Isaiah 45:1-7 Psalm 96:1-13 1 Thessalonians 1:1-20 Matthew 22:15-22
Today’s gospel reading is a wonderful example of how Jesus took what people thought and presented it in a way that no one had considered. The Pharisees have come up with perfect question to trap Jesus into saying something that will support their claim to the Roman authorities that Jesus is subversive and needs to be silenced. Jesus is indeed subversive, but he is not challenging the authority of the Roman government, he is challenging the authority of the Jewish leaders.
In October 1517, 500 years ago this month, Martin Luther, posted his 95 Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This sparked the protestant reformation. His theses were a list of his theological concerns about the church. Among those concerns was the “selling of indulgences,” which was the church’s practice of accepting money as means of helping members obtain forgiveness. As we enter into our pledge drive, this would be a useful tool for me to be able to suggest that any among you who have sinned need to give to the church – and give big! But, alias, we are on the Protestant side of the reformation, so we believe that forgiveness is achieved by grace and not something we must pay to receive.
Luther was calling upon the church to reform – not to split. He was, in essence, trying to do what Jesus is doing in today’s gospel, Luther was attempting to get people to turn their attention away from what the church wanted them to do and focus, instead, on what God wanted of them. This is a recurring problem for the church. We get too caught up on our rules and tradition, and we lose sight of the intent of those rules and tradition. We do this in our own lives as well. We establish routines to help us get through the day or week, and get upset when something interferes with our routine. The bottom line is, when what we are doing ceases to accomplish its purpose, it is time for a change.
The Pharisees are too concerned about preserving Jewish Law in order to ensure the people continue to support the church. As a result, the people are no longer focused on being faithful to God. Jesus, when asked whether or not it was right for the Jews to be paying taxes to the emperor, says simply, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
He did not answer the most important question, however, “What is it that belongs to the emperor and what is it that belongs to God?” No one dared asked that question. And, no one dared ask the even more pertinent question, “What is mine and what is God’s?” As we begin to consider our individual gifts to St. Paul’s, this is the question we must ask ourselves.
Jesus did not answer this question for us. It is a question we must each ask ourselves. Our reading from Isaiah does, however, gives us food for thought. In Isaiah, we hear:
I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other;
besides me there is no god.
I arm you, though you do not know me,
so that they may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is no one besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form light and create darkness,
I make weal and create woe;
I the Lord do all these things.
First the prophet calls our attention to the fact that though God names us, we do not truly know and understand the fullness of our God. “I arm you, though you do not know me,” God says as a reminder that we are nothing without God. It is God who has given us the ability to do everything we have done, to achieve everything we have accomplished.
Next, the Lord says, “from the rising of the sun and from the west, . . . there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other.” And, “I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things.” This says that God is the creator of all that is and all that ever will be – and that God is with us in good times and bad.
In Isaiah we are taught that everything we have is from God, but I would have to be cult leader to suggest that you give everything you have to the church. This is not what Jesus is suggesting either when he tells us to give to God what is God’s. Based on what Jesus says is the greatest of all commandments, “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might,” I believe Jesus is telling us that it is not enough to give money.
We, ourselves are from God, so we are to give ourselves to God. Or, as we say in the Eucharist Prayer, “We offer unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and our bodies.” Giving the gifts of our hearts, our time, our talents, and our money to St. Paul’s is only one way to give to God what belongs to God. When we give our all to God, we see that this community of believers is called to service. We do this collectively and individually.
And, it is our individual blessings and gifts that we are called to examine in today’s gospel reading as we consider what it is that God is asking us to give back. We all have choices to make regarding out time and money and there are countless ways we can do our part to help bring about God’s kingdom.
Over the years I have found that another one of Jesus’ teaching gives me guidance on giving – “it is in giving that we receive.” What I give comes back to me. I feel a part of something greater than myself and privileged to be able to give. It helps me to remember than all that I have is indeed a gift and this makes me thankful that I am able to give a portion of what I have back to God.
For the next few Sundays, we will have members of St. Paul’s share with you some of why St. Paul’s is important to them and why they give. After you hear what they have to say, I ask that you, too, reflect on what St. Paul’s means to you and how you might support it in the coming year.
Let us pray.
Loving and gracious God, we give you thanks for the gift of St. Paul’s and all the gifts you have given us. Help us, we pray, to show our appreciation for these gifts by giving of ourselves to your service. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.