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Call to Action and Service.

November 19, 2020 - 9:46pm

There is something terribly sad in this week’s Gospel reading from Matthew, something so easy to miss that it eludes most of us. That’s probably because this is such a tempting story. It is one of the most straightforward of all the New Testament’s accounts of judgment; and one of the most fun.

Here, judgment is connected to actively reaching out to those in need, specifically to “the least of these,” to those who are at the bottom, those who are the most helpless and who have no other champions – to those with no one else to care for them. These are God’s favourites; the ones God sees in a special way.

And it’s really clear that those who are condemned are not condemned for doing bad things, or for acting unjustly or cruelly. Instead, they are condemned for the good they did not do. You can’t sit out the Christian moral life. There’s just no way, by avoiding engagement, to thereby avoid judgment. “Well, I never intentionally hurt anybody” cuts no mustard when before God.

All of which can tempt just about any writer to shout, “So get out there and serve Jesus in your neighbour. Do good and save your soul from the judgment of eternal fire all at the same time.” This also can make a great sermon, and one most church leaders aren’t opposed to preaching from time to time. Good stuff. Can’t hurt.

But I’d like to look at what’s so sad in this story.

Notice that those who have been gathered up at the right hand of the Lord – those who are called blessed of God, the ones we want to be – have only one thing to say to Jesus. They say, “Lord, when?”

“When was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?” “When?” That’s it; that’s all they have to say.

This is dreadfully sad because of all the loss, and all the struggle and all the pain that question implies. These people, the sheep, the saved, the good guys if you like, they were right, they did all of the correct things, but they missed the greatest joy of it. They missed seeing the Lord. They overlooked the hidden presence of God in the faces of those they served.

One of the reasons we have this parable from Matthew 25 may be to help us avoid that loss, to remind us what reaching out and caring and serving can be about at the level of greatest depth. Because it’s very clear: No matter how right you are, no matter how much you serve the presence of Christ in others, if you don’t pay special attention, if you simply don’t look for the Lord Jesus in those you serve, then, like the saved people in the parable, you won’t see him. And most of the joy is lost.

Most of the joy of doing good and being right and saving your soul from the judgment of eternal fire all at the same time, most of that joy, is lost. After all, reaching out in love to the presence of Christ in others, especially in both “the least of these” and in those closest to us, this is quite often a great big pain. It takes a lot of time, and there’s almost never any indication that anything of lasting benefit has happened.

What’s more, “the least of these” are usually at least partially responsible for whatever problems and needs make them the least. And most of the time they don’t look or act or smell the way we imagine Jesus should.

Frequently, they aren’t very nice, and worse yet, they seldom seem to appreciate whatever good we do try to do for them. So, doing good, reaching out to feed, clothe, visit, heal and otherwise minister to “the least of these” tends to frustrate us, and we tend to get burned, and to get burned out.

And much the same sort of thing can happen when the ones we reach out to are not some distant “them,” but are, instead, the people we live with and around, the people closest to us.

One would think that actually serving Christ shouldn’t be as hard, and as disheartening, as it often is. But there we are. After all, just because we’re doing something for religious reasons doesn’t mean that all by itself, whatever we’re doing will look or feel religious or that it will affect us in a particularly religious way.

Cleaning the kitchen in the church, or anywhere else for that matter, is still cleaning a kitchen. Being nice to a difficult person because you are convinced that Jesus wants you to, is still being nice to a difficult person. Spending time or money or energy out of Christian conviction still means that you no longer have that time or that money or that energy.

Jesus calls us to serve him, in our neighbours, in our brothers and sisters, in the least of these, and – often the most challenging – in those closest to us. That call is real; there are no excuses. But the Lord also calls us to see him in the face of our neighbours, and of our brother and sister, and – we can’t forget – in the least of these. This is a spiritual call, a call to discernment as much as it is a call to action and to service.

This is what we need in our world right now. This is what we need as we continue to face a Pandemic, Covid-19, that has really stretched our personal beliefs and desires. It has challenged to various degrees, especially with lock downs our resilience, our trust and my goodness our hope for the future. However, we who are Christians are called not only to discernment but as I said to action and service.

