Sermon on Human Trafficking: “The Buying and Selling of Souls”

So how much is a soul worth? I mean if you were going to buy and sell people—human beings—how much would they be worth on the free market? If you take the natural elements in your body Datagenetics calculated that your body itself would be worth about $160.00 give or take. However, one the bright side, if you want to sell of the parts of your body piece by piece to the medical industry according to Wired Magazine your body could be worth up to $45 million, but there is one big catch—you need almost all of your body parts to stay alive, so if you go through with this get rich quick scheme your children will actually be the ones who will get rich, so you might want to rethink your plan.

On a much more serious note, it is hard to imagine putting a price on a human being created in the image of God, but during the dark days just before the Civil War slaves were being bought and sold at the slave markets in the South for somewhere around $800-$1,600. Those sounds incredibly cheap, but mark that price up to today’s dollars, the average plantation owner was investing around $130,000 per slave. At those prices, you get a sense of why the South fought so hard to keep control of this market. You see the American slave represented a huge part of the infrastructure of the industrial/agricultural complex of the Deep South. They were the heart and soul of the plantation economy.

To end slavery our nation under the visionary and determined leadership of Abraham Lincoln fought the bloodiest war of our history. On battlefields like Bull Run, Vicksburg, Lookout Mountain, and Gettysburg and countless other encounters Johnny Rebs and the men and boys dressed in Yankee blue fought and died by the hundreds of thousands. During the Civil War 558,000 men and boys gave the full measure of devotion and died for what they believed in. To give some perspective 405,000 G.I. died during World War II.

You would think at that kind of cost, our nation would never allow even a hint of slavery to continue, not only within the borders of our nations, but in the world. Yet today, the ancient price of slavery is alive and well. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, the “Walk Free Foundation” of Australia estimates there are 29.8 million slaves today based on their survey of 162 nations. India leads the way with an estimated 13.9 million, and China ranks a distant second with 2.9 million. This modern-day slavery takes on many forces from human trafficking to force labor.

Sadly, the United States and Mexico find themselves on the list of nations with modern-day slavery. However, the forms in our two countries would be much different, much less obvious, but no less sinister. The U.S. Justice Department estimates 17,000 people may be bought and sold in the United States, most of them women, and sadly a large percentage are children. Many are runaways who find themselves willing to be treated as property for survival, and a large percentage of smuggled into our country illegally especially to be used in the sex trade industry.

Those being smuggled into our country are of special interest to us here on the border since our city in many ways is the “head of the snake” as we sit dead center in the middle of the I-10 Slavery highway. Boys and girls are practically smuggled into the United States for human trafficking each week across one of our international bridges where their “owners” jump on I-10 and head East toward Houston or West toward Los Angeles to deliver their goods.

Sadly some of them even stay here to be exploited. Less than two years ago, a massage parlor just over two blocks from our church was shut down by ICE agents to set free some young women who were being trafficked. I still remember the day of the raid, because the agents staged the raid out of our parking lot. I remember arriving at the office after going to the hospital and seeking several SUV with armed men dressed in black getting ready to make a raid. When I heard the news of what they were up to, it broke my heart to think that young women were being exploited in the shadow of our church.

If you live East Side you may be aware that this kind of criminal activity has been busted a local hotel near Yarbrough where young girls from Juarez were lured with promises of good paying job at fast-food restaurants in El Paso. In another sting, men presenting themselves as music executives lured young girls into the sex industry by promises to make them stars. As you can see the typical trap is a “lie” of a better life for a desperate young woman or boy.

I must admit after researching this topic, I wanted to take a shower. The underbelly of our society haunts me. Yet, as a biblical scholar, it does not surprise me. Sadly, even though we were created in the image of God, through our sinfulness and rebellion, we have created a sad state of depravity. In fact, some Reformed theologians speak of what they call “the total depravity of man.”

