Ordinary Sunday 29 (18-10-2020)

WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE BARWON HEADS & OCEAN GROVE CONGREGATIONS

This service was streamed live via Zoom on October 18th at 10am

Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use while public worship is not available in the church buildings   Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate online may use this material at any time for their private devotions.  If ‘two or three’ are gathered with you, you may choose a ‘leader’ in order to use the responsive prayers and readings as you would in church. 

There  are also links to YouTube files for music and, should you rather listen than read, sound files for the text, including the sermon .  [I’m sorry about the commercials that sometimes come with YouTube clips. Be sure to click on the “Skip Ad” box if and when it appears in the lower right of the YouTube clip]   When a YouTube clip has finished, simply click on the back button of  your browser to return to this page. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.

-oOo-

God seeks a relationship “…in which one relates unconditionally to the divine, but in so doing, one inevitably comes into profound conflict with prevailing social and ethical norms.”       (Soren Kierkegaard)

CALL TO CELEBRATION

Now is the time to dance heaven’s dance, the time to discern eternity’s face, the moment of knowing beyond all sight, the day of God’s smile and tender embrace.

HYMN 111 – “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” (click here to listen) 

OPENING SENTENCES

L: If you come with fixed ideas and concrete expectations, prepare to loosen them for you are in the Presence of the ultimate Mystery.
If you come with meagre faith and few expectations, prepare to have your soul enlarged by the Holy One who has high hopes for you.

R: By the Holy Spirit God is here waiting for us in this house of praise. Let us worship in spirit and truth.

PRAYER OF AWARENESS

Dear God, help us to feel ourselves as integral parts of your continuing growth of meaning throughout the universe. Bind us in kinship to all that is. Amen.

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Meditation“Intentional Living”

Life does not need comfort, when it can be offered meaning, not pleasure, when it can be shown purpose.  Reveal what is the purpose of existence and how he may attain it – the steps that he must take – and man will go forward again hardily, happily, knowing that he has found what he must have: intentional living, and knowing that an effort which takes all his energy because it is worth his full and constant concentration, is the only life deserving the devotion, satisfying the nature and developing the potentialities of a self-conscious being.        (Anonymous)

     Silence

Serendipitous Creativity we call God,  enfold us in the depths of love and there hold us. Renew, refresh, restore us.  Saturate us with unending peace. Let us open ourselves to the sacred silence of this place.      (30 seconds silence)

WE REFLECT UPON OUR RELATIONSHIPS

Friends, come as you are. Don’t wait to tidy up your mind or wash your feelings, God’s love in Christ can do that far better than is humanly possible. Come as you are and put yourself at the mercy of redeeming grace. Let us pray.

God our Saviour, here we are with many faults together with our few gifts and graces. Here we are with the fruits of some wisdom but also with the weeds of our folly. Here we are bearing the gratitude for a small victories yet shame for soft defeats. Here we are aware of some sins but blind to other aspects of evil in our lives. Here we are wanting you to know it all, to forgive the ugly and rescue the beautiful. God our Saviour, here we are totally dependent on your gift of salvation, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen!

THE ASSURANCE

L: This is what the most holy Judge says to those who repent and believe. “My daughter, my son, the mistakes and shortcomings of your past are forgiven. Go in peace.” That word is meant for you and for me; in its graciousness we are set free, and so I can declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God.

FROM THE GOSPELS  (Mt.22:15-22)

     Introduction

A publication of the gospels a few years ago by the Jesus Seminar sprung from a decades-long  scholarly evaluation of all of the sayings of Jesus in terms of the probability that they are original ‘Jesus’ material.  The passages that are almost certainly not from Jesus are printed in black, those that are unlikely to have come from Jesus are printed in grey, material that is consistent with his teachings, but may not be in the original form are printed in pink and those with a high probability of being original teachings of Jesus are in red.  Today’s passage is one of the very, very few printed in red. 

