Terrance Shulman studies the way over 10% of Americans get a rush: shoplifting. He’s found a string of commonly held beliefs among shoplifters:
• Life is unfair
• The world is an unsafe place
• Nobody will be there to take care of me
• Nobody's really honest
• I'm entitled to something extra for my suffering
• Nice people finish last
• There's not going to be enough money to live
• It's a 'dog-eat-dog world' out there
In other words, , shoplifting is way for powerless to feel powerful. And, as with all addictions, the high gets harder and harder to reach. Getting something for nothing takes more and more work.
Can you really get something for nothing? At the very least, a shoplifter gives up the ability to look the checkout person in the eye with integrity.
I don’t usually get time to read the Sunday paper before church, but this morning a headline caught my eye: “Greed Before the Fall.”
After a lifetime of craving recognition, of building a flock that showered him with cash and helped build a business empire selling everything from toys to ships, Mr. Yoo found his moneymaking machine brought more that his own undoing, prosecutors say. It also contributed to one of the worst peacetime disasters in the nation’s history-the sinking of the ferry Sewol in April, which killed 304 passengers, the vast majority of them high school students.
It seems that in order to increase the profits for a power behind the scenes, the pastor of a 100,000-member church, the company added additional cabins and a marble laden art gallery, to appeal the clientele they most wanted to attract, on the upper decks. Then they loaded on so much cargo that it couldn’t be secured properly and intentionally drained the ballast water so that it would ride higher in the water. All of which made the boat hopelessly top heavy and vulnerable to the waves.
It was a horrific realization of the prosperity gospel gone wrong. In one of their more damning findings, prosecutors say that so much money was being siphoned away from the ferry company to Mr Yoo and his family that it was starved of funds and spent only $2 last year on safety training for the Sewol’s crew members. The money went to buy a paper copy of a certificate.
Can you really get something for nothing?
Last week in Genesis we saw Jacob getting something, well, actually two somethings, for almost nothing: his father’s blessing and his brother’s birthright.
Whereupon he promptly fled the scene.
Today, we see Uncle Laban trying the same kind of tricks with nephew Jacob. It seems to run in his mother’s family. How much can he get out of his nephew? He puts a lot of mental effort into tricking Jacob. After all, you can’t get something for absolutely nothing, right?
But Laban puts little physical effort into the wealth that accumulates from Jacob’s efforts. (Anita Diamont’s “The Red Tent” has a fantastic characterization of Laban.)
Jacob, on the other hand, throws his heart, soul, and back into working toward his goal. Jacob is caught by cupid, He’s in love, he’s all shook up.
Oscar Wilde used to say that “true friends stab you in the front." Laban is no true friend. He goes straight for the back. After seven years of service for the woman he loves, Jacob says, its time. And Laban throws a whopper of a wedding, showing his new wealth off to friends and family. (Isn’t that what weddings are for?).
They party long into the night.
The couple meets in their tent.
and Jacob is appalled.
It’s the wrong sister.
“Oh, didn’t I tell you,” explains Laban, “we never marry the younger before the older. It just isn’t done. But have I got a deal for you.
So Jacob gets a double wedding sandwich. Seven years of labor, seven days honeymooning with Leah. Seven days honeymooning with Rachel, his heart’s desire, and seven more years of labor.
Jacob truly does NOT get something for nothing. He gives it everything he’s got. He does it because a seed was planted deep in his heart the first time he laid eyes on Rachel. He found his pearl, the treasure that carried God’s purpose for him and promise to him of descendents as many as the stars. And even though he doesn’t love her the same way, he also honors Leah.
"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches."
God gives something for nothing to each of us and all of us twice, once at our birth and once at our rebirth. Not one of us earns the right to be alive. Not one of us earns the right to receive new life in Jesus Christ. But not one of us lives if we do not care for these gifts from God.
What is the seed God is planting in your life?
One of Jeff and my worship experiences while in Cambridge this month was with the Cambridge Methodist Circuit. 26 people from churches in the circuit led worship as they celebrated completing the 34 week Discipleship Bible course.
They were a varied group, from a curly haired young mother with her infant snug against her body as she read the Word, to an 80th something woman delighted to discover that God had new purpose and new gifts for her.
We sang George Wallace Briggs rousing hymn,
God is speaking by the Spirit,
speaking to our hearts again;
in the age-long Word declaring
God's own message, now as then.
Through the rise and fall of nations
one sure faith yet standing fast:
God abides, the Word unchanging,
God the first and God the last.
A number of the students shared answers to the question, “what challenged your faith to grow?”
The late 30-something woman said, “it led me into parts of the bible I might never have read no my own or in worship…to ask questions never would have thought of, not necessarily answered during the course.
The 80-something great grandmother thanked God for what she now felt newly called and gifted to do.
The gay man in 40 year relationship seeking coherence of faith and life, found, and offered, the treasure of 1 Corinthians 12’s view of love.
The 50 something witty guy who could have easily spoken all night and whose insight came in week 34 (the last session). God’s new Covenant, now it making sense and illuminated other parts of his life, like reading Wolf Hall’s debate on the bible.
The 60-ish lady raised Catholic in a time very different from our poast Vatican 2 world, whose mother was appalled at the thought of reading the bible. Now that she was being told it was alright, where to start? Disciple Bible created order out of chaos.
And the woman my age, who found the course dauntingly different from her college courses. This course challenged her to find the bible’s relevance for her own life.
It struck me that their immersion in scripture was like baptism.
God gives something for nothing to each of us and all of us twice, once at our birth and once at our rebirth, through Jesus Christ. These folks had taken the seed of faith and cultivated it, each in their own way, supporting one another in this season of growth.
Did they get something for nothing? Yes, and they discovered it with a little work and a time commitment that seemed enormous at the start but a blink of an eye at the end.
In their song, “Something for Nothing,” the band Rush sings,
You don't get something for nothing
You can't have freedom for free
You won't get wise
With the sleep still in your eyes
No matter what your dreams might be
True and not true.
The seed of life is free. And the seed of faith, of rebirth, is free.
And we are free to make of it what we will.
Dig a LIttle Deeper: Many of us look at the children crossing our borders as trying to get something for nothing. The Rev. Juan Guerrero, Ph.D., is superintendent of the United Methodist Mission in Honduras Read about the children of Honduras in his words. Then ask:
What are the roots of poverty in Honduras.
Why are children leaving their country now?
What's happening in our church, the United Methodist Church, in Honduras?
How might God, who gives us and them, me and you, the free gift of life, invite us to help these children experience life as gift?