Recently I had the opportunity to teach a class for Howard Payne University on the book of Revelation. I must confess I entered this endeavor with a bit of trepidation. I did not then, and to not now consider myself to an expert on the book of Revelation, but I experienced what often happens to a teacher a great learning curve. One of the things that struck me about this amazing and mysterious book was the theology. John did an incredible job of presenting important theological truths in the bold colors of the images of the book.

As you may be aware, the book of Revelation came into existence after the Apostle John had an amazing encounter with the Lord Jesus on the island of Patmos. During this vision, Jesus opened his eyes to the future and more importantly to the spiritual struggles in the world around him. John found himself on Patmos as a punishment for his preaching of the gospel, and like many believers of his day was suffering physical persecution for his faith. So in the midst of his suffering, the Lord pulled back the curtain to show him the struggle of the soul of the world on a grand scale. He opened John’s eyes to the “big picture.”

In the book of Revelation, there is a city that represents everything that is wrong with the world today. The Revelation chooses to use the symbolic name “Babylon” to describe this evil city set in direct opposition to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God.  In a real sense “Babylon” had declared war on God and the Kingdom of Heaven. Babylon also revealed where sin and selfishness would lead any nation at any time in the history of the world, when that nation or city took its eyes off of God.

I suspect for those who read the letter of Revelation in the first century, the natural interpretation of this symbolic city would have had to be Rome and the decadent Roman Empire. In the 18th chapter, you find the great whore of Babylon falling under the judgment of a holy God. No longer would the capitol city of evil incarnate rule and reign. God was going to shut it down. God was doing to put it out of business. The people who loved Babylon, watched in horror, as she melted away right before their eyes.

In a very intriguing passage, John describes this scene, and his description stirred my heart this week as I considered the situation we are facing today. He wrote:

“When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. 10 Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry:

“‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    you mighty city of Babylon!
In one hour your doom has come!’

11 “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore— 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves.

14 “They will say, ‘The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your luxury and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.’ 15 The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn 16 and cry out:

“‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet,
    and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls!

 At first glance on the things that strikes you from the images is the fact that the destruction of Babylon will come so suddenly. One moment she appears invincible the next she will be consumed in flames. In other words, a nation or empire may appear to be indestructible, but if that nation or empire lays its foundation on evil and the exploitation of people, it will fall and its fall will be sudden and complete.

However, the point I wanted us to see this morning is the insightful description of Babylon at its best and worst. Babylon lured the kings of the earth into her chambers by offering the riches of the world. As the merchants at the World Trade Center stood and watched in horror, they witnessed the destruction of the riches of the world. What a list you see there. You see everything from the finest of gold and silver, to spices, to valuable wood, to horses and carriages, but don’t miss the end of the list. John points out that Babylon buys and sells “human beings”—men and women, boys and girls.

To paint the picture in even darker colors, he literally wrote they bought and sold the “souls” of human beings. It was not just their bodies, but their souls that were on the block. To drive home the point of the decadence of this dark city, note that the human beings were at the end of the list. Any good Jewish and ancient writer learned to list things from best to worst, most valuable to least valuable. Do you get the picture in Babylon the souls of men and women were at the bottom of the list—practically worthless in comparison to gold and silver.

In Jesus’ day, He confronted the fact that poor desperate people were considered practically disposable. In Matthew 9 as Jesus moves through the towns and villages, Matthew wrote:

 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38  (Matthew 9:36-38 NIV)

 I must confess this is one of my favorite texts because I am deeply moved by Jesus and His compassion. When Matthew wrote the people were “harassed and helpless” the word he used for helpless could practically be translated “disposable.” In other words, the people who moved the heart of Jesus were worthless to practically everyone else. When a nation moves away from God, people become of little value. Much like much of the electronics of today, we don’t repair televisions and dvd players, we just throw them away and get new ones. People today are being disposable.

