Making God Angry

The Widow's Mite - Luke 21:1-4
The Widow’s Mite – Luke 21:1-4

sermon preached by Rev. Brian Merritt at Renaissance Presbyterian Church

Text: Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

As a pastor when I continually encounter people who are not getting enough food to eat, in a land of plenty I get angry. When I am asked about helping with utilities, transportation, housing or health I am livid. When I watch our society demonize, criminalize and ostracize the poor I am livid. There are two reasons this makes me incredibly angry.

First, I grew up with many of my relatives extremely poor. In a rural state, and most with little education or trade opportunities there was very little economic opportunities. I believe that I have 6 or 7 relatives who currently work for Wal Mart. While Wal Mart is the largest employer in the United States, it in no way provides its employees with living wages or the benefits required to survive in our society.
I have watched over the years the unnecessary suffering that many of them have had to endure because of a callous government, an un Christ like church and exploitative labor practices unhindered by corporate USA.

The second reason I get angry is that I am attempting to be a person that takes seriously their spirituality. I am a person who reads the Bible and takes it seriously. Yet, I do not need to be literalist to understand what makes God and Jesus furious. It is injustice to those who our society makes unnecessarily vulnerable.

I completely and wholeheartedly agree with our current Mayor Andy Berke’s assessment of budgets when he opens this year’s Chattanooga budget saying, “city government’s budget reflects our priorities and that of our citizens.” I would go even further than Berke does and remind us that according to everything we know about God, Budgets are moral documents. So, shame on him and this government in the eyes of an angry God.

Here are snippets from Chattanooga’s proposed 2017 budget.

$129,842,373 Salaries and Benefits over 50% of the current budget.
63,549,389 Police
38,784,963 fire department
50,000 goes to Affordable Housing overseen by our democratic process. Another
225,000 goes to IRONMAN competition.

I can hear the pale arguments from those on the left and right who crave status quo. We need security, safety in the streets. More body armor is needed, surveillance is an essential so that my kids can safely make it to their mostly white school and return to their gentrifying neighborhood, and we definitely can’t do without the newest biometrics in ballistics. Or on housing, well we have Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise. They are an independent non-profit that gets over a half a million dollars. Part of their mission is affordable housing. They are building cute small houses in our gentrifying neighborhood. I know that their board is filled with bankers, developers, realtors and private schools, but they are a caring elite. I know there isn’t real democratic oversight of our tax dollars, but they are trying to be good. Ironman makes us hip. It brings money into our city on a day when many of our businesses are closed, but it makes us hip. Look, our city budget is not that much different from city budgets across this country.

Gig city!

When this city’s investment in housing amongst its own government comes to less than $1,000 a person in Westside’s section 8 housing alone we know there is a moral problem with priorities. The poor, the widow the orphan, the immigrant, the working poor, the victim of historic racism or displacement, the homeless, the veteran, the abused or the hungry get shorted by a budget that attempts to show that as citizens of this city they don’t really exist.

They tell us that the housing authority across the street is in dire need of at least $50,000,000 in work. Where exactly is that in this budget? Is it the $50,000? Where is College Hill’s Renaissance? Where is our council member Chris Anderson? I have not seen him in this neighborhood in quite a long time. It is time to stop being civil and start being angry.

I completely and wholeheartedly agree with our current Mayor Andy Berke’s assessment of budgets when he opens this year’s Chattanooga budget saying, “city government’s budget reflects our priorities and that of our citizens.” I would go even further than Berke does and remind us that according to everything we know about God, Budgets are moral documents. So, shame on him and this government in the eyes of an angry God.

Give me the liberty of paraphrasing Isaiah this morning.
I don’t want your worship; I am disgusted by your Sunday singing. Don’t act like I condone this. If you think that taking communion will make you one with me this morning, think again. Before I will accept any of this worship you give me at your synagogue, church or mosque you have to actually live like I matter in your community. Unless you are for justice, unless you stand with the oppressed, the poor, single mother, the abandoned child, or the immigrant do not act like I am on your side. You want to argue against these people, then let’s argue. You are living in sin and I am furious. Turn from this abomination and become obedient to my wishes.

That is not the God I learned in my nice, white suburban church. That is a fiery God who stands with those who are oppressed. So, if we intend to be followers of the Word, we need to find ourselves on the side of the oppressed as well. Otherwise, God makes it clear that the divine really has little time for our spiritualizing, self-help.

How did I come to these Biblical insights? I have seen it amongst you and the work you do in this church. We are a bulwark against the cynical neo-liberalism that says much, but does very little for the vulnerable. We are a witness to the church who also mirrors this immoral attitude in its budgeting as well. The fact that this church exists at all is a testament to a living God. We have not abandoned this neighborhood, nor do we see anything but Christ in the people who live here. Thanks be to God!

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