The Finger of God Provides Property
You've seen people making balloon animals. They blow up thin, long balloons, their fingers blur in motion, and they present you a balloon animal. This is what God does for us with the 7th Commandment He provides propertyand that private.
This is an important point. Two political systems, socialism and communism, deny property is private. After the 1917 revolution in Russia, farm property was taken out of the hands of individuals and placed in collectives. At first this was a real boon to the poor. The peasant who had nothing now apparently had everything. "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need," is the communist and to some extent socialist credo. In theory people working collectively would produce abundantly so everyone would have plenty. In reality by 1952 a collective farm earned only one fourth of the income private plots did that still existed on some Soviet collective farms.
The assertion by communism and socialism that property should be held collectively is contrary to Scripture. When the finger of God wrote, "Thou shalt not steal," He drew a line in the sand between what is mine and what is thine. The prohibition against stealing means that property is not held in common. I have a divine right to my own, and you to yours. This is freeing. The 7th Commandment says it's not wrong to have possessions. You don't have to divest or impoverish yourself to be Christian or a better Christian. You aren't to feel guilty for having things, even lots of things. Abraham, Job, David, Solomon, and Joseph of Arimathea testify to this.
The finger of God provides property and that private, but He doesn't provide capitalism. Now hear me out. The problem is not that capitalism exists, but that certain principles in it have been baptized to the detriment of Christianity. For example, capitalism says it's fair to charge whatever the market will bear. For example, right now the price of oil is $100 per barrel. Market experts agree the real price is no more than $60 per barrel. The rest is coming from fear and speculation, and if someone is willing to pay it, it isn't wrong. But if we translate this free market principle into our own lives, we feel justified in selling our $1000 clunker to the teen willing to pay $3,000. This is hardly helping our neighbor "to improve and protect his possessions and income" as the 7th Commandment demands we do.
In my first years of ministry, I was humbled by a simple rancher on this point. I was at his house during a drought. He had many bales of hay from the previous year. He also had 8 kids. Hay had already gone up 300% since last year. I remarked, "You sure will be make a killing with this hay." He said, "Now Pastor it wouldn't be right to take advantage of a man while he's down. It didn't cost me no more to make that hay than it always has." The finger of God poked me in my greedy eye.
The first Latin capitalists learn is caveat emptor, "Let the buyer beware." That's sound secular advice, but the 7th Commandment demands the direct opposite. "Let the seller beware," lest we "take our neighbor's money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way."
The final capitalist principle that has been baptized Christian is greed is good. That's a harsh way to say it, but that's dogma for a consumer driven economy which believes it can consume its way to prosperity. President Bush post 9-11 pled with us to go out to restaurants, stores, and malls to keep the economy going. The economic stimulus package congress passed isn't to help poor people buy food, pay for medicine, or save for an emergency. No, it's for them to spend as soon as they get it. It's predicted that HD TV sales will skyrocket this summer. Moreover, even when we don't have the money, a consumer economy encourages us to spend it. We're encouraged to live "on money we ain't made yet."
The finger of God provides property and that private, but it doesn't provide capitalism. Certain principals of capitalism aren't Christian, but we have baptized them to make them appear so which has led us to using and treating our possessions sinfully. Yet still we have them. That's because while the finger of God provides property, it is God the Son who pays for it.
All things belong to Jesus. Without Him not one single thing was made, John tells us. He upholds all things by His powerful Word, Paul tells us. And the whole Bible tells us He redeemed all things, and so Hebrews tells us that the Father appointed Him the Heir of all things. All of this is His. He owns your house not the bank. He owns your savings account not you. He owns you not just body and soul but possessions and income. But in order to continue to own you He had to buy you back because you sold yourself to sin, death and the Devil.
The Passion reading shows Him purchasing you. He is charged with opposing paying taxes to Caesar when He in fact said the opposite. Do you know how mad I get in money matters when I'm right? Let some clerk shortchange me 70 cents, and that's it. Let some creditor claim I didn't pay when I did and Katie bar the door. And make no mistakes Jesus is innocent. Three times Pilate says, "I find no basis of a charge against Him." His wife even pleads Jesus' innocence.
