by Todd Koch
If you’ve watched much TV, you’ve likely seen one of Mastercard’s very successful “Priceless” commercials—and honestly, I think I’ve liked every one I’ve seen. My absolute favorite though, stars NFL quarterback Peyton Manning from the Indianapolis Colts. Unlike most of us, he typically has 80,000 fans cheering him on at work as he plays the game of football.
So in the commercial, Manning is cheering on his fans at their day to day job, which includes a visit to the supermarket deli and an enthusiastic Manning cheering the meat slicer: “chop that meat, chop that meat.” Anyway, it always makes me want to watch football. And you have to give the Mastercard marketer’s some “credit,” because they take an innately negative idea, like incurring debt, and then admittedly turn into this feel good experience—a priceless moment.
During an interview in 2006, celebrating almost a decade’s success of Mastercard’s “Priceless” campaign, one of the ad’s creators spoke of one commercial he was particularly proud of titled "Cardboard Box." He said, “in the ad there's only one person, and it's this little, adorable, 3-year-old child. The whole commercial all you see is this kid playing with a cardboard box and a voice talking about the cost of three very popular yet expensive toddler Christmas gifts. The implied message of course that Mastercard will help you buy all of these wonderful toys for the three-year old. The add concludes, “watching her play with the cardboard box instead, priceless… There’s some things in life that money can’t buy, for everything else, there’s Mastercard.”
In the interview the marketer quipps, “The little girl didn't want the things, the toys—she wanted the experience of what the thing was about.” And so after watching that commercial, after finding the little girl SOO adorable, what do most people feel like doing? Buying our kids toys. And what amazes me is that in every one of these commercials, the marketers actually tell us what is really important: “the things that money can’t buy,” YET, because the marketer’s admittedly make us feel so good watching that priceless moment, the commercial psychologically conditions us, almost compels us to consume. So if as a nation in 2009, each US household held an average of $8,300 in outstanding credit card debt, we must be living some truly “priceless” moments by Mastercards standards.
And yet we know this isn’t true. Because across this country right now, there are 14 million US Americans unemployed and 40 million living in poverty. And still as reported by the World Watch Institute, the United States, with less than 5 % of the global population, consumes a quarter of the world’s fossil fuels—their calculations show that the planet only has available 4.7 acres per person of biologically productive land to supply resources and absorb wastes—yet the average person on Earth already uses 5.7 acres worth—an entire acre more than the earth can sustain.
These “ecological footprints” range from 1 acre used by the average Ethiopian to the astounding 24 acres claimed by the average US citizen. Because as a country for hundreds of years, and even hundreds more as a Euro-colonial empire, we have run an ecologically, culturally and even morally bankrupt credit card bill at the expense of God’s creation, including millions of displaced or destroyed indigenous peoples, cultures and species. It makes one wonder what kind of credit card bill the earth would issue humanity today!?
Yet these statistics are probably not new to most of you and they can easily become either mind-numbing numbers that we painfully try to tune out, or just an even greater burden to the average $38,000 debt that new ELCA pastors are beginning ministry with. It can all be overwhelming news and can certainly leave us crippled, as Paul states, to a “spirit of slavery resulting in us falling back into fear.” Yet Paul’s full letter proclaims a different message—a hopeful message.
Paul reminds us that these words, “Abba, Father” echo the words of the very one, who stood at the crossroads of creation’s redemption—Jesus our Christ—feeling overwhelmed—Jesus feeling unprepared—Jesus being frightened—Jesus, one who wished the challenges ahead of him were not so difficult. The Gospel of Mark tells of Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane, sharing with his disciples that he was “deeply grieved, even to death.”
