|First Sunday in Advent, Year B||December 3, 2017||First Sunday of Advent, Year B||Mark 13:24-37|
|Christ the King, Year A||November 26, 2017||Christ the King Year A||Matthew 25:31-46|
|Thanksgiving, Year A||November 22, 2017||Thanksgiving, Year A||Psalm 65|
|Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A||November 19, 2017||Proper 24, Year A||Matthew 25:36-37|
|Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A||November 12, 2017||Proper 27, Year A||Matthew 25:1-13|
|All Saints, Year A||November 5, 2017||All Saints’ Day, Year A||Matthew 5:1-12|
|Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost, Year A||October 29, 2017||Proper 25, Year A||Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; Matthew 22:34-46|
|➤Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A||October 22, 2017||Proper 24, Year A||Isaiah 45:1-7, Psalm 96, I Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22|
|Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A||October 15, 2017||Proper 23, Year A||Isaiah 25:1-9, Psalm 23, Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14|
|Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A||October 8, 2017||Proper 22, Year A||Isaiah 5:1-7, Matthew 21:33-46|
|The Season of Creation, Week 5, Year A||October 1, 2017||The Season of Creation, Week 5, Year A||Matthew 6:25-33|
|The Season of Creation, Week 4, Year A||September 24, 2017||The Season of Creation, Week 4, Year A||Leviticus 25:1-7, Hebrews 4:1-11, John 6:1-15|
|The Season of Creation, Week 3, Year A||September 17, 2017||The Season of Creation, Year A, Week 3||Deuteronomy 28:1-14, Psalm 65, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, Matthew 6:19-24|
|The Season of Creation, Week 2, Year A||September 10, 2017||The Season of Creation, Year A, Week 2||Job 38:1-18, Psalm 139, Romans 1:18-25, Matthew 5:13-16|
|The Season of Creation, Week 1, Year A||September 3, 2017||Season of Creation 1, Year A||Job 37:14-24,Psalm 130,Revelation 4,Matthew 8:23-27|
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
Sermon Date:October 22, 2017
Scripture: Isaiah 45:1-7, Psalm 96, I Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22
Liturgy Calendar: Proper 24, Year A
"The Tribute Money" – Peter P. Ruens (1512)
We are chosen!
The minute we are conceived, God chooses us.
In Psalm 139, the psalmist says to God,
“God, you are the one who created my innermost parts; you knit me together while I was still in my mother’s womb. I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart.”
Yes, even before we are born, God chooses us.
We get chosen by God all over again at our baptisms.
When we get baptized, adopted into the household of God, the Church, we claim the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
After the baptism itself comes the sealing, when the baptized person is marked with a cross on the forehead.
“You are sealed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and marked as Christ’s own forever.”
Throughout our lives, we grow into this power of the Holy Spirit that we visibly receive in that sign of the cross on our foreheads at baptism.
Paul praises the Thessalonians in today’s lectionary reading for growing into the power of the Holy Spirit in several ways.
First, they have received the word of God with joy.
Deep and true inward joy, that joy we have down in our hearts, is a hallmark of the power of the Holy Spirit and God at work in our lives. “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice,” as Paul wrote to another church at Philippi.
And in today’s Psalm the Psalmist says, “Sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord, all the whole earth.”
Second, the Thessalonians have become examples to other believers, because they have spread the word of God to all the surrounding areas, and to all who have even heard of them.
Third, they are people of hospitality—the radical hospitality of Jesus himself, who welcomes not just the respectable, well to do people, but the outcasts and sinners, the people looked down on or forgotten by the rest of the world.
And the Thessalonians have left idols behind to serve the living and true God, who sent the resurrected Jesus to be among us as one of us.
Imagine the Apostle Paul coming to be with us, guiding and teaching us for a time, and then writing to us later.
I think that Paul would be able to say that we, too, are joyful people who spread the word of God through our witness to the community. Paul would say that we, too, are hospitable people of welcome. And Paul would see that we worship God instead of idols.
