Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Give to God what is God's

October 14th, 2012      “Give to God What is God’s”   Rev. Heather Jepsen

Sermon Series: The Theology of Worship
(Based on A More Profound Alleluia  ed. Van Dyk)
Matthew 22:15-22 and 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

          This is the final sermon in our series about the theology behind our worship service.  We have made the journey from the call to worship to the prayer of confession, from the reading of Scripture to the celebration of Communion.  Today we will talk about the offering part of the service and the closing benediction.

          In our gospel reading I’ve chosen this morning, we find the Pharisees once again plotting against Jesus.  They try to trap him with a trick question but first they butter him up, sending their own disciples to say “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.”  This of course is nothing more than an attempt to get Jesus off guard.  We know you are a great teacher, but . . . and now they ask their trick question, “Tell us, then, what you think.  Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

          For a man of Jesus’ status and position, this is a trick question because it had no good answer.  As with many questions used to entrap people, it asks for a simple yes or no answer.  Unfortunately either answer gets Jesus in trouble.  If Jesus says, “Yes, it is lawful to pay taxes” then he risks angering his followers who are looking for him to speak out against the unjust Roman occupation.  If Jesus says, “No, don’t pay taxes” then the Pharisees will certainly turn right around, tattle on him to the Roman authorities, and Jesus will get in trouble.  Either answer he gives, he can’t win.

          Of course in our own time the issues of taxes and our money are weighing heavy on many of our hearts.  For years now the American economy has been struggling.  People have lost money, they’ve lost jobs, they’ve lost benefits, and they’ve lost homes.  In 2008 when the Great Recession began there was a spike in the level of self-inflicted violence related to the economy.  Faced with job loss and home foreclosures, many people took their own lives and some even killed their families.  As a pastor, I can’t help but look around and ask, “How did we get to this place?”  I’m not just asking how the economy got so bad, I am asking how so many people could become so entrapped by money.  How can so many people be so profoundly dismayed by their financial situation that they would take their own life?  Is money really all there is in the world?

          In our gospel reading, Jesus responds to the trick question by what appears to be side stepping the issue.  “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?  Show me the coin used for tax.  Whose image is this, and whose title?”  They respond, “The emperor’s.”  Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

          Jesus manages to avoid answering them directly and instead throws the question back at them.   The audience must now decide for themselves if it is right to pay the tax.  Jesus’ followers must decide what belongs to the emperor and what belongs to God.  But of course the issue is bigger than that.  Jesus points out that the coin bears the image of the emperor.  And if we remember our stories in Genesis then we will remember that humans on the other hand, bear the image of God.  The coin may belong to the empire but Jesus’ followers did not.

          In this time of continuous economic turmoil, we should remember that just like Jesus followers, we bear the image of God.  In this distressing time when it seems that all we hear is talk of unemployment numbers, economic downturns, and presidential race tax rhetoric, we must remember that while these issues do affect us, they do not create us.  These times of financial stress do not define us as people.  The whole of who we are is not marked by our government or our economic system.  Instead the whole of who we are is marked by the hand of our Creator.  And Jesus tells us to give to God the things that are God’s.

          You see friends, while financial issues may weigh heavy on us and cause us great stress; we do not need to let them define us as people.  When we were baptized; God defined us, God marked us as God’s own.  Not only are we made in the image of God, we bear God’s mark as a sign and seal upon our hearts.  Because the image we bear is that of God and not of this world, being chosen and marked by God is what should define our lives. 

          In the offering part of our worship service we do what Jesus tells us to do in this gospel, we give to God what is God’s.  We give because God gave to us first.  And we give because we remember that all that we have belongs to God.  And we don’t just give from our pocketbooks; rather we give of the whole of our lives, for it is our life that bears the image of God.  We give ourselves according to our love and not out of obligation.  God loved us first, God marked us as God’s own in baptism, and God gives us the greatest gift in grace.  And we respond by giving of ourselves to God.  We pledge money for God’s work in the church, we give our time in service to the church, and each of us brings our hearts to church on Sunday and offers them up to God in worship. 

          When we close the service each week we hear the charge and benediction.  The charge is a command; carry the work of the worship service out into the world. “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”  Being a Christian isn’t just about what you do on Sunday, it is about how you live your life the other 6 days of the week.  The closing charge encourages you to carry all of the worship service; adoration and praise, sacrament and scripture, prayer and self-offering out into the world.  Make the elements of Sunday worship a part of how you live during the week and in doing so; give to God what belongs to God.

          The benediction is a blessing given to you as you leave the worship service and enter the world.  The blessing I normally give on Sunday is taken from Paul’s writings, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  We know that in bearing God’s image, we have already been blessed by God.  What the blessing at the end of the service seeks to do is to remind us of God’s mark upon us.  In the blessing we ask God to make known to us the blessing we already have, and to help us reflect that in the way we live our lives.  The blessing reminds us that we ourselves belong to God, and we should give to God what belongs to God.

          This church is about to begin a discussion on stewardship.  This is the time when we as a church are most focused on how exactly we offer ourselves to God by supporting this church community.  But, stewardship is not just about making a pledge to the church.  Stewardship is a symbol of giving ourselves to God.  In these hard economic times we must remember that we have been marked with love and grace and mercy and generosity by God.  In response we give what we have to give to God first and the world second.  We give to God first of our money and time and energy, and we give them in love because God has given first to us.  Show that you bear the image of God and not of this world, by giving to God what is God’s, the whole of who you are.

          This goal of this sermon series was to draw us more deeply and meaningfully into our worship experience.  Each week as we go through the worship service we are reminded whose we are.  Through the worship service we remember the great tenants of our faith; we praise God for God’s work in the world and in our lives, we confess our shortcomings and receive the good news of God’s forgiveness, we hear God’s Word in Scripture and sermon, we celebrate at the Lord’s table, we offer prayer to God on behalf of those we love and the whole world, and every Sunday we give of ourselves back to God in response to the love God has first given to us.  We offer ourselves to God, placing our very lives in the offering plate.  We hear the charge to carry God’s work out into the world.  And we receive the blessing, reminding us that we are blessed by God and that our lives should show that.

          When you come to worship every week, don’t just go through the motions.  Now that we have taken the time to study the service, you have no excuse for that.  Instead, pay attention, participate, and offer up yourself to the work of worship, offer yourself up to God.  Sunday morning worship is not a spectator sport.  Rather, God promises to meet you here, no matter what is happening in the world of empires and economics.  If you bring the whole of who you are to this hour every week, I can guarantee you, you won’t be sorry.  My prayer for us this morning is that together as a church, we will be more fully able to give to God what belongs to God, from our pocketbooks to our worship celebration.  Amen.

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