Preached at Christ Episcopal Church, Tacoma, Washington on October 19th, 2014.
The nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 24, Year A.
‘Tis the Season, isn’t it?
The new TV Season – have you figured out which shows you’re going to watch and how to set up your DVR so you never have to miss a minute of a single episode? And new Sports Seasons – hockey just started; football is underway; and of course in baseball, it’s World Series season! It’s Year-end Close-out Season – get great bargains on this year’s cars so they can make room for next year’s models. It’s Fundraising Season for all your favorite charities – your donation will be matched – double or triple your gift or even, in some cases, 5 times. And with the reminder that Tax Season is coming soon. In case you missed it, it’s Election Season. Ballots are arriving, the mud has been flying for weeks and months, even and the last-minute fundraising appeals have ramped up to a new high.
I don’t know about you, but I have been inundated with invitations, enticements, urgent requests, and dire warnings. Through the mail, TV and radio advertising, robo-calls, and everybody’s all-time favorite, my email inbox. I actually have a separate email address that’s dedicated to receiving just such requests. I don’t mean to belittle all of this. In fact it’s easy for the important ones to get lost because there are so many and some are frivolous.
And, of course, it’s Pledge Season, when the church asks us to reflect on the life of this community of faith and how we participate or would like to participate in the life of the parish. One piece of that reflection is to ask our help in developing a budget for the coming year by indicating how much we each plan to contribute to the income of this community. Now, sometimes it’s called “Stewardship Season,” but stewardship doesn’t have a season. Stewardship is our whole lives.
Stewardship addresses the questions:
To What do I give my life?
To Whom do I give my life?
Now let’s think about Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. Imagine that it’s a letter from the founder of Christ Church to us.
Greetings to the people of Christ Church Parish in Tacoma in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. My family and I always thank God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our lord Jesus Christ. You who are beloved by God, who has chosen you, because the message of the gospel came to you not only in word but also in power and in the Holy spirit… and you became imitators of the Lord.
That’s who you are – Beloved and chosen by God to receive and proclaim and be the good news of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. And if that’s who you are, how do you hear the exchange between Jesus and the Herodians and the Pharisees when they ask him a trick question and Jesus responds, “whose head and whose title is on the coin? Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
Now, what do you think he could mean? There are many possibilities, but separation of church and state probably is not one of them. Is it a trick answer to a trick question? What is God’s and what is the emperor’s? It’s a question we might ask ourselves several times every day. You bear the image of God and are marked as Christ’s own. In fact all of creation reveals God. Is Jesus suggesting that we are to participate in the world, using our money, resources, and institutions to help us to love God and love our neighbors? What do you think?
How do we love our neighbors? I would say that it is to respect the dignity of every person, and all of creation, to be compassionate, to make sure that all are provided with the necessities of life – loving relationships, clean air and water, adequate food, clothing and shelter, access to medical care and education, and the opportunity to contribute their energy and skills meaningfully to the good of the community.
What things are the emperor’s and what things are God’s? I think it goes back to the questions I asked earlier: To What do I give my life? To Whom do I give my life?
To what or to whom do I give not only my money, but my attention, my talent, my energy, my voice, my vote, my words, my touch, and the most precious of all, my time? How do I offer my life to love God and love my neighbor?
Where do I shop and what do I buy? Maybe I take the “one-stop-shopping” route so I can get everything done quickly and have more time to spend with my family or helping out a friend or simply time to take care of myself, such as getting enough sleep.
Or maybe the best way for me to love my neighbor is to shop at local small businesses. Do I buy American made? Or do I look for the lowest price so that I can pay my rent? Perhaps I choose to buy recycled goods at a consignment store or thrift shop.
How do I love my neighbor when I’m filling out my ballot? Which candidate is more likely to effectively work toward a more just society? How can I vote to love my neighbor on issues like protecting children from gun violence or providing for all children to receive the best education we can offer?
Where do I spend my energy? Do I use my hands to pull myself up by my bootstraps? Or to ask for help, because I can’t do it myself? Or reach out my hand to lift someone up who has fallen or been knocked down? Or even to restrain someone’s hand that is about to abuse another?
These are questions we face every day. They don’t have simple answers that are right for everyone. The important thing is to ask them.
And it is not just as individuals that we ask them, but also in our families and workplaces, in the public square AND in the church. We can have these conversations about how this church is to offer its life in love of God and our neighbor.
Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.
We are God’s beloved, chosen to receive and proclaim and be the gospel in the world.
You bear God’s image.
You are marked as Christ’s own.
To whom and to what will you give your life today?
To whom and to what will we give our life this year?