He prayed, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet not what I want, but what you want.” And in a selfless giving moment, Jesus offered a redemptive love that no amount of money could buy. In that moment, Jesus denies anything a Mastercard, Visa or Amercian Express could buy him and accepts his death on the cross, forgiving with his love and his life, the entire debt of humanity. In that moment Jesus breaks through the spirit of slavery, and ushers in a radical spirit of adoption—Jesus offers an adoption, but one of humanity into the rest of creation. It is in this moment which Christ pays every debt and redeems not only humanity, but all of creation “priceless.”
Paul continues, “So when we cry, ‘Abba!* Father!’ 16it is that very Spirit of adoption, bearing witness* with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. So we shall not fall back into fear,” even when facing an at times overwhelming reality. This is a reality that Brazilian martyr Chico Mendez understood. In 1985 forming a national union for his profession of rubber tappers, Mendez organized peaceful protests to stand in the way of ranchers who were burning, logging and clearing the Amazon rainforest trees which were his people’s livelihood and their home.
In an interview he said that he understood that the Amazon could not be turned into an untouchable sanctuary. However he also understood that there was an urgent need to avoid the clear cutting that was threatening the entire Amazon and thereby the life of the planet. With threats on his life, he chose to not fall back into fear and on Christmas Eve 1988, Chico Mendez was murdered at the age of 45. Immediately though his murder raised international headlines and outrage, and resulted in the creation of the twenty-one current rainforest preserves, more than 8 million acres, and an amount greater than what he had initially proposed be saved.
In the spirit of Christ, visibly seen in the sacrifice of Chico Mendes, Paul urges us all “to receive the spirit of adoption.” And God invites us all to cry out in our fear, to cry out in our worry and pain, ‘Abba’! Father! Mother! Holy Creator!!! Forgive our debts and our sins, those against your creation, and those against one another. Let us remember that every friend, every stranger, every creature on the earth is a redeemed and priceless part of your creation.
Seeking forgiveness we approach the font, humbly but confidently crossing our foreheads with the baptismal waters and remembering that Christ has paid all of our debts, and that in that moment, and every moment we feel the wet touch of water, that we are redeemed by God as “priceless.” For through the cleansing waters of baptism God promised our adoption into this holy and sacred creation, and God has filled each of us with the Holy Spirit. The very Holy Spirit which fuels our hope and gives us the strength to answer the call of this groaning world.
Lutheran ecologist and theologian Joseph Sitler wrote “when the world is received as a gift, a grace, an ever astounding wonder, it can then be rightly enjoyed and justly used.” It is to this call that Paul refers. It is to this call that Christ beckons. “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” We are those children! It is you and me, and the members of our congregations and communities. And God is calling for us to receive this world as a gift, as a grace.
God is calling through faithful Lutheran voices like H. Paul Santimire who has been a leader in ecological theology for more than 35 years and who will address this community tonight about why the Christian faith is not, and can not be ecologically bankrupt. God is calling us to accept that we have been claimed priceless along with creation—calling us to recognize that the true gift isn’t the wasting of resources, time, and money buying 2010’s best toddler gifts or anything else that a Mastercard can allow us to buy, but instead it’s enjoying every priceless moment with that child of God, and then teaching them how to care for God’s abundant creation.
As leaders of this church there is so much we can do! God is calling us to make creation an integral part of our worship services showing that we are not set-apart, but rather just a part of God’s beautiful creation. At Sunday school forums to continue teaching and raising awareness through guest speakers, by using the ELCA’s social statement or even LSTC’s Web of Creation website which informs us about what we can do to take better care of the earth; by making our congregations models of green living, and to invite other community organizations, businesses and civil authorities to join us in doing the same.
For even if the challenges ahead of us look too overwhelming, God has walked and continues to walk with us through our fear, and God will always strengthen our faith, with Paul reminding us “that in hope we were saved.” And so we can hope!!, and thus answer God’s call to work towards what God has already promised, remembering that through Christ we are all redeemed priceless and freed to go forth in confidence, following God’s call to preach, teach and serve in both small and great ways, until the hope that is yet to come is seen, the full and complete redemption of all of God’s priceless creation.