Corporate Greed as Sin


SERMON: The Tragedy of Sin

United Church of Cloverdale

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Greg Bentall

The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on April 20 could be expected.  It was clearly NOT an accident, but a DISASTER waiting to happen.  According to the dictionary, an accident is:

  • Any event that happens unexpectedly, without a deliberate plan or cause.

Police no longer talk about car “ACCIDENTS.”  They are now called COLLISIONS.  The logic here is that accidents are things that happen unexpectedly, and are hence unavoidable.  If a drunk driver causes a collision it is no accident, but rather a predictable tragedy.

Imagine a collision where one driver stops on a green light, and then gets rear-ended by the driver of the second car:  The driver of the second car might protest:  “But I had no chance to stop!  The car in front of me stopped on a green light and I ran into him!”

But the truth is that all automobile collisions could be avoided if only we took action FIVE SECONDS before the collision occurred.  Perhaps the driver in this instance might have been paying closer attention to the traffic and road conditions.  Then, maybe that driver would have seen the dog that darted into the intersection.  Or perhaps, the driver could have slowed down by five or ten miles per hour, giving that driver time to stop, even when the driver in front stopped suddenly at a green light.

At the Deepwater Horizon there were warning signs days ahead that went unnoticed.  The first sign was that the seal on the blowout preventer had blown days ahead, and bits and pieces were appearing on the surface.

It also turns out that the blowout preventer, the so-called “fail-safe” device, was itself DEFECTIVE and inoperable.  Dead batteries on control panels meant that the device could not operate.  There were also leaky hydraulic systems that prevented the control valves from closing.

Hours before the explosion there were numerous signs of the impending failure, but these all went unheeded in the tragically careless push to keep production levels high.  According to reports from the survivors, there was a big argument between the TransOcean drilling chief and a manager from BP.  The drilling chief wanted to stop drilling because of safety concerns.  The BP manager forced the drilling to continue.  This was twelve hours before the explosion.

The issue for BP was simple.  The drilling was already over budget and five weeks behind schedule.  Finishing the well was the top priority, and it seems, the ONLY concern.

The result of this arrogance has been the worst man-made ecological disaster in history:

  • Eleven workers were killed.
  • We can expect hundreds of billions of dollars in economic destruction across the Gulf region, as this spill has crippled the seafood industry and tourism.  This economic disruption may last for decades.
  • We may be looking at the destruction of all life forms in much of the Gulf of Mexico.  This destruction of the whole ecosystem may take decades to repair, if it can be repaired at all.

The Gulf Coast contains some 40% of our nation’s wetlands.  Wetlands are the nurseries of the planet.  Without them many species cannot survive.  Also, wetlands are an important barrier against hurricanes.  Wetlands work like giant sponges, soaking up wind and rain and tidal surges caused by hurricanes.  Without these wetlands hurricanes will become far more destructive than they are now.

This is the TRAGEDY OF SIN.

Sin is:

  • Corporate managers blinded by greed without concern for effects.
  • The reckless disregard for safety of the workers.
  • The reckless disregard for the environment.
  • And, the reckless disregard for all of those living in the Gulf Coast.

Sin is placing an insatiable demand for profits and timelines ahead of safety, ecological responsibility, and the well being of the residence of the Gulf Coast.  Wherever sin rules, bad things happen, and we end up paying a terrible price.

Sin is not about breaking God’s laws.  Sin is about breaking ourselves AGAINST God’s laws.  When we break the laws of God we can expect to have a catastrophic outcome.  The TRAGEDY OF SIN in the Gulf of Mexico is now our worst nightmare.

++++

Our scripture lesson for this morning is about the great moral lapse of King David.  The story of David and Bathsheba shows what happens when SIN reigns.  It is a tragic story right out of a “soap opera.”

David looks out from his castle and spots a beautiful woman bathing on her roof top.  David is instantly seized with lust for her.  He sends his servants to inquire of her, and he discovers that she is the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who is presently off fighting against the Ammonites with David’s army.  David then has Bathsheba brought to the castle where he lies with her, and she becomes pregnant.

