traditional sermon pentecost 20
It is a question you have heard, no doubt, and maybe even spoken it yourself. Usually it is voiced when you find yourself in a crowded and somewhat chaotic location – an amusement park … a busy playground … a toy store two weeks before Christmas. You see a child wandering with that look on his or her face that just shy of terror. And you hear someone say, “Who do you belong to, little boy?”
It is an odious concept, of course … namely that our children are our possessions. Obviously, we don’t really think that. We all know that children and people, not possessions. So the phrase isn’t exactly accurate, but it gets the point across. It gets at the question of relationships and the trust that we have in other people. Because when children are young they are completely dependent upon us – parents are all that matters really … they trust us the most and rely on us exclusively. We provide everything from love to food to comfort to stimulation. Then as kids grow, slowly their worlds start to expand and they start to relate to greater numbers of people. And some of those people also start to gain your child’s trust. They start to influence how your kids think … or dress … or act.
SO HERE’S A QUESTION FOR YOU … When you think you kid’s first start to really trust other people besides you? KINDERGARTEN . . . . MIDDLE SCHOOL . . . . COLLEGE . . . . MARRIED?
It happens at all ages, of course. We get older … our worlds expand … and we find all sorts of people (and things) that we start to trust in.
Today’s Gospel Lesson is all about trust. It plays out before our very eyes. We fool ourselves into thinking that today’s lesson is about money and taxes and what we give to whom in terms of our resources. In part, I suppose that is true. But at its core, this lesson is really about trust.
Think for a moment about when this story occurs. Anyone remember when this happens, time-wise? Holy Week … right. Jesus is in the final days of his life when this event occurs. He has taught his disciples (and thus you and me, too) about our call to serve others, and what love really looks like, and about sharing our resources because … well … because they all belong to God anyway. Jesus has shown us how to forgive, and how to recognize our need to be forgiven, too. He has taught us, in short, about all the components of the Christian life. Now is the time for that teaching to take on flesh and blood. It happens first through Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection to new life, which connects his teachings to the potency and power of God’s unconditional love for us. Since God’s own flesh and blood dies … and God’s own flesh and blood is raised again, there is a divine promise offered to us, that we could never create for ourselves. In short God says “because Jesus lives again, you will live again, too.” But God doesn’t stop there. For in the gift of the Holy Spirit, God then brings the Spirit of Jesus into the world through us, so that our flesh and blood can strive as best we can to model Jesus teaching and words in our lives of faith. This is the bedrock of Holy Week, upon which the Church is built – life … death … and life again.
In this reality where life over death becomes the norm, I’m gonna suggest that Jesus isn’t terribly concerned about how much of your income goes to Uncle Sam, and how much you give to the church and other charities. Because he wants it all … at this point in the game, Jesus wants all of you. He asks you to sign on the line where it says, “I give my all for Jesus … I give my all for the God who created me … I give my all for the Spirit of God who sustains me in this life. Holy Week in many ways becomes the moment of truth for Jesus … and the moment of truth for us. The moment when we dare to believe that there is more to life than what occurs in our earthly years. Hear again the question Jesus asks, when he shows the Pharisees the Roman coin he has asked for … probably a denarius … he asks … “Whose head is this and whose title?” The King James version uses the term “image” … whose IMAGE is this? Our previous former Revised Standard Version said it like this “whose LIKENESS is this?” Other translations and paraphrases use “FACE” or “PICTURE.” But whatever translation you use, what Jesus is asking is not only whose image is stamped upon the coin … but whose image is stamped upon your life. He asked it of the Pharisees … and he asks it of us. Whose image is stamped upon your life? In whom do you trust? … to use the words of our preaching question for the day. Upon what … or better yet “Upon Who” is your life built and grounded?
Christians, of course, have a simple answer. We are marked with the cross of Christ. It is one of the earliest sermons most of us hear as an infant or young child – “you are marked with the cross of Christ forever.” Whee is that particular phrase found? (If you were at the 10:45 traditional service last Sunday, you heard it spoken twice). Correct – our baptismal liturgy. We anoint with oil those who are baptized and we remind them in whose image they are marked. And it sure ain’t Caesar.
Now sometimes we act as if it is Caesar, don’t we? Sometimes we get our identity a little mixed up, and forget that we have membership in two kingdoms … the kingdom of the world, and the kingdom of heaven. Sometimes we act as if we are only citizens of this terra firma upon which we walk each day. We may not say it aloud … but when we look in the mirror as we brush our teeth, we see Caesar written right across our forehead.
So, in the midst of his final few days on earth, Jesus reminds us as strongly as he can, whose name we should see on our foreheads when we wash our face or pluck our eyebrows, or shave our stubble. The name of Jesus the Christ – the one in whose name we have been marked in our baptism. The one in whose image we are formed … the only one in whom we can completely trust.
Knowing that does not promise that we will always act like we have been fashioned in God’s image. The disciples forgot they were first and foremost children of God, when they fell asleep on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and hid under their beds after his death, forgetting everything he had promised them about returning to the world. Even Peter forgot who he was as a child of God, as he sat around the campfire outside of Caiaphas’s house and dropped Jesus like a hot potato. Judas, of course, forgot it big time. Knowing the promise, doesn’t always mean we will honor the promise. But knowing the promise means we can honor it … it means that deep within us, even when our actions suggest that we have no clue as to whose image we bear, the possibility of remembering we are God’s child is there for us. And maybe most importantly it means that God remembers that we are marked in the image of Christ.
Are you formed in the image of Christ? (That is a real question … are you? The answer is YES.) It is easy to remember at this moment here in the pews of a church. It may be a little harder a few hours from now when you are cutting the grass or cooking dinner. By tomorrow night when you are watching the Eagles game, it may be a distant thought. But the answer remains … a powerful reminder of that one in whose image you were created. And that one who died on the cross, so that you might live again. Amen.