Jesus & Gentrification: Securing your Future in the Neighborhood

Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
saying, “When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the bushel small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”
The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
Amos 8:4-7

Because our church is in Highland Park, a neighborhood that is experiencing gentrification, people often ask me if our church has a stance on gentrification.
The “g-word” can be pretty controversial subject. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, the following paragraph from PBS.org is helpful description.
“Gentrification is a general term for the arrival of wealthier people in an existing urban district, a related increase in rents and property values, and changes in the district’s character and culture. The term is often used negatively, suggesting the displacement of poor communities by rich outsiders. But the effects of gentrification are complex and contradictory, and its real impact varies.[1]
That last sentence helps to articulate why gentrification is a controversial topic. It’s really complex. And we humans tend to reduce and over-simplify. We like to make clear distinctions, identify with our subgroups, and demonstrate why we are the ones who are on the right side of history.
Words like “gentrification” are invented by people with PhDs in Sociology. I am a priest. My postgraduate work was focused on how to read the Bible well. The word “gentrification” appears in the Bible (a rather large book) a total of zero times. So I actually don’t claim to know a lot about gentrification.
But I do know what the Bible has to say about peace and justice. Shalom (the Hebrew concept of peace) is not just the absence of war but also the presence of wholeness. Other things equal, if violence decreases in the neighborhood, there should be a net-increase of shalom. But if people in the neighborhood are experiencing lack, if they don’t have access to the resources they need to thrive such as employment, fair wages, housing, education, etc., then there is a lack of shalom.

God’s intended wholeness (shalom) includes provision for the people He created. In the Book of Deuteronomy, God tells His people that He is going to provide for everyone and that he is going to make some people wealthy so that they can provide for those who are need.
Quite interesting, right? God’s plan was that no one would be in need. And His plan entailed that we would redistribute our God-given resources in ways that reflect his good and just ways.

So why a Sermon titled “Jesus & Gentrification: Securing your Future in the Neighborhood”?
Well, because people often ask what we think about the topic. And because the lectionary [2] readings for this week all relate to God’s care for the poor, his judgment against those who abuse the poor, and his instruction to wealthier people to make friends with the poor (Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; Luke 16:1-13). Actually the Bible has a lot to say (in almost every book) about God’s love for the poor, for immigrants, for widows and orphans, and for all those who might be vulnerable to marginalization by the rich and powerful.
“Gentrification” isn’t a bible word, but “poor, rich, land-owner, immigrant, peace, and justice” are bible words. So we thought this Sunday might be a good time to talk about these issues which are so important for the life of our community.
Actually, almost every Sunday we talk about these issues. It’s just for this Sunday we are putting a label on it and posting a picture on Instagram.
I invite you to join us this Sunday at 10 am as we continue to discuss how to live life together in Highland Park in the most loving ways possible. Let’s learn together how to respond to Jesus’ invitation to love not only our neighbors but also our enemies.

I hope to see you at the service.

– Jon Ziegler

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[1] http://www.pbs.org/pov/flagwars/what-is-gentrification/

[2] Lectionary Readings are the assigned scripture readings that the church reads together every Sunday. We used the Revised Common Lectionary (used by many global churches including Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Lutherans, etc.). The readings from the Revised Common Lectionary are usually very similar to readings in the Roman Catholic Church. So must Sundays we read what the overwhelming majority of Christians are reading.

Jon Ziegler