David then summons Uriah the Hittite to come and report to him.  While Uriah is in Jerusalem, David encourages him to go and be with his wife.  But Uriah is a man of honor, and the Code of Honor of that day did not allow for any form of conjugal visits during a time of battle.  And so, Uriah refused to go home to his wife.

Actually, that sounds like a wonderful rule for all wars.  Such a rule might cause all battles to be over in a matter of weeks or months, instead of years or decades!

So Uriah returned to the front without seeing his wife.  And Uriah also carried David’s order to Commander JOAB that Uriah was to be killed.  This does not seem fair, does it?

Joab did as David had ordered.  He arranged to have Uriah the Hittite killed in battle.  This was done to prevent King David from being embarrassed by his act of adultery.

David now thinks that all is well until he is confronted by the prophet Nathan.  Prophets are women and men who speak God’s Truth.  Speaking truth to power is the essence of the prophetic witness.  Nathan uncovers David’s tragic sin.  David, now finally realizing the evil that he has done, tries to do repentance before the God.

But things seem to work much differently these days, especially in the political arena.  Instead of David’s confession and repentance, we normally expect a quick fix by a SPIN DOCTOR.  If King David were around today I am sure that his spin doctors would have taken care of everything.

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Palace of King David

Jerusalem

The King is deeply saddened by the loss of Uriah the Hittite.  Uriah was David’s dearest friend and closest confidant.  And even though Uriah was foreign born, he served his King and Country as well any native son.  He died a hero’s death fighting against the Ammorites.  

The King had recently recalled Uriah to Jerusalem for a consultation.  And while Uriah was in Jerusalem, he went home to see his wife, even though such visits are against a soldiers Code of Honor.  THIS EXPLAINS THE BABY. [Note:  Thankfully, this is before the days of DNA testing!]  But please do not hold this Uriah.  He was a wonderful man even though he BROKE the soldier’s code of honor.  

King David LOVED Uriah so much, that upon Uriah’s death, the King took Uriah’s widow and child to live in the castle, and to be a part of the King’s own family. 

But David did not do the “Spin Doctor” thing.  He sinned badly with a tragic outcome.  Both Uriah the Hittite and his child died as a result of David’s Sin.  But he did listen to the voice of God through the Prophet Nathan and he repented for his Sin.

The walk of faith requires an upright life.  The walk of faith demands an internal moral compass that acts in restraint, and seeks to live in a way that avoids the TRAGEDY OF SIN.

  • If only David had stopped to think before he had Uriah murdered so that he could steal his wife
  • If only the BP manager who ordered that the drilling continued could have paused to consider the tragic loss of human live, and the ecological and economic catastrophe that he was creating by his impatience.
  • If only corporations such as PG&E would stop funding BOGUS and SELF-SERVING propositions such as Proposition 16.  This proposition was designed to prevent municipalities from managing their own electrical power, as is done very successfully in HEALDSBURG.  Instead, this proposition was labeled and argued as the VOTERS RIGHT TO CHOOSE proposition, and PG&E spend millions of dollars to wage a campaign based on self-serving lies and distortions.

The upright life is based upon the simplest of notions.  It does not mean to follow endless rules and regulations imposed upon us.

  • It means to “Do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”
  • It means to “Love one another as love comes from God.”
  • It means to “Love the Lord our God and our neighbors as ourselves.”
  • It means to “Do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.”
  • It means to care for all creation, and to be a careful steward of our world and all of its resources.  For this is the only world that we have for ourselves and our children’s children.

Whatever science fiction fantasy that we might harbor regarding moving on to another planet, this planet is all that we have.  And when we destroy it we destroy our own habitat and our own future.

This is the TRAGEDY OF SIN.

Trustworthy


TRUSTWORTHY

One of the most important lessons that I have tried to teach my teenage son is that I want him to grow up to be the kind of man upon which people can depend. If he has promised to mow someone’s yard, or fix a computer, or help out at the community theater, then he is expected to carry out that task properly and on time, and with no excuses.  This is the essence of trust.

