“People, Let Me Tell ‘Bout My Best Friend”
Exodus 33:12-23 and Matthew 22:15-22
October 16, 2011
First Christian Church
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag, of the United States of America, and to the Republic, for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
That, of course, is the Pledge of Allegiance, and if I were a betting man, I would say most of you had said these words at some point when you were in elementary school. I remember saying this myself back in second grand at Emmanuel Lutheran School in Flint, Michigan circa 1978.
As a kid, I thought that the word “indivisible” was “invisible.” That didn’t make much sense to me since I didn’t think Americans were granted with special powers that make them invisible.
The Pledge of Allegiance is a marker, it’s a way to say to others that the persons saying the pledge are Americans and they vow to support the flag of the United States and the nation that stands behind that flag.
As Americans, it’s rather easy to say that we pledge our allegiance to this nation, especially in times of crisis. I remember what things were like after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Many of us decided to show the flag, quite literally. It was a way of showing solidarity and unity in a time of sorry.
We also show allegiance in some les glamorous ways like paying taxes to fund things like military or our schools or social services. In many ways, we show our support to our society in some way. As Americans it makes sense to support out nation, either through actions like saying the pledge of allegiance or pay taxes. So, what does it means to be a Christian in this context? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus and have other responsibilities such as love of country or love of our friends and family? Jesus calls us to be followers, to be disciples, to place Christ above everything. Why? Because God wants it all, and everything is God’s.
In today’s gospel, Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees. Now the Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day and they really didn’t care for Jesus much. They were always trying to find ways to trap Jesus and this time was no different. They came up to Jesus a started things off by trying to flatter Jesus. “Teacher, we know you have integrity, teach the way of God accurately, are indifferent to popular opinion, and don’t pander to your students,” they say. You can probably see Jesus quietly rolling his eyes at this attempt of flattery. Then they drop the bomb: “Is it right to pay taxes to Ceasar, or not?”
Jesus knew what their game was: they were hoping to trap Jesus and on the surface, it looked like a no-win situation. If Jesus said that one should pay the tax, then Jesus would be in trouble. You see, Israel was under the thumb of the Roman Empire and no Jew liked the Romans. If Jesus said that it was right to pay taxes, then it makes Jesus a collaborator. On the other hand, if Jesus said that one should not pay taxes that would make him an agitator against Rome and the Romans didn’t look kindly on troublemakers.
The Pharisees thought they had Jesus in the corner. There was no way he could get out of this. They had him.
Jesus then asks the Pharisees, “Give me a coin.”
And they gave Jesus a coin. By doing this, they had already lost. You see, the coin had an image of Ceasar on it. This was considered a graven image and no Jew was supposed to worship a thing. Having a coin was considered the same as worshipping the Ceasar.
So, here we have Jesus looking at the coin and he finally says, “Give to Ceasar what is Ceasar’s, give to God what is God’s.”
Jesus’ answer is somewhat cryptic. What was Jesus talking about it here?
What Jesus was talking about here is discipleship. When we are called to follow Jesus, we are called to give all that we have to Christ. Not 10 percent. Not 50 percent. But 100 percent.
The God that we believe in is a God that created all of creation. Even if Ceasar claims power over Rome, but this is all God’s world. God is over Ceasar.
God doesn’t want us just on Sunday, but God wants us 24/7. We are called to put God first not just today, but also at work or at school or anywhere and everywhere.
In Exodus, we see God and Moses having a conversation. God is still a bit upset with the Israelites. While God and Moses were chatting, the people of Israel decided to forget that God led them out of Egypt and decided to make a golden calf to worship. God got angry and was ready to hit the reset button. Moses was able to calm God down, but God was now thinking of just sending God presence along with the people and not go on the journey with them. Moses pleads for God to come with the Israelites. After a while, Moses asks God a question. It wasn’t a question as much as a demand. Moses wanted to see God face-to-face. Now God wasn’t sold on the idea, since no mere mortal could see God and live. So what Moses has to settle for is getting to see God’s backside.
So, what’s the point of that encounter and how in the world do it tie with the texts in Matthew? When God says God wants to be Number One in our lives, its is not like being a spoiled kid that wants all the toys. Instead, think of it more as a marriage. God seeks a relationship with us, to want to continue learning more about God and for God to know us more. When marriages are going well, they are supposed to be all-comsuming. We are called to put our partner first and as some marriage vows says “forsaking all others.”
God calls us to be disciples of Christ. We are called to be in relationship with God and give our whole lives to know God. We not called to be “Sunday Chrisitans.” No , we are called to be followers of Christ all the time.
How do we become intimate with God? We do that by coming together for prayer, learning about God through study, feeding the poor in Christ’s name. We love God and give God are all by learning to spend time with God.
In this time of change here at First a question has been going around: what is the mission of First Christian Church? We are still trying to discern the answer, but I hope we remember that part of our mission is not as much doing something as much as it is, being something. We are called to be a place where disciples are made, where people can come into relationship with God and with each other. If we don’t have that as part of our make up, then we quit being church.
I want to close today with our mission statement. Now the elders and others in the church are taking a good look at this statement as well as our vision statement and there has been a lot of talk about overhauling both statements. But right now, I want to share our current mission statement. It goes like this: In response to the grace of God, the mission of First Christian Church is to be a Christ-centered presence, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, and to witness through service to God’s World.
This isn’t a perfect statement, but I want you to hear what it says: it is calling us to full time discipleship. Responding to God’s grace, we pledge to live like Christ in our world and to be or service in where? God’s world.
So as we head back to work or school or community centers tomorrow, remember: this is God’s world. Let’s live like we believe that. Thanks be to God. Amen.