There’s not a secret or mysterious way to do this. To try to live the life Christ calls us to live without placing all of that in the middle of some disciplined reflection, prayer and study, this is to risk missing the best part of it all. It is to risk missing the presence and Word of Jesus that can transform a mundane task into an opportunity for insight and for joy – that can make doing the things we are called to do a path deeper into the mystery of God’s life, and of our own.

This story of judgment is more than a call to serve. It’s more than a call to be good, and to do the right thing. Sure, it’s that, but it’s much more.

It’s also a call to look, to notice, to devote our days and our lives in the search for the face of God in all that we do. It’s a call for Christians and hopefully all, above all, to see.


I have been writing for six years producing my reflections on the Sunday Readings from the Three-Year Lectionary. These thoughts have been developed from various writers I have been reading and my own reactions. However, after six years I am going to end this exercise on the Feast of Christ the King for Sunday November 22nd, 2020.

I thank all who have taken the time to read the blog and even at times feedback.

 

Rev John Candy

 

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Investment in Love.

November 13, 2020 - 12:53am

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? You would try something pretty risky, right? After all, if you knew you wouldn’t fail, why try something easy? What risky thing would you do? Would you write the Great Australian Novel or sail around the world? Would you tell someone, “I love you,” or would you find the courage to leave? Would you go back to studies to finish that degree or would you call your mother or father and say, “I’m sorry for the pain I caused you. When can we get together again?”

If failure were not an option, human history would have been marked with more bold attempts at both greatness and villainy. Failure is all too real, and many bold plans have never gotten past the stage of dreams.

There are all kinds of risks and all kinds of rewards, but there is a common reason why we are naturally risk averse and that is fear. Fear is a natural, healthy reaction that can keep you safe. Healthy fear of fire prevents you from getting burned. Unhealthy fear of fire can also keep you from enjoying the simple pleasure of making your own roasted marshmallow’s on a campfire.

There has to be a balance between fear and reward. Those with no fear fill our cemeteries at an early age. At the other extreme, too much fear is unhealthy and paralysing. Fear keeps hope locked in a room of doubt.

Great ships were not built to cling to the coastline. They were created to cross oceans. Few great discoveries were made by playing it safe. There is also no risk-free way to fall in love or to raise children. And there is no risk-free way to mend broken relationships and make amends for past hurts.

In our Gospel reading for this week from Matthew 25, Jesus tells a parable of risk and rewards and the responsibility that comes with great gifts. In the parable, a very wealthy landowner entrusts his servants with vast sums of money. A talent was a measure of gold worth roughly fifteen years’ wages for a day labourer. The life expectancy of the time for common laborers was such that making it to forty was never a sure thing, even though many lived longer. Fifteen years’ wages was more than half of what you might expect to make in a lifetime—maybe all you hoped to make in a lifetime. Each talent in this parable is that kind of wealth.

The master gives one servant five talents, another two, and the last a single talent. Now, this is where the parable gets hard to hear. The problem is that we have a word, “talent,” that means “ability” or “skill”. Singing, for example, is a talent. So, when we hear of a servant given one talent and another given five talents, it sounds like we are talking about abilities or skills, and then the parable immediately sounds different.

What have you done with the talents God entrusted to you?” “Talent” refers to our God-given gifts and abilities. The parable tells of three persons entrusted with great responsibility. Even the one who was given the care of a single talent was entrusted with much. Each of them would have to risk much if they wanted to show a return on investment.

In the parable, the first two servants doubled the master’s money. Each was rewarded with more money. The reward for faithfulness was more responsibility. Then came that fateful last servant. This last servant risked nothing. It was safe. There was little risk in digging a hole and hiding the loot. There was also no potential gain. And for not taking any risk with the money entrusted to him, the servant gets the worst possible punishment as his reward.

Jesus taught that the heart of the Good News is love. Our world was created for love, which means the freedom to do great evil as well as good. There is no other way. God gave us choices and through our choices, we can get hurt and we can hurt others. A universe where real love is an option is a risky place, as pain and suffering are not only possible, but likely. This world is not only a world of pain and suffering, but also a world of generosity, kindness, and self-sacrificial love.

God invested so much love in you through Jesus’ life and ministry, his death and resurrection. You can never repay that love. The good news is that you don’t exactly have to pay Jesus back, as much as pay it forward. God is not looking for a return on investment in quite the same way as the hard landowner in the parable.

