19 Pentecost—Proper 24-A
October 19, 2014
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
In today’s hyperventilated 24/7 “gotcha politics” media environment the question would have been: Okay, Jesus we know you’re slick but since you’ve recently driven out the money changers from the temple it’s time to come clean for our viewers:
“Do you think our good Jewish people should pay taxes to Rome?
It’s an easy question, Jesus—yes or no?
Our viewers have the right to know: Where do you stand: do you stand with the poor who are burdened by this tax, some of whom are wild-eyed revolutionaries who want to fight Rome and get us all killed or are you like one of those reasonable Rabbis in Jerusalem who think sometimes you can serve both God and Rome in the name of peaceful coexistence.
There really are only two possible answers, Jesus: which one is it?”
Then and now as long as we have a mind that only thinks in binary patterns this is the best people can do. It’s yes or no, either-or, this or that, A or B.
Man up Jesus!
But of course from where Jesus stands there is another option called the Kingdom of God. He has been preaching that God’s Kingdom is entering the world through his ministry. Jesus sees life from God’s point of view which is from a non-dual prospective where the love of God transforms all our choices.
As I’ve often said—the world you see depends on the lens you’re looking through.
Can followers of Jesus, sinners like us, believe it is possible at least some of the time to see through the lens of Jesus?
If we really want to see as Christ sees it means, first of all, that we must give up the lens we’re used to. Maybe “gotcha politics” is fun when we win the election, but it destroys community as it destroys the search for truth which is never the sole property of my side.
And do we want to look at our views on money through the eyes of Christ?
Like the rich man down south who surrenders his life to Jesus in a big conversion experience and tells his pastor he wants to finally get baptized—but not in a puny fount but in a big river. So the next Sunday the man publically professes his faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and as the pastor starts to put his head under water the man lifts his wallet out of his pocket and holds it out of the water so God can’t get to it.
We all know it feels risky to let the values of Christ determine how I use what I value.
And speaking of going all in and seeing as Christ sees: how about those nurses and doctors who volunteer to treat Ebola patients—both here and in West Africa. Is that what happens when you follow Christ?
Which of course is exactly what Jesus says: if you try to save your life you’ll lose it, but if you lose it for my sake you will find it.
This only makes sense when we see as Christ sees.
Today is the kick-off of our stewardship campaign—you probably noticed the pledge packets in the back—they are arranged alphabetically, so you can find yours easily. And if by chance you can’t find yours, not to worry—we will see that you get one.
So as Jesus looks at the Roman coin, you and I are being asked to look at our American money—the green bits of paper with the pictures of Washington, Lincoln, Jackson and Franklin on them.
And we’re being asked who we think that money belongs to.
Does it belong to the republic which those great men represent? Or does it belong to me?
Well, we know it belongs to me—we pay taxes but we know the money is ours. We’ve earned it!
So after the government gets its big slice it’s hard to think about giving more of my hard earned money to church. We don’t mind paying a small amount of dues to keep the lights on, but all this talk of real giving is scary.
Exactly—it’s scary because it touches a fear deep within—fear of lack, of loss, fear of failing, and finally, the deepest fear of all: the fear of dying.
That’s why when someone is asking for MY money I get anxious and defensive. If they get too much in my face I get angry—like at the first stewardship conference I went to in 1978 as a young priest and where I was told I must give 10% of my small salary back to God.
Says who! I stormed out of the place! But once I got home I realized I was angry at myself for being so fearful. Where is my faith? Where are my love and my hope in God?
They are in full display when the discussion is about reading the Bible or prayer, but nowhere to be found when it’s about MY money.
I was angry because I had unmasked myself. I thought I had given my life to Christ but I was still holding my wallet above the water, not because I was stingy, but because I was afraid I couldn’t live without it.
Like a mentally disturbed woman Henri Nouwen saw once at Yale Hospital Emergency Department: she had a 50 cent piece in her hand that she refused to let go. She was surrounded by all the help in the world but her trust was in that half a dollar in her hand.
We all share her belief that our money is going to make us happy.
Give a percentage of MY MONEY to God’s work?! What’s in it for me?!?!
Things began to shift when I saw others—lay members of my parish in North Carolina—who were joyful givers—tennis buddies of mine, David and Dick gave joyfully and told me their lives were transformed the moment they decided to give freely, sacrificially, and gratefully to Christ and his work in the world.
Things shifted further still when it occurred to me I had been looking at this through the wrong lens: I thought it was my money and I was being asked to give away a significant piece of it.
But when, I realized it is God’s money, on loan to me, and yet I got to keep 90%. What a deal that is!
As Jesus stares down at that Roman coin he turns the table on the “gotcha” question and he says: give to Caesar the things that bear Caesar’s image and give to God the things that bear God’s image.
And we remember the first chapter of Genesis where we are told we were created in God’s image.
From birth we have God’s thumbprint on us. In baptism we are “sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever”.
In order to know this, not as an idea but as the deepest truth of our identity, we begin to experiment with giving: To see if giving with gratitude gives me more joy than hoarding with fear.
Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive, because when we give—our time, our attention, our money, our talents–we are acting out of our true identity as the sons and daughters of God. Once we know that, we realize we have had the mind of Christ our brother all along and that Christ is always with us and for us, freeing us to love as God loves.