Session 4

Third Sunday in Lent: March 7

See Appendix B for recommended additional resources on this topic.

Core Preparation Introduction Opening Prayer Group Discussion Take Action Closing Prayer

Core Preparation
  • Read the 2021 proposed Social Principles: The Economic Community
    • Economic Challenges:
      • Section B. Poverty and Income Inequality (page 15) 
      • Section C. Human Trafficking and Slavery (page 16)
    • Economic Justice:
      • Section C. The Dignity of Work (page 18)
  • Read 2016 Resolution 3378. Racism and Economic Injustice Against People of Color in the US.
  • Read and set aside 10-15 minutes to reflect on Exodus 20:1-17 and John 2:13-22 using the meditations below. Please read the Scripture passages twice. The first time you read it, read the text to become aware of the story. The second time you read it, read a little slower. Let God guide you to the words or phrases to which God would like to draw your attention. Take some time to journal your responses to the readings. 

Exodus 20:1-17

God’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah is based on trust in a future they could not see and a world they could not even imagine. Recall the sequence of events: Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt; Jacob’s family lived through a famine and went to Egypt in search of security (Genesis 42-45); a new Pharaoh rose to power and the Hebrew people moved from guests to enslaved workers. What has happened to the covenant that God had made from the time of creation?

It is significant to note that while the Hebrew people were not enslaved through war, they were exploited for their physical labor. Physical labor would fuel Egypt’s military and economic domination of the region. And, it is important to understand that Egypt is the “master’s house,” a place the enslaved Hebrew’s had built. Journeying toward freedom, the Hebrew people realized this world was not at all like Egypt. There were actually alternatives to the exploitation they had experienced. Both economic injustice and slavery were not inevitable. The Hebrew word abad, defined as the freedom to serve God, is the same Hebrew word used for serving Pharaoh found in Exodus 5. In other words, the Hebrew people were now free to worship, serve God, and create a new covenant community. 

The difference is significant: the freedom to serve God ought never be understood as freedom to exploit those who were caused by the social systems to live in poverty or migrate, and those who were left widowed or orphaned. Theologian and civil rights activist Abraham Joshua Heschel puts it this way, “To be is to obey the commandments. I am because I am called to obey. ‘Thou art’ precedes ‘I am.’ Living means acceptance of obedience and commitment.” 

The 10 Commandments, or Decalogue, detailed in Exodus 20:1-21 and Deuteronomy 5:1-21, fulfills the covenant promise that God made with Abraham and Sarah in Deuteronomy 29 and Exodus 19:5-16. In other words, through this covenant, God privileges the needs of the weak over the wants of the strong and mandates a just response. How do we understand this? Do we experience freedom from systems of racialized social hierarchies as freedom to be fully human and to obey God above all others? How differently does our culture understand freedom and how does our understanding affect our spiritual life and our society? 

John 2:13-22

The dramatic image of Jesus walking into the Temple and overturning the money-changing tables is difficult to erase and the context of this story is complex. You have perhaps heard many interpretations of it over the years.  We will offer you an interpretation informed by Professor Amy-Jill Levine, a Jewish New Testament scholar who teaches at Vanderbilt Divinity School (see Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week, Abingdon: 2018). Her perspective is useful to understanding the institution of the Temple, and therefore the reasons why Jesus behaves as he does in the story.

The Temple was the center of Jewish worship where Jews renewed their covenant with God. It was the only place where Jews could offer the sacrifices required for reconciliation with God. It served as a tourist attraction, a bank, the symbolic and cultural center of Judaism, a pilgrimage site for festivals such as Passover, and a house of prayer “for all nations.” Levine suggests that Jesus was not enraged by the fact of currency exchange or the purchase of sacrifices in the Temple, because these practices were necessary to welcome visitors and the Jews didn’t want the extra burden of carrying their sacrifices from afar. Evidence doesn’t suggest that the community is otherwise condoning the practice of exploiting pilgrims with exorbitant exchange rates. 

Instead, by focusing on Jesus’ words in this passage, we see an allusion to Zachariah 14:20-21, which envisions a day when there no longer needs to be a marketplace in the Temple because access to reconciliation with God can happen everywhere. A paraphrased version of these verses is, “The cooking pots in all the homes of Judah will be as sacred as those in the Temple … and so there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord.” In other words, there will be a time when the Temple is transformed. This brings Jesus’ claim about raising the Temple in three days into focus, too. Jesus’ body becomes the new Temple; Jesus’ ministry is our model for discipleship; and we have access to reconciliation with God through Jesus, from anywhere. 

Jesus demonstrated that there is no longer a need for a set-aside marketplace to receive God’s grace; and as such, we have even less of an excuse to divide our lives into “worship at church” and the “regular programming” of our lives. The division between the sacred and the secular is artificial. Jesus has brought the sacredness at the center of the Temple into each community, home, and heart. Can we live in such a way that honors this unity? Do we worship God with our whole lives? Our interactions with others? Our prayers? Our downtime? Our spending and investment? Do our diverse communities and cultural, social, economic and political systems reflect this commitment to the dignity and sacred worth of all? What does it look like when all people are treated with dignity and sacred worth? 

