Sermon – 10-18-20 – Proper 24 – Cycle A
Scriptures: Isaiah 45:1-7; Psalm 96:1-13; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22
Sermon Title: “Whatever Belongs to God”
This is a sermon of question marks. If you would like to discuss any of these questions, please tell me. We will set a time for me to listen. Here is the first question. What does belong to God? Everything belongs to God. That is everything that is not evil. Everything that does not separate us from God. We may think that we worked for everything we have. Well, we certainly may have been hard workers and suffered through hard times, but let us think deeper.
Did we create the soil as farmers? Did we create the iron if we are foundry workers? Did we create our own minds? Did we create our own personalities? What about our bodies? Our health? Maybe we did not achieve our accomplishments by ourselves!
Another way to look at our achievements or lack or achievement is to think if our health and our minds are equal with each other. Certainly not. Not that one person is better than another person, but we are not robots created in a factory to be alike. Who decided how talents should be given? Was it we ourselves? Was it God? Did it just happen? How did physical disabilities happen to some of us and not others? Was it the government? Being sent to war certainly changed lives.
Each of us is probably existing with a disability, some more obvious than others. Some more of a limiting factor than others. Each of us stumbles in some area of existence because we were born that way, or an accident happened, or violence became a burden to our bodies and souls.
But, it is our relationship with God that is available to us and can make our lives holy and lovely. It may seem impossible when we find ourselves at a low level of existence. If that did not happen to us yet, there is no guarantee that it won’t happen. But there is loveliness and there is holiness lurking in each of us no matter our circumstances and conditions. How do we reconcile that loveliness and holiness with our existence? Maybe we are physically in pain or poverty. Maybe we have become haughty because we have been too successful in the ways of the world.
I know a person named Scott who had a good start in life but managed to turn his back on that decent life. Can I see the tiniest likeness of God in this unwashed, unshaven, dirty-clothed, person who comes through my line at a free meal? If I take the opportunity to sit with Scott, God starts to appear before my eyes. Yes, there is good character hiding in that mind. What happened? Did the world cause this downfall or let it happen? Did God cause it or let it happen? The light is still there. It must be stimulated again. It must be nurtured by people who care? Will the government nurture Scott? Or is this where a follower of Jesus could contribute to the well-being of Scott? Or will it be a compassionate person who does not follow Jesus? Making our world a better place – who does it? Followers of Jesus or not?
We read about Cyrus, king of Persia in the time of Isaiah. How did that one person become a king? Did God cause it? Did God let it happen? Who created Cyrus? Was Cyrus a God-fearing person? Well, this Cyrus, who was astute enough or lucky enough to become king, was not God-fearing. But here is God addressing Cyrus saying he will bless him with treasures. Our God is nurturing this powerful person who does not worship God! Why? The truth is that God is ready to bring his people home from captivity in Babylon. God is seeking the help of Cyrus of Persia to be in cahoots with Godself in releasing the Israelites from Babylon with whom God originally conspired. Here is a worldly king helping our God.
In our Gospel lesson from Matthew 22, Jesus is directing the tricky religious leaders of his day to help the emperor. They shall give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor and they shall give to God what belongs to God.
God, in securing the help of a worldly king, and here, Jesus the Son, instructing tricky religious leaders, seem to be making the point that world and religion need to help each other. That does not mean that world and religion should melt together. However, we should be respectful of both powers. We need each other really! Taxes are meant to provide decent accommodations for our living – bridges over water, roads that don’t become mud, airplanes that don’t fall apart in mid-air. What else? Our system of money seems necessary in these advanced times. In addition to buying things and services, we find that money works better than bartering. We bring money to God to help other people and to have a place to worship.
The big question is how much! Should both government and religion have paid leaders? How ornate should buildings be? What should taxes cover? What should we really expect from our government? Think religion, how much should leaders be paid? How much should we give to people who are suffering? What kind of temples should we expect? How much is required of us?
Micah, one of the Old Testament prophets, says in Micah 6.8, “[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Here the question is, “Does it take money to do justice and kindness?” What about worship? We do need to be refreshed with the word of God, with the presence of God as we gather, whether it be by Zoom or in-person in a building. We need to be inspired by the Holy Spirit as we are gathered, not only in personal devotions.
We can’t buy favor with God, we can’t buy forgiveness. God’s mercy and forgiveness are free, a free gift to us, we who are his beloved children. The talents, time and money that we bring to God show our thankfulness. The taxes that we pay to the government are needed in our quest to share the cost of decent infrastructure – roads, bridges, water, sewer. “How much” may be the overriding question in both giving to the government and giving to the church?
Both our country and our church have democratic governments. We have both voice and vote in our congregation and in our country. November 3 is our opportunity to vote for whomever will be our democratic leader and the people who will speak for us in the United States Senate and House and the Pennsylvania House and Senate. On November 8, we will gather for our Congregational Meeting here at Zion UCC to speak our minds in a respectful manner, as is your custom. In both opportunities we may vote as we feel led by God. I believe that we can serve God both in church and in our worldly government. In both places we are to do justice and love kindness. So may it be.