Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sunday sermon at Highlands

“Debtors and Creditors”
Highlands Presbyterian Church
June 16, 2013 
Did you know that the average credit card debt per American household is$15,956? Back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the average American consumer had less than $2,000 in total personal debt…today Americans have 609.8 million credit cards in their wallets and purses.

Total U.S. consumer debt exceeds $2.5 trillion; we have $850 billion in student loan debt alone, surpassing the amount owed in credit card debt. The national public or government debt is more than 16 trillion dollars; each citizen's share of this debt is almost $50,000.

The US is heavily in debt to 30 different countries, oil exporters, and banks. We owe billions to Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mexican, Canadian and other investors around the world who buy treasury notes to help us pay our bills and those and other countries owe us more than 50 billion dollars…and then most of the world’s nations owe us millions upon millions.

Everyone owes everyone else. Life is made up of debts and debtors. There is no one we know to whom we are either indebted or from whom we are owed …sometimes it’s money but most often it is something far more valuable

The currency of our lives arises from our relationships…I am indebted as are many of you to grandparents who struggled through the Great depression and the Dust Bowl to make a life for themselves as they sacrificed for their children…leaving them with values they taught me and that I hope to pass along to my children…and while they were doing that they made other choices that I know caused them to feel indebted to their children

We are indebted to spouses who provide us with the emotional and spiritual support we needed as we built lives, homes, careers, and raised children…and they are indebted to us for much the same.

We have friends to whom we are indebted…and friends who feel indebted to us for the times when we returned the favors, lending them our time and love as they loaned the same to us.
Good relationships based on mutual love, respect, caring create debtor/creditor relationships…when relationships are mature and mutual, the give and take of life has a way of balancing the spreadsheets at the end of the day…sometimes you need what others have and sometimes they need what you have.

Creditors and debtors…givers and takers. But it all breaks down when the books don’t balance…when one person in a relationship becomes primarily the creditor and the other becomes primarily the debtor. It happens in marriages, families, friendships, in business, politics…at times in our lives we are givers and at other times we are takers…but when we spend too much time doing one and not the other…too much time giving and little time receiving…or too much time receiving and too little time giving…the world God created with such careful balance spins out of control.

King David provides this morning’s scriptural example. It was the springtime, the time when the winter weather waned…time when armies have always gone to battle…David sent his officers and soldiers to fight while he remained in Jerusalem…taking, not giving…one afternoon while David was lounging on his rooftop, he looked below and saw a beautiful woman taking in the sun
David learned she was the wife of Uriah. As King, David had the power to send…he sent Uriah into battle and sent for his wife to come to him. Although he had the power to give, David only took…taking Bathsheba to his bed.
She was pregnant and the taker was not ready to accept responsibility. He sent for Uriah. David pretended to care about how the battle was going and then pretended to care about Uriah and his wife’s marriage. David told the young soldier to go home, to spend time with his wife…knowing that there had been a long absence and the two would likely make love…giving David cover for his misdeeds.
But Uriah was a giver, not a taker…he refused to spend a night with his wife when his fellow soldiers were bedding down on a battlefield. How can I, he asked the King, how can I lie with my wife while my friends suffer…As you live,” said Uriah, “and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.”
But David’s soul did not live…David plotted how to have Uriah killed so that the taker would never have to be a giver…the debt he had incurred by assaulting Uriah’s wife would be settled, paid for by Uriah’s life.
The king ordered that Bathsheba’s husband return to the battle and that he be placed in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.”

Though Uriah was now dead, David’s debt had not been settled. The Lord became the creditor. Nathan became the debt collector. With Uriah dead and the mourning over, David continued to take, taking Uriah’s widow to his house, to be one more of his many wives, and she bore him a son. But David’s new creditor was very displeased. The Lord sent Nathan to talk to David.

Nathan began with a story. “There were two men in a certain city, the one was rich and the other poor. The rich man had many flocks and herds; but the poor man had only one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. It grew up with him and with his children; and it was like a daughter to him.
“One day the rich man was entertaining an important visitor. He didn’t want to slaughter one of his own lambs for the feats and so instead he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared it for his guest.” The story angered David…he recognized a taker when he saw one and David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man who had taken the little lamb.
“As the Lord lives,” David screamed, “that man deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
Nathan looked into David’s angry eyes and said to David, “You are the man! Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?” David’s anger toward the man in Nathan’s story turned to guilt.
David confessed his sin and Nathan assured him…the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. But your debt will be paid by the life of your son…because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.”
The books were balanced in an awful way…David who had taken what most mattered to Uriah had been required to give up that which most mattered to him.
It’s the lesson Jesus came to teach those who follow him. In Mark 11, Jesus said, “Whenever you pray, first forgive. If you have anything against anyone forgive them; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” It’s the Lords’ Prayer…forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are indebted to us.”
Once upon a time a Pharisee asked Jesus to dinner, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman who was known to be a sinner learned Jesus was eating in the Pharisee’s house. She brought a jar of ointment and stood at his feet, weeping, bathing his feet with her tears, drying them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.
It was all too much for the Pharisee. He muttered to himself, “If this man were a prophet as he claims, he would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.”
Jesus spoke up and set us all straight on this creditor/debtor thing…with a story, “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred thousand dollars, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?”
The Pharisee said what we might well have said…certainly what any responsible banker would say. “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.”
And Jesus said to him, “Bingo…now you get it.” Actually Jesus said, “You have judged rightly.”
Ironic aren’t those words? “You have judged rightly.” The Pharisee had judged this woman to be a greater sinner than he, a person more indebted than others…and when asked by Jesus “which of them will love the one who forgives debts the more…came to understand it was the one the Pharisee thought to be the worst.
You see debt can do funny things to us, our lives, our relationships…debt can be either an opportunity to love or an opportunity to dominate. It is no accident that Jesus spoke about the creditor/debtor relationship in his prayer.
Forgive us Lord our debts as we forgive our debtors… David settled his debt to God by giving the life of his son…God settled our debts by giving the life of his son…
…God knows who it is in you life who owes you the most…who is most indebted to you…who has defaulted on that debt…God knows how badly you want that debt paid off…but asks you only one thing…to forgive that debt as God has forgiven your debts, to stop and think about that debt as you come to God in prayer…is that debt more important to you than your relationship with God. In other words…in your giving have you now become a takers? Salvation is that simple…that ironic…and that available. AMEN

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