A Homily for the Second Sunday before Advent, or Trinity 23
November 19, 2017
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Matthew 22:20-22
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen
The gospel lesson shows us a common occurrence. The religious authorities trying to trip Christ up, confuse him, show him to be a fool or a hypocrite, trying to get in him trouble with his followers or the Romans. They were sure that his seemingly anti-authority bluntness would land him in hot water and by extension cause them to lose their tenuous peace. In today’s lesson the Pharisees asked him “must we pay taxes?” because many revolutionaries, whom they were mistaking Christ to be, were violently against the Roman empire. Both Christ’s disciples and the Pharisees thought Christ desired to establish an earthly kingdom.
Of course, Christ’s goal wasn’t to over throw the Roman empire, but to open the gates of the kingdom of heaven, to welcome repentant sinners into His kingdom and into fellowship with God. However, those who experienced him, hoping for relief from the oppression of the Roman Government or fearing the upheaval that would come if he did start a revolution were confused by his actions for they imposed their perceptions upon his.
This seemingly simple question was insidious, and in his simple and logical response he put this round of challenges quickly to rest.
The first part of it is easy for us to understand. As Christians, we are to be good citizens and followers of the law of the land. We are to obediently pay our taxes and participate appropriately in the political affairs of our country if it is expected of us as citizens.
In our context, it can be confusing to understand what scriptures ask of the Christian as far as his or her political involvement goes. The guidance we get are from an ancient who was viewed with suspicious as a possible rabble rouser and in letters written to people who were, likely, mostly not citizens of the Roman empire. However, it is clear that some early Christians wanted to avoid being good citizens and this is an attitude St. Paul promptly puts down.
The Christian is called to be a model citizen. In a democratic society, we are to be involved, to vote our conscience, and to allow our Christian ethics mold our view and help us to select those men and women who will lead our town, state, and country with dignity, who not only say the right things, but live lives that prove their commitment to leading with integrity, and respecting the dignity of all human life.
Additionally, in dissension and disagreement we are to be committed to taking the higher road. In a time of sound bites, pithy, punchy, and often vicious remarks coming from both the left and the right, we must be slow to anger, and kind in our engagement with those whom we disagree with, for ultimately, we do not belong to this kingdom, but to the kingdom of heaven. As representatives of the eternal kingdom we are called to live as ambassadors remembering whose image we bear.
Of course, it would be easy to spend our time discussing what it means to be a good citizen, but what would have been as challenging to the Pharisees, can be equally challenging to us that is what Christ left unsaid.
Christ holds up a coin and asks whose image is on it. It was understood that that which bears someone’s image belongs to that person and so the demand for taxes becomes reasonable. But this begs the question: if we are to give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and to God that which belongs to God; what, or perhaps who belongs to God?
To answer this, we must look back into Genesis chapter 1, where it is written:
Then God said, “Let us make man[h] in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
God created humanity in his own image. Each one of us is an image bearer of God and as such we belong to Him. The Pharisees would have known this and read between the line. This is the reason that they went away quietly, not challenging that which Christ taught for it was as much a strong retort to their attempt to trap him as it was an exhortation to be given to the will of the Lord. This self-giving is the reason that the liturgy calls us to give ourselves, our souls, and bodies as a reasonable and living sacrifice to God.
First, we need to dig a little deeper into what it means to be created in the image of God and what that means for how we are to live our lives and interact other human beings. For the creation narrative makes no distinction between the elect and non-elect, makes no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, and makes no distinction between ethnic groups. No, every human being that has, does now, and will walk this earth is created in the image of God.
This understanding of being image bearers of God, or the imago Dei is why Christians so strongly believe in the Sanctity of human life. We must be clear, this belief in life doesn’t merely mean being anti-abortion, though being prolife in this sense is important, it means approach all human life with kindness and respect from conception to death. This is challenging, because it means that we are to love not only the unborn baby, but the unwed mother who carries the child. We are to show compassion not only to our kindly elderly friend but to the annoying neighbor who talks constantly unaware that we must be going along our way. We must love our best friend or spouse just as we love the child who interrupts our quietude in a coffee shop or at church with a scream or giggle. We are to show the same kind-heartedness to our dear friend who is struggling as to the bum on the street corner. To live this worldview out can be quite a challenge, can’t it?
