You can join this week’s worship service by visiting here.
Thank you to Kyle Johnsen for sharing the gift of music with us.
Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and Steve’s prayers for this week.
In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other.
The peace of Christ be with you all.
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Matthew 22: 15-22
Music: In You There is a Refuge; In Christ Alone
Palestine was a colony of the Roman Empire, so it’s fair to say that the Jews who lived there had a grievance around paying taxes to support an occupying and oppressive regime. Palestinians who supported the Empire also supported the empire’s local governor, who in Jesus’ day was Herod Antipas. The so-called Herodians were reconciled to paying the taxes that left them unthreatened under occupation.
When these two groups joined forces to entrap Jesus, he was definitely in trouble. They approached him with a lose-lose question, meant to impugn him publically in one way or another. They held out a gold denarius, the coin of the realm, and asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?”
Caesar. Tiberius Caesar, divine son of Augustus, high priest. To the Jews, the words “divine son” were blasphemous; to both Jews and Herodians, the coin was s symbol of oppression. For Jesus to answer “yes, pay the tax” would be to side with the empire, anger the Pharisees, and betray his people. For him to say “no, don’t pay the tax”, would make him guilty of sedition.
Jesus’ answer, then, is remarkable given the pressure he was under. Rather than submit to a binary choice, he widened the possibilities. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.” He’s not evading the question, or recommending a parallel allegiance. Rather, he is reframing a question supposedly about politics or citizenship, into a question of conscience. It’s subversive, but in a way that puts the onus back on his detractors to examine their own actions: in what, or whom, are you putting your trust?
And in so doing, he raises the central question of society: what do we demand of our leaders? He also raises the central question of what it means to live in community: what is my responsibility to my neighbour, and what am I willing to give to meet it?
In his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote to the Christian ministers of Alabama, appealing to them to stand against injustice. In siding with the law of the land, they were also accepting Jim Crow laws and the violent police response to peaceful Black protests for civil rights. Following the way of Jesus, King did not hurl invective at them, or marshal complicated legal arguments in his favour. Instead, he appealed to their conscience, to their common identity in Jesus Christ, and asked that they trust that God was leading them toward a better future.
Trust is such a fragile thing. It takes years to build and a moment to shatter. It requires regular attention and nurturing, grace and patience, vulnerability and forgiveness. Trust requires that we give something of ourselves, without anticipating anything in return, but is rewarded when others do the same. We come to know, often the hard way, whom we can’t trust, but sometimes in beautiful and unanticipated ways, whom we can trust.
I have a spiritual mentor who is also a good friend and one of those people whom I know, without doubt, that I can trust. I was talking to him once about how isolating and lonely ministry can be. Jenny and I have moved often, and because of the nature of my pastoral role, I have found it hard to find friends with whom I can be myself. Having shared that experience, he understood. And in response, he said two things that I found very helpful.
First, both teasingly and seriously, he asked, “How many close friends had you anticipated having in this life?” The implication was that you don‘t necessarily find close friends and people you can trust everywhere you go. Rather, you have to attend to those precious friendships through the moves and the changes. Thankfully, that is easier today than it has ever been in history.
Second, though, he widened the question even further, saying that, when it came to deeper relationship, he didn’t think ministry was all that different from other vocations. Everyone experiences loneliness and isolation, for various reasons and at various times. And the life of faith offers no way out of that, no escape from loss or grief. What it does offer is perspective: that we are striving for something we will never own or control, something we will never be finished with or attain.
The way he likes to put it is that, in ministry and in most peoples’ lives, there is no Stanley Cup; no moment of completing, arriving, or winning. There’s no award for raising a family, being thoughtful, or being forgiving; no reward for driving a truck, or bagging groceries; no prize for fighting climate change, working toward reconciliation with indigenous neighbours, becoming an Affirming church; there’s no end in sight for feeding the hungry, helping the poor, healing the sick. “The poor (we) will have with (us) always.”
However, it is also true that there is no certainty in gold, no permanence in political power, no life-extension in fame. There is no protection from life’s trials and disappointments. In short, there is no material or job or lifestyle that can fix the human condition. Our souls do not trade in the currencies of the world; they trade in relationship. Our sense of place is not a matter of geography or citizenship, but of where we build trust.
I read an author recently who said that, because of her tradition, her upbringing and the way she thinks, she doesn’t refer to her faith as “having a personal relationship with Jesus.” Instead, she says, she finds Jesus in community. Now, that word can mean a lot of things. I read recently about the so-called community of computer hackers. There are community gardens, community organizers, gated communities, and communal washrooms. The word can mean a lot of things.
When we talk about community, however, we are widening the question of what it means to follow in the Way of Jesus. We don’t define belief in terms of what opinions we hold, or what party we vote for, or how much money we have or don’t have. We define belief in terms of what we do with what we have, the relationships we build and sustain, the trust we build among people, not for our benefit, but simply in pursuit of life and love, and those abundantly.
To be a community in Christ is to put our trust in something beyond ourselves: a gracious love that we share and that points beyond us; that encourages us to take responsibility for our neighbours, knowing that we will never own, achieve, complete, or be rewarded for what we do work, yet knowing that it is what we are created to do, and the source of our fulfilment and joy.
My friends, God bless you for your trust and faith, in the God of Love and in each other. Amen.
God of all blessings, on this day and in this season we offer our thanks for the gifts that you offer us in life. These are difficult times when our world seems to change course and direction with little warning and great haste. Yet, in spite of the turbulence we find angels in our midst who care for us and reach out to us when we are in need. We give thanks for those who help us to make wise choices and who seek to offer us a better way than we might choose without their guidance.
God of hope, we give you thanks for all who give us hope: For those seeking solutions to the problems that the world must face together whether it be vaccines or treatments for the pandemic or for the myriad of other health problems we face. For those who are dealing with the climate crisis whether it be the people on the front lines or who are searching for solutions to the problems we have created. We give thanks too for those who come to our help in our own personal times of need whether it be a family member, friend or a stranger who steps up to take on something that must be done that we cannot do on our own.
On this day when we think about rendering unto Caesar, we are grateful that we live in a place where our governments are stable and where we do not need to fear our state as do so many people around the globe. That does not mean that all is perfect for we realize there is much that needs to be done to better serve and care for the most vulnerable in our nation and our local community. May we find long term solutions; to poverty, for better health care, for unemployment, for those who face injustice because of systemic racism and all of the other problems in our society. Together, may we work for change and build a better, more equitable, caring and just society.
Help us to more fully recognize the wonder of how you transform the gifts we offer you. For it is through those things that your good news is spread around the world. You bring healing and restoration in times of devastation. You offer peace with justice where there is conflict and turmoil. You bring wholeness and hope to the least, the last and the lost. We thank you for all you have done and all you continue to do.
We pray for all who are in need. For those who are ill in body and in spirit, we ask for healing and wellness, courage and strength. God of Love, we pray for those who grieve, bless them with the comforting presence of your Spirit.
Be with all of us as we give you our thanks. We ask these things in the name of Jesus, who teaches us to pray, Our Father…