So, I’m not preaching on Sunday (thanks to Annual Conference), but preaching a sermon series means it’s on my mind anyway. So, briefly, here’s what I’d say, for those of you keeping track.
“Do not steal.”–Exodus 20:15
The Israelites, recently freed slaves, have to be reminded that someone else’s stuff is sacred. As slaves, possessions would’ve been claimed by whoever possessed the objects at the time. But God’s command not to steal is reminder that God is sufficient; stealing is the opposite, a belief that we need more than we have or can get in time (which will be echoed later in the tenth commandment about coveting).
So what are some ways we condone stealing? Finders keepers, the “Five fingered discount,” “They wont miss it.” Maybe, some others are more devious: Using work materials for personal work, paying someone under table, not reporting income to the IRS. It’s one of those things that we seem to be okay with “a little of.”
Ironically, the FDA has an acceptable rodent/bug ratio. It’s okay for “x” bug parts or rat feces in your food as long as it doesn’t exceed something. Does that make you feel comfortable? How do we rationalize behavior/absolute purity? Maybe if we’re disturbed by the bugs, we should reconsider stealing, too.
I remember over a decade ago, when we were stolen from on our way home from our honeymoon. We lost souvenirs, jewelry, and a sense of security. The next few years, when we went away, I always kept my eye on people, especially those handling our luggage.
Stealing “stuff” or money leads to mistrust, and fraud makes us believe that the system is broken. When we steal time, affection, etc., we break down relationships and our ability to make our hearts, our bodies, and our relationships work. [I wonder what would we find if we charted the way we spend time?]
Other impacts of stealing deconstruct blessings for others: Shoplifting increases costs for others; healthcare fraud increases costs for others; refusing to really give to God what is God’s by not giving to church inhibits mission; an inequitable distribution of wealth in the world creates conflict.
Israel saw it—all was God’s. God, the slave freer, was the giver of all, and the Israelites were playing with “house money.” But God wanted them to see other people’s “stuff” as just as holy and set apart.
So how have you stolen? How can you make it right?
Ephesians 4:28 says, “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.” But if we take it a step further, we’ll recognize that we already have a pretty standard/recognized lesson from Jesus on ‘not stealing,’ but we often overlook it.
Take a look at the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. Read it (or pray it). Now reflect on verse 11, “Give us today our daily bread.” What would our lives be like if we really only worried about our daily bread How would we spend our time differently? How would we spend our time differently? Would it mean I put any form of stealing aside if I actually fully relied on God?
Taking it a step further, St Basil wrote, “When someone steals a man’s clothes, we call him a thief; shouldn’t we give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not?”
What does it mean if I’m full while a neighbor starves? I’m stealing.
What does it mean if I have clothes in my closet that I never wear while a person down the street lacks a coat? I’m stealing.
What does it mean if I can save for retirement while my children or parents can’t make ends meet? I’m stealing.
Do I shop in stores that use child labor in other countries? Do I make decisions that allow others to thrive? I’m stealing.
Patrick Miller wrote that “stealing a person’s freedom is virtually always a matter of economics, the theft of a person for economic gain, turning the stolen object into a human machine of productivity.”
This week, pray with me: “God, Give us this day our daily bread!”