The Claim on Our Lives

October 22, 2017

Preacher:  Richard Felton

“Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and give to God that which is God’s.”

Amazing.  Once again we hear Jesus respond to those who are trying to trap him, to discredit him and we hear Jesus trap them instead.  These people are attempting to show that Jesus is either a hypocrite who won’t oppose the emperor or a traitor to the Roman authorities.  They want Jesus to lose favor with the Jews who are following him or they want to give the authorities reason to arrest him.

But Jesus will have none of it.

Instead he asks them whose image is on the coin and then says that since Caesar’s image is on the coin, it belongs to Caesar and should be given back to him.  More important, however, is his command to give to God that which is God’s.  And that’s is at the very center of Jesus’s teachings.

I have to admit, I’ve had trouble with this passage over the years.  I’ve heard people use it to justify not paying taxes. I’ve also heard people suggest this means we should not be giving money to the church.  More honestly, they use it to justify why they don’t give money to the church.

Of course, that isn’t what Jesus is saying.  Jesus is calling us to remember who and whose we are.

Well, who do we think we are?  We may have been created just a little lower than the gods, but we often tend to let that idea go to our heads and forget that all we are and all we have are gifts from our Creator.

God has indeed given us everything. We often affirm that in our words on Sunday morning and we hear it often in the readings.  But when we walk out of church, do we believe it?

Or do we believe that God gave us the grandness of creation and we’ve had to fight tooth and nail for our portion of it?  Do we believe that it is our hard work, our education, and our skill that has gotten us to where we are today?  How many of us believe we are self-made?

The way we decide between the two alternatives of believing in God’s awesome abundance or believing in our own hard work most often determines how generous we are.  Of course most of us, I believe, fall somewhere in between those two options; and we try to find our way along that middle course

Remember the story of the rich young man who comes to Jesus asking him what he must do to enter heaven, or we might say, live a life fulfilled.  The young man says he keeps all the commandments.  Jesus suggests to him that he must sell all his possessions and give the money to help the poor.  And then Jesus asks the man to follow him.

Dejected, the man walks away for he had many possessions.  But the story doesn’t end there.  The Gospel says, “Jesus loved him.”  Jesus knew he was asking much of the man, just as Jesus asks much of us.  And yet when we fall short, Jesus still loves us.

This is the good news.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his book, In God’s Hands says, “This is a God who intervenes on our behalf, not because we deserve it, but because God’s love is freely given.  It is grace.  It is not earned; it cannot be earned.  It does not need to be earned.”  Think on that for a moment.  God’s grace does not need to be earned.

Everyday, we experience God’s grace in our lives and we are called to respond to that grace by putting it to work. My friend, Dave Toycen, the former president of World Vision, Canada, writes in his book, The Power of Generosity, “I believe we have to make a choice between people being encouraged in their lives or being discouraged.  And that matters for both spiritual and moral reasons.  The idea that everyone should be left alone to hope for the best is grossly inadequate.  I have experienced the personal joy and uplift when someone goes out of his or her way to be generous and caring.  If I am generous to someone, that person will likely be generous to someone else.   There is an argument to be made that the universe was created to operate this way.”

God gave us everything and Jesus says we completely belong to God.  Jesus never mentions a tithe.  Jesus always reminds us that everything we have is to be given back to help the poor, the sick, the lonely, the forgotten—to help all of God’s creation.

We are called to embrace a generosity in and with all things.  Generosity in friendships.  Generosity in spirit.  Generosity by inviting others to worship. Generosity in forgiveness.  Generosity in volunteering.  Generosity with our money.

Being generous with our money, and even talking about such generosity is difficult.

Toycen also writes about this challenge. “Money is a resource that provides food, shelter and clothing.  But there is a difference between a rightful place in our lives and one that dominates and becomes obsessive.

“The Bible says you cannot serve God and money. The statement is making a point that you cannot have a transcendent value in your life while still holding money of equal importance.  You have to make a choice.  Your ultimate value will come in conflict with your desire to gain and hold money at all costs.”

Think about what is important in your life.  How important is money?  Is it a tool for you or a master of you?  I have to admit it’s been both at different times in my life.  My wife and I have not always used it wisely and we have not always given generously. What I’ve learned, however, is that we are happiest when we are being generous.  Generosity frees us to live a life that is positive, transformational, and meaningful.

Acknowledging God’s generosity to us and living into that generosity transforms our lives.  Embracing God’s generosity will help us make our church a thriving community of faith that will transform our world.  And if we don’t, who will?

Teresa of Avila wrote:

“Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours.”

At this table, we will be given the bread and wine made holy with words affirming that for us, they are the body and blood of Jesus.  We take them to give us meaning, grace, and strength.  We take them so that we can be Christ’s body in the world and do the work God is calling us to do.

Our generosity can never match God’s awesome abundance in creation and in our lives, but that must not keep us from receiving God’s grace and putting it into action.  It is only through our grace-filled use of our time, our abilities, and our money that we can transform our communities.  Each of us, as followers of Jesus is called to serve graciously and give generously to empower that transformation. 

Through your financial generosity, your commitment to serve others and your commitment to be followers of Jesus, let it be said of the people of St. Jude’s, in the words of St. Paul, “The news of your faithfulness to God has spread!”

Amen

Whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey of faith, you are welcome here.