Sermon for 7th Sunday after Pentecost
July 15, 2012
Maggie and I are experiencing firsthand the joys of home ownership. A parade of electricians, painters, and carpenters have been traipsing through our house over the last few weeks. We’ve been pruning trees, removing an old deck, clearing out junk from the garage. Oh the joys of home ownership. We pay a substantial amount of money every month so that we can pay even more money and work even harder to keep the house in good repair.
I remember that day when Maggie and I sat down to sign a stack of papers about a foot thick at our closing. It felt like we were signing our lives away so that we could live in this house. And then we looked at the piece of paper that showed how much money we owed for the next thirty years – longer that we’ve even been alive!
And it seems to me that the term “home ownership” is just a charade. In reality, the papers we signed means that the bank owns us for the next thirty years, and they are kind enough to let us live in the house and deal with the painters, electricians, and carpenters. They say that the smell of paint, the bills from the contractors, and the endless work is all part of the investment. In thirty years, I imagine that Maggie and I will throw the biggest party of our lives as we celebrate that we finally own our home.
This is not so foreign to God. Jesus literally signed his life away on Good Friday for our sakes’. And from here on out, the Holy Spirit is paying the mortgage, keeping up with the expenses that houses require. In writing to the Ephesians, Paul uses an image of home ownership that we are familiar with. Paul says that God has made a down payment on our lives, that the Holy Spirit is the earnest money on our souls. He writes that when we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, “it is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people.”
Paul is saying that in your baptism, the Holy Spirit came to dwell in your heart and in your head. That gift is God’s down payment, God’s pledge to us. The Holy Spirit given to us at baptism is a start, but there is more to come. God will be sending in the monthly checks. God will be dealing with the maintenance.
So all that messy work – the carpenters, the electricians, the lawn care, the pruning – all that work belongs to God. We don’t have to replace the water heater when it breaks, God will. We don’t have to board up the windows when a hurricane comes, God will. We don’t have to pay the bills, God takes care of it. We do not need to earn our way into God’s good graces. There is no checklist that we have to complete in order for God to love us. We are like the bank. God has made the downpayment to us in the death of Jesus.
If baptism is God’s downpayment, then receiving Holy Communion every Sunday is God’s way of paying off the mortgage. Each time we approach this table and hear “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven,” God is signing the monthly check and sending it into the bank. Each time we eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus, God is investing in us with interest.
But in this tumultuous and transitory life, we will never be fully owned by God. In this earthly life, we have moments of grace and enlightenment, but we never know God fully. But of course, God is still paying off the mortgage. Only in death, by going to the grave, will God totally claim us as his own.
This is the backwardness of it all: Maggie and I will have a blowout celebration when we have finally paid off our mortgage. We’ll call all our friends, we’ll open the finest wines, we’ll get the best food in town. And God will celebrate and delight in us once he has paid off the mortgage, once we die. Because for God, death is nothing, resurrection is everything. The finest wines will be opened, the best caterers will be summoned – all because in death, we will finally belong to God.
In 2007 though, we learned something about mortgages. We learned that they are no surefire thing. The stupendous crash of the housing market taught us that the banks can be at fault. Banks can get greedy, selling off mortgages as if they didn’t mean anything. Financiers and speculators can get so wrapped up in their wealth that they forget about the investors. If one bank got ahead by offering a shady loan, then the next bank would offer an even shadier loan in order to compete. And we all suffered the consequences. With one great pop, the housing bubble and the banks came crumbling down.
The economic lessons we learned can also be applied to our spiritual lives. As followers of Jesus, we can succumb to the greed that poisoned the banks. We can all too easily forget the investment God has made on our lives. We can forget God’s sacrifice on Christmas and on Good Friday. We can forget about the resurrection and the promised hope. We forget that God has invested in us and we begin to think that we are the most important people in the world. We lose sight of God’s investment.
Now, whether you agree with the post-2007 banking regulations or not is beside the point. As Christians, we know that it is necessary for us to regulate our lives in order to be good stewards of God’s investment. At our baptism, at God’s down payment, we promise to regulate our practices: we promise to worship God regularly, we promise to serve others, we promise to respect all people. These are the regulations put into place so that God’s investment is safeguarded and protected.
As the banks, as the recipients of God’s love, we are to engage in spiritual practices and regulations. We must respond financially, by sacrificing our wealth to God’s Kingdom. Not because we have to keep the lights on, not because we need to mow the lawn, or pay the staff – we sacrifice to God’s Kingdom as a generous response to God’s overwhelmingly generous gift to us. And we must pray, being good stewards of the time that God has given to us. Prayer is thanking God for the incredible investments we receive on a daily basis. And there is service. God has invested each one of us with particular talents, passions, and capabilities. It is our responsibility, as Christians, to take what God has given to us and pay it back by investing in God’s Kingdom. If you sing, if you paint, if you cook, if you fold laundry, if you wash dishes – invest whatever it is back into God’s Kingdom. Regulate everything you have and everything you do for the Kingdom of God.
Right now, our house is a mess. Maggie and I are putting up with plumbers, electricians, contractors – you name it, they’ve come and made and a mess. But it’s all part of the investment. And remember, one day God may walk into your house, into your life, and make a mess of things. It’s all part of the investment.