Pentecost 21 Proper 25 October 29, 2017
Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46
Joining in the deeper conversation
If we were to try to summarize what it will be like in the Kingdom of Heaven how would you answer?
“’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
What does it mean to love God? How does one love God? Why do we love God?
We love God because God first loved us. God is our creator, our king, our heavenly Father.
We love God with our whole being, with our whole lives, in our prayers, in our family life, in our work and school life, in our personal, private lives. We worship God; we give God our praise and thanksgiving. We talk to God and we listen to God.
How do we love God when we cannot see him or feel him or hear him? We need to be careful not to love God as someone who is undemanding, as someone who is just waiting for our attention. We turn to God in times of crisis, stress and distress, but we need to remember to turn to God in our times of great joy and celebration and also in the ordinary times when life is, well, just normal.
What does it mean to love our neighbor as our self?
If we do not want to be bullied, or lied to or ignored or lied about then we need to remember to do the same for our neighbor. When we love someone we care about what is going on in their lives; we care how their day is going; we care about their greatest fears and their greatest joys; we talk to them, we talk with them; we listen to them; we show interest in their lives; we ask questions; we give them our full attention, not thinking about something else, not fidgeting, but being truly present to our neighbor.
Do you love Renee? What does it mean to love Renee?
Do you love Melaina? How do you love Melaina Magnusson? Why do you love Melaina?
As we learn to love our neighbors, we grow in our ability to love; we grow in our ability to love the unseen, to love our neighbor across the country or across the ocean, to love our neighbors in Africa or South America or Russia or Iraq; we learn what it means to love God.
Do you love Malith Kur? What does it mean to love a stranger? How do we love a stranger?
We care about their lives, their wellbeing. We care about their physical safety, whether they have food, clean water and shelter. We show interest in them, we ask questions, we listen to their story.
Over the past few weeks the gospel has people coming to Jesus and asking him questions, tough questions. In return Jesus asks them tough questions. Today’s gospel is no different. The lawyer asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is and then Jesus asks the Pharisees who the Messiah is. Through these questions we learn that the Messiah is the Son of David and the Son of God. We learn that Jesus is the Messiah and that he receives his authority from God.
The questioners were not sincere in trying to learn about Jesus. Matthew tells us that they were trying to trick Jesus, to trip Jesus up so they could use it against him. Image what they could have learned if they had really wanted to learn from Jesus, if they were genuinely interested in who Jesus was and where he came from, if they truly wanted to know what Jesus cared about, if they were interested in what made Jesus tick.
One thing we can learn from these readings is the importance of dialog, of asking questions and listening for the answers non-judgmentally; of asking questions to clarify what we are hearing and for deeper understanding; of being willing for others to ask us questions and for us to give sincere, heart felt answers; of going beyond the casual good morning, how is your family, and comments on the weather. It is in the deeper conversation that we come to know someone, to really know them and they come to know us. We may fear people getting to know us. What if they find us wanting? What if they don’t like the real me? I tell you the real you is beautiful. You are worth getting to know. I am worth getting to know. The stranger is worth getting to know. We are beloved children of God. God created each of as a unique, intriguing individual. In getting to know our neighbor and the world around us we come to know our creator God, the God who creates the beautiful monarch butterfly and a new born baby. God sees his creation and calls it good, very good in fact. God loves his creation; God loves you and me and wants to have an intimate relationship with us. God wants us to love God, to love our neighbor and to love our self. We can spend a lifetime getting to know God, our neighbor and our self and coming to love them deeply. Know that God knows you inside and out, the good and the bad, and God loves you! Amen.
Stewardship “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Pentecost 20 Proper 24 October 22, 2017
Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22
“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Question to a Youth: Do your parents pay taxes? How do you know? When do they pay them? Have you ever asked them why they pay taxes? Why do you think that they pay taxes?
Question to a Parent: Do you pay taxes? What is the atmosphere like in your home at tax season? Why do you pay taxes?
When I was a child I remember tax season. My parents were self-employed and would scurry to get the books and receipts ready for the arrival of the accountant. Dad complained about paying taxes. One day I asked him why he just didn’t pay then. Oh boy, that sure got a response! We pay our taxes, no if, whats or maybes. I am sure complaining continued, but what I remember is that like it or not taxes are an obligation and not an option.
