Service Title: Struggle and Lament: We’re Going That Way
Speaker: Reverend Ari Douglas, Wisconsin Poor People’s Campaign
Scripture: James 5:1-6
There is sin in this land, and we in the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival are well aware of these sins of Racism, Poverty, The War Economy, Ecological Devastation, Lack of Health Care, and the Corrupt Moral Narrative of Christian Nationalism. With so much against us we must ask ourselves, what can keep us moving? What can keep us devoted to this movement to end these sins? This movement that calls for a Metanoia: sometimes translated as repent but better translated as complete transformation of minds, hearts, and lives. It is our morals, our deep seated spiritual calls to change the world, to repair this broken world, to take part in creation, to care for this earth and everyone in it. Everyone in, nobody out!
The scripture for tonight begins with pointing to the wealthy landowners, bosses, rulers of their property. These individuals, the scripture says, have been entrusted with overseeing the earth as well as making certain that those who work it are given just payment for their labor. These individuals have failed. Their wealth has led to their corruption. And they’re going to get what’s coming to them. They aren’t going to be rewarded for their abuse of others. They aren’t going to have their riches at the end of the day, whether that’s the end of their lives or the judgment day. Yes, on the judgment day, they’re not going to have any sort of reward because they’ve wasted it not on seeing that the world is more equitable, not making certain that workers in a pandemic of illness, a pandemic of racism, a pandemic of poverty are taken care of. No, they have stored it up like some sort of disturbing caricature of Scrooge McDuck. As funny as it may be to think of these wealthy swimming in their own filthy pieces of gold and silver, it’s not a laughing matter to think of those who are starving, those who are unhoused, those who are literally being killed by these landowners who aren’t sharing the product of their workers sweat. Indeed the product of their workers lives in some cases.
The very wages themselves cry out, calling us back to Deuteronomy 24:14-15 which states that you must take care of those who are with you. It doesn’t matter if they are citizens, immigrants, or just passing through. If they’re poor then the rich have a duty to care for them. If they have worked for you then they all need to be paid, and paid immediately. Often there are wealthy employers who find ways out of paying their employees. The prison system is one such example, we know that the prison system is simply a modern incarnation of slavery, that there is a pointed effort to jail black, brown, and poor white folk so that wealthy business owners can use the incarcerated’s hard work in those prisons for a fraction of and sometimes at no cost. Meanwhile, these very wealthy grow hideously wicked.
Their wickedness is so pervasive that these wayward wealthy Christians, and have we mentioned that this is a letter to the Christian community? So these rich people claiming to be Christian are taking advantage of other Christians. These Christian landowners are killing Christ Himself. The writer of James knows the parable of the goats and the sheep, he knows that anything that is done to the least of these they do to Christ. So Christ is being killed by these apostate Christians. I say apostate because this language is very similar to the language found in Hebrews chapter six verse six, that the horrendous behavior of these apostates is crucifying Christ himself. The horrendous behavior is not something about sexual morality but rather how the poor are treated. From Ezekiel 16:49: “’Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” So by refusing to pay them, by getting out of paying them, and yes by doing so right now, in 2022, these so-called Christians are killing Christ by killing their workers.
This happens right now, this happens all the time. We know that part of the pervasive issues with the corrupt moral narrative of Christian nationalism is that it blames the poor for their own sake and in doing so it gives a pass to the wealthy not to pay their fair share, not to care for their siblings, and that it is an example of absolute corruption which wealth leads to. Now I know I don’t have long, so let me say… Since March 2020, the beginning of the pandemic, two years ago now, while hundreds of thousands of people have died, while millions are on the edge of hunger and eviction, and still without healthcare or living wages, billionaire wealth has grown by over 2 trillion. Now, we may have people coming to us just like the friends of Jesus who happened to be Pharisees who came and said “You have to run! Herod’s out for you! He’s going to kill you!” Jesus said, “You tell that fox…” and we’re here to tell any politician who might be out for us, regardless of party, “You fox! We’re not going to run, we’re out here exorcizing the demons of racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation, and the corrupt moral narrative of religious nationalism! And we’re going to keep on keeping on! I might be killed, but on that third day, there is going to be such a resurrection! There is going to be such a Third Reconstruction! And we will live on in the movement, in the people! Now, and forever!” Because we cry out, just like all of our lost wages cry out, just like the earth cries out, we are going to D.C. on June 18, and we will be heard!