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  • Writer's pictureBishop Peter F. Hansen

The Debt

St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church

Bishop Peter F. Hansen

Sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity, November 13, 2022

“But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.”

THE economy is in shambles, and why? Debt. Speculation, investments, stock market jitters, expectations for rapid profits, greed and intentional dishonesty, inflation, foolish spending, and the backside of a pandemic. We have sold ourselves to banks and foreign governments, just for things and popularity and power. Full economic recovery is unimaginable. Nobody is willing to do the hard work, as businesses fold and the national debt skyrockets.

This weekend, the national debt topped $31 trillion, 275 billion, 150 million dollars. Ten years ago, it was16 trillion, half of what it is today. If each taxpayer were to cough up the cash to pay this off, the tab would be $250,000 per household. The national debt exceeds the gross national product at 121%. In 2000, that was 55%.

We can now understand the situation of the man in the parable of Jesus. It’s today’s news. We’ll imagine that the king in the story is, say our friend, China. (China and Japan own most of our foreign debt). The ten thousand talents in the story is our $31 trillion, or for you $250 grand. He says, “Your debt is overdue. Please pay up. See the cashier over there. Next!” We’re speechless. Our friends around us each owe the same, and we have nothing to pay it with. Every paycheck is spent before we get it. We begin to sweat. “I’m broke, sir. Please have mercy, give me time and I’ll pay you in full, I swear it.” The Chinese governor turns to his translator. He wants to know what you just said. His face turns to you in anger. “What did you say? You’re not going to pay up? Take him away!” he orders the guards. “Debtor’s prison, for him and his family!”

In Christ’s account, the king is a very gracious man. As you plead, the king relents. “All right. I’m not a cruel man. You don’t have to pay me. Get up, take your family, and live free.” You leave shaken and the next person you see is a friend who borrowed $500 from you six months ago. You know you can’t borrow any more. And you’re still living beyond your means. You confront him for the money. “Pay me by Friday, or I’ll turn it over to debt collectors!” Friday comes, and he’s still got nothing but moths in his wallet, holes in his shoes. And he shows you.

I think you get the idea. Debt is a scary thing. The idea of our personal freedom being tied to money is made apparent when we realize our options diminish each time we obligate ourselves to a debt. Owning all that you have outright means nobody’s got a handle on you. Having money in the bank gives you freedom to move, quit a bad job, live where you want, and give money away where it does good. Debt removes all those options. Freedom is at stake, and as American’s, our freedom means a lot to us.

What is a person worth? Let’s buy somebody. Ok—I’ll volunteer. Start the bidding at $100,000. Who’ll bid 100 grand? $1,000? $100? Anybody? What are we worth? Keep that in mind while I give you another math problem.

Say that I give you ten crisp $100 bills. “Here, take it. It’s yours.” How much do you have in your hand? $1,000 you say. “Now, please give me back one of those Ben Franklins.” Just a minute, you say. I thought these were mine. $100 is a lot of money. “That’s right, it is. But a minute ago, I gave you 1,000. I’m only asking for 100.” Reluctantly, you give me back $100. “Now count what you have left.” $900, you tell me. “How much better off are you now than two minutes ago?” I ask. The same, $900 to the good. “All right, now—that $900 is yours to use in the best way possible. Don’t blow it. It’s not mad money. If you use it well, I’ll give you another $1,000 in a week or so. You’re now in my economy.”

What I’ve just illustrated, awkwardly, is the principle of the tithe. It’s an old biblical answer to a very current question, an eternal question about how much I’m supposed to give to God. If I look to my assets: my bills, my taxes, my house payments, my car insurance, the spare change in my pockets, what I need to buy lunch next week: I’m going to try to figure out if I can afford even $5 in the plate on Sunday. If I’m afraid to let that go, maybe I’ll just stay home from church and avoid embarrassment. Perhaps if I don’t go and enjoy the service, endure the bishop’s preaching, sing the hymns, and receive Communion this week, I won’t owe the $5. Do you see where this is going? It starts in the wrong place. ‘What I have left over’ is not how to calculate what I should give to God.

