The Greeks have a (theological) point
(With thanks to Rev Giles Fraser on Thought for the Day)
Last Sunday I spoke about financial wisdom and one of the verses from Proverbs (the one we tweeted today in fact) was all about debt, ”The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is servant to the lender” (22:7). My main point was that when we take on debt we put ourselves “under” the lender. The lender, whoever it may be, has some sort of priority call on our finances. And this can conflict with our commitment to making Jesus the Lord over every part of our lives. If we are servant to the lender how can we be servants to Jesus too?
But there is another dimension to debt with which we struggle at a more basic level – its repayment. We live in an economic culture birthed out of the Protestant work ethic wherein it is axiomatic for us to calculate every penny owed and the accumulated interest thereon and deem it repayable in full, and on time. In other words we think there is something very wrong with not repaying a loan. What, really, is our deep-seated attitude to a client of our Debt Advice Centre who gets “debt-free” by a voluntary arrangement with creditors, or, occasionally, by bankruptcy?
This is being played out on a macro scale this very day as Greece looks like it is about to default on a huge loan. The German-led creditors simply can’t imagine any outcome apart from repayment. Whereas the Greek mindset struggles to understand how it is possibly going to help the situation to impose more austerity on their country. And most of our own journalists are fond of quoting Greek profligacy as though this is all a justifiable punishment for their bad behaviour.
The bible uses the language of debt repayment to describe what God has done for us in Jesus: “forgiveness” (as in forgiving a debt), “redemption” (as in redeeming a debt), “justifying” (as in balancing the books), “crediting” by faith (as in adding funds into your account). This is where the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is so important in understanding how he paid the price for our sins – our debt repaid. A debt we can no more pay than can Greece meet its obligations.
But here’s a thing. The Greeks have a point. Instead of thinking about the past and our guilt and inability to repay our debt, what about the future and the promise of a fresh start, a new life? The bible is big on this too! In the Greek Orthodox church the doctrine of redemption is much more about the new life that comes from Jesus’ resurrection. It’s not just the cross but the resurrection. When Jesus rose from the grave and broke the power of death he left the chains of our indebtedness behind. “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” 1 Peter 2:3.
Here’s a challenge for you: does anyone owe you any money? Why don’t you just “forgive” them their debt? It’s in the Lord’s prayer! Just say, “I am going to “credit your account” with me, so that it balances” (is "justified" - in biblical language). If you don’t want to do that, ask yourself why and then reflect on that great love of God for us which forgives all our debts! It’s a thought, isn’t it?
What's coming up in the Leeds Vineyard?
We are half-way through our Lifecraft from God series on Proverbs which finishes at the end of July.
And we have just two more Sunday evening services (5th and 12th July) after which they are suspended until September. But on most Sundays there will be the option to go to the park for a picnic after weekly worship in the morning.
Over August and September our theme will be “Look Left, Look Right, Look Around You”
in the run up to the launch of our new Small Groups in September. Andrew and Sally Lingham are putting the final touches to an exciting and varied programme of small groups to which we will all be invited to sign up in mid-September. We then stay with the group we have chosen until Christmas when we take a few weeks’ break before another programme for us to sign up to starts in January. Although the groups will vary in style, they will all have discipleship as one of their primary aims.
In my last newsmail I asked for Champions, “a champion with a vision to change the world – not by winning competitions but by sacrificing time and energy to make a difference in someone else’s life”. I’m looking forward to reporting back to you on what emerges. Maybe you don’t think of yourself as a champion like that but you do have an idea of a way in which you can make a difference in our community. The time is coming when I will want to tease those ideas out of you as well and see if they can bear fruit. Watch this space!
To start with, in the Autumn, we are going to give some time (as we normally do but in a more focussed way) to making our ministry with the poor more central in our community’s life. It’ll start with being generous, it always does.
Alison and I have had a rather stretching few weeks. There have been times when I hardly seem to have slept in my own bed! Lots of travelling and doing kingdom stuff all over the place. In addition I am in the throes of making some fairly major changes to my business life and although these changes will result in more space for my pastoral roles, they take up extra time and energy now. We’ve also been processing quite a lot of issues in the wider family which are rather gruelling. We’ve booked a couple of weeks’ holiday in July which, all being well on the home front, will enable us to get away.
Before then we have the joy of a weekend in Hamburg visiting the Vineyard there and checking in on Dirk Edge. Some of you may remember that Dirk came through our Debt Advice Centre and despite a very troubled history has experienced “redemption” on several levels – physical healing, spiritual salvation and debt-freedom. It’ll be great to see him again.
And then, with some trepidation, I am investing a week in going back to college for a crash course in New Testament Greek. It’s been a long time since I last parsed any Greek verbs in a classroom! Decades. It’s ironic that I will be getting into Greek just as it seems the Greeks will be getting out of Europe.
PS Don’t forget that tonight you need to put your clocks back one second