At the heart of this parable is really faith and trust that when we step out in faith, God will not leave us alone. Living the Gospel always involves risk. Risk is inherent in saying, “I love you,” or in asking for forgiveness, or in offering to reconcile with someone who hurt you. God has shown you great love and asks only that you share that love with others. When you take the risk to love, it is the grace of God working through you that does the heavy lifting. Living into the love of God happens through concrete actions toward others as we give as we have been given and forgive as we have been forgiven.

How might you share the love of God with someone today? Who do you need to ask for forgiveness? Who do you need to forgive? In whom might you invest the love that God has shown you? What would you risk for love if you knew you couldn’t fail? 


I have been writing for six years producing my reflections on the Sunday Readings from the Three Year Lectionary. These thoughts have been developed from various writers I have been reading and my own reactions. However after six years I am going to end this exercise on the feast of Christ the King for Sunday November 22nd 2020I thank all who have taken the time to read the blog and even at times feed back.
Rev John Candy
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

What Are We To Do...,

November 5, 2020 - 9:25pm

What are we to do with Jesus parable of wise and foolish bridesmaids we find in Matthew 25 set for reading this week? It’s not easy to be sympathetic with any of the characters here. The bridegroom sends out invitations but shows up hours late himself and then shuts the door on half of the bridesmaids. Those maidens who get shut out are off trying to buy oil in the middle of the night, when the wedding is about to begin. 

Meanwhile, the bridesmaids who did bring extra oil won’t share it and come off looking selfish and snotty. And what shall we do with a parable that speaks about God closing the door to heaven? That much seems clear at the wedding banquet represents the joy of being in the presence of God. A month ago, we heard another parable about a wedding feast, in which the king sends out invitations to his son’s wedding feast, only to have the invitations refused. Not to be deterred, he invites in whoever is standing at the street corners and has a huge party anyway.

Once again in today’s parable, everyone is invited to the banquet. So why does anyone get shut out? They all do show up; they all do bring their lamps; they all are ready. Could the problem be their lack of watchfulness? True, the bridesmaids do fall asleep while they’re waiting; and Jesus admonishes us at the end of the parable to act. Keep awake and act, for you know neither the day nor the hour. 

But let’s be fair asall the bridesmaids fall asleep, the wise and the foolish alike, yet half of them end up enjoying the wedding anyhow. That leaves us with the oil. We are told the wise maidens bring extra oil, and the foolish ones don’t. That sounds simple enough, but we’re on pretty shaky ground if we look for the easy answers, and decide that the oil represents Goodness, or Piety, or Works, or even Faith. If we do, then it starts to sound as though what’s important is the amount of oil we’re carrying around and it’s as though we all ought to be doing extra good deeds, or praying extra hard, or living a perfect life, so that we can store up a spare flask full of midnight oil, ready to burn if the Messiah decides to pull a pop quiz at the end of days.

The pattern of Jesus’ teaching throughout the gospels simply doesn’t support that viewpoint. Instead, in his parables the invitations always go out to everyone, the pay is the same for those who start work early or late, and everyone is considered a faithful servant so long as they don’t bury their gifts. No, it’s not that the foolish bridesmaids are shut out because they don’t have enough oil and after all, their lamps are trimmed and still burning when the bridegroom’s arrival is announced.

They get excluded because they’re so worried their lamps might go out that they run off in search of extra oil, and wind up missing their grand entrance. What they seem to forget is that God hasn’t retired from the miracle business; that in fact, God seems particularly fond of weddings, of making a little go a long way, and of keeping oil burning when it really matters. Jesus turned an ordinary wedding into a foretaste of the banquet to come when he turned water into wine. He defied scarcity with the abundance of the kingdom of God and fed thousands from a small boy’s lunch. 

Mindful of God’s abundance, consider the passage from the book of Wisdom that was offered for this week as an alternate reading in place of the psalm: Wisdom is radiant and unfading, and she is easily discerned by those who love her, and is found by those who seek her. She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her. One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty, for she will be found sitting at the gate. To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding, And one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care, because she goes about seeking those worthy of her, and she graciously appears to them in their paths, and meets them in every thought.

