Welcome to the gathering of St. Mark’s Church (Sunday worship under one roof) Sunday, October 18th 2020.
Genesis 1 (abbreviated)
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” God named the light, “day,” the darkness “night.”And God said, “Let there be a vault.” God named the vault “sky.” And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” God named the ground, “land,” and the gathered water, “seas.” And God said, “Let the land produce vegetation.” And God said, “Let there be lights in the sky to separate the day from the night, And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above. And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds.
And it was so. God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created humankind in God’s own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.
I invite you now to a time of prayerful reflection. Can I invite the choir to come up? Thank you. As the choir sings may we prayerfully reflect on the God who creates and delights and invites us to bear this image in true worship.
Detail from Creation by Donald Jackson, in The Saint John’s Bible
For the beauty of the earth
For the beauty of the skies
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our joyful hymn of praise
Choir: ‘For the Beauty of the Earth’ by Rutter
Song: ‘All People That On Earth Do Dwell’
Welcome and Notices:
Praying the Psalm:
We will pray a psalm together. Before we do, let me give an explanation. This psalm arises from the experience of disconnect between the world God has created in delight and joy and the world we experience of discord and violence. False gods are upheld to promote and justify injustice as long as it suits me and profits me. We idolize power and our institution as gods. We subdue people and our environment as if they are for our disposal. Yet the Lord God, the true God is the Creator of a loving world, who is truly king of love. This is a prayer of hope for new creation, therefore a new song. This psalm invites us to imagine God singing creation into being in holy delight rather than commanding in self-importance. Therefore, all creation, all peoples shall sing joining in God’s delight, this our joyful hymn of praise.
Where do you experience the disconnect between the world as God intended and the world gone astray? Where do you see the image of pomposity of false gods? Where do you see idolization of power and institutions? What do we idolize as god? Do we bear a false image? Let us pray this psalm of hope of new creation together that we join in with God who recreates the world in and through the life, death and new life of Jesus Christ that we shall live to the true image of God who creates, recreates, and inspires us to be the image of Christ to the world.
Please respond with the words in bold
Psalm 96:1-13 (abridged for worship)
Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
The Lord is greatly to be praised above all gods,
for great is the Lord.
Let all false gods be named as idols
for the Lord has created the heavens and the earth.
O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!
He will judge the peoples with equity.”
Let the heavens be glad,
and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it.
All the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord;
for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will rule the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth.
Prayer for others
We respond by singing the Lord’s Prayer together [offering to be brought up during the chorus “Amen”]:
Offering and Dedication Prayer:
Song: ‘Every Day’
Scripture: Matthew 22:15-22
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “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. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “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.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed. Friends, what’s your reaction to Jesus’ words? Why were they amazed? More importantly, once amazed, why would they leave him and go away? Why won’t they change their ways?
Over the last few Sundays, we have seen Jesus and religious authorities in dispute. The intensity is growing and getting really serious. It becomes so serious that the authorities will shake hands with those who oppress their own people to crucify Jesus.
Today we see that the Pharisees and the Herodians are plotting together to entrap Jesus in his words. We have seen something of this over our election period. Interestingly, Pharisees and the Herodians don’t really have much in common. They don’t see things eye to eye.
Pharisees can be characterized as those who are committed to an ideal sense of pure worship and following of God. The name Pharisees derive from the word meaning “to be separated.” In this way perhaps, they are the kind of people who may advocate a kind of existence keeping separate from the world. For them, to follow God means to turn your back on the world. In their lives, this converted to a strong opposition against the Roman Empire and their oppression. To this extent Jesus had much in common with the Pharisees.
There isn’t much information on who Herodians are. But by their name, we can deduce that they are likely to have been a religious group who had a more relaxed approach to the Roman Empire. Accepting Roman system of occupation, and taxation as inevitable. They were obviously allies of Herod, a minion of Rome, ruling over Israel to the delight of the Emperor. Let’s go along and get along with it.