The setting is the tumultuous last week of Jesus’ mortal life. Palm Sunday has been and gone, Jesus’ angry confrontation with the marketeers in the temple courts has heightened the hostility of the authorities, each day Jesus continues to openly teach in the great Temple enclosure. His parables have been about obedience and disobedience, acceptance and rejection, open minds and closed ones, the welcome the gospel has received from the ordinary folk compared with the proud and stubborn opposition by the religious establishment, the joy of those who come to the wedding feast of the prince of glory, and the darkness and misery to which his harsh critics were sentencing themselves.

That stormy confrontation in the temple courtyard set the stage for the week. The enemies of Jesus went on high alert, looking for chance tried to set Jesus up for a fall.

The priests and Pharisees had a council of war, framed some cunning questions, and sent some stooges to confront Jesus as he taught the people. Their aim was simple, to entrap Jesus. They planned to corner him. To trick him into to saying something that would offend and alienate his many supporters among the common crowd of pilgrims or they wanted to get him to say something politically seditious, which could be used against him in a Roman court.  They thought they had the perfect loaded question.

Reading “Paying Taxes”

15-17 That’s when the Pharisees plotted a way to trap him into saying something damaging. They sent their disciples, with a few of Herod’s followers mixed in, to ask, “Teacher, we know you have integrity, teach the way of God accurately, are indifferent to popular opinion, and don’t pander to your students. So tell us honestly: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

18-19 Jesus knew they were up to no good. He said, “Why are you playing these games with me? Why are you trying to trap me? Do you have a coin? Let me see it.” They handed him a silver piece.

20 “This engraving—who does it look like? And whose name is on it?”

21 They said, “Caesar.”

“Then give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his.”

22 The Pharisees were speechless. They went off shaking their heads.

HYMN 160 – “Father All-Loving, Thou Rulest in Majesty”
(click here to listen) 

QUESTIONS TO PONDER  

Before the sermon (or instead of it), the following questions may help you discover the message you are meant to take away from the story.  Rev. Bob’s responses to these questions are at the end of the service.

      • What is the question put to Jesus?
      • Who asks it?
      • What happens if Jesus says ‘yes’?
      • What happens if Jesus says ‘no’?
      • What is the choice facing Jesus? 
      • What is Jesus’ response? 
      • What enables Jesus to make this radical statement? 
      • When we enter the Kingdom do we work in the social sphere or do we enter the Kingdom by working in the social sphere? In other words, do we work in the social sphere as a result of entering the Kingdom or does our work in the social sphere lead us into the Kingdom?
      • What quality is given to our social work when we have our inner focus on our relationship with God?
      • What are some important outer world social issues?

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS               “Whose Are You? “

     Part 1       

“Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mt.22:21)

One day the Master asked, “What, in your opinion, is the most important of all religious questions?”  He got many answers:

Does God exist?
Who is God?
What is the path to God?
Is there a life after death?

“No,” said the Master, “the most important question is:  Who am I?”

This is one of those really well-known texts; so well-known that it is easy to turn off at this point and say to yourself; I know about that one: The Jewish authorities were trying to trap Jesus with a question to which either a yes or a no would land him in the soup; a loaded question like, “Have you stopped beating your wife?”  Isn’t Jesus clever the way he answered those Pharisees; even they marvelled!Some of you may even form an understanding of how to apply the point of the teaching, although that understanding is likely to vary.  For example, some have heard here a command to pay the taxes for which they are legally and morally liable; sort of an anti-tax cheat passage.  Some have seen in this text a call to patriotic duty, and a recognition of government in God’s plan for the world.  Others use this text to support the separation of church and state.  Still others have grasped the point of Jesus’ reference to the image on the coin, i.e. that the image symbolises ownership.  Caesar’s image is on the coin, therefore it is rightly his.  And others may even read the unwritten words behind the phrase, “and give to God what is God’s”, which say, “You are made in the image of God, therefore you belong to God.” 

Jesus is pointing to a proper balance between recognising the appropriate role of government in guiding our lives versus taking responsibility for our own lives. I suspect that, while most of us realise that this situation was a trap out of which Jesus cleverly extracted himself, and hear a word of advice, we don’t always stop to realise that we are in a trap ourselves; a trap that God needs us to get out of; a trap that we need to get out of in order for the kingdom of God to be a reality.  It is the trap of the puppet – or perhaps today a more fitting modern example would be the robot – moving to the pull of a string or the push of a button.  We are Pinocchios, wanting desperately to become real people, but placing our trust in others to pull the right strings so that we make the right moves.  The problem is not that we need encouragement or permission to give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s; rather, we need to hear the warning that we are in danger of giving Caesar more than is his due. 