We don’t need to chase after Wisdom as just seeking her is enough. In fact, Wisdom herself is seeking us. Now we can see how the foolish bridesmaids have gone astray. Instead of trusting that they can find Wisdom sitting alongside them at the gate, they run off to the marketplace of ideas in search of illumination. Instead of trusting that Wisdom is radiant and unfading, they worry that their own little lamps won’t be enough for the bridegroom’s party. So, they hurry off, hoping to find someone who can sell them some security, who can take their money and hand them a nicely packaged flask of enlightenment that will be sufficient to please the bridegroom. Perhaps if the foolish bridesmaids had trusted that wisdom is unfading, they would have stayed and greeted the bridegroom and would have been welcomed into the feast.

Perhaps the wise maidens never even needed to open their extra flasks, because the banquet hall itself was so brilliantly lit. You see, God doesn’t only perform miracles with oil and with water or the sorts of miracles that defy the physical laws of nature. God’s greatest miracles are those that defy the laws of human nature, our ingrained expectations of work and reward. We’re used to thinking that doing more gets us more, that by and large we are rewarded in proportion to our effort. But the Bridegroom does not open the door to us because of more work, or even more faith. He opens the door to us so long as we keep our lamps burning for him; so long as our faith allows us wisdom enough or even a gallon of wisdom or one radiant drop is present to answer his gracious invitation and await his arrival at the feast.



Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Are You Seeking Fulfilment as a Saint?

October 30, 2020 - 12:23am

Someone has described a saint as an ordinary Christian who does ordinary things extraordinarily well. That’s certainly not the New Testament definition, although it’s not a bad start.  In the secular world we have all sorts of odd ideas about what a saint is.

If you look at the scripture lessons appointed for this week in the Lectionary, we are given a vision of heaven, filled with people wearing white robes praising God. It’s perhaps quite difficult for us to imagine ourselves in such a context. It has the same effect, in a way, as those stained-glass window depictions of people who look very holy and have soup plates behind their heads. It’s difficult to think that perhaps one day, we who follow the Christian way might be depicted in a stained-glass window.

St. Paul the writer of about only seven of the many letters in scripture attributed to him writes in Ephesians in a praising mood for a change. He uses the word “saint” to describe all Christian people and goes to some lengths to describe what a saint is like. But let’s focus on the famous Beatitudes or “Blessed” passages found in Matthew 5. Jesus identifies such experiences as poverty, hunger, grief, and persecution as marks of the blessed, and wealth, plenty, happiness, and being thought well of as marks of those who are not pleasing to God. It is a difficult reading for all of us in our world to hear. 

Of course, we like to hear the Beatitudes just as we like to hear St Paul talking about love. But where do we fit into all this? Well we Christians are often told that in Baptism we become part of the priesthood of the church. The laity is not a group of expectant observers, but fulfilled ministers, each with an active vocation. Humans find it very hard to accept this idea. After all that’s what church and clergy are for.

As Christians we are also called In our Baptisms to be and become saints. If we concentrate on the idea that saints are very, very good people, nearly perfect, then we will miss the point. Many saints have been very bad, while becoming rather good. However positive we may feel about ourselves, however strong our “self-esteem,” few of us think we are good enough to be saints. 

We Christians ask the wrong question and get the wrong answer. We ask whether we are good enough to be saints, when we should be asking whether we are dedicated enough to be saints.  Dedication means single-mindedness, the sort of emphasis we put on our hobbies, our golf game, our Rugby, our business, and even perhaps on our human relationships.  

It is amazing how single minded we can be about our politics, particularly as we look to elections all around us and during this Covid Pandemic the performance of our leaders. This may come out even if we are following the elections for President of the USA or back at the elections in New Zealand.  It is that kind of commitment, dedication, or single-mindedness that marks a realised saint.

In some churches this week, everyone will sing rousingly, “I’ll sing a song of the saints of God,” which contains the line, “And I want to be one too.” Perhaps it should read, “And I want to realise that I am one too.”  

God’s grace, gift, enabling power is there for us to use as we live into our calling to be saints. Like all of God’s gifts, we realize that which we are being given when we actually do something with these gifts. Have you ever thought about the fact that there’s some saintly ministry in the universal church or community just waiting for you, personally, to become saintly about? Everything we attempt in Christ is aided by the prayers and fellowship of all those known and unknown saints who always surround us in love. In this company, we have security to do for Jesus the things we fear to do or even object to doing. 

