Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Proper 24A

All things are God's. 
We like to think of certain things as OURS.
We are wrong.
Each week we stand together and say the words of the Nicene Creed. In the Creed we speak about a very specific type of God. We affirm our faith in a God who created all things and for whom all things were made. 
The whole of creation.
All the things.
Including, but not limited to:
This church, the Tiffany Windows, the organ, these vestments, the Parish Hall, the tables, the chairs, the clothing we are wearing, our cars, our houses, our books, our food, our plants, our newspapers, our knickknacks, our computers, our phones, our televisions, our comfy Lazy Boy chairs, our toilet paper, our money, our emotions, our dreams, our goals, our souls, our bodies.
All things are God's. 
All things are God's. (Have them repeat it.)

The Gospel story this morning from Matthew is kind of a joke. 
Did you listen to it?

The Pharisees have decided to entrap Jesus with what he is saying. 
So they send their lackeys to pester him until he says something they can frame him with.
The lackeys do their best, insulting Jesus with the first words out of their mouths.
"Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality." 
Which sounds nice and all, however, whoever said this was not being sincere at all. Not one bit.
Which is why Jesus calls him out on his lie when he replies. 
The culture at the time was very much one of debate and discussion. Asking other people's opinions, verbal wordplay, and answering questions with questions were all accepted and expected parts of social discourse and relationship. So when the lackey suggests that Jesus doesn't need anyone else's opinion, he is trying to insult him. 
Jesus calls him out on his lie when he responds, calling him a hypocrite. He knows the lackey doesn't believe that Jesus is sincere or that he teaches with truth.  
And then he asks the question about taxes. 
"Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?"
In the first century, paying taxes to the Emperor for the Jewish people was giving into the oppression of the Roman Empire's rule. The Jewish people did not believe that they should be paying taxes to the Romans, and they certainly didn't want to be doing so. If Jesus had said that they didn't need to be paying taxes to the Emperor, he would have made the crowd very happy, however, he would have been in some immediate hot water with the Roman government. If Jesus had said directly that they should pay taxes to the Roman government, he would have been going against the Jewish idea that the Romans were oppressors and not lawful rulers. 
Instead, Jesus is witty and brilliant.
He asks to see the coin with which one pays taxes. The Roman denarius had the emblem of the Roman ruler on it, which pretty much always included the head of the Emperor. The Roman Emperor's had the grand delusion that everything they conquered belonged to them. 
So when Jesus says, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." Jesus is being a bit facetious. 
All things are God's.
Even the denarius and the Emperor and the emperor's military and emperor's government. 
All things are God's.
That is Jesus' point.
They were all too busy asking the wrong question.
The real question is: If all things are God's, then how does God want us to use everything?
There is a huge difference between how we want to use everything and how we would use things if we were listening to how God wants us to use things.
In the world, one of the most prevalent themes is "the more you have, the better you are." 
Which is what spurs on the keeping up with the Joneses mentality. 
And pretty much every marketing strategy or ploy ever.  
We think, in order to show our importance and identity, we need more stuff. We need better stuff.
Essentially, we tend to think like hoarders.
More stuff will bring me more stability and acceptability and influence and safety. I need more stuff.
It is mine and I can use it however I want.
All things are God's. 
So the question for us today is how does God want us to use God's stuff?
I have realized in thinking about this passage that we cannot ask the question, "How does God want us to use the stuff God has given to us?" There is a subtle difference between the wording which makes a huge difference. Once we think of something as having been given to us, we think of it as now ours. When we think of God giving to us, we naturally fall into thinking we are now owners. 
However, All things are God's. 
We also tend to think that whenever we acquire new things, we deserve them. In fact, most of us like to think we deserve much better than we have. Certainly, the Roman Emperor during Jesus' time thought he deserved the taxes and religious devotion which the people under his rule gave him. 
(head shake)
All things are God's.

How does God want us to use God's stuff?
It is only through faithful discernment and relationship with God do we find out how God wants us to use the things around us.
We build the relationship with God through prayer and listening, through reading and discussing the scriptures, through being a part of God's community. 
God is constantly sharing with us how we are to use creation. Over and over again throughout the scriptures, we are given signs and clues and suggestions. 
Feed the hungry.
Clothe the poor.
Care for the sick.
Love your neighbor.

Jesus' witticism about giving the emperor what is the emperor's and God what is God's is really a call to remembrance the place of God in our lives. 
It ends up being a mind opening shift in our world view, because we have forgotten that what we have doesn't belong to us. Jesus points out to all those who were listening to him that day that they had forgotten the truth of the matter about the world around them. 
What Jesus says to the lackeys of the Pharisees is even more subversive then they had even imagined. They had expected him to undermine the Emperor, they hadn't expected him to undermine them as well. 
Even we who are God's people need to remember,
All things are God's.