I would like to read to you a prayer that, rather pointedly and sarcastically, highlights this danger:   “Giving Caesar More Than His Due”

O Thou who seest all things below,
Grant that Thy servants may go slow,
That they may study to comply
With regulations till they die.
Teach us, O Lord, to reverence
Our leaders more than common sense;
To train our mind to make no plan
And pass the baby when we can.

Please bind us lest the tempter give
Us feelings of initiative;
Thus may Thy servants ever be
A flock of perfect sheep for thee.

The story is told of a king who placed a heavy stone in the road and then hid and watched to see who would remove it.  Men of various classes came and worked their way around it, loudly blaming the king for not keeping the highways clear. At last a poor peasant came, and contemplating the stone, laid down his burdens, and rolled the stone into the gutter. Then, turning round, he spied a purse that had lain right under the stone.  He opened it and found it full of gold pieces with a note from the king saying it was for the one who should remove the stone.  

     Part 2

For the most part, we are quite happy to hand over our taxes to Caesar, so that we may also hand over to the government our responsibility for doing God’s will.  It is so much easier to walk around an injured person or neglect a poor person if we can say, “It’s alright; there is a government department which takes care of such people.  I do my bit by paying my taxes.” Or when the government does something immoral, it is much easier to claim the role of the patriot rather than challenge the Caesar who has so graciously freed us from our responsibilities. Where then is the image of God to be seen? That which is God’s has been given to Caesar.  

And where then is the individual, the bearer of God’s image?  Here is the crux of the matter: the individual has been lost.  The puppet is further than ever from becoming real. 

The question implicit in Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is “Whose are you?”

Whose am I?  I am God’s!  Who am I? I am a living image of God; a child of God.  To find one’s self then is to find God; to find God is to find one’s self.  The potential is there for each one of us to say with Jesus, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” 

But, alas, we are always in danger of falling more deeply into the trap of the puppet: of surrendering our own authority, our responsibility, our selves to a worldly authority.  It is not just government.  In fact government is a relatively minor one compared to things like our desire for financial security and well-being, or social acceptance and position, or love of family and friends, or our fear of death and meaninglessness.  Many of our choices are dictated by these powerful forces of our culture, rather than from our own centre wherein God’s spirit dwells. 

The church, too, has played the roll of Caesar, demanding the surrender of our authority in subtle ways.  Our salvation comes through believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour we are told.  Indeed, it is part of our confession as we join the church. But Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven.”  It seems to me that in those words Jesus is saying, “I will not save you. Only by taking up your own God-given responsibility, and doing God’s will may you enter the kingdom.”

As we read Jesus’ teachings about the will of God, about loving God with our entire being, about losing our self-centredness and self-concern, in short, in manifesting the image of God in which we are made, we come to understand that we must not give up ourselves to any belief system, to any saviour or hero or to anything other than the great Mystery that guides and drives us. 

If you recall the story of Pinocchio, he didn’t become real until he lost himself in the belly of a whale looking for Geppetto, his creator.  Being in the belly of whale is a striking symbol of death – cut off from the world, lost to it – and yet the very place where the self is found; there in relationship to the creator, and only in relationship to the creator. 

From that point new life – real life – is possible.  Yes, give to Caesar, to government, to parents, to social custom and mores, to spouse, friends, to church, even to Jesus that which is theirs, but the rest goes to God.  You can give what you have to all of those worldly, and even the not-so-worldly, principalities, but who you are, all of you, goes only to God, to whom you belong and who defines who you are. 

A CELEBRATION OF FAITH

L: In response to the word reflected on, let us share together a celebration of faith. God is hearing what we hear, God is seeing what we see

R: urging us, with others, to make fresh that which is in decay.

