Welcome to your online worship from St. Mark’s for Sunday, October 22, 2023.
Last Sunday, was our parish’s Ministry Faire. Thank you to the volunteers from the different ministries who came to celebrate and bear witness to the ministries that they are involved in that is all part of our good work to proclaim the gospel in our community. We did have some folks who expressed interest in being part of our ministries and I would continue to encourage all our member to consider how you too might be able to help contribute to our ministry and mission together.
Today’s online worship is offered without a video. I was attending the annual Diocesan Clergy Conference Wednesday to Friday this week and there was not time to record and edit a video. The text of my sermon this week is included in full here. The video will return next Sunday.
Today’s Opening Sentence
Shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life. – See Philippians 2.15, 16
Today’s Reading – 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.1
The Sermon: Discerning True Worth
This week we continue to read from Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 22. Jesus is nearing the end of his earthly ministry in Jerusalem and he is in the midst of some pretty intense encounters with the religious authorities of his time who are trying to discredit him and trip him up.
The Question of Taxes
The spotlight today falls on a faction of leaders called the Herodians. They craft for him a very religious and politically loaded question about paying taxes to the occupying Roman Empire. They are hoping that Jesus will choose a side for or against paying taxes to the Roman Empire and in doing so open up an avenue for them to attack Jesus’ teaching on what was a very contested issue among the Jewish community of the day.
Jesus, as Jesus does, out smarts them with a gem of a response.
He asks them to show him the Roman coin and tell him whose head and title is on it. So they present the coin and then they respond that it has the emperor’s head and title. By having them name that simple truth about the Roman coin, Jesus then wisely answers their question about the paying taxes saying, give to the emperor what is the emperor’s and give to God what is God’s.
Jesus answer is simple, yet brilliant, and the leaders leave both defeated and amazed. His answer leaves all the people listening with two unspoken questions to answer for themselves.
First, What is the emperor’s? The coins he makes, the taxes he creates and charges, the land he claims power over with his occupying force.
And Second, What is God’s? Ultimately, everything. No matter what we human beings lay our claim on, God has always had the first and last say.
As a Christian it is often said that we live our life with a foot in both realities, the earthly and the divinely created. We are God’s creation and yet, it is also true that we are born into and live under the earthly structures of power and order. But the thing is, there are not two worlds, obviously, there is just one.
Think about like this: One of my jobs before I was ordained was working in a large commercial bakery where bread was mass produced. I worked in the shipping part of the plant where freshly bagged bread was loaded on to trays, stacked and shipped to depots across south western Ontario. One of the things that surprised me was how often they would put the very same loaf of bread into bags with a different brand’s label. This wasn’t by mistake, this was by design. And when I was in the store to buy my own groceries, I would always be interested to see how those two loaves would be priced differently on the shelf, when I myself knew that they were, in fact, the exact the very same loaf of bread on the inside.
The World’s Temptations
Although, it is a lot more complex and entwined than just simply putting a different label on the same loaf of bread, that is ultimately what our human structures do by so deviously and cleverly repackaging what God has created and then using it for their own benefit and advancement.
But as we know, there are not two worlds, there is just one.
“Being Christian means we need to be discerning enough to see past those human-built wrappers.”
Being Christian means we need to be discerning enough to see the past those human build wrappers. We need to see the difference between the value our human society puts on things and the value, the beauty, and the meaning that God gives us. The distinction that Jesus makes in today’s reading is about discerning the difference between the values by which our human built systems order and measure people and things, and the wondrous value of life and creation as God created it.
Jesus says, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)
Jesus’ message today is about discernment – separating the world’s way of measuring people and things from God’s way. The world wants us to take sides for its own gain, but we’ve got to see past the hype and marketing.
The earthly systems symbolized by that Roman coin remains today. With its hype and marketing, our world works to pressure us to picking sides which prioritize its own selfish interests and desires. And yet, our human systems and society claim ownership over all that comes from God, repackaged in a different wrapper.
With his wise answer, Jesus instructs us all, those religious authorities and his own followers then and all of us now, to look more carefully and see beyond the wrapper, beyond the surface.
Cherishing God’s Gifts
As we reflect on Jesus’ wise response in today’s reading, let us not forget that the question of what is God’s is not merely a matter of theology, but a call to action in our daily lives. The world may tempt us to pick sides, to prioritize the earthly wrappers it adorns itself with, but we are called to a higher discernment.
The talents, the resources, the beauty, and the value in this world are gifts from our Creator. So, my friends, when we ask, ‘What is God’s?’ let us answer with conviction: ‘Everything we have, everything we are.’
“Let us recognize and cherish the inherent value in all that God has created.”
Our reading today is a reminder to us to look beyond the labels, to see the true worth in every person, every creation, and every moment. Let us not be swayed by the world’s selfish interests, but instead, let us remember that all that the world brands as its own is, in fact, made from the divine gifts God has provided.
As you go forth from this place today, may you carry this discernment with you, seeing the world through God’s eyes. Let us recognize and cherish the inherent value in all that God has created. And may this truth be the guiding light in our lives, shaping our choices, and inspiring us to live as faithful stewards of the precious gifts God has entrusted to us. In doing so, we honour Jesus’ timeless teaching and live out God’s truth which brings us each closer to the community God created us to be part of. Amen.
Reflection questions for the week:
- How can I practice discernment in my daily life to distinguish between the world’s values and God’s values, especially when faced with challenging decisions or situations?
- What are some specific ways I can honour the inherent value in every person and creation, and resist the temptation to prioritize the world’s selfish interests?
- In what areas of my life can I more consciously acknowledge that everything I have and am is ultimately a gift from God? How can I express gratitude for these gifts?
- As a faithful steward of God’s precious gifts, what actions can I take in my community and the world to live out the message of this sermon, and how can I help others see beyond the wrappers and labels of the world?
A continued reminder that if you are at all uncomfortable being in-person for worship, or if you are not feeling well, please join us here online.
Thank you again for joining with your parish family in our online worship today.
Find out how you can support our ministry and good work in the community here.
God Bless you and have a blessed week. Be well!
The Rev’d Canon Rob Park
- Scripture quotation is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.