November 18, 2018
Stewardship Sunday, 2018
The Rev. Rod Sprange
Genesis 1:26-31; Psalm 19; Exodus 20:2-5a; Luke 20:20-26
Give to Caesar What is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s
Last week we reintroduced the ringing of our church bell to call the faithful to worship each Sunday at 10:25. By coincidence a friend reminded me this week of a story about a novice bellringer at Notre Dame in Paris. Quasimodo was asked by the priest to show a young man how to ring the great bells. Quasimodo took the young man up the winding stairs to the top of the bell-tower. They could see all Paris laid out around them through the huge open arches. Quasimodo showed the young man how to push the great bell forwards and give a huge heave so it swung out and rang. The bellringer then agilely stepped aside to the let the bell swing back past him. “That’s the trick,” he said, “You have to step out of the way of the bell as it comes back”. Now you try.
The young man gave the bell a good push and it swung out a little, gave a timid bong, then swung back and hit the young man in the head. Quasimodo said, “Two things, pay attention. First, you need to really give the bell a strong heave so it swings way out and makes a solid sound. Secondly, you forgot to step out of the way. Want to try again?”.
The young man got his shoulders behind the great bell pushed it on its arc and then gave a great heave with his arms and sent the bell soaring out into the space between the arches, it gave a great BONG that could be heard for miles, then the bell swung back. The young man was so mesmerized by the huge sound, he again, forgot to step out of the way. The bell hit him full in the face and sent him flying out of the arch on the other side, where, sadly, he fell to his death.
Quasimodo, shocked, ran all the way back down the winding staircase. By the time he got to the ground, there was a crowd gathered around the lifeless body of the young man. A policeman stepped forward and said “Quasimodo, can you identify this young man?” Quasimodo looked carefully at the body and said, “No….but his face rings a bell”.
All of which has nothing at all to do with my sermon today, except to say, you may want to pay attention.
Today is the day in the year when we focus on stewardship. I know, such excitement. I chose specific texts today to help us in thinking about the nature of stewardship and the responsibility God has given us for all that God has created. In the first reading, from Genesis, we read part of the creation story. The story that reminds us that everything that exists has come from God - is God’s, belong’s to God the creator of all. It also tells us how God made humankind, and commissioned us to be responsible for creation, to be good stewards of all that God provides. In the second reading from Exodus we read a version of the Ten Commandments - and we are told “you shall have no other God’s but me”. And, “you shall not make for yourselves any carved, or graven images”, and “you shall not bow down before them”. In other words have no idols. Worship only God. Why two Old Testament readings this week? Why do we need any Old Testament reading?
N.T. Wright talks about harmony. How when we listen to a piece of music, while we remember the main melody, it is brought to life and full beauty by the harmony of the other parts. The music loses something, for example, when we omit the bass line. N.T. Wright says we need the bass line of the Old Testament to get full life, meaning and beauty from the main melody - the New Testament. Try to keep those two Old Testament readings in your mind when we come to unravel the depth of conversation, between Jesus and the Scribes, we heard in Mark’s Gospel passage. This is a story of corrupt power trying to silence the Truth.
Last August I was at our cabin and we were hearing all the posturing and blustering from the US President about scrapping the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA and his demand that Canada accept his terms or face high tariffs on automobiles and auto parts. Remember that? The modern day Caesar demanding what he believed was his right. Basically, insisting that might is right. He was also misrepresenting the truth about our two-way trade. He lied about it and tried to use threats and fear to get his way. It got me thinking about the underhanded tactics the Jewish religious authorities were using to discredit Jesus and get him in trouble with the Roman occupiers. Lies and fear. Those scared of losing power always use lies and fear to maintain their control. I remembered the confrontation that Luke described in the Gospel passage we read today. The religious authorities were getting increasingly concerned about Jesus and his radical teaching. They were trying everything they could to silence him. But the crowds were inspired by his teaching and amazed at his ability to heal the sick.
They decided to try a sneak attack. They sent a group of religious lawyers and scholars to pretend they were impressed with Jesus’s teaching, but in reality were trying to spring traps on him to get him in trouble with either the Romans or the crowd.
One of the most hated things about the Roman occupation was the levying of taxes on the population, which had to be paid in the Roman currency - denarius. The tax collectors were seen as collaborators and profiteers, and were ostracized by the general population. There were many who argued that the people shouldn’t pay the taxes and wanted an uprising against the Romans. So the religious lawyers and scholars came to Jesus in a public setting, began by buttering him up, then they asked a question that they believed would prove to be his undoing. A question that would get him in trouble however he answered. Or so they thought.
“Is it lawful?” they asked. Meaning, is it permissible under the law of Moses “to pay taxes to Caesar?” They thought they had Jesus. If he said “No, it isn’t”, they could run to the Roman authorities and denounce him for telling the people not to pay the Roman taxes. Jesus would be arrested. But if he said “Yes, it is lawful” they would be able to accuse him of supporting the occupying army, and going against Jewish law. Jesus knew what they were trying to do and set his own traps for them. First he said, “show me a denarius” the Roman coin. When they did what he asked it demonstrated that he wasn’t carrying one, and that they were. Then he sprung the first trap. “Whose image is this on the coin?” He asked. His opponents should have been mortified by this question. One of the ten commandments, as we read this morning, says - “You shall make no carved images”. And here they were carrying coins with carved images on them - definitely not lawful for a righteous Jew. Awkward!
