealth without working together carries its own pain.

Now, as my mother used to say … "good ideas, good stories, good development so far … but now, tell us what to do!  How are we supposed to put all this into positive action … what are we to do?"  O.K.,  Mom, here we go.  In the Sermon on the Mount there is a single passage, words that are powerful but dangerous …

Remember these … " Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where mold and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal … but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither mold nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

What is this Jesus of Nazareth saying?  What are treasures in heaven?

If you're going to work for some treasure, or reward … don't make it houses and land and wealth … don't make it cars and yachts and jets … don't make it the 'corner office' and the position of company CEO … don't make it material at all … make it treasure in heaven, make it holy, because where your treasure is, there will  your heart be also."

            Holy … What's that?
            Holy … benefits mankind.
            Holy … saves a corner of the world.
            Holy … works with the poor.
            Holy … spends time with the broken
            Holy … walks with the suffering.
            Holy … cares about my brother.

"Because, where your treasure is, there will your heart, 'your passion', be also."

There goes the holy … the treasure in heaven!

This has been an incredible ten days in the Middle East and in Japan.  We have seen 'holy' men and women all over the place . . . from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya to Yemen to Syria to Saudi Arabia to Oman to Iraq and more … heroes ready to march and willing to die … for freedom, for democracy, for human rights.  The courage, the commitment, the unbelievable strength of those standing together . . . what a powerful witness to us!  These are the heroes of the nations in 2011 … the Holy!

The picture that I will never forget is of those Japanese firefighters, volunteers, who marched together by their captain, as they prepared to enter the most volatile nuclear reactor … willing to give their lives for the hundreds of thousands who would be dependent upon them for their very survival … willing to brave the unknown deadly radiation to turn a tragedy into a hopeful peace.  Holy men and women.

Greater love hath no man then this … that a man lay down his life for his friend."

What work … what wealth!

 

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