Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Two Simple words ...

I would like to begin this morning with the very non-scriptural opening three paragraphs from the Associated Press’ account of the American Congressional Hearings into the melt-down on Wall Street. A melt-down that will cost American Tax Payers, in excess of 700 BILLION US dollars to slow, but perhaps NOT entirely stop … On Tuesday the Associated Press published:

The now-bankrupt investment bank Lehman Bros. arranged millions in bonuses for fired executives as it pleaded for a federal lifeline, lawmakers learned Monday, as Congress began investigating what went so wrong on Wall Street to prompt a $700 billion government bailout.

The first in a series of congressional hearings on the roots of the financial meltdown yielded few major revelations about Lehman's collapse, and none about why government officials, as they scrambled to avert economic catastrophe, declined to rescue the flagging company while injecting tens of billions of dollars into others.

But it allowed lawmakers still smarting from a politically painful vote Friday for the largest federal market rescue in history to put a face on their outrage at corporate chieftains who took home hundreds of millions of dollars while betting on risky mortgage-backed investments that ultimately brought the financial system to its knees.

The best was yet to come in the article though … in recounting the testimony of Mr Fuld the CEO for Lehman Bros Bank, it noted that just four days before Lehman Bros collapsed there was a pay out to two departing excecutives in excess of 18.4 MILLION dollars, and another executive who was quitting received a compensation package worth in excess of 5 million dollars.

The Republican representatives noted that Mr Fuld was pretty free and loose with “other people’s money” as he headed the now bankrupt company.

But the true topper in the article came with the following exchange …

But while Fuld said he and executives did everything they could to protect the company, committee chairman, Waxman slammed Fuld for earning $484 million in salary, bonuses and stock sales since 2000.

"Your company is now bankrupt, our economy is now in a state of crisis, but you get to keep $480 million," Waxman said, displaying yearly compensation figures on large TV screens in the hearing room. "I have a very basic question for you. Is this fair?"

Fuld said the figures were not accurate and he probably received "a little bit less than $250 million, still a large number, though."

Wouldn’t it be nice to receive over 250 MILLION in bonuses and salary over 8 years ??
But what is even more shocking was the demeanour by which Mr Fuld CORRECTED the Congressmen on the actual number for his compensation over the last 7 tears … 480 MILLION or 250 MILLION – either way, it is way more money that ANY OF US will ever see, even cumulatively in our life time, and this is the NORM for Wall Street.

One commentator I heard this past week pointed out that in a single year, Wall Street would pay out more in bonuses, salaries and premiums to executives than the United States of America would send to Africa as Aid in five years … Africa the continent wracked by diseases like HIV/AIDS, poverty and famine … a continent that is desperately poor and where the average person survives on about a dollar a day … if you can call their life survival …

And half a world away executives are saying – “oh I didn’t earn THAT much, it was ONLY 240 million dollars …”

There is something wrong with your world … and this thanksgiving, it is a good time for YOU and I to pause and to give thanks for what is really important …

As I considered Mr Fuld and the 700 BILLION dollars it will take to begine to address the mess the unbridled greed of he and his cronies, I thought of a poem by poet Ann Weems, that reminds us that it is too easy to lose perspective, and to fall into the error of believing that we need more and more and more …

Ann writes:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
God’s mercies never come to an end.
They are new every morning.
The Lord God gave the peoples of the earth a garden,
And the people said: “That’s very nice, God,
but that’s not enough. We’d like a little knowledge, please.”
The Lord God gave them knowledge,
And the people said: “Now that we have knowledge,
we’d like things.”
The Lord God gave the people things,
But they always said: “That’s not quite enough.”
So the Lord God gave them gifts unequaled:
The Sun
Lightening and Thunder
Rain and Flowers
Animals and Birds and Fish
Trees and Stars and the Moon
God gave them the Rainbow
God parted the Red Sea and gave them Manna
God gave them Prophets
And Children
And Each Other,
But still the people said, “That’s not quite enough.”
God loved the people,
And out of ultimate merciful goodness
God gave them the Gift of Gifts—
A Christmas present never to be forgotten—
God gave them Love
In the form of God’s Son,
Even Christ Jesus.
There are some that don’t open their eyes
or their ears or their hearts
And they still say, that’s not quite enough.
They wander through the stores looking for Christmas;
But others open their whole being to the Lord,
Bending their knees to praise God,
Carrying Christmas with them every day.
For these the whole world is a gift!