In Matthew 5:39-48, Jesus tells us to "love your enemies and do good to those who hate you". The passage tells us that even God is kind to the wicked. After what we have endured from people, we deem wicked, this is really too much. But is it? Do you recall an experience when you hated someone continually for a period of time? What did it do for your life? Did it not cause as much pain as anything else? I am reminded of this ancient story oft told:

“A Native American grandfather was talking to his grandson about how he felt. He said, "I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one." The grandson asked him, "Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?" The grandfather answered, "The one I feed."

Saints are courageous because they insist on not letting hatred and evil gain control of their lives. They are faithful because they know without trust in God, they are weak and subject to whatever may befall them. Today the Church exists because they persevered with God, and each of us is invited to join their joyful company.

 



Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Truth-Tellers Are...

October 22, 2020 - 11:39pm

The story of fake news and the difficulty of knowing what is true is certainly a subject agonising many in our communities. But let me tell you, truth-tellers are uncomfortable people to be around. We proudly show Uncle John and Aunt Pat our church building. We do so with a certain amount of trepidation and particularly because they claim some sort of superior knowledge about church architecture. To make matters worse the Minister bumps into us as we are going into the "worship space" and is very proud of the new Holy Table and rearranged sanctuary. "O dear," groans Uncle John. "Frightful," says Aunt Pat. We pray that the floor will open and swallow us up.

Truth-tellers are uncomfortable people to be around. They comment on our hair, our clothes, our height, our books, our furniture, and delight in making us feel small. There are always a few in every congregation or area of mission and we avoid them like the plague! To them nothing is ever right, except themselves and their opinions.

This week we hear in our lectionary readings from St. Paul in the first letter of Thessalonians. You know St Paul seems to get such bad press nowadays that we are not at all surprised to find him boasting that he just tells the unvarnished truth. In this scripture we find him saying that you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.

We've heard that before. "I just tell it as it is. I don't care what other people think, and after all I am older than you."

But wait a moment. St Paul is full of surprises. He goes on to say to the Christians in Thessalonica (it's a place in much of what we now call Greece): But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. 

St. Paul has remarked that he had a terrible time when he was in Philippi. If he is referring to the incident recorded in Acts, Paul is remembering being beaten and thrown into jail. He might well have allowed his indignation towards his Jewish compatriots and the gentile authorities to harden and embitter him. Yet in all gentleness he brings the Good News to all the believers.

Sometimes it's difficult to think of Paul as gentle as it is for us to think of Jesus being tough. We have become so used to thinking that Jesus went around thinking, "I am God and I am meek and mild," that we can't see Jesus as being as human as we are, or should we say, Jesus as being as human as we ought to be?

The Gospel writer in our reading from Matthew this week has been recording how those with power and authority sought to trick Jesus into saying something that would get him in trouble. Just as in contemporary society, people love to label themselves, or submit to being labelled, so it was during the ministry of Jesus. Today in the church and the nation we have all types and genders with different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. Then, when Jesus lived, people identified with this or that and even belonged to groups labelled Pharisee and Sadducee and Herodian, "publican and sinner." The extraordinary thing is that even though they had grave differences, they were united in wanting to get rid of the Truth-Teller, Jesus.

We've all watched news conferences in which reporters seem as keen on tripping someone up as they are to discover truth. So, it was then. Question after question is hurled at Jesus. He avoids each and then a Pharisee, rulebook in hand, asks Jesus which rule is the best. Jesus tells them that the most important rule is not a rule at all, but rather a way of life.

"Love God and love one another," Jesus replies, quoting their own Hebrew Scriptures. And then he counters their claims to authority by stating that it is God's Chosen One, Messiah, Christ, whose authority is established by, with, and in LOVE.

We sometimes sing a song that contains these words: "You will know they are Christians by their love, by their love." Neither Jesus nor St. Paul confuses love with sentimentality-that love that avoids truth-telling. The love of the Gospel is a love that demands that each of us confront the truth about God and the truth about ourselves. And that's the sort of love we avoid.

It's interesting that Jesus avoids all the "nit-picking" questions thrown at him but confronts and silences his accusers by being a truth-teller about God and the purpose for which human beings have been created. The question for us is, how do we treat people who are different?

We find ourselves saying quite dreadful things about those who belong to another " group." There's still a good deal of snobbery among us. We still harbour racial hatred. We dislike foreigners.