Humanity bears the image of God, though broken and tainted by sin and as we recognize this, and this truth changes how we interact with every person. It means that our rival is as much in the likeness of our creator as we are. As much as he might frustrate us, we are not allowed to condemn him in our anger and irritation, rather constantly seeking to forgive and be kind.
To respect human life as not only being created by God, but created in the image of God, is a very challenging thing indeed. It is easy to forget that person who drives us crazy is an image bearer, is, just like us, created in the image of God, yet this is the central aspect of the Christian ethic.
We are starting to see how being created in the image of God has direct ramifications in how we are to live. But it goes deeper, let us think about some of the sins of the flesh that St. Paul talks about, they include: sexual immorality, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, drunkenness, and gluttony. His list is more exhaustive, but these specifically help us to see how easily we can defile the image of God both within ourselves and within our society.
If we are given to sexual immorality and lust then we see that person which we are lusting after as something which can be possessed, something which we can rule over and use for our own ends and selfish pleasure. If this is how we view the other, then how can we respect him or her as an image bearer. If we want to possess the other, we are not respecting their life. This helps us to see why we are called to flee from lustful sentiments and to a chaste life, a life that respects the creation of God.
Similarly, if we are given to enmity, strife, jealousy, and fits of anger not only does it mean that we lack self-control, but that we do not respect the object of our frightful outbursts. It means that we view our will as more important than everyone else’s. We are called to be at peace and act kindly to those who would oppose us. Of course, this is hard and so often we misspeak, and behave unkindly, so we repent and try again. However, we keep in mind as we interact with others that compassion is to be our guidepost and not dominance and control.
Finally, drunkenness, and gluttony both tend to be destructive of the image of God that belongs to us, for not only are our interactions with other humans being dictated by our understanding of them being image bearers of God, but we too are called to respect our bodies for the same reason. If we are given to constantly overeating, or worse drinking copiously, it takes a toll on our bodies and they will wear out quicker than they would otherwise. If we find we are drinking too much, our liver will eventually fail us. If we are given to constantly over eating our body will also grow weary, sick and broken. Instead we treat them as a gift, we learn, by the Holy Spirit how to be self-controlled, avoiding these things that hurt us.
We see how recognizing that not only are we created in the image of God but all those whom we experience in our daily lives bear his image and we see how this affects how we behave.
Finally, what does it mean that we are to give to God that which belongs to God? What does that beautiful phrase in our liturgy: that we are to give God our selves, our souls, and bodies to be a reasonable sacrifice unto God mean?
It means that we are call to give ourselves to service of the Lord. We are to be giving ourselves over to lives of mercy, not only giving mercy, but more pointedly receiving and accepting mercy. For, as lofty as the ethical vision that recognizing the image of God creates, we are likely to fail at extending mercy to all and not only that, but in respecting the image of God in all those whom we experience. So, we repent, coming running home to the Lord, and as we enjoy the mercy God has given us, we extend mercy to those who would seek to damage us.
Furthermore, our lives are to be given to worship, not merely on Sunday morning, but remembering and giving thanks to the Lord every day. Rejoicing in the gifts that he has given us, praying always, delving into the word of God daily and seeking to live lives that Glorify Him. Whether the Christian is a mechanic or a CEO, a school teacher or a student, a farmer or chef, he or she is to act out his vocation as an act of worship to the Lord. To do all, as though it is being given in service to the Lord.
When we are given to constant worship of the Lord, running back to Him when we fail, loving him in all we do, and seeking his will we are giving ourselves over to Him. This is the truly challenging aspect of the Gospel lesson today, not only that we are to show mercy and kindness to our fellow humans, but that we are to live fully given to the Lord. That we are to sacrifice our will to His. That at the end of the day, as those who bear the image of God we do not belong to ourselves, but to the Lord.
So, this is the challenge for today: we are to live as living sacrifices. Our lives are to be given to the constant worship of the Lord, allowing His will for us to guide and direct us along the path that we are on. That we would not only be given to the Lord, but that our view of the world would be transformed by the knowledge that all of humanity is created in the image of God, and that we too would extend mercy, kindness, and compassion where it is needed. That in this worldview we would be constantly seeking to Glorify Him who is our creator.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.