Scripture: Proverbs 8:1, 2, 8, 9, 22, 23
Sermon: “Capitalism’s Soul”
Pastor Todd Buurstra

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches. So God is telling us our reputation (what others think of us) is more important than our riches. I wonder if Bernie Madoff has had any new thoughts on these Jewish verses from his prison lately?

Wisdom goes on to advise: Do not rob the poor because they are poor. Of course, this would get you a bad reputation. And this is how Labor Day got started. Bosses were making millions and workers only a few bucks. Bosses were making their workers labor in unsafe places like dangerous mines that could collapse, or machines that could tear off arms. And so the workers got together to form unions. These unions would strike, not work, until the bosses gave more money or made the factory safer. Sometimes the strikers would throw things, or yell bad words at “scabs” that came in to work. Labor Day honors those that the rich exploited because bosses wanted riches rather than a good reputation.

I took part in one strike in my life. It was in Japan. As the conversational English teacher I was automatically a part of the teacher’s union. Anyway, their version of a strike was to walk out of the 8:15-8:30 AM meeting with the principal. However, they kept the gates shut so the students wouldn’t see us picketing. When the 8:30 AM bell rung and students came in we were right back in the classroom pretending that nothing happened.

Today, the average CEO (boss) makes more than 400 dollars for every $1 their average worker makes. Are the rich taking money from the working poor again? Can capitalism recover its soul? How do reputation and riches fit together in God’s world?

In the book of Proverbs God tends to divide humanity into two categories: the wise and the foolish. Like that we can divide the rich into generous rich and greedy rich; and the poor into the working poor and lazy poor. One is good and the other is bad. So verse 9 might be rephrased: The generous rich are blessed because they share their bread with the working poor. But today 46 million working poor still do not have healthcare.

Can the soul of American capitalism be redeemed so that we rich choose reputation over riches? I am fascinated with the high end Whole Foods grocery chain these days. My first college job was working in our version of a Shop Rite, so I know a little about these businesses. The Whole Foods mission statement is WHOLE FOODS, WHOLE PEOPLE, WHOLE PLANET, and CEO, John Mackey, says that profits are only a means to fulfill that mission. Listen to Gary Hamel describe this business’ soul…

When it comes to healthcare WF pays 100% of the premiums for all team members who work 30 hours per week, and they deposit $1800 per year in a Health Savings Account for each employee’s high deductible. If employees don’t use the $1800 rolls over to next year.

So you will not be surprised that in 2006 the company was carbon neutral by buying wind farm credits, and in 2007 WF was named the fifth most rewarding place to work in the US.

The wisdom in God’s Book is about balance. I think business gets the government it deserves and government gets the business it deserves. And, the church (to which God entrusts capitalism’s soul) gets the society it deserves. So, how can we, in our workplaces, choose reputation over riches? Will your work legacy be God’s reputation or your riches?

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