Morning Worship Column: Divine Forgetfulness Brings Justice and Dignity to Economic Relationships

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I am letting the New Testament take a rest today in order to spend time with Jesus’ bible that informed his thought about money and power,” said the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor at the 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning worship service. Her sermon title was “Divine Forgetfulness” and the Scripture text was Deuteronomy 24:10-22.

The text reflects a “faith that moves us,” she said.

“Pay your workers, be kind to debtors, leave harvest in the fields. Money connects us even when love fails,” Taylor said. “At best it is a claim check that works in trust, as Steve Forbes said. At worst it divides those with more from those with not enough.”

Who knew, eight years ago, that home mortgage loans in California would bankrupt the country of Iceland? Now, who knows what the Brexit vote will mean?

“We make jobs when we buy things,” she said. “What happens when we don’t buy 400-thread-count monogrammed sheets for dogs?”

If one took a dollar and marked it and sent it around the world for a year, it would touch thousands of people, she said. Money is public and, like breath, it takes lungs to move it around.

Taylor said she was a modest investor.

“My [financial] adviser calls me quixotic. I watch SolarCity go down [in the market] and Wal-Mart go up,” she said. “I miss the good old days when I forgot about the market until it was tax time. It is hard to forget when you remember you have it.”

In the New Testament, Jesus tells his followers not to worry about what to wear, eat or drink but to first seek the kingdom of God and all those things will be given to them.

“Worry takes up a lot of time. If we don’t have these things, we worry about what will happen [to us],” she said. “If we have enough, we worry how to manage it.”

The Torah portion she used was written for those with wealth to manage.

“It is a lifeline, not a brick,” she said. “There are nine commands here to help make you slightly more generous, and all except the one on death, they are meant for those at the top of the food chain.”

Taylor said as people moved into the cities, they lost the old family and neighborly connections that served as a safety net. Not much has changed in 2,500 years, as success has made people more isolated from community support systems.

“Everyone is economically related, whether you’re a borrower or a lender, a worker or one who hires workers, if you buy or barter; this is what truly makes us kin,” she said. “This is the daily give and take of services that makes life possible.”

In Biblical times people traded with things, not paper money. In the text, the lender is told not to go inside to take collateral for a loan, but to wait for the borrower to bring it out.

“This command is about the dignity of people who ask for help,” Taylor said.

In the same way, the command to return the cloak of a borrower every evening to use as a blanket reminds the lender that that is what the face of a borrower looks like and, perhaps, he will forgive the loan. Another command places limits on the rich to pay workers every day.

“They have children who need food,” Taylor said. “They should not have to explain to you why they need to be paid; to get their wages should not cost them one cent of dignity.”

Taylor said as a Christian, she tends to look at those commands in terms of charity, but there are three about leaving the harvest for the poor that are about justice. She asked why not just bag the leftovers and take them to the fatherless, the foreigner and the widow.

“You know that the hand that gives is higher than the hand that receives. At the door, the giver is looking for praise for the good deed,” she said. “It is more joyous for people to gather their own without the need to thank those who have.”

There is an odd command, she said, to leave the sheaf that you forgot for the fatherless, foreigner and widow.

“How can you fulfill a command by forgetting? When you remember that you forgot, leave it, but don’t just leave it; you have to forget,” she said. “I think this is the most charming command in the Bible. It is an alternate spiritual practice, not counting your sheaves all the time, knowing there is plenty really for you, the alien, orphan and widow, and the raven, the deer and the rabbit, for they are neighbors, too.”

There were two more commands in the text in addition to the other nine.

“Remember you were slaves in Egypt,” Taylor said. “This is a command to remember where you came from and who was with you all the way. Give a microloan with no collateral; put a sign on your snow peas, help yourself, then forget the wealth for your sake.”

“Forget to count the sheaves; practice divine forgetfulness because you are grateful to be here now,” Taylor said. “Aren’t you grateful to be here now?”

The Rev. Luke Fodor presided. Laura Holland, a fourth-generation member of the International Order of the King’s Daughters and Sons, read the Scripture. Holland studies nursing at Loyola University in Chicago. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the Motet Choir in “Jordan’s Angels” by Rollo A. Dilworth. The prelude was Divertissement No. 1, opus 68, by Friedrich Kuhlau, presented by Barbara Hois on flute and Joseph Musser on piano. This week’s services are supported by the Jackson-Carnahan Memorial Chaplaincy.


The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.