But any of these things can be hard to do in the current upheavals in our life together as a nation.
Today’s readings tackle this thorny and worrisome issue of how to live in divisive times by addressing the following question.
How does God work through history, through the rise and fall of nations?
We wonder– “Where is God in all that goes on in the United States and in the world?”
Sometimes we question whether or not God is even paying attention to the things that go on in this nation and among the nations, things that worry us, make us anxious, make us angry, or frustrated.
Good news! Yes, God is definitely paying attention, and even intervening, although we, with our limited perspectives, have trouble seeing the hand of God in many of the things that go on in the world.
Today’s Old Testament reading is an example of God at work in unlikely circumstances, through unlikely people.
The chosen people of God, the Israelites, were hauled away by their conquerors the Babylonians and sent away into exile in Babylon.
Today’s reading describes the coming of Cyrus, the leader of the Assyrians, who is going to conquer the Babylonians, free the Israelites, and let them return to Jerusalem.
Cyrus doesn’t even know that God has chosen him do God’s work of returning the Israelites home from exile.
At the end of the reading, God makes this statement.
“I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things.”
That is, in the course of history, God is in control of the well-being, prosperity and happiness, and also the sorrows of nations.
The interesting problem that God has, though, is that God has given us free will, so we also, through our actions as individuals and as a nation, have the power to create weal and woe, and we human beings have a habit of making a mess of things.
BUT God, the Creator, is in control of history.
This is good news.
Even so, we still have real difficulty being able to figure out the best way to live into being God’s chosen people here and now.
The Jewish people, who lived under Roman rule, had the same problems. How were they to live as God’s chosen people when they also had to live under Caesar’s rule? They were expected to believe that Caesar himself was a god who should be worshipped.
They had the same problem/temptation that followers of God have always had—giving their first allegiance to God, or their first allegiance to someone or something else.
The Pharisees and Herodians ask Jesus a question about allegiance—is he loyal to God or to Caesar? No matter what side Jesus chooses, someone is going to be angry with him.
“Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
Jesus takes the Roman coin used for the tax, and looking at the head of Caesar stamped on the coin, says, “Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
The profound answer that Jesus gave can guide us today.
Jesus says that we must live in the world together, and part of living in the world is to deal with imperfect institutions and the requirements of those institutions.
But what we must remember is that we are chosen by God, we belong to God, and our allegiance to God comes before any other allegiance.
We are made in God’s image. God’s image was stamped on us at creation. On the sixth day, the writer of Genesis tells us that God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created us.
God chose us at creation to be his divine image in the world.
And so our task as Christians is to give God our complete allegiance and let that allegiance shape how we live in the world.
Ultimately, Jesus ended up dying on a cross because he did give God complete allegiance, over his allegiance to the temple authorities or to Rome.
Another example from our own fairly recent history is the witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor and founding member of the Confessing Church and also a loyal German citizen. Bonhoeffer found that his allegiance to God ended up conflicting with his allegiance to his country when Hitler came to power. Bonhoeffer was arrested for his part in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, and was put to death by hanging just before his concentration camp was liberated at the end of the war.
Even though he spent a year and a half in prison, before he was put to death, Bonhoeffer never lost his allegiance to God, so he could offer joy and hospitality to his fellow prisoners and to the guards who held him captive.
He wrote encouraging letters to his anxious family back home. He had hope in God and he shared that hope with others. Through his example, he spread the good news of God’s not so obvious salvation.
We may not be called to offer such a radical witness of our allegiance to God.
But we are all called to do God’s work in the world.
After communion each Sunday, in the closing prayer, we ask God to send us out into the world in peace, and to grant us strength and courage to love and serve God with gladness and singleness of heart—that is, with joy, and with complete allegiance to God.
God has equipped us with the Holy Spirit.
In thanksgiving, our calling is to put the power of the Holy Spirit to work out in the world—
to be joyful people,
to offer God’s hospitality to everyone,
and to spread the good news of our hope in the one God, who made all that is and who is in control of all that is to come, far beyond the times visible to us.