Yet the Gospel, the truth to be told, tells us that there is a new kingdom among us, a very earthy kind of God-community, in which there is neither "Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free person." There are no outcasts, no second-class people; and even those who are caught up in evil are to be those whom we are to love gently as we tell the Gospel truth.

This is a very "earthy" message because it is not about our belonging to any particular group. "  It is all about a society whose purpose is to transform the world, most of all by the witness it gives to and in the world. When we divide, use power and authority to subject and push down, think that we are superior, we inevitably dehumanize people, and de-sanctify everything that God made. When we practice sacrificial love, we give back to God that which God has given us in Jesus, and that is the Gospel truth.

Paul and Jesus experienced how risky it is to tell people to live in accepting love, rather than in denouncing authority. When we truth-tell about love, we challenge those who find security in their own righteousness and pretended "control." Yet thousands of years after Jesus and his follower Paul, we meet to celebrate and own a better way, whatever the cost of this discipleship. At worship we Christians will turn and reach out either physically or emotionally to each other and start the "love way." God keep us in that way.



Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Render Unto Caesar.

October 16, 2020 - 12:39am

“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.” These words of Jesus from this week’s lectionary readings in Matthew 25:15-23, have become a sort of proverb both in the secular and religious worlds, and those who know little of scripture may still have heard “Render unto Caesar.” Yet, digging beneath the surface of this short encounter helps uncover some of the deeper currents in the exchange.

For me it’s an interesting combination of people that approach Jesus and Matthew tells us that the Pharisees come together with the Herodians. The Pharisees did not want to give money to their pagan oppressors and so were opposed to paying taxes to Rome. On the other hand, King Herod’s position of power came courtesy of the Romans, so even though the taxes were widely considered to be oppressive, the Herodians had a vested interest in keeping the Roman taxes paid. Therefore, the Pharisees and the Herodians each reflected one of the horns of the dilemma in the trap which the question to Jesus set out enmesh him in.


So, we have then the question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor or not?” The reference is to Jewish Law, which is also called the Law of Moses. Clearly, it was lawful to pay the tax by Rome’s standards; the question was whether it was proper for the Hebrew people to do so.


On the surface it would seem that Jesus has been presented with a question with no way out. He can’t speak against the tax, for that would anger the Herodians and lead to a charge of treason against Rome. He could not speak in favour of the tax without alienating most of the crowds that followed him. So, what did he do? Well, Jesus asks for one of the coins used in paying the tax. And as he does this, he begins to set up his own trap that will prove at least one of the questioners to be a hypocrite. The coin used for the tax was a silver Denarius with the image of Caesar on one side, and the image of a woman named Pax or personified peace on the other. Now such coins were against Jewish Law, which prohibited graven images being used or touched.


When Jesus asks for a Denarius, one is quickly located and handed to him. Jesus then asks the question that everyone in Israel could have answered without a coin in hand. In our reading for this week the New Revised Standard Version, translation states, “Whose head is this and whose title?” However, it is probably better to use the translation “likeness,” instead of title. When they answer Jesus’ question, saying that the image and likeness are “Caesar’s,” Jesus replies that they are to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Give Caesar back those things that are Caesar’s. It is his coin anyway, who cares if you give Caesar back his coin for the tax?


Then Jesus gives the most amazing line of this short encounter when he continues by saying that we are to “give back to God the things that are God’s.” It leaves everyone calculating what exactly is God’s that we are supposed to give back. And in case you were wondering, the clue was the word “icon” or “image” and the word “likeness.”


The principle really is this: Just as the coin has Caesar’s icon on it, so it is Caesar’s, we who believe in  the one God believe we are made in the image and likeness of God, so we are God’s. Jesus affirmed the tax while making it all but irrelevant. He then implies that, though we do owe the state, there are limits to what we owe. Yet, Jesus places no limits regarding what we owe to God. Jesus is very clear that everything you have and everything you are is God’s already.


While this would certainly apply to the money you make, the formula is not that you give 100 percent of your income to God, for God knows you need the money for the necessities of life. The teaching is that once you have given God some of the money you earn, don’t feel that you have bought off an obligation. God wants to share in some of your time and energy, so the 100 percent formula relates to your calendar as well as your wallet.


The point is that you have been made in the image and likeness of God. God loves you. God keeps your picture in the divine wallet and on the heavenly refrigerator. Jesus did not care about the tax, for his real concern was that you live into the image and likeness of the God who lovingly created you.