Personal Integrity

Being trustworthy is a complex attribute with many parts.  The core of which is personal integrity. In mathematics, an “integer” is a number that is whole or uncut.  Integrity means a singularity of purpose, as opposed to working out of ulterior motives (divided allegiances or purposes).

In his early political career, Harry Truman ran Jackson County Missouri (Kansas City area) for many years.  It was a time of Pendergast political machine.  Truman had many opportunities to take advantage of his position of authority for personal benefit, but that was not in his character.  When Truman was elected to the United States Senate, he needed to borrow money just to get himself to Washington.  He could never violate the public trust for his personal gain.

Confidentiality

Closely related to personal integrity is the need for confidentiality.  Information is shared through appropriate channels based on a need-to-know.  I can think of a hairdresser in town that knows everything that goes on.  Telling her anything is like publishing it in the local newspaper. But, if she were a true professional she would understand that her customers’ private chats were never meant for public distribution.  And of course, this situation would be much worse if this hairdresser worked in a field such as banking, medicine, or the law, where any such breach of confidentiality would be unconscionable.

Fulfilling Commitments

To be trustworthy means to be committed to producing the required results.  Excuses are never helpful.  There are no problems, only challenges.  Obstacles are there to be overcome.  If one method does not work then try another until the required results are achieved.  Finishing tasks on time is accomplished by effective time management.  If you are stuck on one project, move on to something else.  One excellent habit is to get used to working ahead on any project where progress is possible at this moment.

Attention to Details

Doing a good job requires doing the full job, giving attention to every detail.  At the start of any project it is necessary to visualize all that this task entails, and to make certain that all of the details are successfully managed.  I learned this in the restaurant business.  If a restaurant had great food, but ran out of napkins, that would be a serious problem.  The best organizations practice what is known as Continuous Quality Improvement.  Every transaction is reviewed in order to discern what went well and what items could be improved upon. 

Competence

It is impossible to accomplish any job that you are incapable of doing.  What is required to gain competence is training and experience.  Learning is a life-long endeavor.  But in the short run, it is also necessary to know your limits, and to request help when necessary.  Being competent means knowing what is within your capabilities.  There is nothing wrong with telling a customer that you do not know how to help, but that you will find someone who can.  We work together, help each other and train each other.

Global Warming and the Slippery Slope


When it comes to global warming, are we already too late?  It is clear that global warming is not only real, but is accelerating.  As the polar ice caps melt the earth loses some of its reflectivity.  Blue oceans and brown rocks will absorb far more heat than the reflective ice caps.  But even more frightening is that as the planet warms more methane will be released.  There is methane frozen in the tundra, and methane ice as the bottom of the oceans.  Methane is a vastly more powerful greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide.

The question for us is whether we have reached a tipping point.  Is the runaway global warming already too far progressed to stop?  It is like the story of a man who jumped off of the Empire State Building.  On his way down he saw people at the window on the 43rd. floor and shouted to them, “So far so good!”

I do not believe that anyone knows whether we have reached the tipping point or not.  But the point is that if we are not taking steps now to prevent further global warming, it may very soon be too late.  If you are canoeing in unknown waters and hear the sound of a waterfall, you may want to paddle hard in the opposite direction.

It Is Time To Dump The Electoral College


Make voting count.

It’s time to dump the Electoral College (January 2011)

The 2012 presidential campaign will soon be underway, if it is not already.  No one wants to see another Electoral College tragedy like the one that occurred in 2000.  George W.  Bush was elected by a handful of votes in Florida that overrode the choice of millions of voters across the country.  In truth, the election was decided by one vote when the US Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision gave Florida and the election to Bush.

