The Opposite of Hoarding

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 11.24-25
One person gives freely, yet gains even more;
    another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.
A generous person will prosper;
    whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
People curse the one who hoards grain,
    but they pray God’s blessing on the one who is willing to sell.

Ephesians 4.28
Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Reflection: The Opposite of Hoarding
By John Tillman

Hoarding in a financial investment sense (buying up enough of a commodity to influence its market price) can net speculative investors a profit, but can be considered a criminal act. Prosecuting speculative hoarders is rare because the line between prudent preparation for a crisis and attempts to corner the market are blurry, but high-level investors have gone to jail for hoarding commodities in the past. (One well-known example is Yasuo Hamanaka, the “Copper King” of the 1990s)

The more “street-level” hoarding we are seeing in reaction to COVID-19 is not motivated in an attempt to make illegal profits, but in a surrender to fear and panic. This type of hoarding begins with a fear of scarcity and creates the scarcity that was feared. Hoarders today can look at empty shelves of toilet paper or hand sanitizer and say, “See? I was right to hoard!” It’s a self-fulfilling, self- justifying mania and it has consequences.

Medical supplies such as masks, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer being out of stock across the United States and manufacturers being unable to get more goods to market is causing a very real crisis for medical workers and their patients. In response, some governments are seeking to criminalize hoarding of medical supplies and other goods necessary to slow the advance of the virus.

Hoarding, whether criminal or not, is morally wrong because it withholds necessary goods from those who need them and causes panic and suffering for others. Just because hoarders take items from a store shelf, doesn’t mean that they aren’t also taking them from the hands of the elderly, those with health concerns, and those without the financial margin to “stock up.”  In this way, hoarding is similar to stealing, which Paul addresses in Ephesians 4.28. 

Hoarding is a natural response to fear. Being united to Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are not to give in to our natural responses, but instead to respond supernaturally. We can respond to fear, not in fear.

What is the opposite of hoarding? What is the opposite of panic and fear? What should the church be known for instead? 

Paul advised doing “something useful” and sharing “with those in need.” 

May we, with the help of the Holy Spirit, be known in this time of crisis as people of peace rather than panic, as people of hope rather than fear, as people who give to others rather than take from them, and as people willing to suffer that others may be comforted.

May the message of the gospel not be compromised by our acting as if God is not trustworthy, is not loving, and is not concerned with us.
Instead, may the manifold goodness of God be made known to the world through the deeds of our hands and the words of our mouths.
May we willingly limit and give up our freedoms for the good of others, as Christ gave up and limited himself for our good.
May our hearts always be open to others, even if the doors of our homes and sanctuaries must remain closed.
May we store up treasures in Heaven rather than goods on a shelf.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us saying, “Who, then, is the wise and trustworthy servant whom the master placed over his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant if the master’s arrival finds him doing exactly that. In truth I tell you, he will put him in charge of everything he owns. But if the servant is dishonest and says to himself, ‘My master is taking his time,’ and sets about beating his fellow servants and eating and drinking with drunkards, his master will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know. The master will cut him off and send him to the same fate as the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.” — Matthew 24.45-51

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 11 (Listen 3:41) 
Ephesians 4 (Listen -3:58)

Read more about Mind Your Manners
We want our world to work on our terms and provide for our needs. We’re selfish creatures.

Read more about Peace in Crisis
Acting with prudent caution, we can fearlessly engage to aid our cities and communities, loving and serving with abandon.

The Church’s Historical Response to Plague

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 4.20-22
My son, pay attention to what I say;
    turn your ear to my words.
Do not let them out of your sight,
    keep them within your heart;
for they are life to those who find them
    and health to one’s whole body.

Reflection: The Church’s Historical Response to Plague
By John Tillman

*This will be quite a long post compared to our normal 400 words. The first half is a bit of a “backstage tour” of The Park Forum and an explanation of why we rarely write about current events such as COVID-19. If you’d like to skip over that and get straight to our devotional related to the pandemic and a response of faith, scroll on down to the heading “The Church’s Historical Response to Plague.”

At The Park Forum, we tie our devotional writing tightly to our reading plan. We rarely diverge from it other than to write about major seasons of the church year such as Lent, Easter, Advent, and Christmastide.

We address cultural trends but rarely, if ever, address specific current events. This is intended to keep our content timeless by relating it primarily to the timeless Word of God. It is also a bulwark, intended to prevent our work from becoming a response to the world, rather than a response to God’s Word. We succeed or fail in following these ideals to varying degrees each week, by God’s mercy.

The other reason we rarely write about current events is less idealistic and more practical—our publishing timeline is too long. In order to have our emails sent at 5:00 AM in each timezone around the world, we need to “send” them 24 hours in advance. We write them a minimum of 36 hours ahead of when you read it in the email or online. That’s an eternity in today’s news cycle. And honestly, when I am writing that close to the send deadline, it is quite nerve-wracking and mistakes can be made. My preference is to be at least five to ten days ahead. I am writing this, which will publish on Tuesday, on the preceding Friday evening. This is a bit late for my taste, but by the time you read it, any time-sensitive information will likely be out of date.

