Quid pro Quo and the Kingdom of God

Preached on 28 August 2016 at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Snohomish
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17, Year C

Quid pro quo.
Something for something.

It’s human nature.  We want something for our effort or our time or our material gifts.  Even when we volunteer our time, we are often quick to point out that we get so much more out of it than we give.  I mean we wouldn’t want to be seen as fools, right?

It’s pervasive.  Sometimes it seems as if almost everything we do is some kind of an economic transaction.  We go to work and we get a paycheck.  We hope that the paycheck somehow is equivalent to what we gave in return.  But we don’t have to look far to see that there is no equivalency.  And yet, we tend to use that monetary measure to assign value to the people who did the work, to their time, to the work itself.

We go shopping and trade our money for what we want – again, expecting an even trade yet trying to get a “good deal” and at the same time fearing that we paid too much.  I suspect anyone who has ever bought a car has had that feeling.

We worry about quid pro quo in politics.
Are the people elected or appointed to positions of power in government selling influence?
Are large donors buying politicians – especially when they donate to both sides?
Are wealthy politicians buying elections?

On some level, it’s even present in our social relationships.  I’ll wash, you dry.
They sent us a Christmas card last year, we should send them one this year.  It’s our turn to host dinner, the Smith’s invited us last time.

But really, how do you quantify the value of friendship?  Of love or fun?  Of sharing the beauty of a sunset or a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, the safety and freedom to be vulnerable?  How do you place a value on learning or knowledge or wisdom?

As much as we may try, we can’t really.  And when we do, they suddenly become, well, meaningless.  And once friendship or love, or caring or learning lose their meaning, they’re worthless, aren’t they?

I think that is what Jesus is getting at.  A quid pro quo economy has no place in the kingdom of God; no place in our relationships.  His life was all about inviting and welcoming into the presence of God, those whom others (and even they themselves) thought unworthy, undeserving.  They never expected an invitation to the table.  And guess what?  Jesus expects his disciples to do the same!  In fact, God expects everyone to do the same.

Jesus invites them to stop competing, stop counting the costs and benefits, stop comparing and ranking people.  Stop the quid pro quo economy.

If they really want to experience the kingdom of God, they should invite the poor, the sick, the outcast of society to dinner.  At your table.  In your home.  Have a party with people who can never reciprocate.

Try to see them not as society sees them, but as God sees them.  And you know what happens when you do (even if you haven’t invited them to dinner)?  You get a glimpse of how God sees you. And it’s amazing and beautiful and humbling all at the same time.

Now think about this.  What happens when we apply this quid pro quo economy to our theology?
How do we measure love, mercy, forgiveness, grace?
And how would we ever be able to repay God?
What if we don’t measure up?  And what does that say about God?

The kingdom of God is an economy of abundance and blessing.  You don’t have to count the cost because there is plenty for all and then some.
Jesus invites us to live in the kingdom and to welcome others into the kingdom, to share the abundance and blessing of God.

I remember when my daughter got to be too old for Santa Claus.  I told her that now she could be Santa’s helper; filling stockings, passing out presents. Oh what fun she had!  Now she’s all grown up and married.  Her husband didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas so she is having even more fun sharing the joy of Christmas with him.  Buying stocking stuffers, shopping, all the ornaments and decorating and baking.  She’s having a blast.

Now, what might it be like if we could be like that with God’s grace and blessing.
Imagine the freedom that comes from not worrying about status or prestige, of how we measure up compared to our co-workers or classmates or siblings or cousins or in-laws or whoever.  Who has the better job, the bigger paycheck.  Who drives a nicer car; who has the smarter kids…  Imagine being free to simply be God’s beloved child.  And now, imagine seeing others as God sees them.  Imagine the joy of sharing God’s blessing and grace; spreading the kingdom.