Baptism: An Investment in God's Economy
I don't like much about the Catholic Church if I'm being honest with you. I find the theology to be absurd and entirely unbiblical. However, McKinsie grew up Catholic and while she is largely atheist at this point in her life she always has a respect for the church she grew up in. Being a pastor I find it difficult to be "pastored" to because most church services happen on Sunday and well....ya boi is busy on Sundays. So, McKinsie have started to make it a tradition to go to the Catholic Church she grew up at down the road from us once a month since they have a Saturday service. One particular mass the priest was sharing a homily (ya'll wish we had homilies. Sorry, but preaching long is just my thing) about a Catholic concept known as "the economy of salvation" that really caught my attention and made me do an audible "hmm" of appreciation and awe at this new way of thinking about God, baptism, and the term economy itself. So, today's blog will be my own word vomit from how I've been reflecting on that teaching. Oh, and Father Martin - thanks for making me slightly less of a jerk towards your Church.
Nothing is more potent in our American discussion than the ever elusive concept of "the economy." We judge presidents success on how "strong the economy is." We feared COVID not for the humanitarian impact it would have but rather the terrifying impact it would have on "the economy." Everything is the economy - housing market, cost of gas, how much a cup of coffee is, how much people are paid for honest work, how strong the interest rates are on investments, our debt payments, and so much more than I'm even considering. All civilizations and cultures have some kind of economy, however primitive it may be. In order for a society to function it must have some sort of an economy. The interesting thing is there is a strong disconnect between personal economy and "the economy." A recent poll asked Americans on a scale of 1-100 to rate the economy to which they gave it a 38. Then the poll asked Americans to rate their personal finances from 2020-2021 on a scale of 1-100 and they gave it a 63. When asked why they gave these numbers they cited that they had more money in their bank accounts this year than before and have even been able to invest money into passion projects or new businesses as a result. A recent news article I read said that more businesses were started in 2020 than in 2019 despite the global fears of the economy and uncertainty of the pandemic. So why the disconnect? Why the critical response to our economy of the economy is being good to individuals? I think in some ways that can be answered by looking at church, the work of the church, and the relationship between God and God's people. In other words, I think the economy of salvation can lend some credence to this debate. However, it would probably be best to give a short run down on what this teaching is all about.
That word itself, Economy, is taken from the Greek word oikonomia, and it means literally the “management of a household.” It describes how someone conducts their affairs; how they manage their life.
The Fathers of the (Catholic) Church, however, tell us that there is an economy in God Himself! They call it the “economy of salvation.” It does not mean that God has a credit card, or that God is investing at the New York Stock Exchange. The “economy of God” or the “economy of salvation,” refers to the way God “manages” His household, the world.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:
The economy of salvation…refers to God’s activity in creating and governing the world, particularly to his plan for the salvation of the world in the person of Jesus Christ, a plan which is being accomplished through His Body the Church, in its life and sacraments.
—Catechism of the Catholic Church,
Glossary, “Economy of Salvation”
The "economy of salvation,” then, is basically “what God is up to” on an everyday basis; how God is guiding the course of human history. If you want to know how God is managing Europe or the United States, how God is dealing with Chagrin Falls, Ohio, or your own household and your own life, then you need look no further than the person of Jesus Christ. That is what God is up to. Christ is God who became man and walked right into our very lives; He entered into our economic system, into our homes and families. He reached out and touched those who were sick, and healed them. He gave sight to the blind and raised the dead. He suffered and died on the cross so that we could be forgiven for our sins and find new hope and new life in Him.
That is the “economy of Salvation” in all its splendor! That is how God is managing God's household. God is challenging us to use all our energies, our efforts, gifts, abilities and resources, to seek the Kingdom of God and to make sure we have a place in the eternal kingdom where God lives and reigns forever. Because, in the end, the “economy of Salvation” is not about money. It is not about possessions, or property of anything so mundane. The “economy of salvation” is ultimately about heaven. It’s about eternal life. How much are we investing in that economy? Certainly in our generosity with time, talent and treasure, but more than that; also in the way we live and the way we love? How well are we investing in that “economy” which will earn us dividends in an eternal life with God?
Let's return to the polls about the economy and our personal economy. Why the difference? If we think about economy as "managing our affairs" or "how God is getting involved in the world" then we might see clues about the fears of a failing economy. Just because we are seeing blessing in our personal life does not mean we are seeing blessing in the world around us. For example, McKinsie and I both recently had to buy "new" (used) cars. They were nicer cars than the ones we had before and in theory our collective assets are stronger. But that does not mean that the economy of our street or our neighborhood is any better. We still express doom and gloom about Youngstown and Struthers despite the relative stability that she and I experience. Some members of our church might experience apathy about how the church is blessing those on the inside but not doing enough to bless the community on the outside. Like the parable of the steward that buries his money instead of investing it we play our cards safe and as a result the world around us doesn't change, grow, or get better.
If anything the pandemic has made our personal economies better because the fears and uncertainties have made us spend less. We don't go out to eat as often as we once did. We don't travel as much as we once did. And our understanding of needs and wants has only been heightened. When we don't spend our personal wealth in our communities and in our markets we see prices rise resulting in a score nearly 30 points lower than our personal ones.
What does this all have to do with church and faith? Fair question! John the Baptist and Jesus baptized in very different ways. John lived a life on the outside of society. He didn't get involved and he had people come to him to receive the gift of baptism. Jesus, went to the people. He was directly involved in communities and met them where they were. He never had a strong personal wealth or accumulated many personal assets while here on earth but he did make many new friends along the way whose lives were changed forever. When we get baptized in the church it's not a "ticket to heaven" as some faith groups would suggest. Baptism in the Methodist tradition is a commitment to "renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin. To accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. To confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races."
In other words, our baptisms are the very stock we receive as a gift and it's our promise back to God to put that stock back into the world that God so freely created. Our baptism are a mandate from God to get involved with the management of our own households and the management of God's world. Our baptisms might spiritually clean us but they invite us to get dirty! The economy of salvation frees us from fears and doubts about what comes next so that we can give ourselves entirely to the work of God.
So, whatever your news years resolution is this year. Consider adding "live out my baptism" to the list. It will not only make you feel better but you'll make our world a whole lot better too. Thats something we can all say amen to.
Questions to Consider
Do you have a budget? What are your top 3 spending habits? What are your bottom 3? Are you satisfied with this?
Jesus' investment into humanity wasn't financial - it was spiritual and in tangible acts of kindness. How much do you give financially to "the economy?" How much do you give in acts of kindness and intentionality? Are these two equal in measuring an "economy"?
What aspect of the Methodist baptismal covenant do you resonate strongest with? What do you struggle with the most?
Praying with Praise
I've never heard this hymn before but wow it is beautiful! I think its words are perfect for today and should inspire each of us to consider how God is working in the world and how we can partner with God through our baptisms. I invite you to join in singing aloud or in your soul the words of Behold a Broken World.