“God gives us free gifts. There are a number of men and women who would point out that the term “free gift” is reckless, and they’ve got a legitimate point. I use the phrase anyway, though, as a method of differentiating it from other items people also call gifts. One of them is that the transactional “gift”, where the “gift” is in fact the first half of a transaction, and we anticipate it to be reciprocated by means of a gift of approximately equivalent price. This is not necessarily a terrible thing, and when the two sides are aware of what’s going on, they can go on pleasantly exchanging gifts back and forth for years. Still, if one person believes it’s a completely free gift, and another person thinks it’s a transactional gift, there may be difficulty.
The next type of gift is the emotional debt gift. This is the kind of “gift” which is given to place an obligation of debt onto someone. I offer you this matter, and now you have to be grateful to me. I give you this thing and now you need to appreciate me. I offer you this thing and now you need to put up with my mistreatment of you. You are given this thing by me and you need to love me. It is amazingly common. Actually, anytime you see the term “should appreciate” or “ought to be grateful for” there’s a great chance there’s an attempt to extract a mental debt from a gift.
In my youth, I was told that when a man gives extravagant and costly gifts to some woman, she should be quite wary of him. At the moment, I thought, “ooh, a man who provides me extravagant and costly gifts! That’s an issue that I wish I had!” As I’ve gotten older and seen a bit more of the way people’s lives turn out, though, I believe that was good advice. The bling is not worth the emotional debt gift disasters. If you need to buy love, it’s not really love. If you need to manipulate love, it’s not really love.
We see examples of all three kinds of gifts: the free gift, the transactional gift, and the emotional debt gift. Oftentimes, we’ve gotten so utilized to interacting with other people using transactional gifts and emotional debt gifts, that when someone really gives us a totally free gift, we don’t really know what to do. We don’t really know how to just obtain a gift.
We may insist that we must reciprocate. We may insist that we’re bound to cover debt. The giver tells us again that it’s not a transaction, not a psychological debt, it’s a free gift. We may have some trouble understanding the idea of free gift. The giver says again, I wish to give you a free gift. Could we just obtain a complimentary gift? The great news of the gospel is that God gives us a free gifts, which God gives us the grace to receive them.
Everybody makes mistakes. Even politicians. In every society around the globe and in each generation, we can observe that a number of the decisions politicians prove to be good decisions, and a number of the decisions politicians prove to be errors. Across the globe and across the centuries, societies make decisions: a few of them prove to be good decisions, and a number of them prove to be errors.
Countries across the globe decide whether to wage war with each other. Sometimes the choice to wage warfare ends up to be a great option for a specific nation, and other times the choice to wage warfare turns out to be a error. In wars across the globe and across the centuries, the two sides are confident that their cause is the perfect person, and that they’re fighting for liberty and justice. In some cases, a rise in freedom and justice results from the warfare; in some situations, a rise in exploitation and distress results from the warfare. In some cases, the problem is pretty much as poor after the war as it was earlier.
We read about societies which produce human sacrifices to their gods. We are horrified by the notion of creating human sacrifices, and now we all believe human sacrifices are barbaric and cruel. We believe sacrificing your children is much more barbaric and cruel. We wonder why nobody questioned this practice, why they thought of human sacrifice as a tool to honor.
If we would like to understand them, we can see if we have anything in common with them.
Modern societies don’t sacrifice people to their gods. Modern societies sacrifice people to wars. Modern societies forfeit their 18 year olds and 19 year olds to die in wars. These teens go willingly to fight and die whenever there isn’t any draft. If there is a draft, then we forfeit our teenage children to wars, if they would like to go or not. Across the globe, over the centuries they die in wars which lead to a gain in liberty and justice, and they expire in wars which lead to a rise in exploitation and misery, and they expire in wars which lead to a situation that is pretty much as poor after the war as it was before the war.
The persistence of the pattern in so many occasions and places makes me wonder whether there is something at work here which goes much deeper than political. Do people have a deep sexual fear that we won’t be ok unless we create some sort of sacrifice? Do people have any deep primal fear that we should not be allowed to enjoy our lives, enjoy our liberty, enjoy the gifts that we’ve been given, because we believe that in order to keep harm at bay there is a necessity for us to maintain painful sacrifices? Does our distress with getting a free talent come from the same part of us who generates the urge to human sacrifice?
Our Church passage today about the binding of Isaac supplies an interesting reversal on the custom of human sacrifice. We remember from past Sunday’s passing that Abraham sent Hagar and his son Ishmael to the jungle to perish, because he thought that was God’s will, and God stopped their deaths. In the present passage, Abraham is going to forfeit his other son Isaac, because he believes that has been God’s will, and God prevents the departure. It is a passing we believe in a visceral level, and it’s designed that way, with the explanation of Isaac carrying on his back the wood where his dad intends to burn his body, that the description of his dad carrying the fire, and the knife. It provides us the boy innocent question to his dad, “”The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? ”” and the frightening response, “”God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son. ”” The passing encourages us to picture the scene: “Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.” And it’s at this stunning moment that we get the entire impact of the reversal. God turns the sacrifice of Isaac and supplies his own sacrifice instead.
Unlike many gods worshipped in that age, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob turns out for a God who doesn’t want human sacrifice from us. As time goes on, and God’s revelations last, we discover more. Even the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob turns out to be also the God of Jesus of Nazareth. From the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, we are able to understand that much from requiring sacrifices from us God does the specific opposite and provides a forfeit for us the sacrifice of his son, to show us who the way God works is completely different from that which we’ve been accustomed to. Rather than humans owing anything to God or individuals giving anything to God or individuals committing anything to God, God reveals us as radically as you can that God provides us everything to get a free gift. Each Sunday we re-enact this reversal of the sacrifice as we all celebrate the Eucharist, where we hear Jesus’ words : “this is my body, which is given for you.” It is a completely free gift.
All our worry about that which we deserve, all of our worry about that which we should not have done in years past all of our worry about that which we feel obligated to perform in the long run, all that is beside the purpose. Over that, all of our anxiety over those difficulties is that which attracts us away from what actually matters. God is offering us a gift. Now. Simply receive the gift. God is giving us an abundance of gifts: the gift of life, the gift of a gorgeous summer afternoon, the gift of blue sky, the gift of singing birds, the gift of friendship and community, most of all, the gift of infinite love. It is necessary to receive free gifts, because that is the way we experience unconditional love. Could we obtain these gifts? We can, with God’s help.”
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