Though the two groups had opposing views to one another, in this instance they scheme together to rid of their common enemy – Jesus. They lay a trap for him. They begin with flattery portraying him as a sincere person who would not bend the truth, who would not be swayed by people. What’s ironic about this is that in fact this is exactly what they are not. Yet here they are putting Jesus on the spot: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
This is indeed a trap. If he were to say that it is illegal, then he will find himself on the wrong side of the Roman law and be tried for treason and inciting social unrest. If he were to say that to pay taxes to the oppressive power is legal, Jesus will lose the heart of the people who are desperately hopeful for a leader to rise up against their oppressors. This is why tax collectors are often mentioned as social outcasts for they made their living by acting on behalf of the oppressors who taxed unfairly. Either way, Jesus will be condemned.
Now Jesus names what they are doing as hypocrisy. Jesus doesn’t do courtesy, manners, when faced with injustice. He names who they are for doing what they do – insincere, double standard, dishonest, hypocrites. Then Jesus asks the Pharisees and the Herodians to provide a coin used for the tax. A coin would have an image of the Emperor bearing his name imprinted on it on one side, on the other it shows the way in which his empire is ruled. It claims Roman peace, which is paved through Romans taking things that are not theirs through military power and economic subjugation. This illustrates whose currency it is. So Jesus says: Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
So what’s amazing about Jesus’ reply? Well, first, his answer doesn’t implicate himself by walking into their trap of either or. In fact, Jesus reframes their question requiring one or the other into a both and. Roman Empire would be happy with Jesus’ answer. They would not care as long as they get their money. The fact that they cannot find him at fault, to accuse him of wrong doing is very significant. For when the time comes, the religious authorities will have to employ arbitrary power to rid of him rather than truth. It will uncover who they really are – people who will kill, who will use violence, to maintain their power, bearing the image of Emperor and his ways. No wonder they would kill Jesus, for Jesus is the image of something other than the emperor that opposes his ways. Jesus is the image of God and humanity as intended and dreamed by God. However, more importantly, what’s amazing about Jesus’ answer is that it would have been liberating for those who see the world as Jesus does.
We began with the words of Genesis 1. This is a song that proclaims everything that is created is God’s. All that has life has an imprint of God. God created the world with delight and joy, as a gift. Unlike the Roman Emperor, this God is a benevolent God who gives rather than takes. In other words, this is a subversive comment. What is a currency of a denarius when there is a currency of life we see in the cycle and ecosystem of day and night, seasons, forests, land, seas. What is a man, sure even an emperor who are so bent on imprinting his image on lifeless things to claim as theirs against the unfathomable diversity and abundance of life!
Poem: Currency of Living by Joy Cowley
I am not sure where I am with money.
When I’ve had very little of it,
I’ve been full of theories about sharing;
but when I’ve had more than enough,
the money changer in my temple
tens to label the surplus “my” and “mine”
I can’t imagine the world without money
and yet it’s difficult to use it wisely.
Jesus said that where our treasure is,
that’s where out hearts are also.
I think I know what he meant,
but it still doesn’t prevent me
from getting my values mixed up.
Where is my treasure?
Where is my heart?
I think it helps when I remember
just whose earth this really is.
It’s a truth that everything I have,
including myself, is a gift from God.
Nothing can be earned, nothing owned,
nothing labeled with my name.
When I remember that,
my heart shifts focus.
I lose sight of the “my” and “mine”
of material possessions
and I reach out to worship
not the gifts but the Giver.
Ultimately, Jesus is calling God as Lord of all over and against the emperor who poses as king. Jesus is calling those who believe God as the giver of life, one who has created all as gift, to worship God as we should offering that which God has given – everything. This includes ourselves. We are created in the image of God. There is an image of God imprinted in the very core of our being. Then let us live reflecting that face. Let us live in ways that we delight and rejoice in life, life in abundance, life held lightly, life in offering to God for the goodness of the world, life in upholding the beauty of creation, life in upholding the beauty of the face we see in one another – God of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.
Choir: ‘Kyrie’ from the Mass in G by Schubert
Song: ‘Rejoice, The Lord Is King’
Sharing the Peace of Christ: Peace of Christ be with you
Song of Sending: ‘Now Unto Him’
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, the Communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all now and forever. Amen.