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Though Scripture is full of evidence that God is concerned with how God’s people use their money, wealth, and other resources, this can be a challenging subject to discuss in church. Our session this week emerges out of that strong tradition in Scripture, and we focus on how money and wealth give us an opportunity to manifest our spiritual callings and ethical priorities. We reflect on the many ways we participate in the economic landscape in our communities: as workers, investors, shoppers, voters, and givers. We engage creative and prophetic ways to address the economic injustices experienced by Black, Brown, and Indigenous people -- those perpetuated historically and those that extend into the present. We consider God’s invitation to change practices in our lives that do not reflect the covenant God has given us for how we should live in community, and explore the ways the Social Principles and Resolutions give us concrete examples of how to do this faithfully. 

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Opening Prayer

From poet Maya Angelou 

Father, Mother God, Thank you for your presence
during the hard and mean days.
For then we have you to lean upon. 

Thank you for your presence
during the bright and sunny days,
for then we can share that which we have
with those who have less. 

And thank you for your presence
during the Holy Days, for then we are able
to celebrate you and our families
and our friends. 

For those who have no voice,
we ask you to speak. 

For those who feel unworthy,
we ask you to pour your love out
in waterfalls of tenderness. 

For those who live in pain,
we ask you to bathe them
in the river of your healing. 

For those who are lonely, we ask
you to keep them company. 

For those who are depressed,
we ask you to shower upon them
the light of hope. 

Dear Creator, You, the borderless
sea of substance, we ask you to give all the
world that which we need most -- Peace. 

– Maya Angelou

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Group Discussion

(Optional activities are provided in the sidebar to enable a customized experience.)

  1. Why do you think talking about money can be so uncomfortable? Does your church discuss it often? Given how powerful a tool money is for creating the type of world we want to live in, do you think your church should talk about it more or less?  
  2. How has your relationship with money changed over the years? How has your racial or ethnic identity informed your experience of money, wealth, debt, and investments?
  3. How we invest our resources and how we stand in solidarity with “the least of these” are prominent themes in Scripture. When listing “the least of these” in Scripture, we often see references to the poor, widows, orphans, and strangers (travelers). How would you describe populations that are particularly vulnerable to exploitation in the present? 
  4. United Methodists pledge to establish just, equitable, and sustainable economies that support abundant life for all. The new 2021 Social Principles say, “We reject religious teachings that view the accumulation of wealth as a sign of God’s favor and poverty as a sign of God’s disfavor. We reject preferential treatment in the church based on wealth and income. We also commit to work toward eradicating unjust practices, policies, and systems that have condemned entire generations to live in unrelenting poverty.” These are powerful words. Have you encountered religious teachers who connect wealth as a sign of God’s favor? If we do not approach wealth as a special blessing from God, how should we think about it? Does increased wealth create increased responsibility for our neighbors?
  5. Which of the 10 Commandments addresses income and income disparity? 
  6. What did you learn from the Scripture reflection exercises this week? Did anything challenge you? What have you continued to reflect on in light of this week’s  Scripture?
Watch Together

Watch Living Our Principles Episode 5, Chapter 3--Politics, Power & the World: Emira Woods. (Play for 8 min)

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Take Action

(Leaders should choose the path for reflection given the time remaining.)

  1. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many workers who earn below a living wage have been recognized as “essential.” The United Methodist Church resists oppressive practices when it says, “A living wage in a safe and healthy workplace with reasonable hours of work is a universal right not restricted by national borders.” (Book of Resolutions 4101: Living Wage Model). 

    Advocate with your legislators for economic relief packages and long-term structural reform measures that include unemployment benefits, paid sick leave, access to child-care, increased worker’s wages, and health and safety protections in the workplace. These policies will directly impact all workers, but especially communities of color. 
  2. Commit to read the Resolution in Support of Reparations for African Americans (2016 Book of Resolutions, #3066). This resolution describes the plight of millions of men, women, and children caused by the transatlantic slave trade. It highlights the legacy of unjust economic distribution of land and resources and requires that we address the right to secure reparations or satisfaction for the legacy of economic damage.

    Learn more about the late congressman John Conyers, Jr.’s. aspirations in H.R. 40 to the House of Representatives, calling for the establishment of the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans. Consider, and read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay “The Case for Reparations” Reach out to your members of Congress to find out their position on the question of reparations. Not sure who it is? Check here.
  3. Research local programs you can support that invest in and provide resources to minority-run small businesses. Perhaps these include micro-financing loans, incubator or apprenticeship programs, or grant writing classes. Learn more about the landscape of support that exists for minority-run business owners so that you reflect on how you can contribute to this effort. 

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Closing Prayer

From A Blessing for Workers and All Seeking Work 

Blessed are you, ever-creating God, 
In your image, our lives are made and in your glory, we offer all the work of our hearts, and hands, and minds. 
Blessed are you, O God, now and forever! 
Blessed are you whose work is repaid, for by your work, and by the payment you receive, your lives and the lives of others around you and around the world are blessed.
We thank God for you day-by-day. 
Blessed are you whose work is unpaid, who offer what you can to enrich the lives of others, through time, talents, skill, strength, and love.
We praise God for your generous labor! 
Blessed are you who seek work but have not found it, or whose work now is not yet what it may be, yet still you seek, that your gifts may be shared more fully.
We praise God for your diligent seeking and pray you may soon find what you seek.
Yours is the glory in their labors. 
Yours be the glory in all our lives, in Jesus' name. Amen.

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