Here are my thoughts for tomorrow.
So Jesus held up the coin and asked “whose head was on the coin?” The people responded “the emperor’s.” And Jesus said “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and give to God that which is God’s.”
We know that this episode in the Gospel reading for today was a test by the Pharisees and Sadducees to see how Jesus would deal with the Roman occupation of Israel. If He was to acknowledge Caesar as the ruler of all, then they would be able to say that He was not the true Son of God. But if Jesus were to have said that anything that would have in effect denounced Caesar, then they could say to the Roman authorities that Jesus was a threat to the state. In the end, Jesus gave the answer that trapped the Pharisees and Sadducees. It also serves as somewhat of the basis for the separation of church and state in this country today.
But it is becoming apparent that the modern day Pharisees and Sadducees are looking to close the gap between church and state. It seems to me that they are unwilling to accept any answer which differentiates the heavenly kingdom of God with an earthly kingdom here on earth. In today’s political climate, it is unlikely that even Jesus would pass this modern day litmus test.
And this modern day litmus test is even being applied to individual Christians, no matter whether it is in the political arena or not. Tony Campolo noted that the image of Christians goes beyond a simple declaration of political allegiance (which is probably incorrect no matter what side of the political spectrum you might be on). To say that you are an evangelical Christian is to invite people to say that you are a ‘bigot’, ‘a homophobe’, ‘male chauvinist’, or a ‘reactionary’.
But if you asked those whom might describe Christians in those terms to describe Jesus they would say ‘caring, understanding, forgiving, kind, and sympathetic.” (Adapted from Speaking My Mind by Tony Campolo) How is it that there is such a wide discrepancy between what people think of that who should be guiding our lives and what people think of us?
But to be an evangelical Christian is to be one who takes the Gospel out into the world. It is a message of bringing hope to the poor; it is a message of clothing the naked and feeding the hungry; it is about being a voice for those oppressed and without a voice. It is also a message telling others about the personal relationship with God that can be obtained through Jesus Christ. But it is not about forcing a message of any kind down the throats of others.
With everything making demands on our lives, we also find it hard to publicly declare that we are, in fact, Christians. But the public perception is that if you say that you are a Christian then you must be conservative and if you say that you are a liberal, then you have no faith or are not willing to publicly acknowledge your faith. And each group, despite their claims of openness, turn away individuals whose views are not exact duplicates of accepted party doctrine.
It is really interesting to contrast the public perception of Christians with what people thought some two thousand years ago. If we had lived in the eastern area of the Mediterranean Sea during the beginning of Christianity, we might have seen, hastily scrawled on the walls of buildings, a crude outline of a fish. No big deal, we might think since we were walking through a fishing village.
But to be a Christian in those days was to invite persecution. To be identified as a Christian was to risk arrest and trial, to be thrown into the arena to fight for one’s life against lions or gladiators. It was to invite death for what you believed. You could not greet others openly and you could not use the sign of the cross, for that would immediately label you as a threat. So you used a fish, for the Greek letters for the word fish are also the first letters of the Greek words for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”
People risked their lives and well-being to become Christians because they had seen the power of the Good News in transforming lives. And people saw in them a tranquility, simplicity and cheerfulness that were encountered nowhere else in the world around them. (Adapted from “Reasons for Joy” by Huston Smith, Christian Century, 5 October 2005)
What is it that people see when they see us? The story about the coin and the image on the coin was told because we need to know that, whatever allegiances we owe here on earth, our true allegiances are to God first. But, for many people, we use the story to categorize our lives.
What would happen if it was one of us who Jesus lifted up for all to see and he were to ask “what do you see hear?” How would we answer? Thomas Kelly, the noted Quaker missionary, educator, speaker, writer and scholar wrote
We are trying to be several selves at once, without all our selves being organized by a single, mastering Life within us. Each of tends to be, not a single self, but a whole committee of selves. (In “Balance Sheet” by Judith Johnson – Siebold, Christian Century, 5 October 2005)
Kelly continued by pointing out that in this committee of selves there is no chairman; there is no center to which we can anchor our lives. As a result,
We are faced with the dilemma of what direction our lives should take. Too many people, too many activities demanding too much of our time lead to a confusing outcome. We are also not willing to accept the solution that Kelly suggested that of surrendering all to God. (Adapted from “Balance Sheet” by Judith Johnson – Siebold, Christian Century, 5 October 2005)
Now is the time to tell the people that caring for the poor and the vulnerable is what Christianity is about. (Matthew 25: 35 – 40 and Isaiah 10: 1 – 2) Now is the time to tell the people that caring for God’s earth is what Christianity is about. (Genesis 2: 15 and Psalm 24: 1) We need to remind people that truth will set us free, not simply saying what must be said to justify one’s actions. (John 8: 32) We must show that human rights, respecting the image of God in every person, are central to being a Christian. (Genesis 1: 27) We must remind people that a consistent ethic of human life is to obey the biblical injunction to choose life. (Deuteronomy 30: 19) Now is the time to remind people that God calls us to be peacemakers, not makers of war. (Matthew 5: 9) We must remind people that God no longer crowns kings and that war in God’s name is not consistent with the basic Gospel message. (Matthew 6: 33 and Proverbs 8: 12 – 13, From www.takebackourfaith.org) Our struggle should not be to fight for a return to Christendom; rather it should be a struggle to maintain the freedom that God has given us. (Colin Williams, Faith in a Secular Age, pg. 72)
Paul’s words to the Thessalonians should ring true with us today. Even though they risked persecution for their public expression for Christ, they became examples for others in the region. It was not just by words that this was done; it was by their actions as well. As Paul notes, others in the area reported that it was the actions of the Thessalonians that showed them who Christ was. What would Paul say to us these days? Are our actions such that others can see the Holy Spirit working in us?
What can we expect for this action, for showing the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives? Probably not a whole lot, since the public expects something totally different. This is a public and a time where people value their allegiance to earthly matters more highly than they do any rewards that might be gained in heaven. But consider that Moses found favor in God’s sight for the work that he had done. And God granted favor and glory to Moses for that work.
Shall we, just as Moses, find that cleft in the rock that will protect us and allow us to see God in all of His glory? When we sing “Rock of Ages” we are reminded that God protected Moses so that Moses could see God passing by. The cleft in the rock was made so that Moses would be protected.
- Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee; let the water and the blood, from thy wounded side which flowed, be of sin the double cure; save from wrath and make me pure.
- Not the labors of my hands can fulfill thy law’s commands; could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone; thou must save, and thou alone.
- Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling; naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul, I to the fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die.
- While I draw this fleeting breath, when mine eyes shall close in death, when I soar to worlds unknown, see thee on thy judgment throne, Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee. (UMH #361)
So too does the presence of the Holy Spirit protect us from the world around us. We need not fear what we do, provided of course that it is with the Holy Spirit guiding and directing us. If our allegiances are to other gods, if our allegiance to Christ as our Lord and Savior only takes hold for one or two hours on a Sunday morning, then we cannot expect much protection.
Jesus held up the coin and asked whose image was on the coin. We are held up in full view of the public and the world is asked “What do you see? Whose image do you see?” How shall we respond?
As we struggle in this world, can we not hear Christ calling us to Him? As we go through this world, can we not hear Christ calling us to do His business? We are reminded that when Mary came to the tomb that first Easter morning, she saw nothing. But the angel told her that Christ was not there because He has risen from the dead, just as He said He would. And then she saw Him. Her response was to go tell others that she had seen Christ, alive and present in this world. What will be your response?