Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sunday, October 18, 2020
Lectionary 29, Year A
Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist

Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, you inspired your servant Luke to reveal in his gospel the love and healing power of your Son. Give your church the same love and power to heal, for the proclaiming of your salvation among the nations; that created by you, we might live in your image; created for you, we might act for your glory; redeemed by you, we might give you what is yours, through Jesus Christ, our Savior, Lord and Healer, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 35:5-8 The wilderness is transformed.
Psalm 124
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 Thanksgiving for the church at Thessalonica
Matthew 22:15-22 A teaching on giving to the emperor and to God

Title:  Give it ALL to God

How many times have you heard that passage quoted?  Like a worn out, over-told joke.  Like a over-used fortune cookie message.  Like a worn-out piece of advice that has lost all meaning due to it’s over use.  Here it comes again.  We can say it in our sleep, right?  “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Or, if you were raised on a different translation, perhaps your automated response sounds more like:  Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s…

But let’s take a moment and separate ourselves from the overuse, and relook at the setting of the first time this spoken by Jesus.  When it had some zing to it.  When it was a surprise to the hearer and not an “oh-that-again” to the bored listener.  It’s a test.  These folks aren’t sincere with their questioning of Jesus.  They are dripping with sarcasm.  “Teacher, sincere one, teacher of truth, you show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.” (Like they do.)  They are trying to trick him, trip him up, get him to anger the people or worse, speak treason against their overlords – the Romans – so that the occupiers can take action against the upstart, authority-challenging, rabbi; saving them from the danger of taking the unpopular action they would like to take.  (A reminder – we are deep into those last days of Jesus that we call Holy Week.  Things are getting heated in Jerusalem. The shadow of the cross is looming larger.)

Jesus – a master of seeing a trap when it is set for him and not falling into it – responds simply.  “If it’s got the mark of the emperor, give it to the emperor.” A real zinger, especially for those Judeans who are getting rich from collaborating with the Romans.  Some of them, the power brokers, have an awful lot of those denarii in their bank accounts.  Give it ALL back?  Not just a tax?  Not just a tithe?  Give it ALL?  In a sentence, Jesus speaks truth to power.  Calls for divestment from that which is corrupting them.  A call that echoes through the centuries.  Since power corrupts, there is always a need to divest from what holds power over us and inflicts oppression on others.  What occupying power’s denarii do we hold? Treasure? Horde?

But Jesus does not leave it there. Typical of this wise teacher, when someone tries to trick him, he takes it one step further, not just to make them squirm, but so that they might get more than they bargained for – in a good way.  “Give to God that which is God’s.”  Well, as creator of the universe, God’s mark is on everything.  And suddenly the tither who boastfully gives their ten percent in the offering plate is ninety percent short of what Jesus is suggesting.

And speaking of overuse of this passage – how many pledging sermons have you heard fueled by this saying of Jesus.  And why not?  All that we have, all that we are, all that we count as blessings are ours because God has created them and gives them to us. It was just a few weeks ago that I invited you to make a gratitude list.

But aided by the headlines of today, let’s expand that list beyond family and home and food and clothing and employment.  What happens to our discussion about climate change and environmental justice when we give it all back to God (rather that horde and abuse it for our own luxury.)?  How do we answer the calls for racial justice and immigration rights if we, like Jesus, show no partiality, and if we practice God’s justice?  Giving ALL, not just tokens or well-wishes or empty promises of a brighter future.

SONG:  Come, bring your burdens to God.  Come, bring your burdens to God, Come, bring your burdens to God.  For Jesus, will never say no.

Today we have another opportunity to breath some new life into this overused saying of Jesus, to expand on his call to give to God what is God’s. But this time it is not obligation, but rather gracious invitation.  For today, the church celebrates the life and ministry of Luke, gospel writer and missionary companion to Paul. Luke, a physician, is often remembered with an emphasis on the healing presence of Christ.  Today, as we have done each year, though, like everything else, with adjustments for a pandemic; we will take time to dip into the well of this healing presence of Christ that renews and sustains us.

And so today, as we think of giving back to God that which is God’s, (in addition to those life-enriching blessings,) we also hear an invitation to bring to God that list of needs for which the world is crying out, the burdens that we are carrying.  We can rejoice and be comforted knowing that Jesus is also inviting us to give God all that is broken and diseased and hurting, all that is weighing us down.

Give to God the things that are God’s.  That looming cross to which Jesus is walking, tells us to even offer up these hardships and burdens to God. Not because they are from God, for while I do not for a second believe God has sent them to plague us.  But because the cross tells us that God, through Jesus Christ, has made everything, even our brokenness, our sinfulness, our illnesses, the cross of Christ makes it all God’s own.

Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.

In the death of Jesus, God takes all that we are, all that we carry, all that we suffer, and makes it God’s own.  Even our death.  Nail it to the cross, we are told. Leave it at the cross, is the invitation.  And, in the resurrection of Jesus the Christ, God gives us all that God is.  And so we have new life from God, to give back to God.  

The prophet Isaiah gives witness to the transforming power of God.  Not just repairing and restoring, but making it new, making it better, filling it with new life, more life.  Where there once was desert, in God’s presence there are flowing waters and sparkling pools.  Where animals scavenged for food, by God’s resurrecting hand there are wetlands teaming with life.  And through this lushness, we walk.  Even in our foolishness we won’t get lost, for Jesus is the way, the one who searches out the lost, heals the sick, gives hope to the hopeless.  Jesus is “The All” of God given to us, so that now, through the work of the Holy Spirit, we can give all to God.  And God wants it all.

Come, bring your burdens to God. Come, bring your burdens to God, Come, bring your burdens to God. For Jesus, will never say no.

The Rev. Mark Erson, Pastor

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