With taxes we expect public services that would be difficult for us to obtain on our own. It is kind of like insurance. Taxes allow the government to maintain our armed forces and national security. We hope to never have to use them, but it is good to know they are trained and prepared in a time of need. Can you imagine what our roads would be like if we each were responsible for the maintenance of the road in front of our property!
In the same way if we belong to the Rotary Club or the American Legion, we pay dues to help the organization provide the services we want and expect. The same is true with the church. If we want a church building then we have to be willing to pay for it to be built and then to be maintained; new roofs when required, heating, lighting, worship supplies, a worship leader and priest. So how is our pledge of time, talent and treasure to the church different then our dues to the Albion Philanthropic Women or even our taxes to the various levels of government? To answer this, let’s go back to this morning’s gospel.
You will recall that the Pharisees are trying to trick Jesus into saying or doing something that they can use against him. In this morning’s gospel the Pharisees have gotten together with the Herodians. We don’t know much about the Herodians, but presumably they support Herod and his government. Normally they would not work together with the Pharisees, but their mutual desire to trap Jesus allows them to work together despite their differences. First they kiss up to Jesus, flattering him saying that they know that he is sincere and truthfully teaches the way of God and that he treats all people equally not preferring the rich or the poor. Ironically even though they are mocking Jesus they are in fact speaking the truth about Jesus.
The Pharisees and Herodians believe they have found the perfect scenario to trap Jesus by asking if they should pay taxes to the Romans. If Jesus says “yes”, then the Jewish people are not going to be happy and the Pharisees can use it to their advantage. If Jesus says “no” then the Herodians will be able to accuse Jesus of sedition and encouraging the Jews to rebel against the Roman occupiers and to refuse to pay their taxes. Either way the Pharisees and Herodians get what they want.
They should have known that Jesus would not give a simple “yes” or “no” answer. True to form, Jesus asks them for a denarius, a coin that is used to pay taxes. The coin had an image of the Roman politician and an inscription inferring his divinity. As an aside, this would break the first two commands to have no god except God and to have no images.
Jesus’ response surprises the questioners; it is not what they expected. “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” The coin has the image of the emperor and belongs to the emperor and this world. We have obligations to our government and leaders. This is confirmed another time when Peter tells the temple tax collectors that yes Jesus pays the temple tax and Jesus sends Peter to find a coin in a fish’s mouth to cover both their taxes. Our money continues to carry the image of our political leaders President Abraham Lincoln ($5 & penny), President Thomas Jefferson (nickel), President George Washington (25 & $1), President Andrew Jackson ($20) and Benjamin Franklin ($100) and so we pay our taxes to the government and our pledge to the church.
Jesus didn’t just say “Yes” pay your taxes, he also said “Give God what is God’s”. So what do we owe to God? What carries the image of God? <pause>
We, human beings, are created in the image and likeness of God. We owe God our very lives from the time God breathed life into our very nostrils and through the lifesaving action of our savior Jesus Christ. All that we have and all that we see in the material world and spiritual world was created by God and given to us to care for as good stewards. If we give our money to whose image it bears, then what does it mean to give our very selves to God? Our lives are not our own, they belong to God. God gave us life to live and not just to live, but to live abundantly. We are to live our lives in such a way as to bring glory to God. We are to live our lives in such a way that another will say, “I want what she has.” We are to live our lives so that we can never be ashamed to say that we are the sons and daughters of our God; that we are never ashamed to come before God. Will we make mistakes and sin? Absolutely! We are not perfect, we are not God, we are created in the image of God, but we strive to be Holy as God is Holy.
I asked at the beginning of this sermon whether you pay taxes which of course we all do; it is our obligation. Then I asked how our pledge to the church is different from the dues paid to a service club. They are different because the coins we pay to the government or the social club bear the image of our political leaders. The pledge we pay to the church is paid with the currency of our very lives bearing the image of God. I now ask you, “Have you given your life to Jesus?” Have you given your very life to God? In some churches this is where I would make an altar call for you to come forward and make a commitment to God. In this place we now say the Apostles’ Creed to publicly state what we believe and then the altar call is when I extend the invitation to the Table of the Lord at the Eucharist.
