Exodus 33:12-23 Psalm 99 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 Matthew 22:15-22
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I love the Gospel story we heard today. Boxed into a corner Jesus gives the most elegant answer to ‘Should we pay taxes’. To say ‘Yes’ He would be labelled a puppet of the Roman state by the Jews and loose His credibility with them. You probably recall that tax collectors were despised in first century Judea. But if He said ‘No’ He would be called a troublemaker by Rome and jailed or worse. The double trick Jesus plays on His inquisitors is that the coin, the denarius, the value of a day’s wage, has both the Emperor’s image on it and his title “God”. Caesar was considered a god. Slam dunk ! Rome is happy, they believe they have won both ways. The Jews are happy too, for YHWH is their God and it is to Him that they joyfully give. Jesus for them had given a clear definition of the separation of Church and State and remained their hoped-for Liberator, the Messiah.
Jesus thus reaffirms that we are social creatures and that we need civic structures. We need things in common that we could not get by individual effort. For us that means roads, water, electricity, stuff commonly called infrastructure. It means security as in police, the military, and healthcare, we need a common currency and an administration to make it all work. Jesus is a realist.
He also affirms that God has entitlement on things, all things in fact because they are all His for He made them. That begs the question, what are the things that we owe and should give to God ? And then we have to question ourselves, do we give those things at all or even enough ?
First of all we obviously owe God worship. God is Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, all powerful, all knowing and present everywhere, we need to respond to God then by admitting that He is all these things and that all things, especially our eternal futures rest with Him. We need to pay homage to His infinite power. The payoff is that by doing so we will be saved (Malachi 3:17) the prophet Malachi said that in an early version of Justification by Faith which was later reaffirmed by St. Paul (Romans 3:28) and upon which we rely as Anglicans, and indeed Lutherans too.
We then owe God obedience. In most other religions there is no requirement for obedience to the deity. As long as their followers make sacrifices or prayers they don’t have to live a religious life. They figure their sacrifices and prayers will be good enough to get their god’s favour, so they can go and behave badly with no need for repentance, which means no real turning away from wrongdoing and turning towards their god. We on the other hand are called to live under God’s rule because we will have a better life by so doing and a sure afterlife into the bargain.
We also owe God our efforts. Nothing gets done if we don’t do it – we are the hands and feet of Christ. In this profane world we live in, money is equated with our effort, which is true. We earn money by daily labour and exchange that for the goods and services that we need, it’s much more efficient than bartering things we have made. So when we give part of our denarius to the Church we are giving a part of our time, and talent as well as our treasure. On top of that the Church is supported by the labour of thousands of thousands of volunteers who labour in the fulfillment of God’s Mission.
We definitely owe God to not ask for too much. Moses wanted to see God’s face. This last week, Quebec passed a law requiring all people who receive public services to uncover their faces. Whether it is fair or not is yet to be determined but I feel uncomfortable when I see protest marches through the streets with people covering their faces: I feel uncomfortable because we judge a lot by what we see in people’s faces, we make the judgement as to whether the person we see is friend or foe in the first fraction of a second after we first see them. When a face is covered we immediately assume they are up to no good, it’s a natural defensive measure. At one point if we believe in something we have to own-up to it. To get a letter published in the Press, you have to declare who you are, it should be no different for someone making a protest statement in public. The law also uncovers those who wear niqabs and burkas, neither of those are required by Islam, they are merely a cultural expression, which some Muslim women choose to wear. Western women when they visit a Moslem country adjust their dress to respect the culture, a similar response would be appropriate here. It’s similar to wearing a Cross – Christianity does not require that we wear a Cross we can choose to or not, just like the veil, but we would be offended if told we couldn’t. At least here there would be no public flogging, beating imprisonment or worse for non-compliance.
Moses crosses a line. He asks God to show His face. God says ‘No’. And He says ‘No’ for Moses’ safety. God’s glory is too much for us to see in human form, we will see God when we achieve spiritual form and sit around the Throne, but not now. God says ‘Not now but I will show you as much of my Glory as you can handle”. We need to recognise that sometimes by asking for too much, God will say ‘No’ to protect us and to complete His Plan. When your prayers don’t seem to be answered you may have asked for too much. So go back to the beginning and pray as Jesus taught “Your Will be done on Earth as in Heaven”. Pray that “God’s Will be done” and be satisfied.
We owe God thanks. Giving thanks for what we have received, for life itself, for Creation and all its bounty especially at this time of year when we are harvesting the fruits of the Earth it is the right and proper thing to do. When we receive a gift, we always need to say “Thank you”.
So from all that I just said we owe God our trust. God sees a bigger picture than we do and we should understand that even when things are difficult. God is on our side against Evil. Generals send their troops into battle knowing that some will be injured and some killed, not wanting any of that, but knowing it is unavoidable, every injury and death therefore has meaning. Then we get tangled up in the question “Why me ?” Perhaps there is no answer to that other than because God needs you. Moses tackled that heartbreaking problem. He didn’t want to go do what he was asked without God’s presence. Like Moses all we need to know is that we are in God’s presence and we are called to do, no matter the cost, what He calls us to do. That requires trust. So worship, obedience, offerings, deference, thanksgiving and trust are the elements of Faith that we must keep lively and healthy and give to God freely, not conditionally, as in “If you God do this then I will do that”. God doesn’t need to make bargains or be rewarded. Just go and live your Faith as you are asked and enjoy it ! Amen.