That’s not quite enough … are we a grateful and thankful people, or do we grumble and say (even if it never passes our lips but rather is lived out in our lives): “That’s NOT quite enough.”

On many levels, that the issue that underlies the story from our Gospel Reading this morning … the people, the descendents of the folks who journeyed into the Promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey had grown profoundly complacent in their faith. They were no longer appreciative nor grateful for things they received, and the words “Thank you” never escaped their lips and it even more seldom arose to their minds.

They simply were no longer a people appreciative of God’s many blessings and bounty that they so easily enjoyed …

And so Jesus is journeying from Galilea, presumably heading south towards Jerusalem and he encounters ten lepers – outcasts, who were no longer welcome in civil society. From a distance they hail him. And from a distance he heals them … he sends them to the priest to not only bless them, but to affirm their return to wholeness.

These men were not only physically sick with leprosy, by virtue of that ailment, they were now ritualistically unclean, and forbidden from contact with the rest of the Jewish people. So the blessing of the priest was the ONLY way to re-enter society and become a member of the community once more …

Yet, in the story – the ONLY man to come back and offer thanks to God, and to Jesus for the healing miracle wasn’t even a Jew … he was a Samaritan.

The problem for us – is that we simply can’t not comprehend how reviled a Samaritan was. There is NO parallel in our world to a Samaritan in Jesus. There is no one as feared and loathed and hated as a Samaritan. The Samaritan was regarded as something less than human for a wide range of reasons – and yet in Jesus’ ministry they keep popping up as the hero in parable and story … and now, THIS – the ONLY one to come back and thank God, was a non-Jewish Samaritan … the very act of HIM thanking the JEWISH God Yahweh was an abomination to the Good Jews of the day … and yet, not one of the other nine, presumably a few good Jews among them – NOT one of them has the decency to come back and thank God – THEIR God …

The lesson is lost on us – but not lost on those who first heard this story as it was passed through what would become the early church. The very fact that it was a NON-Jew thanking God, and even worse than a run of the mill non-Jew, but a Samaritan who turned back – that detail would have caused howls of outrage … yet, in those howls was a profound lesson …

I’ve frequently preached on the lesson my Grandfather taught me of not pointing a finger of accusation at someone else, lest the other three fingers point back at yourself … WELL, in this moment, the howls of – “OUTRAGEOUS !!! How could Jesus let a Samaritan praise God and offer thanks for the healing …” would catch in the throats of the speaker who would realize that AS they protested, the question – WHEN did YOU thank GOD??? Would arise in their own conscience …

“DANG !!” to quote my son …

That’s the point of the story … not that 10 men were healed and only one turned back – but the morale of the story was and remains – the ONE who remembered to turn back wasn’t a Jew at all, yet he KNEW it was important to say two simple words – “THANK YOU” when appropriate. And when you’ve been given your life back as the ten men had … there is perhaps NO more appropriate moment. And it was a contemptible, despised, and reviled Samaritan who no only remembered that lesson – but rubbed the noses of every Good and faithful person in it …

This is a radical and powerful story … the one who turned back reminds us to live our lives with gratitude, appreciation and thanksgiving … is it a lesson we are willing, and that we DARE to live? Or are we people who receive with open hands ALL of God’s blessings and bounty, only to say – “that’s nice, but it’s NOT quite enough …”

We live in a world where it is far too easy to fall into the place of being un-grateful and living our lives by not appreciating what we have around us in abundance: our lives, our family, our friends, our community, our church … food on our plates, a home to live in, and all of the wonderful things that we have around us …

This thankgiving, let’s have the courage to LIVE the chorus of the Raffi song that I shared with our children earlier:

“All I Really Need is a Song in my Heart
Food in my belly and love in my Family
All I Really Need is a Song in my Heart
And love in my family”

We are called by faith to give thanks for what’s important … may it be so – thanks be to God … Let us pray …

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