Pay the Debt
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity, November 8, 2020
“Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.”
THIS YEAR OF COVID-19 has been disorienting in a great many ways. We have lost a lot of social norms, now forbidden by a new culture of public safety and disease control. A year ago, when a young man entered a bank wearing a hoodie and a bandana covering his nose, the security guard would be called and the man detained, frisked and asked what his business was. Today, if he doesn’t wear a mask, he’ll be asked to leave or put on a paper one supplied by the bank. We’ve quickly learned to treat everybody like they’re lepers and won’t touch, shake hands or hug anymore. Some folks are, in many cases wisely, still not leaving their homes except on rapid, fearful shopping trips. And churches: only some are open like ours, but sparsely attended.
While the GNP has taken a horrible hit, the nation spent a fortune in stimulus, paying people to stay home. In that effort, our national debt shot up to a record $27 trillion: an unimaginable sum, voted in by almost the entire congress. A second payout has stalled for political reasons. Where does the money come from? You may not want to know. But at present, with the debt stacked from generations ago, you as a tax payer, according to the most recent figures, owe $218,000 of it. The government is, after all, you plus about 300,000,000 others like you. Got $218k on ya? “Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt,” said Herbert Hoover 90 years ago. How right he was.
Our state of California is no piker in that regard, a state that 40 years ago held a surplus. But Sacramento can’t print its own money—they forget that. It owes $564 billion, growing daily, and every citizen’s portion of that is $14 Grand.
America floats on debt as a lifestyle and many economists shrug, even encourage such spending without income. Perhaps the economist’s irresponsible nature comes from being paid handsomely all the time and almost always being wrong. Like pollsters. And the most hashish-smoking level of this debt-intoxication has led a great many to the shores of a dreamy socialism now being offered by the F students in economics, 20th century history and political science. Socialism’s first offer is to make everything free! Pay off student loans from those vast government coffers: why not? The average student graduates today with a $29,000 debt following her, and it grows and can’t be defaulted on or waived. So, just let Uncle Sam pay it and make college free. Right. Do they serve margaritas in class too?
And when the sleepy student gets out of free higher education, he buys a house and starts paying eternally a house mortgage at $1,100 a month. That is, after he moves out of his mother’s garage. At the age of 40. When the weight of credit card balances, auto loans and insurance, medical bills and the national debt all come home to us, there are voices clamoring for us to pay up. Pay up. Pay the debt. With what? A small debt produces a debtor. A large debt produces an enemy. Will it come to you as a shock to find that after the friendly nation of Japan, Communist China has the second largest foreign-held part of our national debt. Don’t get them mad…
Debt has spiraled up so much in my lifetime that all I’ve struggled to do is pay off all I owe and get debt-free, so that what I own is mine. But I also owe $218,000 collectively with all of you, and the $14,000 in-state. I’ve even heard that, with Cal-Exit under way, people seeking to flee this state may still be taxed by it after they leave. Afterall, over 5 million here are now unemployed, and 4 million of those are on financial assistance. Don’t you just love economics?
In light of the sticker shock of 2020, do I have the nerve to enter the pulpit on my one designated Sunday a year to introduce the pledge month for St. Augustine’s and ask you to sign off on your continued support of the church for yet another new year? Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, says the song, so I qualify to say the dirty word: tithe.
What I won’t tell you is that the church is in debt, because it’s not. We have paid off everything for 20 years. We owe the diocese a little support, but that’s so we aren’t scraping bottom. It’s been a difficult year, as I’ve said, for everyone. No one will get a dunning report of their giving. We’ve survived thus far, and that’s saying something.
But what I try to get across at this time each year is that God’s economy makes better sense than the Fed, better than the Dow, better than tax the rich, the polar opposite to socialism. Here’s how it works.
