July 23, 2017

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost/16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sermon: “In Debt Up To Our Eyeballs”


One of the facts of life in America is that almost every single American is in debt at one time or another. We are encouraged to get into debt by screaming car dealers and shrill furniture store owners who assure us constantly they can “SAVE YOU MONEY!” We are bombarded by print ads, pop-up ads on our computers, and glossy mailers in our mailboxes informing us of just how easy and quick it is to obtain whatever money we need for what we want to buy.

It is all so alluring! We can have it all, if we just go into debt.

I don’t know how YOU were raised, but in my family, if you owed money, you worked and worked until you paid it back. And you tried not to borrow any more unless it was absolutely necessary or unless there was some emergency. One thing you NEVER did was to forget about a debt; if you owed it, then you repaid it, no matter what. Personally, I hate owing any type of debt to anyone or anything, and I work and work to pay off debts early so they will go away. Even if I borrow something from someone – such as a tool or a book – I try to return it promptly and in better shape than it was when I borrowed it.

I just hate owing debts!

When Jeanne and I were first married, both of us had jobs, but neither job paid very well. We have a few pieces of donated furniture, but we also had bills that were incurred when we wanted to buy a few more pieces. Both of us had old cars that seemed to have expensive things go wrong often. Both of us worked hard and lived simply, but it was impossible to avoid debt.

It was very frustrating!

Then when we got married, the most amazing thing happened: we received lots of checks in pretty envelopes at our wedding; in fact, we received so much that we were able to pay off all of our debts with a cushion of savings left over. I remember what a WONDERFUL feeling it was to be free of our debt. We owed NOTHING! No monthly checks to write. No dreading the daily trip to the mailbox. No avoiding stores or malls. It felt WONDERFUL not to be in debt up to our eyeballs anymore!

I also remember feeling very grateful to all of our relatives and friends for saving us from a life of high-interest debt.

What we didn’t realize until later was that Jeanne and I still owed a debt to those wonderful relatives and friends. We could never repay their generosity, we would always owe that debt, so we resolved to continue loving them and helping them whenever we could in the future. That was all we could do to repay it.

In Paul’s Letter to the Romans that we heard today, Paul is reminding us that we owe a debt we can never repay to the Lord.

Paul reminds his audience that we were freed from sin when we became sons and daughters of God. In fact, not only did we become his children, we are even able to call him “Abba” or “Father.” He is not a taskmaster or an owner or a boss…he is our loving Father. I wonder if it is even remotely similar to the relationship we are supposed to have with our own parents; they raise us and provide for us and love us, and in return they only ask that we do our best in life and have a loving relationship with them. God didn’t have to form his relationship with us, but he did anyway. He creates us, cares for us, provides for us, and loves us. There is really nothing we can do to repay God for that love. Instead, it is a debt that each of us owes.

And we are in debt up to our eyeballs!

If that were not enough, God also provided the gift of the Holy Spirit to uplift and to sustain us. The power of the Holy Spirit frees us from the power of sin; it doesn’t remove the temptation of sin from our lives, but it saves us and frees us from its bondage.

Paul even points out that “we are not debtors to the flesh because we live by the Spirit.” We can be free from sin!

And what does God ask in return for this wonderful gift? Not much…only our love and devotion…only a relationship that is not so one-sided…just love. That doesn’t really seem fair, does it?

You’re right…it’s not. Once again, we are in debt up to our eyeballs!

Paul speaks so lovingly and confidently about the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul makes the case over and over again in all of his various writings that Jesus was sent to save us, and that he suffered and died and rose to overcome sin and death for us. No matter what we do with our lives, that is a debt that simply cannot be repaid. It can be understood…perhaps…it can be shared with others, it can be written about and spoken of and proclaimed from pulpits around the world.

But it’s a debt that we cannot hope to ever EVER repay.

And Paul reminds us that we owe that debt.

In the Gospel of Matthew that we heard today, I hear another call to remember another debt. The parable describes a field owner who discovers weeds that have been sown among his good seed by an enemy. The workers ask if the weeds should be pulled, but the owner tells them to wait until the harvest so as to avoid harming the good plants. At the harvest, everything will be sorted out and divided correctly. Of course, we equate this parable with the End of Days when the Lord will gather his people and will separate the good from the bad.

Yet notice the debt that is owed in this passage:

Jesus never said that a field full of weeds should be totally destroyed. We all know that if a field of crops is burned and destroyed, the entire good crop is lost, and the weeds are destroyed too.

That will solve the problem of those dumb weeds! Just clear the whole field and start over…that’s a good idea!

But that is not what our loving Lord does with us. Even though his field of children is often surrounded by the wicked, he still waits until the end to give all his children a chance to change. Then – and only then – will he gather his own, separate the wicked, and end the harvest. The owner – our Lord – is the only one capable of truly judging who is good and who is bad, but because he waits until the very last minute, the hope of salvation is still there for any of his children to choose Him. To be that merciful in the face of human beings who turn away from Him, who throw their lives away, who are wicked and seem to have no hope, is breathtaking!

It is a gift to all human beings everywhere and for all times. He could just look at our world, the world he created and gave us, and he could be so disgusted that He wants to destroy the whole thing…weeds and crops and all!

But instead, he gives a gift: the gift of more time, more opportunities to love and to share, more chances to come to our senses and to turn away from whatever attracts those pesky weeds in our midst.

In other words, we owe a debt that we cannot repay. The love of the Lord for his children is so great that we are in debt up to our eyeballs forever and forever.

But He still gives that gift over and over and over again.

Because He loves us.

And that is a debt we cannot ever repay.


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