In a comedy routine on the old Dick Van Dyke show, Dick’s real life brother, Jerry, plays his brother in the show. Jerry comes home from some time in the army and is upset. Dick tells him that he knows how his brother feels. Jerry argues long and loud with the phrase “Nobody knows how I feel!” and anytime that Dick or anyone else around tries to comfort him, he responds with the same message. Repeated. Often. Loudly. While the situation is ultimately resolved – think about it – 30 minute show, sitcom, of course it will be, Jerry Van Dyke’s character’s reaction is so typical of people who are confronted by a truth they don’t want to hear.
Paul’s ministry in Ephesus lasted a couple of years. The results were amazing. At one point people who were engaged in sorcery prior to meeting Paul and hearing the gospel brought all their books of sorcery and burned them as a way of saying that they were done with that old way of life. The gospel message was changing lives so much that it soon began to affect the businesses that traded in the idols of Artemis. Ephesus had a great temple devoted to Artemis and just as today, tourists and residents all wanted a remembrance of their trip to the temple of Artemis. When people came to follow Christ, business was bad for those artisans. One of the workers got people riled up about the loss of business, but even moreso about the disrespect to Artemis. A riot ensued. “When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” (Acts 19:28)
There are times when Christians are not too good for the economy, to quote a Ken Medema song. Our beliefs will often directly contradict businesses that engage in practices that are not God honoring. The early Christian Church in Ephesus had a dampening effect on the trade in idols – enough that there was a loud, raucous demonstration that lasted for hours. It could be called “The Christian Effect” on economies that depend so heavily on activities that are contrary to walking with God. It had an effect on people’s lives too as they had to make the decisions to change their lifestyles so that they could honor God. The change in the larger economy began with changes in the lives of individual followers of Christ.
We see the same reaction today when Christians actually live out their faith. There are many industries that do not honor God. I avoid mentioning specific sins for a reason, but today I’m going to point to a sinful, greedy, predatory area of commerce: payday loans. Payday loans are designed to prey on those least able to afford them. Those who take out those loans are subject to outrageous interest rates and usually never get them paid off – even though they may have paid back an amount of twice the amount of the loan. Oh, I know the arguments: this is the only way some people can get loans, people who are poor need this kind of help, etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Oh, and great are the payday loans of the Americans. If you want to help people in poverty, work to find a different solution than a predatory lending practice. Work through local churches to find those alternative solutions. Ending payday loans will hurt the economy of greedy people who already have enough money, but it will help those who fall prey to them. This is just one example of how Christians can make a difference.
Oh Lord, you care for those in financial poverty. Often, in our spiritual poverty we don’t even notice those who are suffering. Open our eyes to the problems in our world. Let us, as Your followers, make a difference. Let us change societal structures that enable and encourage keeping others in poverty for financial gain. Help us to work for a more just society.