There has been a lot of talk these last few months about debt and how to reduce the nation’s deficit. Not long ago politicians said that deficits don’t matter, and now everyone is in a dither about them. So, at the very last moment, with the nation looking at the first default in its history, Congress held its collective nose and passed legislation that raised the debt ceiling and established a super-committee, which is composed of people on both sides of the aisle committed to not compromising with the other side! Of course the Federal Government isn’t the only entity struggling with debt. The national consumer debt – that’s the debt we as citizens owe, minus mortgage debt, stands at 2.4 Trillion dollars, or about $7,800 per person. What this means is that many of us are borrowing a lot of money to pay for our chosen lifestyles. Of course, in a consumer driven economy, where jobs depend on spending, perhaps that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Of course, not all debt is the same. For instance, if you borrow money to buy a house, that may not be a bad thing, as long as you can afford the payments. But if you borrow money to go on a big trip, well that probably isn’t as wise an investment.
If you happen to be in debt, and I expect most of us owe something to somebody, you will either have to cut back on spending or get another job to increase revenue – or both, which is called a “balanced approach.”
When it comes to debt, Paul could be heard as saying no to taking on any kind of debt, with one exception. Paul says that if you’re going to be in debt, there is one kind of debt to incur, and that’s the debt of love. The King James Version opens our passage with these familiar words:
“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.”
I like the way the Common English Bible has translated this verse:
Don’t be in debt to anyone, except the obligation to love each other.
Here is one kind of debt that it’s okay to incur, and its one that would seem impossible to pay off early! I mean, is there a point at which you don’t have to love one another?
It’s a bit like that discussion Jesus had with Peter about forgiveness. Peter asks Jesus, how many times do I have to forgive my neighbor? Is seven times enough? Peter thought that seven was a rather large number. It’s more generous than the state of California, which throws you in jail for life after the third felony infraction, even if it’s shop lifting a pack of gum. But it wasn’t anything close to what Jesus had in mind, because Jesus upped the ante to seventy times the seven that Peter offered.
Since we often have difficulty knowing what to do with commandments such as love your neighbor as yourself, Paul gives some examples, which he takes from the Torah. Since we all want detailed information as to how we can fulfill this debt of love, Paul points us to the Law. What is love of the neighbor? Well, don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t desire what others have, and while you’re at it, keep all the other commands. If you do this, then you’ll love your neighbor as yourself. And if you love your neighbor, you’ll keep the commandments.
This morning we have the opportunity to celebrate this call to love one another. Yesterday we joined together in blessing the marriage of Mike and Marie. Marriage is for us a relationship of love that is guided by law, whether religious of secular. We also come today to celebrate parental love. In a moment Tim and Kate will bring Sylvie before the church to offer her to the Lord’s care, inviting us to share in that calling to love this little girl into full maturity. The reason parents bring their children before the church is because they recognize that parenthood is a covenant relationship. It is a sacred obligation rooted in God’s love for humanity. As with marriage, there are legal requirements that relate to parenthood. If, for instance, you neglect your child or hurt them, there are penalties that you will pay. But, that’s the negative side, because if you love your children as you love yourself, then you will fulfill the law. Of course, the way we live out these obligations evolves over time. Parents today do things differently than we did when Cheryl and I were starting out, and we did things differently than our parents, and I expect they did things differently than their parents. Still, parents understand the nature of this obligation that is rooted in love.
But, it’s one thing to love our family members, but what about those standing outside the bonds of family? Who is the neighbor that I’m called to love? This is a question that goes back to biblical times! If the neighbors we are to love are like the Grays, the family who lived next door to my family in Mt. Shasta, well that’s an easy question to answer in the affirmative. The Grays were like family. In fact, they were probably closer to us than many of our own family members. Mr. and Mrs. Gray were there for us in ways I probably don’t even know about. In fact, Bob Gray was like a surrogate father to me, which is probably why I wanted to be a forest service officer like him rather than an advertising salesman like my father. And their two children who were close in age to me were like brothers. Yes, they were easy to love, because they loved us. But what about those who stand outside that ring?
Remember, or instance, how a young man asked Jesus to identify the neighbor that he was to love as he loved himself? Jesus answered him with a parable about this man who stopped to help another person who had been waylaid by bandits? Remember how in the religious leaders, people like me, for instance, stopped, assessed the situation, and then moved on without helping. But then this Samaritan comes along and not only helps the wounded man, but goes to great lengths to help this person. Jesus asks – who was the neighbor? (Luke 10:25-37).
Who might this neighbor be today? Could it be the man from New Mexico who risked his life and the possibility of deportation to rescue a little girl who had been kidnapped and taken away in a van? Antonio Chacon, the man who saw this abduction take place, could have decided to not get involved. After all, he was an illegal immigrant. He was married to an American citizen, but he had stopped trying to get legal residency because of the cost involved. He might not have had legal residency, but that didn’t stop him from getting into his car and chasing after the van and forcing it to crash into a light pole, which allowed him to rescue the little girl and return her to her parents. Could Antonio Chacon be a modern day Good Samaritan? Is he the one who owes no one any debt except the debt of love?
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
12th Sunday after Pentecost
September 4, 2011