I guess this qualifies as my second sermon though it’s really too short to be one, which is why I called it a Meditation. The service was all that I hoped for, a mood and sensory experience that stretched my creative boundaries and taught me so much about what it takes to produce a worship service. Thanks to Jan we even had a real thurifer, a gentleman from her church who brought coals and frankincense along with a censer to swing when we processed in. It was wonderful. “Smells and Bells” as some like to call it. I don’t think anyone will ever make me lose my love of the high church. I had a huge adrenaline rush afterward and was so grateful to my fellow Chaplains, Rosalie, Patricia, and Danielle who all helped make it happen. I was also overjoyed to have gotten to do this service with The Reverend Lisa Graves, it was such a special moment in my spiritual life and it was perfect to share it with her. She is a wonderful teacher and supporter and made me feel confident and safe no matter what happened. The Chaplain Jan Fuller helped me make the meditation chapel ready and find long unused altar cloths and communion vessels. She provided the wine and the bread and was a wonderful leader of the prayers of the people. A new SRLA member, Christina Domingue, already becoming a good friend, DJ’d the music that helped set the mood. All of us united to make this service happen, and the congregants gathered together share a special worship experience.
This is the Gospel reading:
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
The Currency of God
Come Holy Spirit and Kindle in Us the fire of your love
Take our minds and think through them
Take our lips and speak through them
Take our souls and set them on fire
Today’s Gospel reading showcases Jesus’s uncanny, some might say, supernatural, ability to answer tough questions in the middle of the most trying of political circumstances. In this situation he is approached by the Pharisees who ask him if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not. Every Jewish citizen paid two kinds of tax, the temple tax or tithe and the tax to Rome, the nation that occupied the lands they lived in. But it was certainly a bone of contention in the community.
Some believed paying the tax to Rome was little better than collaborating with the enemy. Even worse? Using the coin of the Empire to pay them was tantamount to using graven images and that was explicitly forbidden in the Torah. Others felt to fail to pay the tax would bring down retaliation, death and destruction upon all the Jews. So if Jesus agreed with the stricter interpretation he could be accused of fomenting rebellion. Hardly a “win-win” situation.
Jesus asks for a coin, for he has none. Think about that for a sec, here he is, the King of Kings, the Messiah, and he is, quite literally it seems, penniless. The coin he is given is not the coin used to pay the temple tax, the Jewish Shekel, but the Roman coin of the time bearing the face of the Emperor and the inscription “Divus” or Divine. To the Romans, Caesar is among the Gods to whom they devote themselves. When he answers the question by telling his audience to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,” they are silenced.
But what does he mean exactly when he says Caesar’s?
Is he talking simply about the blasphemous coinage? There is something underlying the answer he gives that reaches beyond the mundane discussion of Shekel and Denarius.
Maybe he means that we should pay our governments in whatever coin they traffic in, with the knowledge that what we are paying with is not of value to God, but base metal, hardly eternal.
What does belong to God?
If the coin of the Roman realm is cast in the image of the Emperor, what then is the currency of the Lord?
When I imagine this moment between Jesus and the Pharisees in my mind, I think of the sun glinting off of that coin and the heat and dust in the temple court. The tension in the air as the Pharisees pose this trick question trying to make Jesus stumble and hang himself.
I think of how Jesus has managed to effortlessly find a teachable moment in the midst of a challenging attack and wonder at his gifts. We all have gifts. Jesus had more than the average person, what with the healing, raising the dead, water into wine, walking on water thing. But just sticking to modern day people…some of us are athletes and some of us are poets, some are gifted bakers and some can imagine chemical compounds that never existed before. We are given other advantages too. We live in the wealthiest nation in the world, and enjoy freedoms that most of the planet’s population do not. We are also given a choice of how to use the gifts we are given. These gifts are a part of us, we who are created in the very image of God, we the currency of his realm.
But who do those gifts really belong to? Are they Caesar’s? Do they belong to the world? Are they ours to use as we wish, to hoard and barter for shekel, denarius or dollar? Or do they and we really belong to God?
Yes, we are given many gifts, the power to change the world for the better, to nurture the sick, to vote our conscious, to donate time or money for the common good or the power to make Caesar’s of ourselves, build castles and buy trappings of silk, gold and cedar.
It is up to each and every one of us to decide where and how we will spend ourselves. Choose wisely, choose well. The exchange rate God is offering is sure to be more fulfilling than that you will find in any man made economy.