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Sermon for 20th Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Isaiah 45:1-7 Psalms 96:1-9 (10-13) I Thessalonians 1:1-10 Matthew 22:15-22

An older woman went to see her family doctor. They were talking in his office and he asked why she had come to see him. She said that she was here to talk about the hereafter. The doctor launched into. “Well, I can appreciate your wanting to talk about your faith. As a Baptist, I am very comfortable in talking about God. But, since you are an Episcopalian, I think we will have some theological differences. Maybe you should go and talk to your priest.” She listened politely, and then spoke, “No, not that hereafter. I mean the kind, when I walk from one room to another and think to myself, ‘now what am I here after?’”

So what are the Pharisees and the Herodians “here after”? The Pharisees, a religious group, opposed the Roman occupation of Palestine. The Herodians were a political party who supported Herod Antipas and the policies instituted by Rome. Normally, these two groups were bitter enemies. Thinking that they had a foolproof plan to corner him, together representatives asked Jesus about paying Roman taxes. If Jesus agreed that it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, the Pharisee would say that he opposed to God, the only King they recognized. If Jesus said the taxes should not be paid, the Herodians would hand him over to Herod on the charge of rebellion. In this case, the Pharisees were not motivated by love of God’s laws and the Herodians were not motivated by love of Roman justice. Jesus’ answer exposed their evil motives and embarrassed them both.

The Jews were required to pay taxes to support the Roman government. They hated this taxation because the money went directly into Caesar’s treasury, where some of it went to support the pagan temples and the decadent life-style of the Roman aristocracy. Caesar’s image on the coins was a constant reminder of Israel’s subjection to Rome.

Jesus widens the question so that it has little to do with politics – and nothing at all to do with the threat of arrest. Everyone has to decide, he says. He reconfigures the challenge around a question he intimates but never even has to verbalize: What is it that bears God’s image? “No one can serve two masters,” he had said (Matthew 6:24); none of us is exempt from the discernment, no one is exempt from choosing. What belongs to whom?

We experience the tender compassion of God for God’s children as the product of our exchange, the inspiration for all the rendering we do, the taproot of our politics, the ground of being for all we are. Baptism is the watermark of our true currency.

All of us have fine lines to walk in negotiating the various kinds of interchange that fill our days. Most of us are collaborators some of the time, subversives some of the time. There is comfort, perhaps in Jesus’ refusal to make the conundrum of daily rendering into an easy question. The answers are simple only for those who regard Caesar as God, or as the devil. Meanwhile, we strive to remember that we bear God’s image – as the palm of God’s hand bears ours. We are God’s beloved.

Henri Nouwen says that when we become God’s beloved it means letting the truth of our Blessedness become enfleshed in everything we think, say or do. Becoming the Beloved is pulling truth revealed from above down into the ordinariness of what we are, in fact, thinking of, talking about, and doing from hour to hour. Being chosen as God’s Beloved means instead of excluding others, it includes others. Instead of rejecting others as less valuable, it accepts others in their own uniqueness. It is not competitive, but a compassionate choice. When we lose touch with our chosenness, we expose ourselves to the temptation of self-centeredness, and that temptation undermines the possibility of ever growing into the relationship as God’s beloved. When we forget that we are God’s Beloved, we begin to rely on other things. We are able to turn back to God through our practice of daily prayer. The faithful discipline of prayer reveals to us that we are the blessed one and that realization gives us the power to bless others.

True, the image of God within us can sometimes be difficult to recognize. When we look at each other, or in the mirror, we tend to see the inscriptions that our interactions with the world have left on us; you are what you look like, what you have, what you wear, what you do, the company you keep. But underneath all those inscriptions is a much deeper mark: the kiss of light in the eyes, the watery sign of the cross made once upon a time on a non-wrinkled forehead, the image of all those children in the arms of their mothers and fathers, and the little ember of resolve to remember them.

All those faces are a part of your face, of my face, when we begin to see the image that God sees, the image engraved in the palm of the hand of the God who, in Jesus, stands behind us with full faith and credit. It is then that we are able to render to God, the things that are God’s. It is then that we can stand on the promise of God’s love, God’s presence, God’s blessings, God’s hope coloring our days. It is in offering ourselves to God in a community of faith that we truly render to God all the things that are God’s – our gifts, our talents, our minds, our hearts, our lives – and God will take them and render them worthy, blessed and we will be God’s beloved.

How do we do that? How do we respond to the mission and ministry of Grace Episcopal Church? We respond by offering our time, talent and treasures for the glory of God. We are beginning our conversation about the budget for the coming year. The budget the last couple of years has been very tight, with little wiggle room, and focused mainly on maintenance. My dream continues to be that we will have enough money to fund new programs, concerning spiritual growth and community involvement. My dream is that we will be able to say “yes” to a lot more Hands and Feet Projects to help people make repairs in their homes. My dreams come from our sharing from our abundance and not focusing on scarcity.

Stewardship is about how we live our lives. The way we spend our money and the things we spend our money on are sacramental in the sense that they show us, and others, the things that are truly important for us. Stewardship is growing, developing, advancing and building the gifts which God has blessed us with. We are beginning our Stewardship Campaign today and carry it through two more Sundays. It is a time to shine the light on what’s important to us, as we render to God all that is Gods. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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