God's Gifts Cannot Be Purchased
Preparing for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany: Three Days Before Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 36:5-10
Old Testament: Jeremiah 3:1-5
Epistle: Acts 8:18-24
O God, you spoke your word and revealed your good news in Jesus, the Christ. Fill all creation with that word again, so that by proclaiming your joyful promises to all nations and singing of your glorious hope to all peoples, we may become one living body, your incarnate presence on the earth. Amen.
Merchandising Jesus is big business. Everything from WWJD bracelets to “Smile, Jesus Loves You,” T-shirts can be found online and in Christian stores throughout the country. It’s not that all of this is bad, though some of it is rather trite and shallow. The commercialization of Jesus carries the risk of trivializing the Good News of salvation in all of its profundity.
Most disturbing, however, are those TV preachers who offer blessings in exchange for money. Buy this little vial of water from the Jordan River for $25.00 and the water will heal you. For $30.00 receive this anointed prayer cloth that will bring blessings to your life. It is nothing other than offering the gifts of God for purchase.
Sadly, the church has had a long history of this commodification of the gospel. Five hundred years ago, the Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther opposed the sale of indulgences—”a grant by the Pope of remission of the temporal punishment in purgatory still due for sins after absolution”*—in order to raise money to build what would become St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Luther rightfully saw this as forgiveness for sale, salvation for a price. This was antithetical to the very nature of the Good News God offered to all in Jesus Christ through nothing other than the gift of grace.
In Acts chapter 8, a man named Simon who had previously practiced magic before his conversion, saw Peter and John laying hands on Samaritan believers to receive the Holy Spirit and he wanted that power. He wanted it so much, he was willing to purchase it; after all, he probably reasoned, everyone and everything has its price. The problem that Simon did not yet realize was that the reception of the Holy Spirit was a gift as Acts tells us several times. A gift is not a gift if it is paid for. Can we imagine Simon’s surprise when Peter responded to his offer with the words “Take your money and go to Hell.” (Yes, that is exactly what Peter said.)
We worship and serve an extravagantly generous God, who in his love has blessed us with more than we will ever deserve. We cannot buy God’s favor, not because we are too poor (though that is true), but because the gifts God gives cannot be purchased. They are not for sale; they are offered free of charge. The only thing we must do is reach out and receive them.
And the one thing we discover is that in receiving God’s gifts, they change us. They rearrange our lives in ways we cannot possibly imagine. The gift of grace is transforming. The Prophet Isaiah issues this call to the abundant life freely offered,
Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you (Isaiah 55:1-5)
God is not a profiteer. He is the Gift that keeps on giving in Jesus Christ. And you can take that truth to the bank.
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