The Electoral College is full of mathematical aberrations which make for unfair elections.  Wyoming has a population of 563,626 and 3 electoral votes, or one electoral vote for every 187,875 people.  California has a population of 37,253,956 and 55 electoral votes, or one electoral vote for every 677,345 people.  Thus the vote of a Wyoming resident counts 3.6 times as much as the vote of a California resident.

The Electoral College system disenfranchises those who vote for the losing parties in each state.  If you are a Republican in California or a Democrat in Texas you need not even bother to vote for president in 2012.  Your vote for president will not even be counted in this winner-take-all system.  The only way to make your vote count is to move your voter registration to a swing state, like Florida, where it just might make a difference.  But such shenanigans are shameful and ought not to be necessary.

The Electoral College made sense in Eighteenth Century America.  Back then America was much like Europe is today.  The European Community is still a collection of nations, even though there is the beginning of a European government. In the Eighteenth Century colonial America was also a collection of nations.  People were Virginians or Georgians or New Yorkers.  No one thought of us as a federation.  In the Eighteenth Century it made sense to vote for the president by states.

The name “The United States of America” comes from the Declaration of Independence.  But what the Declaration of Independence really says is, “… the thirteen united STATES OF AMERICA.”  The emphasis was on the individual states and not on a union.

It was the Civil War that finally fused this collection of states into a nation.  The Spanish American War in 1898 marked the birth of the American superpower, capable of influencing events beyond our borders.

Now in the Twenty-First Century the Electoral College is a dangerous and destructive historical anachronism.  We are one nation and we need to vote as one nation.  The elected president should be the person who commands the most votes regardless of the states in which those votes were cast.

Greg

John Calvin and the Twenty-First Century


John Calvin and the Reformed Tradition 

 The Reformed Tradition

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is one of the family of churches that trace their heritage back to John Calvin.  John Calvin published his magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion in Geneva, Switzerland in 1534.  Calvin was a contemporary of Martin Luther, and shared many beliefs with him.  But while Luther founded What the Germans would come to call the “Evangelical” movement, Calvin took a slightly different path, and founded what is called the “Reformed Tradition.”  Churches in the Reformed Tradition include the Scottish Presbyterians, English Puritans who later split into Presbyterians and Congregationalists, Dutch and German Reformed Churches, and French Huguenots.

John Calvin

John Calvin was a great light of the Sixteenth Century.  The Sixteenth Century was arguably the greatest century in human history.  It was the age of Reformation.  It marked the end of the dark ages in Europe.  It also marks the birth of the Age of Discovery, and the final flourish of the Renaissance.

Calvin’s Theology

In Calvin’s day, the authority of the church sprang from fifteen hundred years of church tradition and the doctrine of papal infallibility.

Calvin’s theological work was based on a rediscovery of the Bible, and the development of modern theology and biblical studies.  In an age when the typical Roman Catholic priest would be illiterate, Calvin taught himself Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew, so that he could study afresh the scriptures of the Old and the New Testament in their original languages.  He put his fresh ideas to the test as a pastor in Geneva, Switzerland, where he lead a community of faith that became the fountainhead of the Reformed Tradition.

Calvinism speaks eloquently to 21st Century Christians.  Modern followers of Calvin are not antiquarians, but pioneers.  Calvin’s issues from the 16th Century are not necessarily those of the 21st Century.  Calvin is important to us not so much for what he believed, but rather for the way he taught us to think about the scriptures and the journey of faith.  The Church is not a museum of ancient doctrines, from Calvin, or anyone else for that matter.  Rather, the Church is a base camp on the journey of faith.

The motto of the Reformed Tradition is,

Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda

which translates as,

The Church, having been reformed, always being reformed

But Calvin did not confine his interests to the religious realms.  He, like Leonardo da Vinci was a “Renaissance Man”, with broad interests.   From this pivotal century in history, Calvin truly became the father of the modern (post 1500) world.

