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The Prophet Ezekiel: For the Good of All

July 13, 2013

The following guest sermon was preached by The Rev. Pam Lupfer at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on Sunday, July 7, 2013. Rev. Lupfer is a coordinating member of the Peru Partnership of Hudson River Presbytery and was invited to help our congregation reflect on the  commitment we are making to this mission.  The sermon led to the Eucharist, and worship was followed by a Fourth of July reflection in our historic cemetery on the responsibilities of liberty.

Ezek 27: 12-25; 32-34 and 28: 2-10        Psalm 23

Ezekiel 27: 12-25; 32-34 and 28: 2-10:

12Tarshish did business with you out of the abundance of your great wealth; silver, iron, tin and lead they exchanged for your wares.  13Javan, Tubal, and Meshech traded with you; they exchanged human beings and vessels of bronze for your merchandise.  14Beth-togarmah exchanged for your wares horses, war horses and mules.  15The Rhodians traded with you; many coastlands were your own special markets; they brought you in payment ivory tusks and ebony.  16Edom did business with you because of your abundant goods; they exchanged for your wares turquoise, purple, embroidered work, fine linen, coral, and rubies.  17Judah and the land of Israel traded with you; they exchanged for your merchandise wheat from Minnith, millet, honey, oil and balm.  18Damascus traded with you for your abundant goods—because of your great wealth of every kind—wine of Helbon, and white wool.  19Vedan and Javan from Uzal entered into trade for your wares; wrought iron, cassia, and sweet cane were bartered for your merchandise.  20Dedan traded with you in saddlecloths for riding.  21Arabia and all the princes of Kedar were your favored dealers in lambs, rams, and goats; in these they did business with you.  22The merchants of Sheba and Raamah traded with you, they exchanged for your wares the best of all kinds of spices, and all precious stones, and gold.  23Haran, Canneh, Eden, the merchants of Sheba, Asshur, and Chilmad traded with you.  24These traded with you in choice garments, in clothes of blue and embroidered work, and in carpets of colored material, bound with cords and made secure; in these they traded with you.  25The ships of Tarshish traveled for you in your trade, so you were filled and heavily laden in the heart of the sea.

32In their wailing they raise a lamentation for you, and lament over you:  “Who was ever destroyed like Tyre in the midst of the sea?  33When your wares came from the seas, and satisfied many peoples; with your abundant wealth and merchandise you enriched the kings of the earth.  34Now you are wrecked by the seas, in the depths of the waters; your merchandise and all your crew have sunk with you.

Ezekiel 28: 2-10:

2Mortal, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord God:  Because your heart is proud and you have said; “I am a god; I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas.”  Yet you are but a mortal, and no god, though you compare your mind with the mind of a god.  3You are indeed wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from you; 4by your wisdom and your understanding you have amassed wealth for yourself, and have gathered gold and silver into your treasures.  5By your great wisdom in trade you have increased your wealth, and your heart has become proud in your wealth.  6Therefore thus says the Lord God:  Because you compare your mind with the mind of a god, 7therefore, I will bring strangers against you, the most terrible of the nations; they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom and defile your splendor.  8They shall thrust you down to the Pit, and you shall die a violent death in the heart of the seas.  9Will you still say, “I am a god,” in the presence of those who kill you, though you are but a mortal, and no god, in the hands of those who wound you?  10You shall die the death of the uncircumcised by the hand of foreigners; for I have spoken, says the Lord God.[1]

.

FOR THE GOOD OF ALL

Our text from Ezekiel this morning may seem a little strange.  It’s not one that we hear in worship very often, if at all.  It’s not in the lectionary and it’s not one of those well-known Old Testament texts that everyone knows and remembers.  But I share it with you because it speaks about a subject I have become quite familiar with of late – the issue of trade and how it affects people throughout the world – in both good and bad ways.

You see, for the past three years, I have been a member of the Peru Partnership of Hudson River Presbytery.  Three years ago I had the privilege of traveling to Peru with nine other clergy and laity from the Presbytery.  We went there to meet our mission partners and learn firsthand about the issues they face.  Our trip was led by Jed Koball, whom you may remember as he is a minister member of our presbytery and is now the companionship facilitator for Joining Hands in Peru.

While we were there, we visited the town of La Oroya, a small mining community located about 14,000 feet high in the Andean mountains.  This small community has suffered for many years from the devastating environmental and health effects of a lead smelting plant, named Doe Run Peru.  La Oroya, is a bleak and desolate town, the hills bleached and barren like dead bones; the river appears sick and green with pollution.  The Doe Run plant dominates the landscape, cutting through the middle of the town, saddling the Rio Montaro.  The houses are stacked on top of one another on either side of the river.  98% of the children have unacceptable levels of lead – some five or six times what is acceptable in the U.S. — in their blood and countless women have suffered miscarriages as a result.