Start with you. Where did you come from? Who paid for you? Your parents paid the hospital, I suppose. But you didn’t come from a hospital. Tiny were you when you first might be called ‘you.’ Microscopic—there you are, and nobody even knows it for a while. Somebody knows it. God knows it, for it is He that made you there. You come from God, and every breath, every heartbeat is His handiwork.

Who made you smart enough for your job? Who made this world for you to live and work in? What chances paved the way for you to claim a paycheck last week? If you’re not employed, the principle’s even clearer. Your livelihood comes by grace—others work and earn, and you receive those benefits, or retirement, and you’re thankful. This is all God in the working order of things. The $1,000 is from Him.

He then asks for $100 back. Given the state of the economy and the uncertainty of our recovery, you may look at other factors. But again, that’s looking at the wrong things. Peter walked on water, but when he looked at the storm raging and the miracle of his new ability, he feared and began to sink. Eyes firmly on Jesus, now. Do you give Him the $100? Sink or tithe? is the question.

But then the miracles really begin. That $900 in your hand represents a working relationship. It’s God’s money. You may not think so, for you see who’s holding it. But that’s you again, the one God made, God raised up, God gave life to, and so on. The very hand that holds the cash connects to a wonderful mind that you didn’t create. He did. You’ve entered a new reality. You put the cash in your bank account, and you begin to pay bills, watch your spending, making a habit of weekly church attendance, and of tithing. Somewhere along the line you find out… I’m okay. I’m not broke. I’m not sinking. We eat, pay the rent, buy gasoline (that’s a miracle!), even see a movie. I just got a raise. And one of our debts is about to be paid off—that’s like getting another raise. Life is good.

When you figure it out, and do the entire exchange, you will see that all you have, all you are, all you do and all your life belongs not to you, but to God. Your home, car, bank accounts, your very life is His. The token of this transaction is what He asked the Jews for long ago. It still operates today. 10% of what you gain, setting the baseline.

And how does that work in this economy? This takes faith to understand. We are proxy slaves to government, due to the debt made in our names, and each of us owes more than any of us could put his or her hands on, every household in six figures. But there is a debt much larger than that. Yes, even bigger than the National Debt. It’s a debt that put our Savior up on a cross overlooking Jerusalem. The world was already bankrupt, and was so from our first parents until now. Flat broke and owing a fortune. What could we pay? We might die, and it wouldn’t change the needle pegged on empty. Our answer has to be God, the generous and sympathetic king of the parable. That gift cost Him something. More than ten talents per person 8 billion times, it cost Him His life. It hurt Him bad. And He did it for you and for me out of love.

So, if we’ve been enslaved by Pharaoh who is afraid of our freedom, we need Moses to free first our minds and hearts, then our bodies. The first Pharaoh was Satan, old Scratch himself. The pawn shop tag over your wretched soul was a price in the millions. Jesus saw that tag and said to Himself, “She’s worth more than that. I’ll pay full price.” And He did. St. Paul wrote, “Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.” 1 Cor. 7:23 You are bought, and it cost God plenty.

So, if our very souls are purchased by Christ, it’s pretty cheeky for us to call ourselves free agents, doing whatever we please with our stuff. How much do we owe Him? Forget about it. You can’t pay that bill. He’s paid it. But you have to enter His economy, not the US mess, not BofA’s loan desk. And His economy says that if you give Him back 10% of recent earnings, the rest you have is His money to be used wisely by you for your life. He does interesting things with the things, situations, and people, that belong to Him. Miracles start there. What was impossible before now becomes miraculous.

And don’t we pray every day: “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from evil”? Matt 6:10-13 I know we use St. Luke’s word “trespass” but debt is the word used in the Sermon on the Mount. Forgive us the debts we owe You Lord. We’ve racked up plenty. And now we throw ourselves on Your mercy.

The jailor is jangling his keys. The guards stand at the ready. And I’m down on the floor begging the king for mercy.

The question is, His economy, or yours? Haven’t we tried our economy long enough to know just how far it goes and how much farther the goal gets, farther from our means every day?

The world is giving us ample evidence that we don’t do this well without God.

A very merciful, loving Father awaits your answer to His gracious and powerful clemency.


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