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Calvary Episcopal Church
667 Mount Road
Aston, PA       19014

610-459-2013
OFFICE




mail@calvaryepiscopalrockdale.org
SERMON
23 Pentecost - Proper 24
October 19, 2008
The Rev. Kristine Hill
667 Mount Road, Aston, PA   19014                                                 610-459-2013
Small Parish - Big Heart
The little church you've been looking for!
All are welcome!
Our Mission:

To worship
the Lord

To serve the
community

To grow the
church
Exodus 32:1-14
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22
The Rev. Kristine Hill, Interim Rector
Who  do  you  love?    That  seems  to  be  a  theme  in  these  lessons.  Who  do  you  love-
really,   trust,  and  respect  as  the  genuine  power  in  life,  the  one  who  ‘makes  your  
world  turn’  as  they  say?       Writing  on  the  First  Commandment  --  “I  am  the  Lord  
your  God,  you  shall  have  no  other  gods”  --  Martin  Luther  says  that  love  makes  
both  God  and  an  idol,  that  whatever  you  trust  with  your  whole  heart  is,  in  reality,  
your  god.   Whether  that  “god”  proves  to  be  true  and  capable   will  tell  you  
whether  you  have  invested  your  trust  in  the  real  God  or  in  an  imposter.

When  Rome  occupied  Israel,  back  in  the  days  when  Jesus  lived  on  earth,  Caesar –
the  Roman  emperor -  made  himself  out  to  be  a  god.    All  Roman  subjects  were  to  
pay  homage  to  the  emperor  --  to  worship  him.   This  was  a  problem  for  the  Jewish  
people;  they  did  not  ‘worship’  anyone  or  anything  other  than  the  God  of  Abraham  
and  Sarah,  the  God who  gave  the  commandments  to  Moses.  Roman  money  was  
especially  distasteful  to  the  people  of  Israel  because  Caesar’s  picture  was  
imprinted  on  the  coins  along  with  a  motto  about  the  Caesar’s  eternal  kingdom.   
Again,  this  offended  their  devotion  to  God,  specifically  their  determination  to  avoid  
idols,  graven  images  of  “other  gods.”   Israel  was  perturbed,  in  general,  with  Rome’
s  occupation  of  their  land,  and  they  were  especially  disturbed  by  having  to  handle  
Roman  coinage.

However,  Israel  had  no  choice  when  it  came  to  using  Roman  currency.  Their  
everyday  life  in   the  marketplace  could  be  conducted  with  their  own  coinage;  and  
at  the  Temple,  Israeli  money  was  required  --  none  of  that  pagan  stuff  would  do  
for  taking  care  of  Godly  work.   But  when  paying  taxes  to  Rome  --  a  responsibility  
that  falls  to  citizens  of  every  era  –  the  people  of  Israel  had  to  use  Roman  
money.   Rome  imposed  several  kinds  of  taxes  –  taxes  on  goods,  taxes  on  
property  –  but  the  kind  spoken  of  in  our  gospel  reading  today  was  a  yearly  tax  
registered  on  every  adult  person  in  the  Roman  system  –  one  denarius  a  year,  or  
a  day’s  wage  a  year,  was  paid  to  the  Roman  government  by  citizens  of  all  
occupied  nations.    Paid  grudgingly,  no  doubt.  

In  our  gospel  reading  from  Matthew,  a  trap  is  laid  for  Jesus  by  an  unlikely  pair  of  
allies,  some  Pharisees  and  some  Herodians.   Pharisees  were  the  elite  group  of  
Torah  scholars  (scripture  scholars).   They  knew  the  religious  laws  inside-and-out,  
and  their  aim  was  to  guide  the  rest  of  the  Jewish  people  to  keep  God’s  law  
properly.  They  would  have  despised  this  foreign  tax  paid  to  an  occupying  
government.  Had  Jesus  spoken  favorably  of  it,  they  would  have  seen  him  as  a  
traitor.   The  Herodians,  on  the  other  hand,   were  cohorts  of  the  governor,  King  
Herod,  Rome’s  “company  man”  in  Israel.  King  Herod  was  appointed  by  Rome  and  
any  power  he  had  came  from   Rome;  the  same  was  true  for  his  associates.  So  it  
was  in  the  Herodians  best  interest  that  the  Roman empire  be  fully  supported,  
financially.  That’s  how  they  kept  their  positions  of  power  and  made  their  living.  
Had  Jesus  spoken  against  paying  the  tax  to  Rome  they  would  have  reported  him  
immediately  to  the  authorities. These  two  groups  on  opposite  sides  approached  
Jesus  in  our  gospel  reading  and  asked:  “is  it  lawful  to  pay  taxes  to  the  emperor  
or  not?”   They  did  their  best  to  wedge  Jesus  right  between  a  rock  and  a  hard  
place.  