With all of this in mind, let us prayerfully approach the topic of COVID-19 and the gospel.

The Church’s Historical Response to Plague
Sickness and disease comes frequently into the pages of scripture. 

The ancient Jewish ethic of ritual washing and ritual cleanliness was at times (especially in regards to transmissible diseases and conditions, such as leprosies and dangerous molds) a practical step of keeping the community healthy. The role of the priests was to risk their own safety in order to inspect contaminated individuals and contaminated dwellings for signs of infection. To cause another person to be infected and in risk of death due to negligence to these regulations was to be in violation of the commandment, “Do not murder.” 

Today we have outsourced home inspection to the real estate industry and personal health to the healthcare industry. (When was the last time your pastor inspected your house for black mold?)

In an article for Foreign Policy Magazine, Lyman Stone writes of how Christianity took this ancient Jewish ethic further:

“The Christian motive for hygiene and sanitation does not arise in self-preservation but in an ethic of service to our neighbor. We wish to care for the afflicted, which first and foremost means not infecting the healthy. Early Christians created the first hospitals in Europe as hygienic places to provide care during times of plague, on the understanding that negligence that spread disease further was, in fact, murder.”

Throughout history (Particularly in the Antonine Plague of the 2nd century, and in the Plague of Cyprian in the 3rd) Christians were noted as the one group which consistently, century after century, took risks to their own health in their service to the infected and the suffering. The sociologist and religious demographer Rodney Stark claims that death rates in cities with Christian communities during these plagues may have been half that of other cities.

We see it again In 1527, when the bubonic plague struck Wittenberg. Martin Luther refused to flee the city but stayed instead and ministered to the sick. This decision cost him the life of his own daughter, Elizabeth. When asked whether Christians should flee a plague, Luther produced a pamphlet in answer. It can be boiled down to five words, “We die at our posts.”

In every major epidemic through history, Christianity distinguished itself with an ethic that stood out from the desperate self-preservation tactics of the surrounding societies. 

The historic church has left us a great example and testimony based on sound application of the scriptures. 

Are we following it? Are we caring for our neighbors or just for ourselves?

Pray that the Holy Spirit would lead you and your faith community to shine in this moment of fear and uncertainty. Be safe. Follow best practices for lowering risks of transmission. Don’t be foolish. But do all this not in service of your own safety, but in service to the community. 

When this crisis passes, will every unused bottle of hand sanitizer or vital goods stashed in our homes that could have been donated to our church or sent to a senior living center, or given to a neighbor stand as a testimony that we cared more for ourselves than for others?

This is a stark challenge to our hearts to see if we are following in the example laid before us by the Church. Tomorrow we will look at the divine comfort and inexplicable peace the Church relied on to carry out its mission during past crises.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness, O God of our salvation, O Hope of all the ends of the earth and of the seas that are far away.

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 4 (Listen -2:37) 
Galatians 3 (Listen -4:39)

Read more about Taking Advantage of the Desperate
From a business perspective, the noblemen confronted by Nehemiah were simply following the market. Payday lenders would describe it as filling a “financial service void.”

Read more about The Purpose of Power
After prayer and fasting, Esther’s concerns for her own life disappear and her purpose is clarified. The purpose of Esther’s power is to serve others. So it is with us.

Further up, Further in

Scripture: 1 Timothy 2.3-6
This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.

Reflection: Further up, Further in
By John Tillman

The Temple was a meticulous structure designed with concentric exclusion of larger and larger groups of people. God was separated from the world with objects and human mediaries standing at the borders.

But the Temple also was a path for people moving toward God—being called closer and closer by the God from whom they were separated. There was a clear pathway, of physical doors, and doors of action, through which anyone could choose to move toward God. At least as close as they were allowed. As close as they could stand.

When one could not enter further, one worshiped through the priests, the intermediaries. The priests took sacrifices to the altar, and returned to you the cooked meat to eat as part of worship.

Anyone could enter the outer courtyard, even Gentiles. Moving inward, the next courtyard was racially segregated—Jews only. The next division was based on sex—men only could proceed. The disabled or disfigured were also excluded. The next barriers were genealogical—only Levites could offer the sacrifices and only descendants of Aaron could be priests before God.

The veil which enclosed the Holy of Holies, rent from top to bottom at the moment of Christ’s death was not the only barrier destroyed that day. Every other gate and door was thrown open by Christ, who named himself the gate. The author of Hebrews compares the veil to Christ’s own body, torn apart to give us access to God.

In Christ, there is no priestly barrier—all are priests with him as our high priest. There is no genealogical barrier, for we are made sons and daughters in Christ. In Christ, there is not male or female, but we are one in him. In Christ there is no abled or disabled, for our weaknesses are transformed in his glory. In Christ racial barriers are destroyed and the division of Babel is reversed. In Christ nationalism is meaningless for we serve a King of Kings and have citizenship in a higher kingdom.

The only barrier to cross on our journey to God is the cross. Christ is the opener of all things and beckons us onward to see, to enter, to access.

The grave is open, that we may see He is risen.
The veil is open, that we may follow our High Priest.
Hell is open if we will but make for the exit.
Heaven is open, if we will but enter.