L: God is crying when we cry, God is laughing when we laugh

R: We are known in community with believers in ministry with the marginalised.

L: Encouragement and support are the gifts we exchange

R: in our places of rest, work and play,
in our speaking of dreams and vision.

L: In our physical, emotional and spiritual relating –

R: being loved, empowers all women and men, to in turn, minister in love.

HYMN  555 – “Put All Your Trust in God” (click here to listen)    

(You’ll have to do your own singing for this one. I could only find recordings of accompanitments)

WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS TO GOD

L: Most loving God, while most of us have easy lives, around us exists wide bewilderment, suffering, injustice, and hopelessness. Want and grief are so overwhelming, that we sometimes try to disengage from the reality and pretend that it does not exist. But now, in these prayers, we engage our mind and soul once more with your passionate love for all human beings.

We picture them in our minds: the persecuted minorities in Indonesia and China, the hungry in parts of Africa, the dire poverty in India, the entrenched hatreds in Ireland and the Middle East. Holy Friend, bless all who attempt to bring aid and peace, 

R: and by your Holy Spirit, comfort your people.

L: We picture the heads of nations; those powerful speech-makers and hand-shakers who head the large and prosperous Nations, and those others who govern the weak, poverty stricken countries. Bless every leader with humility and discernment appropriate to the needs of their people. Holy Friend, bless all who attempt to bring aid and peace, 

R: and by your Holy Spirit, comfort your people. 

L: We picture our own political leaders; Prime Minister and Government, the Opposition and minor parties; cabinet ministers and hard working backbenchers. Guide them whether they believe in you or not. Help our nation to better care for the weak, the exploited, the abused, the unemployed, the angry and alienated, the forgotten and the misunderstood. Holy Friend, bless all who attempt to bring aid and peace, 

R: and by your Holy Spirit, comfort your people.

L: We picture the heads of the churches; Moderators, Archbishops, Presidents, Assemblies and Synods. We call to mind also the leaders of local congregations: parish councils and boards, ministers, priests, deacons and elders, lay preachers and pastoral assistants. May they all have the mind that was in Christ Jesus, treating minorities with the same respect as majorities, and the fractious with the same patience as the easy going members. Holy Friend, bless all who attempt to bring aid and peace, 

R: and by your Holy Spirit, comfort your people.

L: We picture the sad and sick among us, the anxious and the painfully shy, the lonely and the awkward, the infirm and those of extreme age, the terminally ill and the mentally confused, the sorrowing and the disconsolate, those hurting badly from broken marriages or embroiled in  misunderstanding between young folk and their parents. Holy Friend, bless all who attempt to bring aid and peace, 

R: and by your Holy Spirit, comfort your people.

L: Most loving God, please gather up all the prayers, and the unspoken, secret yearnings of our hearts, and implement them according to your greater wisdom and love. Through Christ Jesus our Saviour, who taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father…”

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us in the time of trial, and deliver us from evil; for the kingdom and the power and glory are yours now and forever. Amen

HYMN 103 – “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” (click here to listen) 

SENDING OUT

L: Let us take on this week’s life with renewed hope and imagination. Remember this: Within and all around us is our Source of Life.

R: May we return to it, heed it, and honour it

BENEDICTION

It is time to leave one form of worship and begin another.
That what you do at home may be as sacred as that done here, you take with you God’ s blessing.
That your work and your leisure be a liturgy, and your listening and caring be a form of praise, you take with you God’s blessing.
That you may sense God in the smile of those who love you, and find Christ in the pain of those who depend upon you, you take with you God’s blessing.

-oOo-

GIVE TO GOD THE THINGS THAT ARE GOD’S

“There is not way of making a person true unless he gives up his own will.  In fact, apart from complete surrender of the will, there is no traffic with God.  But if it did happen that we gave up completely and dared to put off everything physical and spiritual for God’s sake, then we should have done all and not before.  Such people are rare.  Aware of it or not, people have wanted to have the ‘great’ experiences;  they want it in this form, or they want that good thing; and this is nothing but self-will.  Yield completely to God and then be satisfied whatever he does with his own.”    (Meister Echardt)

REV. BOB’S RESPONSES TO THE QUESTIONS

What is the question put to Jesus?  Is it right [or lawful] to pay taxes to Caesar

Who asks it?  The Pharisees

What happens if Jesus says ‘yes’?  He will lose credibility as a prophet and blaspheme against the first commandment and the theocratic principle, i.e. that God is ruler)

What happens if Jesus says ‘no’?  He can be charged with inciting rebellion, and executed for treason by the Romans.