SOLA SCRIPTURA Calvin vs. Luther

One of the amazing theological concepts lifted from this study is that Calvin, even though he was a great biblical scholar, never limited his efforts to understand God to the Bible alone!  Calvin always used every faculty and insight that he could discover in order to know and follow the creator.  He never had his nose “buried in the Bible,” oblivious to the world around him. He could never engage in any form of biblical “proof-texting.”  Revelation to Calvin included science, nature, logic, and the study of human behavior, all of which are part of the created order.

Calvin on the Natural Sciences

Calvin believed that humanity could understand the creator by studying creation.  This was a radical notion at the time.  Before Calvin, the world was seen as a spooky and unknowable place.  Life was at the mercy of chaotic events and unseen forces, such as diseases and storms, none of which could be understood.  Hence, pre-Reformation cathedrals often had gargoyles to protect the buildings and their occupants from evil spirits.

Calvin found divine order throughout the universe.  To know that ordering of the universe was to know God.  In this respect, Calvin gave the theological underpinnings for all of modern science.

The first great test of Calvin’s understanding of nature occurred when Galileo confirmed the hypothesis espoused by Nicolas Copernicus that the world revolved around the sun! and not vice-versa.  The Roman Catholic Church branded Galileo a heretic and subjected him to house arrest.  Galileo was officially forgiven for his “heresy” some 350 years later!  Calvinists, however, understood that Galileo had discovered one of the divine mysteries of the creation, and thereby brought us closer to knowing the almighty Creator.

In 1859 Charles Darwin made his breakthrough discoveries that lead to the Theory of Evolution 1) .  Since that time, backward thinking people in the church have condemned him for his discovery.  Modern day Calvinist have embraced Darwinism and found therein another demonstration of the divine order of creation.

1)  Note:  When scientist use the word “Theory,” they do not mean some “guess” as to how the universe works.  Rather, “Theory” means an established system or construct.  Evolution is not a “guess” but a natural law.  It has survived over 140 years of scientific scrutiny.  Evolution is as real as gravity.  There are many things we still do not understand about gravity, even after Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.  But no one would argue against its existence.

SOCIAL SCIENCES  Political science and Economics 

Calvin on Democracy and Politics

For Calvin, the reformation was as much political as it was religious.  Calvin refused to be dominated by tyrants, whether they be secular or religious.  He opposed domination by kings, lords, and knights just as vociferously as he opposed domination by popes, bishops and priests.  Calvin founded his church on radically democratic foundations.  He wrote that the will of God is best discerned by people living together in community, studying God’s word and living out the Gospel together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  It is only is such a community of faith that divine truths could be discerned and tested.

Calvin wrote his great works on democracy, both civil and ecclesiastical, centuries before John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, or Thomas Jefferson.  The American form of government was a civil expression of Calvinism, brought to this country by English Puritans and Scottish Presbyterians.  The Constitution of the United States is a grand expression of pure Calvinism.

Calvin on the Market Place

Calvin was fascinated by business and economics.  He studied the market place and learned its laws.  To Calvin, economic laws, such as the “time value of money,” or the “law of supply and demand” are simply part of the created order!  He felt that economic laws were as solid and real as was the law of gravity!

He began with a study of “usury”, or the notion that lending money at interest was a sin.  He differentiated lending money at interest for investment purposes from the truly usurious practice of lending money at interest to someone who was starving and needed food.  He came to understand that money really does have a “time value”, and that interest charged is simply an expression of that concept.

Calvin for the Twenty-First Century

It is exactly such issues that make Calvin an excellent guide for the Twenty-First Century as well as the Sixteenth Century.  In dealing with even troublesome issues, true Calvinists will open themselves up to all forms of secular knowledge, the natural sciences, social sciences, wisdom and intellect, as well as the scriptures, in seeking to understand God’s will as expressed in God’s creation.

For the Calvinist, the walk of faith is a pursuit of wisdom and understanding.  We study the scriptures, but also avail ourselves of all forms of secular exploration.  We study the universe and the human community as God’s creation.  In knowing the creation we come to know the creator. We never claim to have captured the truth, but are continuously seeking new revelations.  We use all of our faculties and intellect in the pursuit of Truth.

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