Three Sermons on Biblical Justice in Light of Occupy Wall Street
Part 1: Proper 23A (October 9, 2011)
by Bill Carroll
The lessons appointed are here.
How funny it is, in light of this day’s Old Testament reading, that one of the iconic images of this week in history is that of some police officers standing guard over a bronze statue of a bull. The bull in question is on Wall Street, which, in case you haven’t heard, is under attack. And the marauding hordes laying siege to capitalism’s holy of holies are protestors acting in the name of what they term the ninety-nine percent. The call to “occupy” Wall Street made use of the very same statue: it had a picture of that golden calf with a dancer doing an arabesque on the top of it. But I sort of like the picture with the cops. If I had to give it a caption, it might read “These are your gods, which brought you out of Egypt.”
And I have to wonder, really: How many children would we sacrifice to Molech, in order to get that bull charging forward again?
The rector of Trinity Church, Wall Street, a church that sits next to a park where many of the protestors have camped, issued a carefully worded statement, the kind of statement that only a rector could write. It reads in part: “Trinity Wall Street respects the rights of citizens to protest peacefully and supports the vigorous engagement of the concerns that form the core of the protests – economic disenfranchisement and failure of public trust.”
Then comes the careful part. He goes on to say:
With its long history, Trinity is…a place where meaningful conversations between people with divergent viewpoints can happen… As the protest unfolds, I invite you to hold all those involved in your prayers: the protesters, neighborhood residents and business owners, the police, policy-makers, civic leaders, and those in the financial industry – ALL – and to consider the ways we might take steps in our own lives that improve the lives of others.
Not too bad a statement as these things go, and surprisingly sympathetic to the protestors. Though, as one might expect from that quintessential establishment church, the statement does lift up business owners, cops, politicians, and the financial industry as well. The Episcopal Church is, after all, the church of J. P. Morgan–and many of our nation’s presidents and founding fathers, including John Jay, the First Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, writer of many Federalist Papers, and a one-time warden of Trinity Church. Jay is the one who wrote that “The people who own the country ought to govern it.”
But the Episcopal Church is also the Church of Vida Scudder, whose feast day we celebrate tomorrow. Vida was an English professor at Wellesley, a labor activist, and a self-described “socialist Churchwoman.” She once led a protest outside the General Convention, because it was filled with the likes of Morgan and Jay. In her book, The Church and the Hour, published in 1917, Scudder writes the following:
This is the hour of opportunity; this is the hour of the Church. In the last fifty years she has accomplished a great preparation, by her rediscovery of the purpose of Jesus. Few and hesitant, however, have been her attempts to realize that purpose, to strive boldly, through profound labors of readjustment and reconstruction, to establish the Kingdom of God, the kingdom of love, on earth. Perhaps one cause of her semi-paralysis has been her failure to recognize that the central incident in the process of establishing the kingdom must always be a Cross.
It must always be a Cross.
Now, if Good Shepherd is like most Episcopal churches, it includes people all over the political map, from John Jay to Vida Scudder and everything in between. Athens being Athens, I’m sure we tend to cluster toward one end of that spectrum, but that doesn’t mean we all agree.
If I may, however, I’d like to draw our attention to one word in that statement from Fr. Cooper of Trinity Church. That one little word “All.” All means all. It doesn’t mean “some.” And therein lies the radical power of the Gospel. Therein lies the radical power of love. In an era of “diminishing democracy” and unaccountable elites, the Church remembers that all means all.
And, as a result, we don’t take our stand with one class or party. We don’t support the agenda of property owners or some self-appointed revolutionary vanguard, either of whom may be certain of the rightness of their cause. As followers of Jesus, we take our stand with the one God of ALL reality. Not the golden calf of this or that tribe but the liberator God, who creates a world from nothing and sets people free.
And that’s what’s at stake in today’s Gospel, isn’t it? The king holds a wedding feast for his son. But it’s not like the wedding feasts we see on the cover of the tabloids or some episode of “Real Housewives,” is it? It isn’t some fancy affair for the privileged few, the fabled one percent.
In fact, when the king holds a wedding banquet for his son, the in-crowd makes one excuse after another, refusing love’s invitation. Until at long last, the king has to throw wide open the doors: “Go therefore into the main streets,” he says, “and invite everyone you find there inside.”
And so they go. And they invite them in–really, they break down the doors. They invite everyone–the good, the bad, and the ugly–until ALL alike take their seats at God’s table.
There is that poor fellow who gets tossed out. What do we make of him? What is the wedding garment that he lacks? One traditional answer is charity. Or maybe it’s that holiness without which we will not see the Lord. And the closer we get to love, the closer we get to God, and the more we are made holy. After all, it is love’s banquet. But those of us who aspire to be one-percenters, who try to wall ourselves off from our neighbors (and, if need be, from God) may well find ourselves cast out.
All does mean ALL. We worship the God of the one lost sheep, as well as the ninety-nine who never left the fold.
And God really did give God’s only Son for the life of the world.
This is his banquet. This is his feast. It is the feast of feasts. A feast not like any other.
And all are invited. Not some. Not a privileged few. But ALL.
So come. Come to his table. Come to his feast.
Come and eat. Come and drink, without condition or price.
Because all means all.
And God so loved the world.