Sunday, October 19, 2014

19 Pentecost

October 19, 2014

Matthew 22.15-22

+ Last week, in our Gospel reading, I was blunt—and honest—with you. I told you then that I did not like the parable we were told by Jesus.

It was a difficult story that, by today’s standards, would’ve been torn to  pieces by critics.

But if we’re patient in our faithful listening to these Gospel stories, we can almost bet that for every one story we might not like—like last week’s story—there will be one that we really get.

Today, is one of those Gospel readings. I like this Gospel reading.  In it 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.

I love it when Jesus and the Pharisees go head-to-head. Actually, I feel kind of sorry for the Pharisees. They think they’re really smart and clever, but they’re really not.  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. Jesus turns to the crowd and asks about the coin. He asks about a coin he, if you notice, does not carry.  Nor does it seem he ever touches 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 the Pharisees 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, which is speaks loud and clear to us during this election time.  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 people.  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.

On Friday, one of the great bishops of the Episcopal. Bishop Tom Shaw, former Bishop of
Massachusetts, died. Bishop Shaw was, in addition to being a Bishop, a member of an Episcopal religious order, The Society of St. John the Evangelist. Both James and I are members of the Fellowship of the Society of St. John the Evangelist.

In the Rule of the SSJE, there is a wonderful chapter on what they call “Eucharistic living.” It’s one of my favorite chapters in the Rule.  As laid out in the Rule of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, Eucharistic living 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.

Being a follower of Jesus means that we live the Bread of Jesus and the wine of his blood. It is not easy to live Eucharistically. Because by doing so, we are rendering the things that are God’s to God.   And rendering the things that are God’s to God is not easy.

It is much, much 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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