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When we met with the members of the community with whom Jed works, we learned that the plant had made contractual agreements when they bought the plant to clean up the environmental problems – install scrubbers on the smokestacks and other technological improvements — so that the emissions would be cleaner and less toxic to the community.  But the plant had not made these improvements citing financial concerns and claiming that the Peruvian government had not met their part of the agreement.  This is disputed, of course, by the Peruvian government and by the townspeople.  And since that time, the Doe Run company has sued the Peruvian government for $800 million dollars – not just in lost profits, but in lost potential profits! – and they are able to do this because of a clause in the trade agreement between Peru and the United States.[2]

And now, to make matters worse, the U.S. is negotiating the largest trade agreement ever – the Trans Pacific Partnership – covering “approximately 40% of the global economy, affecting not only tariffs and quotas, but also government procurement decisions, financial regulations, medicine patents, food safety standards, telecommunications policy, energy exports, Internet protocols, state sovereignty and more.”[3]  But more on that later…

So, that is a little bit of a long explanation for why I chose this strange text from Ezekiel this morning.  But I wanted to explore just what God has to say about trade.  So let’s take a look:

The first part of the text is talking about the city of Tyre, a coastal city on the Mediterranean Sea which was a great trading center.  The text is a litany of all the different goods and services that are traded in Tyre and all the different peoples that came to Tyre to trade their goods – silver, iron, lead, fine clothing and jewels, saddlecloths and rugs, wheat and millet, wine and wool, spices and precious stones, lambs, rams and goats, war horses and even human beings.  Javan, Tubal, and Meshech, The Rhodians, Damascus, Haran, Canneh, Eden, the merchants of Sheba, Asshur, and Chilmad – and many more, people from all over the world came to Tyre to trade.  Not so different from today.  I can think of any number of countries that can be described in this way in regards to their level of trade.  It is a sign of success, to be sure, to have the means to trade with the world.

But the interesting thing is what happens next to the people of Tyre.  The first line in our text reads, “Tarshish did business with you out of the abundance of your great wealth.”[4]  But then in verse 32 of Chapter 27, it says,

“Who was ever destroyed like Tyre in the midst of the sea?  33When your wares came from the seas, and satisfied many peoples; with your abundant wealth and merchandise you enriched the kings of the earth.  34Now you are wrecked by the seas, in the depths of the waters; your merchandise and all your crew have sunk with you.”[5]

In Chapter 28, we learn what happened.  Ezekiel is sent by God to go to the prince of Tyre and tell him that

“Because your heart is proud and you have said; “I am a god; I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas.”  “Because you compare your mind with the mind of a god, 7therefore, I will bring strangers against you, the most terrible of the nations; they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom and defile your splendor.  8They shall thrust you down to the Pit, and you shall die a violent death in the heart of the seas.[6]

And then God delivers the real kicker:

“Will you still say, “I am a god,” in the presence of those who kill you, though you are but a mortal, and no god, in the hands of those who wound you?”[7]

So, we learn that this great city, which has amassed great wealth through its trade with other nations, will be destroyed because of its pride.  Well, you know what they say…”Pride goeth before a fall.”

But you might say, well, what does this have to do with us?  We’re not big international traders and most of us have not amassed great wealth like the leaders in Tyre.  We’re not Rubert Murdock or Donald Trump, what does this have to do with us?

And that is when we have to look at what it means to be a Christian.

In looking at these issues, I was referred to a document by a Norwegian theologian, Atle Sommerfeldt, entitled “Spirituality of Involvement” which includes his “Spiritual Reflections On Trade” and was presented at the World Council of Churches Assembly in Nairobi in 2005.[8]

He writes, “The Eucharist embraces all aspects of life…All kinds of injustice, racism, separation and lack of freedom are radically challenged when we share in the body and blood of Christ.”…”As participants in the Eucharist, therefore, we prove inconsistent if we are not actively participating in this ongoing restoration of the world’s situation and human condition.”[9]

When we celebrate communion, we share in the body and blood of Christ.  It is where we all come together as one people, united by God’s love and sacrifice.  But we have a responsibility as well when we come to the table.  When we say we are disciples of Christ and partake of His body and blood, we take on His struggle for the transformation of the world.

