December 5, 2010

Luke 2: 8-20

“The Shepherds: Witness Workforce and Praise Personnel”

Franklin Circle Christian Church

Rev. Allen V. Harris

[Note: I have been having problems with my MP3 recorder, and this sermon did not record properly.  I have fixed the problem and hope to be back to my podcasts next week!  I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.  ~ Allen]

Three things happened this week that caused me to think more intentionally about those who make up our labor force in this country and in this world.  One, of course, was the debate in congress about extending, or not extending as the case may be, unemployment benefits during this economic crisis.  The second, less well known to the world but more up front and personal to this congregation, was the resignation of our Administrative Secretary, Yvonne Hathorn, for financial reasons.  She just couldn’t make ends meet on her two part-time jobs and her fledgling catering business.  The third was a Christmas Ornament on our tree.  But I’ll tell you more about the ornament later.

Today’s familiar passage of scripture from Luke, the story of the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem receiving the joyful proclamation of the heavenly hosts about the birth of the Messiah, has also focused my mind on workers, laborers, and those employed to do what is all-too-often labeled as “menial labor.”  Shepherds, because of their largely nomadic way of life, having to allow the sheep to move from pasture to pasture to find good grass upon which to feed, and the need to be strong and able enough to ward off wild animals, were thus often younger, single males who not yet found partners and mates.  It is not pretty work, nor is it easy.  It makes a person hard and tough quickly or it breaks you.

Having so many folks who are working class in this congregation has given me an even deeper appreciation for labor.  I now notice and listen more closely when I hear phrases like “working stiff,” “hired hand,” “working man/woman,” “hireling,” “unskilled worker,” or “migrant worker.”  I pay more attention than ever before when there’s news about factories or assembly lines, labor disputes or strikes, wages and benefits.

There is power of knowing that some of the least appreciated and most hard-working people one can imagine are the very ones that God called to do great things!  Moses and David were shepherds.  Cain was a farmer.  Hagar was a maidservant.  Andrew and Peter were fisherfolk.  Paul, Aquilla, and Priscilla were tentmakers.  Lydia dyed (and presumable sold) cloth.  And, of course, Jesus, following in his father’s footsteps, was a carpenter.

Much like this congregation and it’s mission throughout the 20th century, I have always had a tendency to root for the underdog, to align myself with those who are marginalized, outcast, and seen as the least amongst us.  We do this, in large part, because of Jesus’ own mission to bring good news to the poor and release to the captives (Luke 4:16-21) and his strong and steady message to us to serve the least amongst us (Matthew 25:31-46).  But we also seek out and serve, welcome and empower the last, the least, and the lowly because  consistently the Bible shows us a God who has a “preferential option for the poor,” to use a phrase from Liberation Theology (1)

Next week we will hear the story of Mary, mother of Jesus, and her song of praise to God for choosing her to be the mother of the Messiah.  She, too, will speak of God’s preference for those who are poor, marginalized, and on the edges of society, when she sings “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly, God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

So, aligning oneself with laborers is not simply a biblical tradition, but a mandate in my book.  So, as we once again put together in our hearts and minds this Christmas, 2010, we might want to put a more realistic face onto the shepherds that were bathed in angelic light and song that first Christmas night.  Here are some of the ways in which I seek to live out my commitment to the Biblical emphasis on laborers and, specifically, to the focus on shepherds in the story of Christ’s birth.

+ To admit and share the pain and heartache I am feeling for the members of our congregation and community who are out of work, looking for work, underemployed, on the anxious edge of employment, and those staying in unfulfilling and dis-heartening jobs far longer than they might otherwise because of the difficult economy.

+ To educate myself on news about the economy, labor, employment, and disparity of wealth.  Some recent headlines: New York Times of November 23 declared that “Corporate Profits Were the Highest on Record Last Quarter.”  What does that mean when people in this congregation and community as still looking for work?  In that same issue a headline read, “With a Swagger, Wallets Out, Wall Street Dares to Celebrate.” (2) In a Forbes.com posting titled, “The Great Divide In Corporate America: CEOs and Employees,” a recent study noted says that in 2009 CEO’s of major U.S. corporations averaged 263 times the average compensation of American workers.  In the 1970’s it was only a mere 30 times the average pay. (3)

Finally, and most concretely, I am going:

+ To recommitting myself to my ongoing and longstanding practice to buy “Made in the U.S.A.” and “Fair Trade” products, in large part because by doing so I am part of making sure the folks who made the products might more likely be getting a living wage by doing so.  It’s worth it to me to pay a bit more for products if that means my neighbor can have food on the table and health care when she or he gets sick. (4)

This brings me to my third example from the start of my sermon.  The Christmas Ornament.  Last night Craig and my home was on the Ohio City Christmas Walk home tour.  In addition to celebrating Craig’s fascination for all things related to “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer,” we also celebrated “Christmas By Krebs,” (5) a German-style ornament factory that built a factory in my hometown of Roswell, New Mexico.  These ornaments are incredibly beautiful, and are made by neighbors of mine… no ours… in the United States of America, where they have a living wage with benefits.  I proudly told many of the 700+ people who went through our home about this wonderful company and how I am willing to pay a dollar or two more for not only a GREAT product, but to insure, literally, that my family’s neighbors have a job.

