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the sermon for

the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

22 October 2017

Matthew 22:15-22
Faith isn't "rendering unto" god;
but god "rendering unto" the world!

10222017All I can say is, forty-eight down and four – not counting this morning – to go! And then, we're on to Mark and leave Matthew behind. At least, for another two years! Next Sunday we celebrate as Reformation Sunday, so the gospel is from John. But the Sundays that follow will be pure, unadulterated, stereotypical Matthew! The parable of the ten bridesmaids! The parable of the talents! And fittingly, the parable of the judgment of the nations!

So, this morning, at first glance, I figured we'd have a respite, a breather. First thing I did was pull a synoptic bible off the shelf. That's a bible printed in three columns, side by side, a column for each gospel where you can compare them at a glance. What parts they share. What parts are different, unique. And today's gospel on paying tribute to Caesar? Well, it's in all three columns. Matthew 22 ! Mark 12 ! Luke 20 ! And each version is pretty much identical except for a few words or for a few phrases. So, I started to relax. And I simply read through the passage to see what jumped out at me.

Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's;
render unto God the things that are God's.

That was the verse on which I decided to focus my efforts . And frankly, I should have stopped right there. But I had to take the next step. I wanted to see how that word 'rendered' was used in other places. Apodidomai. That's the Greek word translated, here, as render. In Mark, this is the only place in the entire book that the word is used. In Luke, it appears eight times. In Matthew? In Matthew it is used two times as often! Seventeen times! Five in the sermon on the mount! Seven in the parable of the unforgiving servant! The other five scattered throughout the gospel – including this passage.

Pay what you owe! Carry out the vows you made! Reward, punish, according to what you have done! Those are other ways That word – apodidomai – implies transaction, buying, selling, trading, making a deal, you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours! It infers duty, obligation, expectation. We get a sense of that in today's reading. Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to god! Give to each their due, their fitting, their proper! It's not that we want to. It's that we have to! We must! Only one problem. This isn't the way Paul talks about our life with god! This isn't the way Luther describes it! Not as a bargain, a deal, between god and humanity! Not as something we "shake on"! For Paul, for Martin, there's no price to pay, no cost to render! Nothing is due! God is nothing like Caesar! Independent! Absolute! Demanding!

Remember, this – according to Matthew – is Holy Week! It's no accident, no coïncidence, that the first thing Jesus does after he enters Jerusalem is go to the Temple and drive out the sellers and the buyers! First thing he does is eliminate the transaction! He doesn't go to the marketplace, to the business district. He's not interested in running businesses like the Temple. What concerns Jesus is running the Temple NOT like a Temple! Running the Temple as if it were a business! The kingdom must be run like the kingdom! The Temple like the Temple! The church like the church! Run with grace! Run with charity! Run with love! And there is no bartering, only gift! Only gift!

I can't imagine, over the years, how many times I heard that verse, about rendering. But until this week, I never really thought about what I read, was hearing. And I realized, sitting here at the foot of the cross, there is nothing – nothing whatsoever – that we render unto god! Nothing we must! Nothing we have to! But of course, even if there were, we wouldn't! We couldn't! What did we say just few moments ago? We confess we are captive to sin and do not... cannot... will not... We believe it all comes from god! Anything! Everything! Without of request! Without our permission! No unlesses! No untils! No strings attached!

Caesar is up high and far away! But god is close! Closer than close! We render unto Caesar. But it's god who renders unto us! God who bestows! God who gives! God who gifts! But that's doesn't seem to be the way Matthew sees it. The tables were overturned... and the chairs tossed aside... Believing isn't something we do for god! We had that battle five hundred years ago! Believing isn't – foremost and first – saying prayers! And believing isn't reading bibles! It's not coming to worship and singing songs and putting something in the plate when it passes in front of us! Believing – above anything else – is god loving us! Period! Believing is god's overflowing and filling our lives, flooding our world, with grace and mercy, with forgiveness and love!

Believing is god providing necessities and nourishment! Giving us this day – this day and every day – our daily bread! All good gifts around us come from god! Start to finish! Beginning to end! It's all a gift! Even believing itself! Created, inspired, by the love itself! It's god's love that moves us to say our prayers, to read our bibles and all the rest! But above all – ABOVE ALL – it's that love that makes us love just like god! Love just like Jesus! Love family and friends! Love classmates and coworkers! Love, even, strangers and enemies! It's not a trade off! It's not a transaction! It's a gift! A gift!

That's why Jesus did what he did, that Sunday before the cross! So there would be no doubt! So there would be no question, no confusion! This, he said! This, he showed! This is the kingdom! This is what the kingdom of god, what the kingdom of heaven, looks like! It's not an investment! It's not a commodity! It's not merchandise! But a gift! A donation! An offering! That god makes to god's people! A gift and donation and offering god gives to god's world! This kingdom isn't a business! Not one not –for-profit! Not one that breaks even! The kingdom is a sacrifice! The kingdom is a cross! A cross god carries, a sacrifice god makes, for the sake of the world! And the kingdom is a cross we carry and a sacrifice we make – along with god – for the sake of that same world!

Render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar! That's the first part of the advice. But the second part is all Matthew. Truth is, life here in the kingdom isn't about rendering anything to god! It's receiving everything god gives! And then, just like god, passing those gifts on to others!

