Some people, organizations, and companies are accumulating a lot more debt as part of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Trying to keep the doors open, to keep people employed, and to keep on doing things we do, costs money. And most money comes with strings attached, like paying back whatever was borrowed.
The Payroll Protection Program developed by Congress offered loans to smaller businesses to keep employees working while money coming in is scarce. The amounts are actually loans. But the loan is forgiven if the borrower uses the money to keep workers employed. This is an essential program for the businesses fortunate enough to get access.
More so than scripture, people turn on the news for advice on how to respond to things that frighten us. But scripture is not silent on indebtedness. And the bible is definitely not silent on the subject of economics. Money matters to God because it affects our decisions, how we treat each other, and where we put our trust and allegiance.
There is an old saying among pastors that goes something like this. You can tell what is essential to a person by looking at their calendar and their bank account. What we do with our time and money says a lot about our priorities. Not the whole story, thankfully. But these indicators offer great insight.
There’s a story in scripture about a guy that owed a ton of money. Most translations say the guy’s banker was a king, but for us, perhaps it’s the payday store, a family member, or an actual bank. The point is that this guy owed more money than he could repay.
When the banker called him in to demand repayment, the guy came clean. There was no way he could repay. He owed millions and couldn’t pay the debt off if he wanted to. The banker called the authorities to lock him up. But the guy cried out for mercy. “I have a family,” he told the banker, “and I’m not dishonest. I’m just not so good with money.”
The banker decided to let the guy go debt-free. It sounds like a fairy tale. Let’s say it was a good friend. Someone that just might forgive such a huge debt. So the guy leaves the bank — friend’s house — completely free. He not only isn’t going to jail or getting roughed up, but he is also debt-free. What a relief.
So the guy went on to found a charity that helped others, who like him, got themselves into trouble. Right? Nope. The opposite. It turned out that the guy loaned money to someone else. Rather than show the same mercy he was offered, he demanded payment or else.
When the banker/friend heard the news of how this guy showed his greed rather than his gratitude, the banker took back his promise. He changed his mind about forgiving the man’s debt and instead prosecuted him to the full extent of the law. And then some. See the twist?
You should have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you.
Jesus told this story to His followers after a conversation about forgiving a person that did or said something harmful. He told the story in response to the question, “But Jesus, how many times am I expected to forgive this person?”
This story serves as a reminder that as we talk about the pressing issues of the day, we may need to offer each other plenty of lenience. This sort of grace often seems missing in public discourse. But without it, conversations that bring us together to tackle thorny issues is difficult, and not very enjoyable for those of us who prefer to get along with others.
But there is more to the story when we read it in the context of Jesus’ ministry. Indebtedness is as much an economic issue in scripture as it is about forgiveness. Jesus lived among and advocated for the poor and marginalized. The subject of forgiveness can be painful to victims of oppression. I often hear that forgiveness is not the same thing as forgetting. Sometimes the damage doesn’t heal. Sometimes there is a scar, a reminder that keeps the past fresh.
With the availability of information from most places in the world, pictures of the cityscapes in large cities, such as Los Angelos and Mumbai, are getting some attention. Why? Because the air looks clean. The images aren’t marred by a filter of pollution. It is as though our planet is ready to forgive us for the abuse it has taken from our progress.
I am also pleasantly surprised that Earth Day received coverage. Earth Day activities are frequently enjoyed outside and in the company of large crowds. But not this year. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day.
According to one article, the first Earth Day was born out of a decade of social action. During a time of protests against the lack of civil rights and the war in Vietnam. We appeared to reject many of the life-goals of our parents.
The success of that first Earth Day, according to Sarah Pruitt, helped motivate leaders in Washington to pass environmental legislation. For example, eight months after the first Earth Day, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created. And, the Clean Air Act passed that same year. These were followed by the Clean Water Act in 1972, and the Endangered Species Act in 1973.
The debate over whether our lifestyles are damaging the atmosphere is over. Science won the argument. But this hasn’t stopped the current administration from rolling back regulations adopted as a step towards reducing our damage. The raging debate today is whether we are too late. Is the damage we’ve done forgivable?
One of the fantastic things about the teachings of Jesus is that they endure for all times. But Jesus often reminded listeners that not everyone understands. Insight into scripture is a gift. Fortunately, it is a gift freely given by the One who made sure we had access. This week, while our message considers the subject of forgiveness, our topic focuses on our earth.
In her speech to the leaders of the United Nations, Greta Thunberg, emotionally told the assembly, “how dare you.” Greta went on to point out that national leaders are all talk, but little action. Her emotional speech turned heads across the globe. Perhaps the most disturbing words spoken by Greta was, “And if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you.”
I won’t try to put different words in Greta’s mouth. While Jesus insisted that forgiveness is crucial in the Kingdom of God, like Greta, Jesus made speeches to persons in power that aroused both passionate support and violent anger. This is oftentimes the nature of public discourse. We don’t like what we hear, and sometimes it makes us angry. Anger that we hold onto long after the speech is over.
This is the nature of public discourse. We don’t like what we hear, and sometimes it makes us angry. Anger that we hold onto long after the speech is over.
So what does it look like for the planet to forgive us? Fortunately, the same Creator God made the earth we depend on. And God is merciful and forgiving. But forgiveness begins with confession and continues with action. Perhaps the earth cannot forget all of the damage done. But it isn’t too late to seek her forgiveness. It’s not too late for action.
We are indebted to the earth that sustains us. We borrow her resources while we are alive. We breathe her air, drink her water, and eat her harvest. We dig up her minerals to build things that make our lives easier. We owe a debt that we cannot repay. But we can show mercy. We can take steps individually and collectively to show our gratitude for a second chance.
My hope is that each week we can hear from individuals who took the time to research topics that matter to them. Perhaps policy influencers and people personally affected by inequity. I’m looking for you all to do the recommending and inviting.
We are all in this together, even when we aren’t actually together — physically or ideologically. But we can work together, making our community and our world a better place. Don’t let political posturing keep you from offering and receiving the grace that God offers every one of us. And if the news is causing you heartburn, turn it off for a while.
I invited several persons to respond to a survey on potential topics. A few responded already. If you didn’t get your invite please go to RisenSurvey now and take our survey. This will really help us figure out which topics are important to our participants and who is willing to do and share their research.
For more information this series, Risen, see the article, Coming up in worship.
I invite you to join us this Sunday. We plan to be live via webinar, through Facebook live, or you can call (929) 436-2866 and enter the meeting number — 324 841 204. We go live at 10:30 am. You can find these links along with more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.
A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to info@FlintAsbury.org or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.