What is happening in Jesus?  He is forced to choose between God and the welfare of the people.

What is Jesus’ response? 

1) Brilliant uncovering of the questioners’ duplicity, showing them up as Roman sympathisers when they produce a Roman coin rather than a shekel.

2) Shows that one can live in the world AND be related to God.

3) Given that a good Jew would not have an image of Caesar, he effectively may be saying ‘don’t pay’, but using words that could not be understood as treason.

4) It is an expansion of the notion of what it means for God to rule (the theocratic principle).

Expanding on this last point: What do we owe to God? Merely a temple tax, or everything, which is far more than money? I like the conclusion of New Testament scholar Marcus Borg:

“Thus this text offers little or no guidance for tax season. It neither claims taxation is legitimate nor gives aid to anti-tax activists. It neither counsels universal acceptance of political authority nor its reverse. But it does raise the provocative and still relevant question: What belongs to God, and what belongs to Caesar? And what if Caesar is Hitler, or apartheid, or communism, or global capitalism? “What is to be the attitude of Christians toward domination systems, whether ancient or modern?

“At issue is not merely my economic relationship to the government, but my existential relationship with God. On that ancient denarius was an image of Caesar, and merely money is owed to him, whereas every human being bears the image of God, implying that I “render to God” wholly and without condition my entire self.”

What enables Jesus to make this radical statement?  His own relationship to God and to the image of  God, the assumption God is already ruling. Remember how he has said the Kingdom comes: slowly, hidden, when we sell “all.”

When we enter the Kingdom, do we work in the social sphere or do we enter the Kingdom by working in the social sphere?  Either or both.  Some people have come to discover the Kingdom through the work they do on behalf of others, while others have had ‘conversion’ experiences that have changed their lives and led them into charitable living for others. It is probably true that many people have experienced both processes.

What quality is given to our social work when we have our inner focus on our relationship with God?  The social work ceases to be ‘work’, for it becomes part of who we are.  Burnout is unknown, because the work fulfils rather than drains. Those with whom we work meet God through us.

What are some important outer world social issues? climate change, economic inequality, power inequality, ethnic/ religious/gender/sexual orientation – based prejudice, et al.

What do I take away from this passage?  A good summation comes from Danish philosopher and theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, who perfected the art of irony like few others. He once observed, with dripping sarcasm, that most people are infinitely malleable: 

“One can as easily get them to do one thing as another, just as easily get them to fast as to live in worldly enjoyment; only one thing is important to them, that they are just like the others…Yet what God wants is neither the one thing nor the other, but primitivity.” 

As his biographer Joakim Garff explains in Soren Kierkegaard: A Biography, for Kierkegaard, 

“a primitive relation to God is a relationship in which one relates unconditionally to the divine, but in so doing one inevitably comes into profound conflict with prevailing social and ethical norms.” 

Kierkegaard thus envisaged an unavoidable collision between the “profoundly radical nature of Christianity,” and what he variously described throughout his works as cultural convention, Christianity in which its ‘terror’ has been tamed, and so makes believers as docile as geldings (here he anticipated Nietzsche’s critique), superficial civic virtue that barely rises above “obedience to police ordinances,” dead orthodoxy, vacuous social affectations, or the safety of neutrality. 

Paying your taxes is simple. However distasteful, you hold your nose and write a cheque. Rendering relative honour to that subordinate ‘Caesar’ is the easy part, and perhaps even necessary. As a friend of mine once observed, civilisation is expensive, and taxes pay the tab. But absolute allegiance to an ultimate God, rendering our entire selves to God without preconditions or limits, without hedging our bets, demands a higher order of magnitude. That takes a lifetime.

An open, virtual door to the world