And so in the words of the Nicene Creed as found on page 358 of the Book of Common Prayer we pray, “We believe …”
Pentecost 19 Proper 23 October 15, 2017
Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14
Inviting the Gentiles to the Kingdom of Heaven
In this morning’s gospel we have the story of a king preparing a wedding feast for his son. When the meal is ready the king sends out his messengers to tell the guests that all is ready, but the invited guests will not come and when he sends out the messengers a second time some even kill the messengers. The king is outraged and kills the murderers and then sends out his servants to invite people, good and bad, that they find in the streets. The king comes to check out who has come and finding a man inappropriately attired, casts him out bound hand and foot.
Today’s gospel can be interpreted as allegorical. The kingdom of God is compared to a wedding feast. The king is God, the son is Jesus Christ, the messengers are the prophets, the invited guests are the Jewish people and the people called from the streets are the gentiles. The Jewish people were God’s chosen people, but as can be seen by our Old Testament reading for today, the people often rebelled against God. God sent Moses to rescue his people from slavery to the Egyptians. They escaped from Egypt and passed through the Red Sea leaving the Egyptians who pursued them to drown. They were thirsty and hungry and God provided water, manna and quail. Yet in today’s story when Moses goes up the mountain to talk to God, the people grow restless and demand that Aaron provide a visible god that they can worship and Aaron complies creating the golden calf.
In today’s gospel the problem is Jesus Christ. The Jews have been anticipating the coming of the promised Messiah, but when Jesus arrives, claiming to be the Messiah, the Religious leaders and the political leaders cannot and will not believe that Jesus is the long expected Messiah. Jesus is not who they expected. They were looking for a powerful leader and soldier who would restore them to the former glory of King David. They are not expecting the gentle son of a carpenter bringing the message of love, mercy and grace to be the promised Messiah. Jesus is rejected as the Messiah and crucified as a common criminal.
For today this story can be reinterpreted as again the king is God, the son is Jesus Christ but the invited guests who refuse to come are the Western church, North America and Western Europe and the people in the streets are the church in the South and East, Africa and Asia. In seminary we were taught that the most fertile ground for proclaiming the gospel is Europe and North America. Today missionaries come to the places where missionaries were traditionally sent from.
My family came to visit this week and we were talking about the church and my sermon. Today people are expected to work very long hours including weekends, not just eight hours five days a week. For many families both spouses work so whatever time they have off, family has to come first. How can I argue against this and yet is this not the excuse of those initially invited to the wedding banquet, that they needed to attend to their businesses and their farms? And Jesus, can you really believe that Jesus was the Son of God, that Jesus is God incarnate? Jesus came proclaiming a new gospel, a gospel of love where neighbors looked out for each other, where the poor were fed and the good news preached of the grace and mercy of God. Jesus preached the great commandment that we should love God and love our neighbor as our self. Do you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, our savior?
October is Stewardship month, when we talk about how we are going to support the church with our time, talent and treasure. Will we sing in the choir, participate in or even lead Christian Formation, do we have time to prepare the altar for Sunday Eucharist? We prayerfully consider how much of what God has given us that we can give back to the church. These considerations are all critical to the life of the physical church, but Stewardship is so much more. Stewardship is about how we live our lives. God gave the care of our planet, the environment, and the living beings into our care, not for exploitation to our own benefit and selfish interests, but as those who love our earthly home and want to preserve it for future generations, for the wellbeing of the planet itself. Stewardship is about how we love and care for our neighbors. Can we help with the Albion Reading Camp or the Albion Community Garden? But stewardship is also about how we react to the injustices we see around us such as health care, education, affordable housing and a living wage.
So what does this morning’s gospel have to do with Stewardship? Stewardship is also the faithful sharing of God’s story, the telling of the Good News of Jesus Christ, to our children and our grandchildren, to our neighbors and to strangers. It can mean evangelizing; proclaiming the gospel from the pulpit and the grocery store, but it can also mean how we live our lives, living our lives faithfully as though we believe in a loving God that sent his Son to live with us, a son who showed us how to live faithfully as God’s people, a Son who loved us so much that he was willing to die to reestablish our relationship with God.
So this week I encourage you to take some time to consider what stewardship means to you and to prayerfully consider what you will do to contribute to the growth of the Kingdom of God. Amen.