Yet, Pilate has Jesus flogged. Turns Him over to the whole company of his soldiers who mock Him, crown Him with thorns, strike Him again and again with a club, and spit on Him. Then off to Herod for more abuse. Somewhere along the way the purple robe the soldiers had placed on Jesus' raw, bloody back is taken off. His flesh came with it. At Herod's palace he and his goons put another robe on Jesus making more sport of Him. Such fun to make fun of Jesus though He's guilty of no crimes against God or men, against possessions or income. That's what all conclude, yet Pilate says incredibly, "I have examined Him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against Him. Therefore, I will punish Him and release Him."
Can you get through one day without thinking about money, worrying about money, fantasying that if you just had more money everything would be alright? I can't. And for this heinous sin which makes money my god, my God is punished. Though innocent, He will die in place of a murderer named Barabbas, nailed brutally to a cross between two real thieves, in place of this one. The finger of God that provides me with property should poke my heart clean through for my misuse of possessions and my idolizing of income, yet it pierces His own Son's hands, feet, and side.
The finger of God provides private property all at Jesus' expense. And this property, these possessions, this income, He provides for our use. Money, possessions, income aren't evil in themselves. They can be just like alcohol, sex, and even love can be, but they don't have to be.
God, at the expense of the Body and Blood of His only beloved Son, provides you with possessions and income not to trust in but to use. He doesn't give you these, so you can see how much of them you can amass. This isn't Monopoly. At the end of life, you don't win if you have the most money, and you don't lose if you have the least or none for that matter. God gives you money to use, to spend on home, taxes, and your pastor.
Three things here that should surprise you. 1) It's a godly use of money to spend it on your family. It isn't less holy than money given in church. 2) I said nothing about helping the poor. In 2007 49% of your Social Security and tax dollars went to fund social programs. If you want to give to the guy on the corner or a charity God bless you, but do know your government takes your money already to provide for the poor. 3) I said God gives you money to spend on your pastor. Search the Scriptures; where are you called to give to a church building, a church, a ministry, a district, a synod, or a missionary you don't know? Scripture calls you to give material things to the one you get spiritual things from. God says a Gospel minister is to make his living from the Gospel. Again God bless you if you want to give money to a Gospel preacher you don't know or a building you do know, but your pastor is to live from the Gospel he preaches to you.
God gives you possessions for Christ's sake to use in a redeemed way, that is, in a crazy way. In the Old Testament God's people were told not to reap the corners of their fields but leave them for the poor to eat. That's crazy in a capitalist system. Mary anoints Jesus feet with ointment worth over $14000 in today's wages. The converted Zacchaeus gives away half his goods to the poor. You know why? Because all that money is blood money. Money redeemed by the blood of Christ just flat spends differently.
One more time I was shamed by that rancher. I came to his house with 8 kids and a beat up station wagon. I said, "I heard you go rid of this for a new one." He said, "I did. I took it to town; traded it for a newer van." "Where is it?" I asked. "Well," he said, "When I got home Rosie was crying; she couldn't bear to see that car where her 8 kids had been raised gone. So I turned around, took back the van, and got back my old station wagon. But I had to pay the man 1,200 for it even though he only gave me 300." I said incredulously, "Why in the world would you do that?" "Pastor, stoppin' your wife from crying is worth more than $900."
That man knew the true worth of money and tears and love. We who've been redeemed not by gold or silver but by the blood, love, and tears of Jesus know this too. Outside of this blood, love, and tears, you'll recall that Judas' 30 pieces of silver were agony to him. Inside this blood, love, and tears you'll recall that Peter could happily tell a beggar, "Silver and gold have I none." Outside the blood, love, and tears of Jesus all the possessions of the rich man got him nothing of heaven. Inside these holy 3 Paul having nothing could say he possessed all things. You can too. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Midweek IV (20080227); 7th Commandment, Passion Reading IV