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!” — C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Hear this, all you peoples; hearken, all you who dwell in the world, you of high degree and low, rich and poor together…We can never ransom ourselves, or deliver to God the price of our life; For the ransom of our life is so great, that we should never have enough to pay it. — Psalm 49.1, 10

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 31 (Listen – 2:50)
1 Timothy 2 (Listen – 1:38)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 1 (Listen – 2:21) 1 Timothy 3 (Listen – 2:10)
Ecclesiastes 2 (Listen – 4:03) 1 Timothy 4 (Listen – 2:05)

The Importance of Resurrection :: Throwback Thursday

Scripture: 1 Timothy 1.16
I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

Reflection: The Importance of Resurrection :: Throwback Thursday
By John of Damascus (676-749 C.E.)

For if there is no resurrection, let us eat and drink: let us pursue a life of pleasure and enjoyment. If there is no resurrection, let us hold the wild beasts of the field happy who have a life free from sorrow. If there is no resurrection, neither is there any God nor Providence, but all things are driven and borne along of themselves.

For observe how the righteous suffer hunger and injustice and receive no help in the present life, while sinners and the unrighteous abound in riches and every delight.

No, the divine Scripture bears witness that there will be a resurrection of the body. The Lord became Himself the first-fruits of the perfect resurrection that is no longer subject to death. For He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” And the holy gospel is a trustworthy witness that He spoke of His own body.

But someone will say, How are the dead raised up? Oh, what disbelief! Oh, what folly!

Behold how the seed is buried in the furrows as in tombs. Who is it that gives them roots and stalk and leaves and ears and the most delicate beards? Is it not the maker of the universe? Is it not at the bidding of him who created all things?

Believe, therefore, that the resurrection of the dead will come to pass at the divine will and sign. For he has power that is able to keep pace with his will.

We shall rise again, our souls being once more united with our bodies, now made incorruptible and having put off corruption, and we shall stand beside the awful judgment-seat of Christ.

But those who have done good will shine forth as the sun with the angels into life eternal, with our Lord Jesus Christ, ever seeing Him and being in His sight and deriving unceasing joy from Him, praising Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit throughout the limitless ages of ages.

Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ: your strength has been my consolation; you have not allowed my soul to perish with the wicked; you have given me your grace, the grace of your name. Now it is time for you to fortify what you have achieved in me and so to confound the adversary’s impudence.
— Euplus, prior to his martyrdom in Sicily c. 304 C.E.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. — Psalm 90.12

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 30 (Listen – 3:51)
1 Timothy 1 (Listen – 2:59)

The Template of Compassion

Scripture: Proverbs 29.7
The righteous care about justice for the poor,
but the wicked have no such concern.

It is a great consolation for me to remember that the Lord, to whom I had drawn near in humble and child-like faith, has suffered and died for me, and that He will look on me in love and compassion. — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Reflection: The Template of Compassion
By Matt Tullos

Compassion: When we rise above our selfishness and enter into the heartbreak of others.

Jesus hangs on the cross bearing the bleak rebellion of every age. Who can measure the weight of such a burden? Who can scan the circumference of this transaction? This obelisk of sin that outweighed the mass of Jupiter leveled itself against His weakening limbs. And then on that darkening day, He speaks to the beloved ones of his life: “Woman behold thy son. Son, behold thy mother.”

This moment of compassion seems insignificant considering the immensity of humanity that would be forever changed. Jesus was a Savior but indeed He was still somebody’s boy. We hear Him tie up the loose ends of His next of kin. These details would not escape the attention of Jesus.

We look back at the compassion of Jesus as He stood at the grave of a close friend. Those around Lazarus tomb that day observed His grief.

Jesus wept. The community said, “See how he loved him!

Jesus knew the end of the story. He would call out and Lazarus would come forth, but He stepped into the moment. He stepped into the pain. He stepped into the plaintive wails of a grief-stricken family.

What are you mourning today? He is mourning with you.

He has compassion and is making accommodations on your behalf to get through this. You’ll get through it together. We often forget that even though there are pressing issues on every continent, he still has a heart for the small.

There are kings and presidents and war on every side, but Jesus still has the capacity to know your secret wounds and weep over the tombs of your cloistered dreams. He is a God of compassion. He took care of the people He loved. When we fail to remember this, we struggle.

Jesus’ eyes aren’t solely fixed on the White House, the Vatican or the United Nations. His eyes are in the marriage counselor’s office, at the funeral of a grandfather, and under the bed of an abused child who prays for the gift of peace.

He’s there, too.

The shape of the cross is the template of compassion. In order to die on the cross your arms must be open.

God of Wonder,
King of Glory,
Grant us the courage to look beyond our own pain and enter into the pain of another.
For in this act we receive a more glorious vision of the cross of our slain Savior, Jesus Christ.
In Whose Name we pray,
Amen

*From a series Matt Tullos wrote called 39 Words. A few of these posts are available in audio form via Soundcloud. — John

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
The Lord will make good his purpose for me; O Lord, your love endures for ever; do not abandon the works of your hands. — Psalm 138.8

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 29 (Listen – 2:44)
2 Thessalonians 3 (Listen – 2:16)

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