Luke 3:10-14 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics  is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
An article in today's New York Times tells about the plight of older workers in the current recession... excuse me... THE Recession. There, now I've given the situation its due. They talk about those 55 and older as a new class of unemployables. (see: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/20/business/economy/20older.html?partner=rss&emc=rss)
I want to dispel any thoughts you have that The Recession is somehow God's judgement on Western Culture, or at least on Wall Street, for the excessive lifestyle we led from the 1980s until everything came off the tracks in 2008. If you live in a market driven economy, there simply are going to be times of great prosperity, full employment, and growth in all sectors. And there are going to be times when the piper has to be paid for the use of credit, the distance between the classes, and the gratifying of desires all that wealth allowed. There are problems with all other systems of economy, but this is the reality of ours.
What I can tell you is one of the lessons God wants to teach the church through this period. We have a great opportunity here to be the church as God intended us to be. The longer passage, beginning at Luke 3:1 links John's basic proclamation of "repentance of the forgiveness of sins" with the prophecy from Isaiah about the leveling of mountains and valleys and John's economy lesson to his audience.
Today's church is a reflection of the economy around us: the mega-churches largely represent the wealthy; the smaller bricks-and-mortar churches represent the middle class; and the house churches and especially those real believers who find themselves completely without a church represent the poor and homeless. Not that large, affluent churches don't reach out to the poor. Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, MI is a great example of a church with abundant resources and sound theology that is on the cutting-edge of social conscience. Conversely, I'm sure one can point to many wealthy Christians who believe "sound doctrine" but don't lift a finger to actually engage with the poor, the sick, and those in need. Still, the point can be made that we are a church of classes of churches and there isn't much interaction or acknowledgement from one to the next, other than that the poor and homeless class of churches seems to often go begging at the door of the class above them, and so on. How many smaller churches do you know that have picked up programming from Saddleback or Willow Creek rather than innovate their own distinct program and plan?
John begins his discourse with the conclusion: bear fruits that demonstrate your repentance. Can you imagine what would happen if the churches of a given geographic area actually put into practice on an institutional level what John is telling individuals to do? Let's say there are ten churches in our town. Four of them have been doing pretty well and have been running a modest surplus, experiencing stable attendance patterns, and have a solid leadership. Five of the churches in town are struggling just to stay afloat and are beginning to work through their savings. A couple of those have also been trying for the last couple of years to find a pastor who can bring good leadership to the church, but they can't offer a decent salary, so it looks like they'll have to settle for part-time ministry. One church in town has a highly regarded ministry, a regional attendance, multiple staff, good outreach programs, and a well-defined large leadership team. At the end of the year, this church decides to do something radical. They're going to take the surplus in both people and money and give it to the struggling churches just because they love healthy churches, and without thought as to how the "loss" will affect their ministry.
This kind of generosity cannot be legislated. You can't force people to act communally in a market economy. But for those who truly have ears to hear, St. John of The Recession has a plan: don't be satisfied with tithing. Don't let the fact that you have finally got a home and nice possessions lull you into believing that you have arrived. You know that guest room you've got that you keep vacant for the three times a year your sister from Detroit comes to visit? Did you know that foreclosures hit an all time high last month? Where do you suppose all those people are now living? Yes, the rental market is doing quite well! But so is the homeless "market". You don't have to go looking for those people. Just look around your life and you'll find folks who are having real trouble making ends meet. Even if you don't offer them that spare room... the least you can do is offer them dinner.