Sunday 6th September

Sunday 6th September – Romans 13.8

 

‘Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law…’

 

Debt is a moral and spiritual issue.

 

In the past, in English law, a person who owed someone else money was that person’s ‘bondsman’. He or she was bonded.

 

Aristotle, the philosopher condemned all lending at interest because money cannot create wealth by itself; a loan is just a way for the lender to take advantage of the borrower.

 

However by the seventeenth century traders found they could make money even when the original money was leant at interest.

 

“My word is my bond” is the motto of the London Stock Exchange.

 

When we begin to think about being a ‘bondsman’ we may think the concept rather Dickensian, abhorrent even. In fact in the middle ages the word ‘bond’ meant ‘serf’.

 

Today its meaning is softer. A bond implies mutual obligation. Something more like moral obligation. A covenant even.

 

So we have the phrase a ‘debt of kindness’ which is moving towards a spiritual connection. Such a debt of kindness binds the community together.

 

In today’s suspicious, anxious, world we preference financial debt over moral debt. One knows where one is with a financial debt. It is more easily quantifiable. It feels more natural.

 

As far back as 1863, Abraham Lincoln was conscious that this way of thinking had a grip over his nation’s culture. So he called for a day of prayer and fasting in North America. He wrote the official proclamation for the day of prayer and fasting.

 

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven.

We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity.

We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown.

But we have forgotten God.

We have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.

Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God who made us.

 

Our faith puts moral debt before financial obligation.

At the heart of Christianity is a moral debt.

Jesus died on the cross for our sins.

It is a moral debt we cannot repay.

God’s love on the cross is an act of grace.

God chose to die for us knowing we cannot pay back such costly love.

 

Our faith’s natural response is thanksfulness; thanksfulness for the gift of love in creation and the cross, neither is a bounty we can repay.

 

Yet still, when a moral debt exists, we prefer being owed to owing others.

 

Why? Maybe because our heart is not filled enough with gratitude.

 

Michael Caine, the actor, said this.

“My father was a Catholic and my mother Protestant.

I was educated in a Jewish school, and my wife is a Muslim.

I’ve watched the way they all ill-treated each other, so I feel outside all that.

But I certainly believe in God.

It’s just God and me, watching all the rest.

I don’t usually say prayers; I say ‘thank you’.

If you’d had my life you’d spend more times saying ‘thank you’ than asking for things”.

 

For a thinking Christian, being in a debt of love to another person is a good thing. Financial debt might be disturbing, even crushing.

But moral debt is both natural and beneficial, even to a Godfearer who does not turn to Jesus in thanks.

As Michael Caine said it comes naturally to him “…more times saying ‘thank you’ than asking for things”.

 

It is good to help another person.

It is good to offer a display of care, of kindness, even of love.

 

Goodness begets goodness. Returning goodness creates social capital, it gives life to the common good. Society flourishes in the way Abraham Lincoln hoped.

 

We as Christians, should keep note of acts of goodness given to us, but not keep a tally. Christians, at heart, want to return each act with an act of goodness of our own.

 

But we should not keep tallies...

 

Jesus wanted us to sit very lightly on keeping a tally moral debts.

 

This is spelt out in the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ words literally are:

“We ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us”. That’s really challenging.

 

In the Old Testament God ordered a Year of Jubilee, once every 70 years, when all debts were written off; forgiven. Jesus wanted us to do so daily with our moral debts.

 

Better to be loved much and to love much in return, than keep a tally of moral debts owed to us.

 

Or as Paul put it:

‘Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law…’


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