What Hath Wall Street To Do With Jerusalem?
Whenever I preach sermons, there’s always more to the story. For example, a few weeks ago at Liberti Collingswood, I gave a message from Mark’s gospel, the first eleven verses of chapter fourteen. In that passage we encounter the crystalline-beautiful story of Jesus, the night before his crucifixion, being anointed at Bethany by an unnamed woman. Interestingly, however, that vignette is bookended by the sinister tale of Judas Iscariot’s finding the religious leaders in Jerusalem, which sets in motion the plot to murder the Christ.
I spoke of how these two stories conjure disparate story worlds that stand in striking contrast to each other. For Jesus’ anointing, we are accorded a window into a world of generosity, extravagance, beauty, and care for the marginalized. On the other hand, we find in Judas and the leaders a narrative that values above all else power, efficiency, results, and rewards. (You can check out the sermon online for details, plus for how it all relates to and depends upon the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.) Jesus both calls and empowers us to live out of the former story, reflect that narrative, and visage those values.
Nice message, right? I felt real good about it until four minutes after the benediction, at which point a friend approached me and said, “I’m in finance, and we’re trained to be all about efficiency, results, and the bottom line. How do I live out the story of Jesus’ anointing at my job without being fired?”
This was genuine, constructive dialogue about my sermon, and here’s why I loved my friend’d question: he was applying the gospel story to his vocation––which is a huge, necessary, and invigorating task with which Christians must engage.
Unlike the many polytheisms alive in the ancient near East, Israelites and Christians after them held that there existed one true God who created all things, sustained all things, and to whom all things and beings are accountable. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one,” many Jewish people pray even to this day, and likewise the apostle Paul reminds the Corinthian church, “For us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”
Ancient Christians would have understood that unlike for polytheists, there is not one god for our vocation, another for spirituality, another for nation, another for family, and so on. (And lest we blithely believe that we 21st century folks have left all that silly fragmentation behind, I’d suggest that we’ve merely postmodernized the same; don’t we often maintain different selves or lives for our work, our play, our love, our parents, our children, and more?) No, the church has confessed from the beginning that Jesus through his crucifixion and resurrection is crowned Lord of all! Therefore, we embrace our vocations as Christians. And in the case of my friend, should he practice finance in such a way that properly values generosity, extravagance, beauty, and care for the marginalized? Absolutely, because he’s a Christian.
But here’s also why I was nettled by my friend’s question: I didn’t have a good answer for him. Of course, any financier mustn’t exploit the poor and rob people of their wages, but she can’t very well show up at a shareholder’s meeting and proclaim, “I’ve liquidated all of our assets in a dramatic act of extravagant generosity; I look forward to my promotion, and I’ll have the Northeast corner office, thank you,” can she?
At one level, I’m sure that an “answer” as to how Christians might engage in finance would include something like employing generosity as a limiting concept, i.e., after a certain point ignoring the bottom line would hinder a company’s ability to be just and generous, both to its employees, customers, and the public at large. And so corporate responsibility and efficiency ought not ultimately to conflict with generosity and justice.
But come on, I know finance like I know boy bands––not very much! Christians, we need to dialogue with each other and within our vocations concerning how Christian values can flourish (and cause flourishing) in whatever public and vocational spheres to which we’re called. It’s a vital community project, and this summer at Liberti Collingswood, even, I’m hoping to provide a mini-course forum for peeps to discuss faith and vocation. (I’d hope too that this conversation would also be a missional one, such that we’d be able to invite non-Christian friends and neighbors to be part of an exchange in which we all might glimpse how people can find themselves fully integrated and whole under the kingship of Jesus.) Sure, we probably don’t want to paint “John 3:16” on the hoods of the cars Christians build, but we don’t want to stuff our faith in a locker right before we punch in, either.
It’s not about tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, Christian. Instead, Christian tinkers, anyone?