Over the break I read the book “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine” by Michael Lewis about the recent economic disaster of the subprime mortgage and credit crisis just a few years ago. In the book he pulled back the curtain to reveal how the big Wall Street banks sought to make a huge immediate profit on the backs of the poor by loading them down with debts they could never pay, and selling them houses they could not afford and would eventually lose. These multimillionaires could care less about the lives of the poor and middle class who would suffer the burden of the greed. I could see Babylon all over the story.

We live in a day when the rich keep getting richer, and the poor keep getting poorer. Alarmingly history time and time again warns nations and empires that if you build your empire on the backs of the poor there will be a day of judgment and it will come suddenly just like the crash of the financial markets in 2007-2010.

In these vivid verses in Revelation, Jesus reveals to John that heaven will not sit back and watch this kind of treatment of human being with indifference. God will get involved, and ultimately the great city of Babylon will fall and will be consumed by fire. In the days of John, Rome for all practical purposes appeared to be invincible, but it fell. It died from the inside out. Every great empire that took its eyes off God fell. You want to know the mark of a nation that has sold out to the lie of Babylon—what how that nation treats the people on the margins. If it uses people like property and buys and sells the souls of men and women, boys and girls, that nation or empire will burn one day. You can write it down.

Clearly if you are in this room this morning you stand in direct opposition to the values of the great whore of Babylon. You, like your Father in heaven, treasure every man, woman, boy and girl created in the image of God, but what can we do about the plight of the people—especially the desperate people.

It starts by caring enough to get involved. Pay attention, if you see a young girl who is dress provocatively and seems to be under the control of an older man make not of where she lives, and pass the word on the authorities. Most victims of human trafficking live where they work. They rarely if ever travel alone. They rarely speak for themselves. They live in fear. Here on the border, probably their “owners” or “pimps” have threatened them with turning them over to the authorities, or worse their families to the cartels. They have drugged them and abused them. They need people who care enough to get involved. Open your eyes, and pay attention.

On a more practical level let’s slam the front door to the problem by helping those around us who need help. Get involved with our children’s and youth ministries. Participate in Upward’s basketball. Be a volunteer at the after school programs in cooperation with our Downtown Church Connection or go out the Machuca Apartments and join our apartment ministry team. You may not be able to stop this dark reality but you can make a difference in the life of a child. As you get involved, please be sure to share Jesus.  I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only real hope for our society and for those trapped on the margins. When someone is born again, nothing is ever the same. Get your hands dirty, be prepared to get your heart broken, but get involved and share Jesus. We can change the world.

You have probably heard the classic story about the man who was taking a walk along the beach one early evening and in the distance he saw a boy stooping down, picking up something, and hurling it back into the ocean. He imagined the boy was chucking rocks into the ocean, but as he neared the boy he realized he was actually tossing starfish back into the ocean that had washed ashore.

The older man thought he would teach the boy a lesson since the beach was littered with hundreds of starfish by saying, “Son, look around there are hundreds of starfish on the beach and if you could imagine that this beach represents hundreds of other beaches along the seashore. There is no possible way you can save all these starfish.”

The boy frowned and reflected on the wisdom of the old man for a moment, and then bent down picked up a starfish and tossed it in the ocean. He then turned and smiled saying: “I made a huge difference to that one!”

 I love the way Mother Teresa the champion of the poorest of the poor used to say it:

“If you can’t do great things do little things with great love. If you can’t do them with great love, do them with a little love. If you can’t do them with a little love, do them anyway. Love grows when people serve.” 

 I don’t know about you I don’t want to live in Babylon, I want to live in El Paso. Let’s get busy loving—love can change the world.

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1 Comment

Filed under Border Journal

One response to “Sermon on Human Trafficking: “The Buying and Selling of Souls”

  1. Elana Zelony

    Thank you for posting this sermon. I’m a rabbi in Dallas, and I came across this blog in preparation for a sermon on human trafficking. It’s fitting during Passover, the celebration of freedom that my congregation and I discuss modern day slavery. I’ll be using the story of the concubine in Judges 19 as a starting point. I’ll be closing with the quote you brought from Mother Theresa.

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