We can sing about the shepherds who were amazed by the angels’ song, “Hosanna in the highest, and peace on earth towards all.”  We can move our shepherd figures close to the little wooden or plastic manger scene as December 25 gets closer.  But I would challenge us all to think a little bit more clearly and honestly about these amazing laborers of the first century, and how we – you and me – can work to make sure that the laborers of our day are honored and respected with living wages and benefits that allow them to be healthy, happy, as well as productive.  That would be the best way to honor the Christ Child this Christmas.

Amen.

(1) Gustavo Gutierrez’s work, Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, Salvation, 1972, has been considered one of the most important theological works of the late 20th century. He penned the now widely used phrase that “God has a preferential option for the poor.”  See a great news story on this at:  http://www.covchurch.org/cov/news/item5287.  For more information on Liberation Theology, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberation_theology

(2) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/24/business/economy/24econ.html and http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/24/business/24swagger.html

(3) Find this article at:  http://blogs.forbes.com/work-in-progress/2010/10/04/the-great-divide-in-corporate-america-ceos-and-employees/   For the full report, go to:  http://www.ips-dc.org/reports/executive_excess_2010

(4) Websites:

(** Note: I offer these only as references and resources.  I do not necessarily agree with nor support all of the perspectives offered on these websites.  ~ Pastor Allen)

General Organizations/Websites for living wage/workers’ justice groups:

Jobs With Justice – http://www.jwj.org/

Searchable databases of Made in the U.S.A. products

Made In The U.S.A.:  http://www.MADEinUSA.org/

Still Made In The U.S.A.: http://www.stillmadeinusa.com/

Americans Working: http://www.americansworking.com/

And my favorite product Made In The U.S.A.:

New Balance Shoes: 25% of their products still made in the U.S.A.: http://www.newbalance.com/usa/#/made-in-usa

Fair Trade Websites (products made around the world):

Fair Trade USA: http://www.transfairusa.org/

Fair Trade Federation: http://www.fairtradefederation.org/

And my favorite fair trade product:

Equal Exchange Coffee: which I purchase at Dave’s Supermarket in our neighborhood!  or online at:  http://www.equalexchange.coop/

(5) http://www.christmasbykrebs.com/

About Christmas by Krebs

For thirty-five years Roswell, New Mexico has been the home of Christmas by Krebs.

Our state-of-the-art equipment and innovative personnel produce some of the prettiest and highest quality glass ornaments in the marketplace. Our USA facility is the mainstay of Christmas by Krebs. The vast majority of the glass offered in our product line is made in the U.S.A. We believe that keeping our promises is a personal obligation to the customer.

Christmas by Krebs is a family oriented company and for four generations the Krebs family has been at the helm to help guide us.

Christmas by Krebs has always been known in the Christmas industry as being the leader in color trends and fashion designs. Christmas by Krebs studies the market places around the world, including the textile market, home furnishing market and tabletop market.

We bring our customers’ glass ornaments to match what is happening in the Home Industry.

Our close ties with family members operating factories in Germany and our global knowledge and awareness has allowed Christmas by Krebs to be on the cutting edge of what is on the horizon in upcoming color trends and shapes.

To meet the fast changing pace of the glass ornament industry from around the world, Christmas by Krebs invests a great deal in the research of new equipment and processes to produce glass with unique finishes and designs that cannot be matched by any other manufacturer in the world. Christmas by Krebs also acknowledges the growing interest in glass from Europe, Mexico and Asia. In a continued effort to be the leader in the glass ornament industry, Christmas by Krebs has started the development process of working not only with family based European factories but with some of the leading glass factories in Asia. This will allow Christmas by Krebs to combine some of our manufacturing processes with unique shapes and finishes that are only available from these countries. As a leading glass ornament supplier for the majority of the USA retailers, the ongoing goal of Christmas by Krebs is to meet the retailer’s total glass ornament needs and requests.

It is our goal to become a one-stop shopping partnership for glass ornaments with all levels of our customer base.

It is our intention to have an “answer in glass” for all the customers needs. The consolidation of these glass sources under the Christmas by Krebs banner will enable us to truly be a “Total Glass” supplier. By taking this approach along with our high standards for quality, on time delivery and ability the set trends, Christmas by Krebs is and will be a premier supplier of Christmas glass.

 

Advertisements