Sunday, October 18, 2020

20 Pentecost, 2020-A: Our sacred work

Lectionary: Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22 

En el nombre del Dios, ques es Trinidad en unidad. Amen. 

The line between religion and politics is always a popular discussion online and in the news. Should religion be involved in politics and vice versa…? 

In the gospel reading today, some Pharisees, that is, members of a religious sect who were kind of the religious alt-right of their time, joined up with some unlikely allies, Herodians, who were presumably members of a political party supporting the Roman occupiers. Their purpose of this unholy alliance was to entrap and discredit Jesus using the issue of paying the Roman poll tax.

Here’s some background information that is helpful to know: 

1) The Roman poll tax was an annual head tax. Basically, this was Caesar taking money on a per-person basis and in return, he didn’t hurt or kill them. It was rather like a mob payoff. 

2) It was required that the tax be paid with the denarius a Roman coin with a value akin to a day’s pay – not an exorbitant amount for each person, but cumulatively it generated a healthy haul for Caesar. 

3) Jews held the coin to be a graven image, and therefore, idolatrous. They also held the inscription on the coin to be blasphemous. Since it was also the currency of the land, many Jews used the denarius despite the religious law against it. A few, like the alt-right Pharisees, refused to use them at all, which put them in a bind: break the law of God and use the idolatrous coin or break the law of the land and get punished by the Roman occupiers. 

This is the conundrum they brought to Jesus. Would he advise his listeners to break God’s law or Caesar’s? Either way, he would be toast. That was their plan anyway. 

But this is Jesus. He knows what they’re up to and he tells them so.

Bring a coin, he says. Whose face is on it? The emperor’s, they reply. Then Jesus gives his answer and it’s theological and political genius: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The political genius of this is: Know the truth of your moment in history. Give Caesar the coin with his image on it, Jesus says. He thinks it belongs to him anyway to do with as he pleases.

Here’s the theological genius: We know as we read this, that Jesus is the 2nd person of the Trinity, the one through whom all things are made. ALL THINGS. What things, then, are not God’s? All things, all people, all time, all activities, all of creation, all resources - including all coins – everything belongs to God. Genius!

Recognizing this and living faithfully into it, is the very definition of stewardship. If all people belong to God, then who can we allow to be hungry, or homeless, or un-shoed in winter? Whose physical and mental health needs can be overlooked or underfunded? If all people are God’s, who is our enemy?

We can only exclude today those whom Jesus excluded as he died on the cross. Oh right, he died once for ALL as St. Paul said (Ro 6.10). Likewise, we can exclude no one.

If all time belongs to God, then isn’t it important for us to establish a harmony of rhythms of our time at work, with family, and with God in prayer?

Do our activities speak love? Are they serving the welfare of God’s people, including ourselves, and thereby bringing God glory? Do we hold the precious gifts of our earth in trust for future generations?

What about our finances? Ah, that’s the sticky one, as we saw in our gospel today. Do we hold our wealth as a gift given to us for the accomplishment of God’s purposes or do we, like Caesar, think it belongs to us for our own purposes? Jesus made the answer pretty clear, I think.

The world is a difficult place and life is so hard for so many. As the pandemic continues, the numbers among us who are hungry, unwell physically or mentally, lonely, unemployed, or trapped in fear or anger, steadily increases.

But we have Good News to share and the responsibility to share it – by our words and our actions. The world is desperate for the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. Just listen to the news (only a little – too much might make you crazy!)

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry once said Episcopalians need to get busy “committing to making a practical, tangible difference…helping the world look more like God’s dream and less like our nightmare… It’s sacred work” he said.

To do that, Bp. Curry recommends we make five things a priority: Formation, Evangelism, Witnessing, Relationship, and Structures that serve our mission. We have much of this happening right now at Calvary. For example, our formation currently includes Inquirers Class, Bible and book studies, and a plan for Christian formation for the upcoming seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany adapted to the COVID restrictions. We’re also working on an Inquirers Class geared to children and youth.

Calvary’s evangelism has blossomed with online Daily Office services that enable people to deepen their relationships with God and one another through prayer everyday - something that wasn’t happening before the shutdown.

Our Interim Parish Summits, which begin today, will lay the groundwork for examining our institutional structures so that we can ensure our structures serve our current divine mission. It’s important, faithful work being done here at Calvary – sacred work.

The Church has traditionally supported its sacred work through an annual stewardship campaign calling on people to ‘give sacrificially’ like Jesus did for us. Over time, this has come to feel more like a Roman poll tax than a joyful offering, so let’s faithfully re-frame it.

Jesus said, “Give… to God the things that are God’s.” It’s pretty simple: everything is God’s - including us. Our bodies, our relationships, our activities, our finances, our resources, our church, our prayer – all belong to God.

So don’t give sacrificially – Jesus already did that – once for all! Instead, let’s give until it feels really good! Let’s give gratefully, generously, joyfully - knowing that each of us has been chosen by God to be here in this time and this place, to activate resources entrusted to us to make the world here in Columbia and Boone Co. more like the dream of God.

Annual campaigns are important. Financial resources are necessary for a church to fulfill its divine purpose. As you consider your 2021 pledge to Calvary, hear what St. Paul says about stewardship: “…For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable… I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need...” (2 Cor 8. 9, 11, 13-14)

We are called to participate in making a tangible difference in our world. We who have enough to eat are called to share food with those who are hungry. We who are accepted according to societal preferences of skin color, gender, sexual orientation, or economic standing are called to build bridges of friendship and inclusion with those who are marginalized in our time – modeling Jesus who served those judged to be unworthy in his time.

Those who have financial means are called to take up their responsibility and support the church’s mission and ministries so that Calvary can fulfill its divine purpose: being a living, activating vessel of the Jesus movement.

As St. Paul said in today's letter, “the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you…” When our church buildings were closed by the pandemic, Calvary let our community know that they matter, by immediately setting up a Blessing Box and adapting the Saturday Café to a To-Go format. The hungry were fed. The houseless were supplied with food and personal hygiene products. Our COVID Help Fund recently saved two families, furloughed from their jobs due to COVID, from eviction.

Calvary is living proof that there is no nightmare the dream of God isn’t already overcoming and the people in our area are seeing the truth of that proclaimed and lived in this parish. That’s why the theme for this year’s pledge campaign is: Serving Community with Gratitude and Generosity.

We are grateful for all God has given us and we want to continue to give generously to our community. I pray everyone will give to Calvary’s ministries during this fall campaign as generously as God has given to us, giving until it feels really good, remembering that all things, all people, all time, all activities, all of creation, all resources – all of it belongs to God. And that our work, serving our community in God’s name with gratitude and generosity, is sacred work. Amen.

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