Money 4: God’s New Economy: Reflections on Consumption & Production after Pentecost.

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2014-06-08 by George Kaplan

Preacher: Andreas Andersson
8th June 2014
Readings: Acts 2:32-47, Luke 4:14-20

 

Acts 2:32-47

32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.
33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” ’
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.
44 All the believers were together and had everything in common.
45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Luke 4:14-20

14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.
15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read,
17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,because he has anointed meto proclaim good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisonersand recovery of sight for the blind,to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.

It might be going too far to say that the day of Pentecost is primarily a baptism – or birth – of a ‘new economy’, but it certainly does not stray far away from the point.

Suffice to say that ‘money’ (and even more so – economics) is near the heart of the good news the church is called to carry and embody, and thus also close to the heart of the Pentecost story.

It might also be oversimplifying things to say that the radically levelling socio-political claims made by Jesus in the Nazareth synagogue is directly paralleled in the post Pentecost practices of the budding group of Jesus followers we find in Jerusalem, as we notice them “having everything in common” and how they… sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met’ (‘The Message’)

But it is certainly worth exploring the connection, as this practice is not a new thing – We see enough similarities in the roving band of disciples in the gospels, and they – in their turn – clearly built on traditions of itinerant bands of disciples of rabbis who, in leaving family support behind, became ‘economies’ dependant on the charity of others. (= Chabourahs – ‘small study groups for Torah’. You’ll find the practice still connected today to Jewish Yeshivas – Torah and Talmud study centres).

In fact, what we see in the story from Acts (in as so much as we can know what it is) is an economy (oikonomia) – a way of being a household (oikos) – that seems oddly strange to us, even as Christians. The way the story is told seems to interrupt the grooves in which we run. We see here an economy assuming God’s providence and generosity to finally be what governs economical dealings. It assumes there is enough, because with God there is enough.

This – of course – is why I’d suggest we assume that this group of disciples were very much aware of the claims made by Jesus in his Nazareth manifesto.

I suspect the reason we find this story so alien is because we are raised with and within a story of economy and economics that assumes scarcity – there is NOT enough to go around! (We might call it “an ontology of lacking”. We assume there needs to be a struggle.) To this idea we are, as it were, sucklings more than we might want to know!

In fact, the very basis of our economical systems – trade, is based on scarcity! i.e. we must give up something (money or goods) to get what we need, because there is never enough. This – of course – is skewed on a global scale to mean that there will be folks whose needs are more readily met than others. Needless to say, we are part of this first group. We just don’t want to think about it too much, as this is a most painful reality.

William Cavanaugh reminds us (in ‘Being consumed’) that “… Economics will always be the science of scarcity as long as individuals continue to want. And we are told that human desire is endless” … ” (This) scarcity is treated as a tragic inability to meet to meet the needs of all people, especially those who are daily confronted with death because of hunger and extreme deprivation. At the level of experience, scarcity in consumer culture is associated with the pleasurable sensation of desiring. Scarcity is implied in the daily erotics of desire that keeps the individual in pursuit of novelty” Just think about the way in which advertising works, and how that way of telling a story is so prevalent everywhere (it is but amplified in the world of commercials & advertising)

One of the results of this pursuit of desire is a culture of detachment. And this is where the stories of The Nazareth manifesto and the economics of the post Pentecost community function in a potentially very ‘disrupting’ way.

By ‘culture of detachment’ I mean this; Our patterns of consumption are largely uninterrupted by those who produce the stuff we consume. That is; the trade we take part of to meet our desires is not dependent on us being neighbours in proximity – or in other close relation to – people whom we actually need to have this desire met!

So, in a consumer society (because that is what we are!) we are not attached to things or people but rather detached from them. We do not hoard money, we spend it. We do not cling to things as much as discard them, and buy new ones. Again, just think about how advertising works and how that is connected to the production of things, the quality of what is produced, and the prices. Retail prices are not real prices. Someone pays the cost, usually the folks who make the stuff that we consume, discard and then buy a new one etc – You can see the pattern, and you know the stories of big brands (and small brands) who get caught using cheap labour, often children.

For a detached consumer culture the problem therefore is “… not so much about having more as about having something else… (not) buying, but shopping is at the heart of consumerism” (Cavanaugh again)

One minute of silence / reflection:
Examples of the difference between buying and shopping?

Consumerism is of interest for us not primarily to bemoan our society (even though criticism – oftentimes expressed through grief and complaint – is part of our prophetic vocation). Consumerism is a spiritual disposition; It is a way of looking at the world around us, therefore saying something about our deepest desires and how they are shaped. This is a theological issue! This, again, is where our readings connect with our subject; We are, as creatures (and disciples) consumers and producers. How to be this in a way that reflects God, and the story of the new economy brought forth by God? How to address this? What resources are available to address this? This is stuff we might want to occupy ourselves when we seek to notice God’s kingdom and its claims on us (i.e. in prayer).

Stories:

A. Mine and Anna’s ‘book of expenditure’ (and tracing products/buying fairly traded or second hand stuff).

B. Friend who stopped salaried work for 7 years to be present for others, especially those hurting. This led to ‘a different economy’ kicking in, whereby her, and her husband simulated (and benefited from) a generosity otherwise dormant.

= It is relational. Therefore it slows us down and limits us. This is the clash of two different spiritualities, as mentioned above.Spiritualities expressed through how we relate to the other, here expressed through economical relations.

Also (as an aside); how such do we ‘produce’ in a household today? Being creative beings – producers – helps us stay connected to God’s creative work AND alert to what producing/creating actually means in terms of labouring and spiritual effort. (Any builders, painters, bakers, gardeners, musicians etc here will know!)

So questions of ‘how we spend’ (and on what…) cannot escape the question of why we spend (the spirituality), as evidenced by these stories and our readings. It seemed a clear observation to us (and to our friends), after just a few months of our practice, that we struggled with detachment from things and goods i.e why and how we spent money

The new economy visible – and made possible – in the Pentecost story seems to the world like ‘speaking in tongues’ (pun intended). Just as this unfettered language makes us (if spoken publicly) dependent on others to (and in need of trust in others… ) the economy visible here creates dependence and trust – the courage to live attached to others (including those who produce the goods that we buy and consume) That is, as it were, the ‘incarnational vocation’ of the church. (To “move in to the neighbourhood” and be present for others)

All this makes the logic running through ‘the Nazareth manifesto’, the chabourah practice of the disciples AND the post Pentecost behaviour/economy so significant. It seems to be connected to that announcement of Jubilee made by Jesus which does not imply some sort of ‘Christian communism’, but at the very least suggests that the righteousness going beyond that of the Pharisees (Matthew 5) has to do with economy. This righteousness, made possible by the Spirit, makes it intelligible to sell what we posses and put compassion into practice (the story of the rich ruler in Luke 18, and the other ‘money stories’ surrounding it) as a way of receiving the gift from God to be a people prefiguring the just redistribution of capital implied by the jubilee ordinance.

The coming of the Spirit, made the disciples ‘visible’ and their economy (dodgily as it may have worked, as illustrated in the continuation of the Book of Acts – and church history) different. Described here through the sharing of bread, the pooling and needs oriented redistribution of possessions, the disciples were in Jerusalem (as we are called to be here) primarily an energizing prophetic sign. There is hope. Finally, that is what we give and receive. Hope cannot be traded. It can but be received and given in this different economy of God.

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