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I've returned home to the Philadelphia area for my longest stay in the area since moving to Virginia three years ago. And I'm amazed, and saddened, at the situation of the local economy. Living inside the Beltway, where government creates jobs even (and especially?) during depressed economies, I'm a bit insulated to the economic realities of the rest of the country. As I've driven around the Philadelphia suburbs and exurbs, I've passed more boarded up gas stations and restaurants, and seen more Dollar Stores, than I can remember seeing when I lived here three years ago. The situation isn't dire, for sure, but it is surely isn't that great.
"The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go." – Luke 10:1 (from this Sunday's Gospel reading).
I wonder what these seventy other followers of our Lord saw on their journeys. What was the condition of the people and the towns? How were the local economies? Did people have jobs? Was the harvest good? How were relations with the ruling Roman colonial leaders?
We don't know what the seventy saw on their missions, but we know that they reported with joy that "even the demons submit to us!" (Luke 10:17). We can assume that they healed the sick, as instructed by Jesus (Luke 10:9), and perhaps performed other miraculous acts.
What would seventy disciples see if they were sent into towns throughout our country? What kind of demons would they drive out of these towns, and of the people who live in them? Could this Sunday's Gospel text be read as a call to mission, to go out and cast out demons of economic depression and hopelessness? That's the direction I'm heading, I think.
Sunday is July 4, Independence Day, a fact that no preacher should ignore in preparing their Sunday sermon (but something that we needn't inappropriately embrace, either!). Can we preachers can use this text, on this national holiday and in these difficult economic times, as a call to serve our nation and our neighbors, to commit ourselves to working for jobs and opportunity, and to helping those who have neither.
Can you help with with my sermon? Please share with me stories of the local economy in your area. How are jobs? Are people optimistic about the future? What about high school and college graduates – how are they doing? Are there jobs for those new to the job market? What are the signs of hope in your neighborhood?
And what about your church? Is your church making efforts to help the poor or serve the newly unemployed? Is your church suffering decreased giving, and as a result being forced to change its ministries?
Please post comments here, on my Facebook page, or email me directly. Thank you very much.
3 thoughts on “Sending out the Seventy: What Do They See?”
Chris – I love this idea. I see the same things you see, but in my travels too Ohio I surely heard teachers worried about how things would b e paid for in their schools. My best friend said to me, “We were one of the only school’s left that DIDN’T have a ‘pay to play’ policy – meaning they have to pay for ANYTHING extra-curricular. And….they finally had to move to that. Just deprives those already struggling even more.
What I see in Albert Lea, MN (south-central and therefore “out-state” Minnesota):
For those involved in the farming economy, things seem to be reasonably stable. Fluctuating prices and natural disasters (such as recent tornadoes and flooding) create great stress, but most tough it out. Some sectors – dairy, cattle, hog farming – are definitely declining or gone in this area. Consolidated farms mean fewer families on the land, shrinking schools, shrinking tax-base, and congregations constantly in financial crisis. State budget crises exacerbate this as state-based services and assistance are in steep decline and budgets for schools, fire, police, nursing homes, etc. are in trouble.
The majority of employment in town used to be manufacturing or agri-processing. Most of the big companies left town in the last 20 years, so they’ve already faced the worst. Most now work for education, medical, or services. Housing prices are the same as before. The most recent economic crisis is seen in the disappearance of national chain stores (like Movie Gallery and K-Mart).
Those students who go one to college don’t return at all, unless they’re engaged in a family business. Some return after 10 years in the Cities to raise their kids, sometimes at significant financial sacrifice, so that they can enjoy the small town community.
I think the greatest challenge of ministry here, in terms of economic justice, is harsh judgment I see from the “haves” toward the “have nots.” We call it the “bootstrap mentality,” where folks want others to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, never noticing that the bootstraps broke long ago. One outcome is that it’s easier to accomplish international ministry/charity than to do local outreach.
Our economy in South Louisiana was doing fine…and then there was a little oil spill, and a moratorium on drilling in the Gulf. I understand the call for such a moratorium, but the impact it has on our economy can’t be understated. Not only does it affect the people who work on the rigs, but it affects the people who work in the refineries, in the petrochemical plants, etc., and ultimately, it affects the people who they buy goods and services from.
I live in Baton Rouge, and the impact of both the Katrina windfall (which sounds oxymoronic) drying up and now the oil spill on state revenues is dramatic. The legislature is unwilling to raise taxes, so instead they cut funding to education and health care, the only two areas the state constitution allows them to cut. The universities, which are the lifeblood of the Baton Rouge community, are increasing tuition and laying off staff.
Despite the large number of academics and oil-industry personnel in our congregation, our people haven’t been very hard hit. However, giving is most definitely down, though it is more in response to an interim ministry period that has gone on about a year too long (we passed the two year mark in May), and increasing frustration with our interim pastor (who is in her late 70’s and really shouldn’t be in ministry any more). We also haven’t really done anything to increase our help to our community, because we are waiting for our next pastor to tell us what to do. People see the needs, but when they try to respond – and to garner congregational support to do so – they are rebuffed because no one wants to do anything different until the new pastor arrives (we just got our MSP submitted last week). It can be incredibly frustrating.
I echo what Andrea M. said about the challenge being the have vs the have nots. When I first moved here, I worked for a very large, very wealthy congregation. This congregation does not allow anyone who is not a member to enroll their child in their school or daycare, to send their kids to their VBS, etc. Their youth do service projects, but only in service to the congregation and its members, or else on expensive mission trips. They don’t notice anything outside the very comfortable boundaries of the congregation. Meanwhile, literally blocks from the church building, there is a very poor neighborhood stuck very oddly in the midst of suburban cookie-cutter houses. The neighborhood is a leftover from the days when that entire community was farmland and plantations, and the houses are all shotgun houses built by sharecroppers. There is so much good that very wealthy congregation could do there, but instead they just build yet another building for their private school.
And again, I echo Andrea when she said that people are more likely to give for international ministries than local ones. Part of it, unfortunately, is the racism that seems to be an undercurrent in everything in the south. Oddly, that racism doesn’t extend to dark-skinned people who live elsewhere. I guess because they are on the other side of the world?
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