Having been a banker, I guess a desire of mine in coming to work for the Church some 26 years ago was an endeavour to pursue the sacred and leave the profane behind.
But the profane keeps dogging me, particularly as the Church embarks on entrepreneurial ways to generate income for ongoing missional purposes.
In this regard, I recently read an interesting interview with Czech economist Tomas Sedlácek by Ross Gittins in The Age (6 April). Sedlácek has been described by the Yale Economic Review as one of the promising “five hot minds in economics”. His book, Economics of Good and Evil maintains that “greed is the beginning of everything” and relates this to the original sin of the first human couple in the Garden of Eden.
The article states: “… it is true that Jesus chased from the temple ‘men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money’, but he didn’t chase them further. His problem was not with their commerce but with their mixture of the sacred with the profane.”
To help sort all this out in my mind I commenced the series of six bible studies exploring “Who God is calling us to become in this new season of the Uniting Church”. The title of the series of studies is ‘A New Season’ and can be found at www.listeningpost.victas.uca.org.au/a-new-season . Study one, ‘Good News and the Mission of God’, challenges us to enquire into the core purpose for God’s Church in the context of the synod Major Strategic Review.
Dutifully, I re-read the story of tree climbing Zacchaeus [Luke 19:1-10], followed by the parable of the “wicked nobleman” [Luke 19:11-27] which is similar to the parable of the talents in Matthew. Not so dutifully, I proceeded to undertake the bible study on my own, without the opportunity of listening and talking to others as suggested.
I decided to do my talking through this column and look forward to any response it may prompt.
I skipped the first question posed in the study, involving terms and definitions and the meanings they held for me and moved on to the subsequent question which makes reference to the following quotation from Professor William Loader:
“The choice of life and death is often not a choice between blatant opposites, but between what masquerades as good and what truly is good for humankind and our world. That is why it is so hard for people to make the move.”
I found this to be quite a provocative statement, particularly in a climate within the life of a Church that is potentially open to property development in order to maximise income generation for the purposes of mission. It struck me that this goal may “masquerade as good” and therefore be very difficult for the Church to decide.
In his interview, Sedlácek refers to a saying – “the good is the enemy of the better” – which, he says, is also correct the other way around, “the best… or chasing it … is the worst enemy of the good”.
This brought me back to contemplation of the two readings in Luke. It seemed to me that they had more to do with the character of God than maximising gains and/or ‘good’ stewardship. Perhaps a stand-out characteristic of the people of God is that we are often called to be counter-cultural.
“Christianity,” Sedlácek says, “doesn’t condemn the material, but it does condemn materialism.” Undoubtedly, the Uniting Church remains materially well-endowed and, as we pursue our Major Strategic Review, we are beginning to explore how we might best ‘materialise’ assets in order to generate a steady flow of missional income.
Herein resides my discomfort. For from the tree that I have climbed, I can see a not too distant country wherein, rather than saving the lost, we could become lost ourselves – particularly if we are hell-bent on chasing the best of returns. Remaining detached from such a country is subtle.
But if we can manage to do that, we may just find that, along with Zacchaeus, salvation comes to our house.