Kathleen Norris writes in her essay on community, “…for Christians I believe that community is inseparable from the question:  who is my neighbor?  Is it only people within a narrow circle of friends and family — those who have a like income, education or social status, who agree with me politically or share my religious beliefs?  Or does my community reach out to include the entire human race, as people made in the image of God?”  Is God’s bounty, the riches of creation for all of us or for just a few?[10]  Jesus told us that we are to go to all the world to preach the good news and that good news is not just for some, but for all.

When we went to Peru, our group had already made a commitment as part of the church, that that community included the people in Peru.  Indeed, as church people, we recognize our commitment to care for the people of the world.  But often, we don’t think that includes getting involved in issues of policy like trade.  After we came back from our trip, we stayed in touch with Jed and wanted to know what we might do to help the people of La Oroya.  We learned that the trade agreement that was affecting the people there was just one part of a larger problem.  These trade agreements are used all over the world so that big businesses have access to global markets.  Our Presbyterian Mission network, Joining Hands works with partnerships in 9 countries and has found that issues of trade are affecting people in negative ways all over the world.  To quote from the website, “Joining Hands supports work for fairness in the global economy so that trade agreements protect the rights of workers, consumers, the environment, and public health, as well as human rights.”[11]

One of the campaigns we are working on now is to work for transparency and fairness in the Trans Pacific Partnership – the largest multinational trade agreement ever negotiated which would encompass 12 countries – Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, Vietnam, and now Japan.  It would impact every aspect of our economy, including:  wages and labor costs, environmental regulations, longer patents on drugs, financial regulations, food safety, farm policies and global food supplies and taxes.[12]

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We do not oppose the agreement per se, we believe that trade can and should be good, that it should help to uplift people by giving them fair wages for their labor and providing access to markets for their products.  But too often, trade is unbalanced, leading to exploitation, hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation.  We are calling for fairness in the negotiation process of the TPP and for transparency.  To date, the text and negotiations of the TPP have been in secret.  Even our congress people cannot get a copy of the text.  Yet business representatives have much greater access to the negotiations as advisors and trade representatives.  In the United States, approximately 600 corporate lobbyists have been named as official advisors, granting them steady access to the negotiating texts, as well as the negotiators.  This includes representatives of companies like Walmart, Cargill and Chevron.[13]  In June of this year after becoming the first member of Congress to view the text of the TPP agreement, Congressman Alan Grayson, (D-Orlando) said, “It is easy to understand why this NAFTA-style agreement has been kept secret.  The TPP is a disturbing attack on American democracy and sovereignty.  It puts corporate interests ahead of American interests.”[14]

In response to these concerns, we have drafted a letter to President Obama urging him to ensure that this agreement – and any other new agreements – include a transparent negotiating and debate process, respect for national sovereignty, as well as corporate compliance with national laws and regulations that protect human rights, the environment and the common good.  You can sign on to this letter by going to the website for the Presbyterian Church Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C.[15]  There is a link directly to the letter in the insert in your bulletin.

Another area of concern is the renewal of “Fast Track” a mechanism which, though it expired in 2007, is up for renewal and would put the TPP before Congress for an up-or-down vote with no amendments and almost no debate.  This would undermine Congress’ constitutional authority to “regulate commerce with foreign nations.”

Therefore, we circulated a second letter to Congress asking elected leaders to vote against the Fast Track process.  Again, information is in the bulletin insert if you are interested in signing on to these letters or finding out more about the TPP or trade reform.[16]  And I would be happy to speak to any of you after the service.  These are complicated issues to try to do justice to them in a sermon, but they are important because they reflect how we are to treat one another as people of God.