Say I don’t owe anything. Paid all my bills, own my home, taken care of taxes, done. Not done. I’m alive. I have a life, and it’s been given to me by a vast creative Being we call God who invented human life and invested it in you and in me. Besides that, I have forfeited my existence, long ago, by joining with pirates who tore down God’s flag and put up our skull and crossbones, taking things we didn’t pay for and thinking we got away with it. What I mean is, of course, our sins and fallen nature. We sided with God’s enemy, at the beginning, and started running up a humongous debt. The penalty for default on that debt is… I think… O yeah: death. Oh, everyone dies. Not that death. Eternal death. Which means an alive kind of death, fiery lake and alienation and horror-kind of death. You don’t want that, and neither do I. Fortunately, neither does God. So He sent Jesus Christ, at a great price, and lost Him to us, who killed Him. This gets better. He rose alive again and said, in summary, that we did it to Him for evil, but God meant it to happen for our good. It paid our debt. That eternal fire threat is gone if we turn to this Son of God and believe Him. Do you believe Him? Do you?
Good. Well then, believe what He says. “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Jn 14:15 The Bible is God’s Word, and the Holy Spirit inspired every part, including those portions about the tithe. What’s the tithe? A commandment to add up all that you’ve gained in wealth and substance over a period of time and give 10% of it to God through His Church. The tithe means a tenth.
What just happened there is that you come to realize you owe Him everything: all you have, all you are, all you could ever earn. He is giving you back your life, and a future with Him for eternity. It’s real and it’s true. And more, but I’ll speak to that in a minute. This awesome God who created you, now forgives you and offers you eternal life and abundance in this life if you’ll go into business with Him. 10%. Ten percent and forget it. You don’t have to worry how much you should give. Above and beyond that percentage, you can find charities and projects to support, for sure, but the contract is paid and you just make the monthly entries. And thank you so much. 10% of our goods pays for 100% of God’s grace. The bill has that stamp: PAID IN FULL, across it. The ink for that stamp was Jesus’ blood.
It’s forgiveness. The parable Jesus taught was about forgiveness. A servant of a good and wise king owed a vast fortune, $27 trillion or thereabouts. More than $218,000 by a long shot. Anyway, he was broke. He wasn’t a good money manager, so all that money was gone. He cried when the king ordered his imprisonment, and so the king mercifully relented and set him free, forgiven, granted mercy. Like us. The debt was paid for us at Calvary.
Then the servant showed his character, unfortunately. A small debtor to him owed a pittance, less than $14,000, and couldn’t pay up, so he arrested him and put him in debtor’s jail. The king heard of it and called him back up for a rehearing. As he was so unforgiving, the king exacted the same justice on his huge debt. Case closed. Bad choice.
God is generous. If you doubt that, do a reality check. The entire span of your life you’ve enjoyed a world that permitted your survival, temperatures well within the range you could live without freezing to death or boiling. Not like every other planet. Food is yours every day in great quantity, especially in California. The water is healthy and almost free. Home, clothing, company, cars, gasoline, jobs, schools with talented teachers, churches with inspiring pastors, peace at the borders, a police force to protect you: the list goes on. God’s generosity is endless. When you enter in the faith factor, you give your prescribed portion, knowing that only 10%, and not 100% of your income, signifies that all of you is in the bargain and that your remaining 90% is His also but to be administered by His favorite economic genius: you.
Then the miracles start happening. It isn’t overnight, usually, but that old economy where you held your paycheck up in the wind of your debt and: poof! It was gone? That’s over. The paycheck covers it, after God’s ten percent, and then it more than covers it. Then things happen. Crises arise and go away. Abundance arrives and stays. Peace of mind. Assurance of God’s pleasure in you, at least in the financial department. Faithful in small things—and the tithe is one of the small things—means He will make you a leader in bigger things.
So, it’s your pledge month. We do this until December. Fill it out, turn it in, and that’s what your intention is for the wonderful year 2021. The old year 2020 came with great promise. What a liar! Godzilla could rise up in the Hudson River and surprise nobody. Murder Hornets no longer hold our attention. We’re Butte Strong. We do fire and flood. And now COVID. We’re ready. They counted us out far too soon. Are you now afraid of 10%? Are you kidding?
So, rushing in ahead of the angels, I commend this decision to you in prayer. It isn’t magic. It’s God’s Econ 101. Show Him you trust Him, then step back and let Him prove Himself. And then listen as heaven cheers.