You begin to live into the image and likeness of God by conforming your life to be more like Jesus’ life.


To live more fully into that image and likeness of God that is in you, give back your heart to God – for it is God’s anyway. In answer to the question, “What are the things that are God’s which we are to give back to God?” the answer is, “You.”

 


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Expect the Unexpected.

October 8, 2020 - 9:24pm

The readings set in the Churches Lectionary this week are from Exodus 32 and Matthew 22 and are about the unexpected.  We live in a world of the unexpected. Just look at events over the last year or so with fire, flood, political incompetence and a Pandemic. Moses has been up on the mountain for a long time and the people are getting worried, even scared.  They don’t really know where Moses has gone, or why—they don’t understand.  Like so many times during their journey, they are confused and scared, and they lose faith which is not surprising.  They ask Aaron to make gods for them and he makes a golden calf which of course God sees. 

God tells Moses to go back down to the people, whom God threatens to destroy.  God’s anger is not so surprising, but Moses begs God to reconsider, and reminds God of the promises made to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Then comes the surprise, the unexpected:  God changes his mind and relents. 

In Matthew we have the strange story of the king who held a wedding banquet for his son.  The invited guests would not come, so the king sent his slaves out to bring people in from the street. He seems surprised to find a guest who is not dressed “appropriately,” and orders the slaves to bind the man and toss him “into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” We might think that this is just a strange, rude, unkind man, full of himself and his power as king.  We might think this is just an odd story, if it weren’t for the opening sentence of this passage: 

“Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: ‘the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.’” “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to….”  We get the part about the kingdom of heaven being like a wedding banquet.  The story starts out in a seemingly normal way, but quickly takes a strange turn when the guests refuse to attend the party.  This is unexpected behaviour.  We can understand the connection between the kingdom of heaven and people being invited in from the streets—this makes sense to us. 

But then there is the unexpected behaviour of the king toward one of the guests who was probably poor and from the streets but isn’t dressed in appropriate wedding clothes. The king has him bound and thrown out into the darkness.  What does this say about the kingdom of heaven? We are shocked and surprised, as were those listening to Jesus because in many cultures, hospitality was very important to people.  It would have been unforgivable for guests or hosts to behave in such a manner.  The listeners would have been shocked and offended, especially when Jesus compared this story to the kingdom of heaven.

Perhaps that was the point as Jesus often made unusual, surprising or uncomfortable comparisons in his parables.  Once again, he challenges the assumptions of those listening, shocking them with a surprising or unexpected story. But why would he tell such a story about the kingdom of heaven?  It was not just for shock value as Jesus wants to expand people’s perceptions.  He was not saying that the kingdom of heaven is like the king or the banquet or the guests.  He is saying that the kingdom of heaven is beyond our expectations, beyond our assumptions, beyond what we can analyse and think through and get our heads around. 

It is saying to us that there is always more than what we can see. God will always surprise us; will always confront us with the unexpected.  We are called to be open to more and not just to rest in the comfortable assumption that we know all about God. The Parables of Jesus make us uncomfortable.  We don’t know what to do with them, these strange, confusing parables. We usually ignore them or try to find some way to explain them away— “well, this is what this really means.”

But there is a way of understanding them, without taking them literally.  Jesus is deliberately provocative and challenges our preconceived ideas about what God and the kingdom of heaven are like.  We all have our favourite ideas of what the kingdom of heaven might be like.  Jesus is telling us that it will be like nothing we can imagine.  In that over-used phrase, Jesus is inviting us to “think outside the box.” Because the truth is that we cannot know for certain. 

This does not mean we are stupid, but we are human, and our knowledge and our understanding are limited.  Even though we contain a spark of the divine, even though we are made in God’s image, we are not God. The most we can hope for in this lifetime are glimpses—through story and scripture, through prayer and meditation, through music and through our experiences.  If we are open to the Spirit, if we listen, if we pay attention, we can catch a glimpse here and there of the kingdom.

These are the glimpses when Paul the writer of Philippians speaks in the Letter to the Philippians. He says,

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing,
whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and
if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

These are all things of the kingdom.  The only things Paul left out of his list might be “whatever is surprising, whatever is unexpected.”  It is often through those things that God speaks to us.

 


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