Sunday, October 16, 2011

18 Pentecost

October 16, 2011


Matthew 22.15-22

+ I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find myself living a dual life. I guess it’s easy for me to do. On one hand, I have this life as a priest. People see me wearing my collar and they know, for good or bad, that I’m one of THEM. I am one of those PRIESTS. They might not even know fully what a priest is. But they know it’s someone…vaguely religious. And living like that can be exhausting sometimes. It’s sort of like living in a fishbowl. People watch you a little more closely when you’re a priest. These priests can be kind of mysterious to people. And some priests I know really like to perpetuate that image.

As I said, it can be a bit exhausting. Because there are certain expectations that come with such an image—expectations I am not always able to live up to. I think some people who see that the person wearing the collar is “religious” should also be “pious.” And I’m not always pious. I don’t need to tell anyone here.

But there are other times, when the collar comes off, that the “pressure” to be “religious” and pious are not there. It’s easy to fall into that dual life.

When the collar’s on, I’m the priest. When it’s off, I’m not. Gladly, it doesn’t really work that way. Yes, I know priests who really do live their lives like that. They turn their priesthood on and off like a switch.

But for me, I’m always a priest. With and without collar I am always a priest. Yes, even when I’m at Monte’s on HoDo or any other place.

And, more importantly, I am always a Christian. I never get to turn that on and off. But…there are sometimes moments when I wish could. There are moments—sometimes—when I wish I could just be a secular person who didn’t have to weigh everything I do by the standards of being a progressive inclusive Anglo-Catholic Episcopal priest.

Sometimes I envy those people who can do that, who can just live life without having to think about the spiritual and religious and moral consequences of their actions. Or to use the terms from our Gospel reading today, it’s refreshing sometimes to simply render the things that are God’s to God and to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.

In our Gospel reading we find Jesus being confronted by the Herodians and the Pharisees, both whom are enemies of each other, but for this brief moment, they are ganging up on Jesus. They begin with a compliment of course. Yes, that’s the way to begin. They know: a compliment will truly throw off the person you are about to trap.

But Jesus is too smart for them of course. He turns their question back on them, without ever directly addressing them. Jesus turns to the crowd and asks about the coin. He asks about a coin he, if you notice, does not carry. Nor does he ever touch it. As we know, roman coins were ritually unclean in the Jewish culture. The emperor Caesar was viewed as a god, and that made them unclean to good, pious Jews.

Using the coin as his reference, he lets them have it.

Give to God’s what is God’s, he says.

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

Simple enough.

It seems he is making a clear distinction between the religious and the secular to some extent. He seems to making that distinction between God and government. But…not really.

The real point he is making here can be found when we put it all in perspective. Jesus and every good, loyal Jewish male there on that day was required to pray a prayer every day. Jesus no doubt prayed that prayer that morning, as did every devout Jewish male (and no doubt many Jewish females) that day. The prayer is a simple prayer. It’s called the Shema

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

The Shema is, of course, the summary of the Law. But it is a summary of all belief for a Jew. It essentially renders to God, what is God’s. But if you listen closely to what the Shema says, you realize: Jesus’ statement really isn’t an either/or statement. He’s simply saying that once what is God’s is rendered to God, there is nothing else. There are no other options for those of us who are God’s. For those who love God with all their heart, all their soul and all their might, there is nothing else. Rendering anything to Caesar’s is simply not an option.

For us, it is a matter of realizing we don’t have the option of turning our Christianity on and off. We are always followers of Jesus, in everything we do. Everything we do and say begins and ends in following Jesus. We don’t have the option of being a Christian when it suits us and being secular when it doesn’t. We are a follower of Jesus all the time—in everything we do and every aspect of our lives. And it is important to remind ourselves of this.

There was a very wonderful article I read in this past Summer’s issue of Cowley magazine, put out by the brothers of the Episcopal religious Order of the Society of St. John the Evangelists in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Reverend Whitney Zimmerman wrote in an article in that magazine entitled, “A rule for Eucharistic Living”:

“Eucharistic living involves all aspects of our work, hospitality, community and worship. It is the central act of our lives, beginning, of course, with the actual meal [of the Eucharist].”

I like that very much. Eucharistic living then, as laid out in the Rule of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, is, in a sense, living out the Eucharist we celebrate here on Sunday in everything we do. It means we carry this Eucharist with us long after we have walked away from this altar. It means that, in being fed, we too then go out and share and feed.

Or as Whitney Zimmerman summarizes in her article: “So that I may live the bread and the wine I drink.”

Being a follower of Jesus means that we live the Bread of Jesus and the wine of his blood.

Today, of course, we celebrate Jubilee Sunday. Jubilee Sunday is that Sunday in which we stand up and essentially say, “We are followers of Jesus, committed to Eucharistic living. We must stand up and say no to the forces of injustice and unfairness in the world. Because that it is what it means to be a follower of Jesus.”

At this moment, there are many people who are standing up and essentially saying those same things, with the so-called Occupy protests going on.

This way of protests we are hearing about sweeping this country right now is one, maybe more secular way, of saying the same thing essentially. They are standing up and saying no the forces of injustice and unfairness in our country.

We as Christians do the same things, though for us, our motivating factor is that voice and Spirit of Jesus who stirs us, prompts us and convicts us to stand up against the forces of injustice.

Rendering the things that are God’s to God is not easy. It is easier to render the things to Caesar that are Caesar’s. It is easy to let the establishment stay established. It is easy to be chameleons to some extent, to change ourselves to suit whatever situation may arise so that we can quietly fade into the background, or so we can hold on, for a moment, to the control we have worked to maintain.

But for us, who follow Jesus, doing so is a sell-out. It truly is a turning away from Jesus and all he stands for. It is , essentially, a way in which we turn our Christianity on and off like a switch to suit our own personal needs. It is hard to be a Christian in every aspect of our lives. It hard to love God in all things. It is hard to love our neighbors in all things. It is hard, very often to love even ourselves in all things. But that is what it means to render to God the things that are God’s. It means giving to God all that is God’s. And we belong to God. We are the conduits of that all-loving, all-accepting God. We are the bearers of that radical, all-powerful love of God.

So let us truly render to God what is God’s. Let us live out our lives eucharistically. Let us live fully the Bread we eat at this altar, sharing what we are nourished on here with everyone. Let us fully share this wine we drink here at this altar, quenching the thirst of all those we encounter in our lives. And with Christ dwelling within us in this way, let us be that radical Presence of love and acceptance to all those we encounter.

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