October 23, 2011: Golden Calves, Bulls & “Occupy Wall St”

Posted on : Oct 20th, 2011 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

There’s an old joke in clergy circles that’s often passed around at stewardship and pledge time.  It goes something like this: “50 weeks out of the year we preach that ‘money is the roof of all evil.’  The other 2 weeks of the year, we ask them to give it to the church.”

Is “money the root of all evil?”  You’ve never head ME say that!  In fact, money is morally neutral.  Money has no moral value.  The moral value of wealth and money is a “people issue” – that is, “how we use it!  For example, a dollar bill is simply a piece of paper with an image printed on it.  The value judgment concerning how it is used is not on the dollar bill itself, but on the person who has it or uses it.

So many people have heard it preached that “money is the root of all evil” that they are sure that quote is from the Bible.  It’s not.  It’s yet another verse of the Bible that is misquoted.  The actual verse is from First Timothy 6:10 “The love of money is the root of all evil.  Some people, in their passion for it, have strayed from the faith and have come to grief amid great pain.”

The “Occupy Wall Street” movement is becoming a global response to people’s questioning of corporate domination and control of wealth worldwide.  In the last decade or so there has been a massive redistribution of wealth both in the United States and worldwide.  This redistribution has moved from the many to the few.  Jim Wallis, the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street — A Moral Compass for the New Economy, and CEO of Sojourners, an evangelical movement for peace and economic justice writes:

Since the Occupy Wall Street movement began, the talk about inequality has been greater than I can remember it being for a very long time. This has been the elephant in the room in our discussions about the economy that nobody wanted to say out loud. In the last hundred years, there have been two peak periods of great inequality in American society—just before the Great Depression, and in 2008, right before our current Great Recession. And in the mysterious and secret global transactions between investment bankers and hedge fund traders, the profits continue to grow.

From 1973 to 1985, the financial sector peaked at 16 percent of domestic corporate profits. In the 1990s it reached postwar period highs by going between 21 and 30 percent. But this decade it hit 41 percent. These profits weren’t from products, and weren’t always from finding the best use for capital, but from money making more money for a new class of super-rich financial traders. And now, when their risk taking, greed, and selfishness created a mess for so many others, we bailed them out and left everyone else to suffer in the economic wilderness of unemployment, home foreclosures, pension losses, deep middle-class insecurity, and rising poverty rates.

Opportunity is a lost hope for many, as social mobility in America is now less than in Western Europe. And if you search the scriptures, you’ll find that God not only cares about poverty, but, especially, unfairness and inequality. That’s what the young people at Wall Street are angry about.

Last Sunday at the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr memorial in Washington, D.C., Bernice King, Dr. King’s daughter said:

“We should never adjust to one percent of the people controlling 40 percent of the wealth. I hear my father say, ‘We must have a radical revolution of values and reordering of priorities of this nation.’” – (New York Times)

Last Sunday a group from the Judson Memorial Church (which is located not far from Wall St in NY City) made a golden calf and marched with it to the “Occupy Wall Street” gathering, then hosted an interfaith worship service.

It’s not the golden calf that is idolatrous in the story, it’s the people’s loss of faith in God that is.  The context of this story is that Moses has gone up the mountain to be in the presence of God.  “Moses was an extremely long time in returning from the mountain, and when the people saw this, they turned to Aaron (Moses’ brother) and said, ‘Come and make a god for us, someone who will lead us.’

This Sunday we are going to explore the ways spiritual dynamics of greed and idolatry, and how wealth may have become our “golden calf – “the God who will lead us.”




This Sunday’s Scripture

Exodus 32: 1-6, 15-24

The Israelites lose faith in God.

They build an idol to worship and to lead them: a golden calf.

Moses was an extremely long time in returning from the mountain, and when the people saw this, they turned to Aaron and said, “Come and make a god for us, someone who will lead us.  We don’t know what has happened to that Moses, who brought us up from the land of Egypt.”

Aaron replied, “Remove the gold earrings you are wearing* – wives and husbands, sons and daughters alike – and bring them all to me.”  [*part of the “spoils” they “took” when they left Egypt.]  All the people brought their gold earrings to Aaron.  Aaron took the gold, melted it down and cast it in a mold, and made it into a calf, a young bull.

Then the people said, “Israel, here is your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!”

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before the idol proclaiming, “Tomorrow we will have a feast in honor of Yahweh, our God!”**

In the morning the people rose early, sacrificing burnt offerings and bringing communion offerings, and then they sat down to eat and drink, and lost themselves in debauchery.

15Then Moses made his way down from the mountain, bearing in his hands the two tablets of the Covenant, inscribed on both the front and back.  These tablets were the work of God’s hand, and the writing that was engraved on them was God’s writing.

When Joshua heard the noise of the people celebrating, he said to Moses, “It sounds like a battle in the camp.”

But Moses replied, “Those are not the shouts of victory, nor the cries of defeat.  The sounds that I hear are sounds of debauchery.”

As Moses and Joshua drew near the camp, they saw the calf and the dancing.  Moses’ anger raged, and he threw the tablets down and smashed them at the base of the mountain.  Seizing the calf that they had made, he threw it into the fire and melted it.  What came out of the fire he ground to a powder, and this he sprinkled on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.

Moses then asked Aaron, “What did these people do to you, for you to bring such terrible sin on them?”

Aaron replied, “Please, my sovereign, do not let your anger rage.  You yourself know these people, and how they are inclined to wickedness.  They came to me saying, ‘Make us a god to lead us!  We do not know what has happened to this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt.’  So I said to them, ‘Who has gold?’ Then they removed their jewelry and gave it to me. I threw it into the fire – and out came this calf!”

**The “name of God” in this text is the Hebrew representation of “Israel’s One God,” YAHWEH.  Aaron seems to view the calf not as a rival power, but as a symbol of Yahweh God.  Many gods and goddesses in the ancient world were presented as bulls or cows.  Here the bull particularly represents fertility.

First Timothy 6: 6-12

Timothy teaches about the love of money.

There is of course, great benefit in religion, but only for those who are content with what they have.

We brought nothing into the world, nor have we the power to take anything out.  If we have food and clothing, we have all that we need.  Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and a trap.  They are letting themselves be captured by foolish and harmful desires which draw us down to ruin and destruction.  The love of money is the root of all evil.  Some people, in their passion for it, have strayed from the faith and have come to grief amid great pain.

But you are to flee from these things.  As one dedicated to God, strive to be a person of integrity and piety, filled with faith and love, patience and gentleness.  Run the great race of faith.  Take firm hold of the everlasting life to which you were called when, in the presence of many witnesses, you made your good profession of faith.

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