And these are issues that our mission office in Louisville is deeply committed to.  They come to us directly from our partners in mission all over the world.  As we have developed relationships with those in Peru, El Salvador, Bolivia, Cameroon, Sri Lanka, India and elsewhere, our eyes have been opened to grave injustices of environmental degradation, food scarcity brought about by corporate dominance of patents on seeds, water shortages and contamination from oil and gas exploration and mining and loss of income and displaced communities from corporate land grabs.  The bounties of the earth are not free to all – they have become commodities to be traded on the open market.  This is happening in every sector of the economy – from water, to minerals, to oil and gas and even to seeds.  In the Joining Hands network, we have seen the destruction of whole economies because some big corporation comes in and decides to appropriate the resources of a community for themselves.  In India, the farmers are fighting against the big conglomerates to keep their seeds from being expropriated and genetically modified.  It’s not so much the seeds themselves that the farmer s object to, (although they prefer their own native seeds because they have more genetic diversity), but these companies want to control all aspects of the farmer’s growing cycle.  If the farmer buys the genetically modified seeds, then they must sign a binding contract with the conglomerate that they will only use those seeds and no others.  And they must buy the seeds from the company every season at great cost, instead of saving their seeds from one growing season to the next.  Not only that, the genetically modified seeds require chemical fertilizers which are available to them only through – who else? — the conglomerate!  These companies have effectively engineered a coup on these communities by trying to control all aspects of the farmer’s business.  And if these farmer’s decide not to buy the seeds…they are subject to enormous pressure from the companies — and the local politicians whom they have bought off.  The companies have been known to engage in nasty litigation to sue those farmers who refuse to use the genetically modified seeds if even one plant is determined to have DNA from the genetically modified seeds of the company because of wind drift from a neighbor’s farm.  These lawsuits are prohibitively expensive for the farmers and many farmers have gone bankrupt or committed suicide as a result.[17]

When these injustices happen, it is the church that is called upon to give aid to those affected, those most vulnerable with food and shelter, and offer compassion when disease strikes and health insurance falls short.  Yet what responsibility do we have to prevent these situations from occurring in the first place?

The history of trade agreements tells us that when big corporations and governments broker deals of this magnitude, there is reason to be suspicious.  Jobs are exported to parts of the world with more lax environmental laws and labor protections.  In other words, “the little guy” and his family will need more of our help.  Jesus told us that we should care for “the least of these” and we do a pretty good job with our soup kitchens and feeding programs; but Jesus also railed against unjust institutions and structures that create more poverty and oppression.

As we prepare to celebrate communion, let us reflect on how we are united through Jesus death on the cross, becoming one body, the body of Christ – not just here in our little corner of the world, but one with all believers throughout the world.  Our unity in Christ brings with it a responsibility – that we see the world as Jesus saw it – as God sees it—that we recognize our brother or sister in Christ not just in the person standing next to us, but in the faces of those in every part of the world who hunger and thirst for justice.  The people of Tyre never dreamed their riches would not protect them, but their pride became their downfall.  Let their story give us pause to think about how we regard others.  When we see the homeless on the street or pass by someone in need, when we hear about injustice anywhere in the world, let us remember our call to love one another as God has loved us.  That all persons would enjoy the bountiful riches of God’s creation for the good of all.  May it be so.  Amen.


[1]           The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2]           Mining for Profits in International Tribunals; Institute for Policy Studies; by Sarah Anderson, Manuel Pérez-Rocha, Rebecca Dreyfus, and J. Alejandro Artiga-Purcell; November 2011

[3]           Trade Talking Points, May 2013, Citizen’s Trade Campaign, p. 2

[4]           The New Revised Standard Version

[5]           The New Revised Standard Version

[6]           The New Revised Standard Version

[7]           The New Revised Standard Version

[8]           Spirituality of Involvement, by Atle Sommerfeldt, General Secretary for Norwegian Church Aid; December 2005; presented at the World Council of Churches Assembly in Nairobi; p. 1

[9]           Sommerfeldt, p.1

[10]          Kathleen Norris, Essay on Community, from “The Word Soaked Word”, published in the Journal, Image, Number 75, Fall 2012, p.58

[12]          Days of Action Fact Sheet; Citizen’s Trade Campaign; www.citizenstrade.org; p. 1 – 2

[13]          Days of Action Fact Sheet; Citizen’s Trade Campaign; http://www.citizenstrade.org; p. 2

[14]          “Grayson Becomes First Member of Congress to View Secret Trade Agreement;” Press Release from press@graysonforcongress.com, June 18, 2013, contact Todd Jurkowski; 407-451-9857

[15]          PCUSA Office of Public Witness:  http://capwiz.com/pcusa/issues/alert/?alertid=62647766

[16]          Joining Hands Website Sample Letter on Fast Track:  http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/joininghands/support-trade-reform/

[17]          http://www.chethana.org/1/post/2013/06/seed-sovereignty-chethanas-agroecological-initiatives.html

The first photo credit goes to Jed Kobal, who took this pic during a visit from a New York area church. He writes: “Stopping in La Oroya along the way. No that’s not snow on the mountain… it’s ash! La Oroya is one of the 5 most polluted cities in the world… and among those 5, the only active industrial site. This is a metallurgical processing plant owned by a New Yorker!!! Hmmm… !! We must have legislation in the U.S. and Peru to prevent this catastrophe that has left 99% of the kids in La Oroya with lead poisoning.

The second photo is from Public Citizen.

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