Being love by god... loving others...

Being love by god... loving others...

Being love by god... loving others...

That is what faith. what believing, sounds like! It's heartbeat! It's breath! And that is how god changes the world! Changes the world through us!

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the sermon for

the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

15 October 2017

Matthew 22:1-14
"I will not come in wrath!"

10152017For almost a year, now – ever since that first Sunday after Thanksgiving – I've been trying to figure it out. Why Matthew is so different from all the rest! When Matthew is being most himself, the message comes out... so hard... so harsh... There's an edge to it the others don't have! He sounds more like the Baptizer than he does Jesus. The axe at the roots! The unfruitful cut down and thrown into the fire! Winnowing fork in hand! Always a threat! Always an "or else!"

And it happens, one more time, this morning! Not so much in the parable of the wedding feast, as it does, the second part, in the parable of the wedding garment. The man bound hand and foot! Tossed out into the outer darkness! Weeping! Gnashing teeth! And it's all Matthew! Matthew and Matthew alone! Stereotypical! Distinctive! Exclusive! Once again, like Travis at the Alamo, he draws that line in the sand! Between the evil and the good! Between the righteous and the "un"! Between the chosen and the denied! And for the past ten-and-a-half months, I just couldn't understood why! But then, this week, something – FINALLY – clicked!

I think it was while I was reading verse seven. The slaves had been sent – a second time – to tell the guests that it was time! That everything was ready! But the guests made light of it. One went away to his farm. Another to his business. Other, more important things to do. And the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, killed them. Verse seven says, "The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city."

He sent his troops...

destroyed those murderers...

and burned their city...

I heard those words and something we were taught way back in seminary made its way to the surface... The gospel according to Matthew is considered the most "Jewish" of the four, written, quite possibly, by a converted scribe or Pharisee. He pictures Jesus from an Old Testament point of view. Matthew – whoever Matthew was – was very familiar with life in Palestine! It's history! Traditions! You see, about the time of Julius Caesar, fifty to sixty years before Jesus was born, Jerusalem was conquered by Pompey and the nation fell under Rome's control. In all that followed, Judea yearned to be free and independent... like back in the good, old days! Rebel after rebel. Rebellion after rebellion. That was the heartbeat of Judea. And that's why Jesus died... historically speaking! Theologically speaking, he died to free us from sin, death, the devil. Historically, he was seen as just one more wanna-be messiah! The cross was a political sentence for a political charge: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews!

Anyway, a generation or two after that cross, the Jews of Judea rose up, again, against Rome. It began in the year Sixty-Six! By Sixty-Eight, the resistance, the rebellion, had been broken. Broken, at least, everywhere but Jerusalem. It was in April, in the year Seventy, that four Roman legions marched on Jerusalem. Just before Passover, they laid siege to the holy city. Month by month, their grip became tighter and Jerusalem's fate was sealed. By September, it was over. Jerusalem, not only, had fallen. It was destroyed. Tens of thousands died of starvation during the siege. Tens of thousands died when the Romans broke through the walls. And the tens of thousands who survived became slaves, destined to toil in the mines in Egypt or to die in the arena for the entertainment of the people.

And Matthew – whoever Matthew was – was there! Or at the least, heard all about it from someone who had been! He was aware of the horror! He was aware of the screams! He was aware of the smoke! And when it was all over, he had been changed! Twisted! Deformed! By the fear! By the pain! In the end, when all was done, all was said, all he could do was draw lines in the sand. Deep lines. Straight lines. Draw lines and build walls! High! Thick!

Paul never had to deal with that. He was dead before it happened. His letters already written. And Luke? Luke was, most likely, a Gentile! The Temple had meant nothing. Jerusalem, Judea, nothing more than dots on a map. But for Matthew, it was different. He knew the gloom... the despair... the agony... The city devastated... The temple destroyed... A nation erased... And the first thing to go was the grace... the charity... the love... Mercy was a luxury he couldn't afford! A luxury he wouldn't afford! Forgiveness was treason... or worse...

It's something we should understand only too well. Something we share. For us, it was only two towers! Just two towers and three thousand or so people. But after the smoke thinned and after the dust settled, all that remained was black and white, us and them. Just like Matthew, it's wheat and chaff, repentant and unrepentant, wheat and weeds! Something happens – something traumatic, something earthshaking – and we're sidetracked, distracted. Our vision blurs, our world muddied and obscured. And before you know it – before WE know it – that outer darkness, that weeping, that gnashing isn't just a threat. It becomes our reality. It becomes what we live, right here, right now. And love? Well love becomes law. Rigid. Unbending. Instead of lending a hand, we point fingers. Counting others. Weighing. Measuring. Who's in and who's out. Who's chosen and who's merely called. And that gospel? It becomes a smile, a smirk, at the very end of a reading.

So, my friends, in spite of what we read and in spite of what we hear, out of all the verses Matthew has written, remember these two... Matthew, chapter five, verses forty-four and forty-five...

Love your enemies, Jesus says. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous!

Love, Jesus says! Love like god! Love like me! Even among the ashes of Jerusalem!
Love, Jesus says! Like god! Like me! Even here in that outer darkness!

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