What was worse, there was an inscription on the coin identifying Caesar as the son of God. Declaring Caesar a deity! Remember the very first commandment said “You shall have no other Gods but me”? How embarrassed should these men be, carrying around carved images declaring Caesar to be God? And like many today, many of them worshiped the power and prestige that came with wealth. The religious scholars had to admit that the coins bore the image of Caesar. Now it’s more than awkward. I imagine they replied rather sheepishly when they said “It is Caesar’s image”.
Then Jesus presented them with a major problem with the instruction “then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s”. Sounds simple, right? Maybe not. They couldn’t accuse him of saying paying the taxes was unlawful, but neither could they say he was saying it was. You see the problem was, that in Jewish teaching, everything belongs to God. That is our Christian teaching; everything comes from God and we are accountable to God for what we do with everything.
The scholars were well educated and intelligent men. They would have recognized he had given them a serious theological problem. If everything came from God - and everything should be accounted for to God, what was not due to God. They would have to think this through themselves to see what could be justified as belonging to Caesar. They still had to decide if it was lawful to support this tyrant who blasphemed God by calling himself Son of God. No wonder they went away and didn’t try to trap Jesus again.
What does this story have to say to us today? Obviously the first thing is, it reminds us that there is only one God - and we should worship God not wealth, not power, not prestige not possessions. We should not succumb to the false gods, the idols, of wealth, fame, power or their minions, fear and lies. The second thing is, it presents us with a problem. Jesus says “Give to God what belongs to God”. What does not belong to God? Can you think of anything that doesn’t belong to God? Can you think of anything that God hasn’t given you, given us all in trust? Everything and everyone has been entrusted to us by our God - our creator. A question we might ask ourselves every day is, “What am I withholding from God?”.
If everything in and about your life is from God and you are accountable to God for it, what does this mean for your life? Your body is given to you by God, your mind, your personality. All your relationships - how you interact with each person you meet - all accountable to God.
In our stewardship approach at St. Peter’s, once a year we ask you to reflect and pray about only four areas of your lives and how God is inviting you to share these gifts in support of the ministries of this parish. The four areas are: Our Time, Our Talents, Our Faith and Our Finances.
Today in your mail slots in the narthex, you will find a package from your adorable and esteemed Stewardship Development Group. Colin Dorrian, Carolyn LeNabat, Laurie and David Thompson, ex-officio member Donna Joy and me. The package includes a short covering letter, a worksheet that should help you as you think and pray about how you want to respond to God’s generosity and love in these four areas this coming year. And, there is a salmon coloured form for entering an estimate of giving, or your intentions, in each of the Four areas. We also included a table that lets you see how many people give financially in various ranges of giving. For example 14 families give between $29 and $39 a week, in support of the ministries at St. Peter’s.
We hope you will complete and return the salmon coloured estimate of giving sheet. We plan to make these part of the offertory on December 2. Making an estimate and putting your intentions to paper to be offered in worship, is a spiritually beneficial act. It is a sign of our growing spiritual maturity.
The four areas we focus on are:
1 Our Time - We often feel that there isn’t enough time in the day! But in reality there is lots of time, it’s all about priorities. As a manager, I never accepted the excuse from staff - “I didn’t have time”. I would say, “No, you had time, you just had other priorities, let’s talk about them”. I could be quite annoying. Maybe sometimes we need to hear God saying, “You do have time, check your priorities”. So in our stewardship worksheet we give you a simple way of thinking about how much discretionary time you have and how much of it you want to give back back to God through St. Peter’s ministries.
2 Our Talents - or spiritual gifts. In the estimate of giving sheet we offer you the opportunity to acknowledge ministries you are currently involved in and want to continue. We also invite you to indicate other ministries you may be interested in this coming year. Our Hospitality Committee has developed a new brochure outlining many of the important ministries carried out at St. Peter’s. You can find these brochures in the narthex.
3 Our Faith - The gift of our faith and the Gospel have been handed down to us from the first disciples, and they are now entrusted to us. On the form we ask you to think about nurturing and developing your faith by attending one or more Christian Education workshops at St. Peter’s over the next 12 months.
4 Our Finances - We offer you a worksheet with three different ways of thinking about how much of your weekly income you feel called to return to God through the ministries of St. Peter and the wider Anglican Church. Susan and I find these helpful exercises to do together as we think about our intentions for the coming year. On the Estimate of Giving Sheet we provide a place to make your intentions known to our Envelope Secretary. These forms are kept confidential. Please check your mail slot and take your package with you today. If you notice that someone who lives near you isn’t in church this morning, perhaps you could take theirs and drop it off. It will save us the cost of postage. With the slowdown in mail delivery it will also help get the packages to everyone in a timely manner. Thank you for doing that.
I’m almost done! Do you remember the three fallacies of scarcity we have heard about in the Stewardship Moments these last three weeks and the truth about them? The fallacies are: There’s Not Enough to Go Around; More is Better; and That’s Just the Way It Is - there’s nothing I can do about it. That ring any bells for you? The truth is that in God’s world and within this parish, there is more than enough time, more than enough talents and skills, plenty of faith to share, and more than enough resources if we are all willing to share them in God’s work. And it all starts with each of us saying “This is what I intend to do…”
Let us give thanks to God for the Holy Spirit moving in this parish, these are exciting times. And let us ask for God’s grace to open our hearts, as we pray about our participation in and support of the ministries and mission of this parish. Amen.