Sunday Sermon – 27 January 2019

Living on Credit

I think I have told this story before, but no apologies, for it helps me introduce the topic on which I would like to dwell for a few minutes this morning.

A friend came to see me some time ago in a little distress. She had gone to a shop to make a large purchase. After selecting the equipment and the model which suited her purposes, it was suggested by the shop assistant that she might spread the payment over three or four months. She thought it a convenient idea, but the assistant, after taking the necessary details and making a telephone call, returned to say that they were unable to grant the necessary credit. A further enquiry revealed that the credit rating company, to whom the telephone call had been made, had labelled her as “not credit-worthy”. She was in turn puzzled, horrified and angry, as she and her husband had never had any bad debts and always, as they said, paid their way.

To cut the story short, further enquiries revealed that at their address, to which they had recently moved, a previous occupier had been a debtor made bankrupt. Automatically the address and all who lived there had been placed on a blacklist. The information held applied to the address rather than to my friend personally. I helped her to write to the credit reference company concerned, the matter was put right and my friend’s good name and credit-worthiness, as the jargon has it, restored.

I tell the story because it set off the train of thought, which I now share with you.

I don’t know if my parents ever made purchases by credit – on Hire Purchase, or HP as it was more usually called. Certainly if they did they kept quiet about it. Not paying cash but buying on the “never-never” was regarded as, if not actually sinful, then somewhat dubious. When I grew up and got married, like most other couples, we bought furniture on what was then described as “easy terms”, but not without a rather apologetic and slightly guilty feeling. The need for chairs and a table overcame scruples from my childhood.

The world has now changed, particularly in the last couple of decades. Hire purchase and even “easy terms” is now called credit. We are encouraged by every post to have credit cards, to increase our credit limits and take out extended loans. Very few of us can claim always to have obeyed the old injunction, “Never a lender or borrower be”. Credit has become universal and respectable.

I’m uncertain when the word ‘credit’, as an euphemism for borrowed money, came into vogue. No doubt it was the product of a fertile mind in some advertising agency. It is a softer word than hiring, or putting it on the slate; it has not the connotation of money lending. To have credit is to achieve, to be above the ordinary, and to be altogether well-regarded. In modern jargon, it is positive rather than negative.

Whether the emphasis on credit, used in the financial sense, is a good or a bad thing is not a matter that I want to pursue this morning. Rather would I talk of credit in a wider sense.

It is interesting to look up that word ‘credit’ in the dictionary. Among many words listed under it are , “believable, trustworthy, reliable, honest, good opinion”. No wonder my friend was upset to be referred to as “not credit worthy”.

To gain credit, whether in the financial world or in social intercourse with friend and neighbour, one must demonstrate certain qualities. A reputation for straight-dealing, for honesty, for prudence and reliability, are qualities that engender trust in the minds of others. Just as a financial institution wants to be confident that those to whom it entrusts its funds will respect their obligations, so we give our friendship most readily to those we trust.

Building up one’s credit is like maturing – it takes place over time. It requires steadiness and constancy. It is not a single act, or even a handful of accomplishments, which establish our reliability, but consistency of behaviour. Financial institutions are unimpressed if we are in credit only once a week, whilst acting profligately at other times.

Similarly, however devout we may be on Sundays, if that is contrasted with a supreme disregard for the respect due to friends, colleagues and neighbours on weekdays, our credit is low. Something more than occasional probity and honesty is looked for.

But why should we care about our credit in the community? If we want to borrow money, the reason for being labelled ‘credit worthy’ is obvious. But in other situations of ordinary life is the opinion of others important? It is gratifying to be liked, and most of us enjoy the approval, and maybe the applause, of others. But does that really matter?

In one sense, it doesn’t. If we are merely seeking popularity at any expense, then the opinion of others is of little value. Popularity is easily gained, but respect has to be earned. The judgement of others is one yardstick by which we can measure ourselves. If we are marching and are out of step with the next person, we are alerted to the fact that one of us may be wrong. If our community stamp us as non credit worthy, then we are alerted to make enquiries. Is the opinion justified? How was this opinion arrived at? What steps should we take to change the situation?

So regard for a loss of credit in the community can be a warning system when we are failing to do unto others as we would that they do unto us. Remember among the dictionary definitions of credit are words like trustworthy, reliable, believable, honest, good opinion, reputation and merit.

For we gain credit, respect if you like, in the eyes of other people when we are perceived to be honest, straight-forward, faithful and true; when we are known to follow the precepts of that line in the hymn, “Be what thou seemest, live thy creed”.

It is held by some that to gain credit in this life is to ensure peace and comfort in the next. Conversely, to lose one’s credit rating on earth is to be damned in the hereto-after. That is not part of my philosophy, but for those who believe in a heaven and a hell, I suppose it is a justification for counting one’s credits.

But the core of the case for being concerned about our credibility lies in the fact that by seeking to earn the respect of others, we are bound to treat our fellow men and women with sincerity and understanding. Credit ratings are not raised and held by artificiality, but by honesty. What are deemed the Christian virtues are those which raise our esteem.

In the financial world to be in credit is to have a favourable balance – the pluses outweighing the minuses, which is a satisfactory state of affairs. But aiming to be out of the red should not be reserved for material dealings, for to be in credit in our relationships with others is to be on the right side of the line dividing selfishness from selflessness. It is one of the measures of our success at taking the theory of our faith into the practice of everyday living.

“How often should I forgive my brother?” Jesus was asked. “Seventy times seven,” came the reply. Keep a credit balance, in other words. When the Samaritan paid a deposit to the Inn-keeper to look after the victim of a mugging with a promise to make up any shortfall, the Samaritan’s credit was good in much more than merely financial terms. Abou Ben Adam’s name headed the list because his credit rating was high, measured by the thing that really mattered – measured by that which is called common humanity, even though it is rarer than one would wish.

Many of us need to draw from time to time on our goodwill with banks and building societies. So too we draw on the goodwill of others in time of need of physical help, for spiritual support, for practical advice, for companionship, for a sympathetic confessor. The services given to us, and which we should be ready to give in return, rest upon trust.

Trust is the most elusive and precious of assets. It cannot be bought or sold; it takes years to acquire and seconds to lose; it is the basis on which all friendships are built; without it there can be no peace between individuals or amongst nations.Trust is the rock upon which the Kingdom of Heaven is built. Trust is the cement which binds together the bricks of human relationships. Trust is the balm which banishes fear and wraps in the cloak of contentment. Trust is, the power which overwhelms the forces of aggression.

To be credit worthy is by definition to be trustworthy. Envy, greed and avarice destroy trust, planting hate and suspicion in its place. Our credit is good when we are worthy of trust. But much more to the point. As we earn the trust of others, so we demonstrate in the clearest way that the faith we confess is more than a theoretical concept, but a practical way of life. Indeed the only way of life that will lead to the peace for which we all yearn.

C.J. Rosling

Fulwood 14 March 1993
Mexborough 23 May 1993; 4 Oct 1998
Hucklow 18 July 1993; 4 Oct 1998; 8 June 2003
Chesterfield 2 June 1996

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