But  the  place  isn’t  hard  if  you  know  who  you  are  and  whom  you  love.   Jesus  did  
not  have  divided  loyalties.  He  loved  Israel,  his  home;  he  loved  the  Jewish  people,  
his  people.  No  doubt,  he  would  have  liked  to  see  them  freed  from  the  agony  of  
being  occupied  by  another  country.  But  he  knew  what  he  owed  to  whom  without  
having  to  think  about  it.  It  was  not  unimportant  to  him  that  people  were  hurting  
under  Roman  rule.   But  those  who  asked  were  not  seeking  an  answer  regarding  
the  Roman  occupation;  they  were  trying  to  trap  Jesus.   “What’s  lawful?  What  do  
we  owe  to  whom?”   Jesus  knew  what  ‘we  owe  to  whom.’   That  coin  with  Caesar’s  
face  on  it  meant  little  to  him.   It  was  merely  one  of  life’s  obligations,  like  grabbing  
a  tissue  and  wiping  your  nose  when  it  starts  to  run.   So  Jesus  said  “give  to  the
Emperor  what  belongs  to  the  Emperor,”  but  then  Jesus  struck  the  chord,  turned  
the  conversation  toward  its  proper  subject,  and  said  “and  give  to  God  the  things  
that  are  God’s.”     It’s  almost  as  though  Jesus  was  pushing  his  adversaries  to  
consider  who  they  truly  loved,  who,  bottom-line, was  their  God.    Because  our  God  
is  the  one  we  love  and  trust  with  our  whole  life,  with  everything  we  have  and  
everything  we  are.    That  one  is  really  our  God.

The  television  and  radio  news  programs  still  seem  to  be  focused  on  the  
economic  crisis.  Every  day  we  hear  what  the  stock  market  has  done,  not  only  in  
the  United  States,  but  around  the  world;  then  various  people  analyze  what  that  
means  for  today,  for  tomorrow,  for  people’s  financial  portfolios  and  for  the  rest  of  
us  who  do  not  have  financial  portfolios,  but  who  do  want  to  keep  our  jobs  and  
our  homes.  One  issue  that  is  frequently  mentioned  is  how  important  the  selection  
of  the  next  Secretary  of  the  Treasury  will  be.    The  financial  bailout  has  been  
passed,  the  government  is  trying  to  decide  just  how  to  allocate  that  money,  
several  major  banks  are  on  the  brink  of  going  under  or  staying  solvent  –  there’s  
still  a  lot  to  be  done  to  clean  up  the  financial  mess  in  our  nation.   Significant  
questions  remain  --   will  there  be  better  oversight  of  lending  practices?   Will  there  
be  limits  to  compensation  for  CEOs?  Will  there  be  new  regulations  for  folks  in  
the  Stock  Market  to  follow?   If  the  answer  to  these,  or  similar  questions,  is  yes,  
then  who  will  implement  and  oversee  the  new  policies?    Clearly  someone  has  a  
lot  of  critical  work  left  to  do.  It  could  be  that  the  next  Secretary  of  the  Treasury  
will  be  a  very  important  position.     Carousel

These  are  weighty  issues  --  who  will  be  leading  our  nation,  who  will  be  Secretary  
of  the  Treasury,  what  kind  of  financial  structure  will  be  devised  for  the  nation --  
these  are  important  matters  and  we  need  to  pay  attention,  be  involved…   but  at  
the  same  time,  we  want  to  beware,  lest  we  climb  back  on  the  same  carousel  of  
mistakes  we’ve  been  riding  --  trusting  the  currency  of  the  government  to  see-us-
through,  to  provide  for  us,  to  build  our  homes  and  ensure  our  futures.   Trusting  
the  financial  system  has  not  worked  out  well  so  far,  although  things  could  have  
been  worse  for  us – and  have  been,  at  all  times,  for  some  folks.   Given  the  
situation  we  are  in,  we  might  want  to  consider  whether  we  should  entrust  our  
happiness,  our  wellbeing,  our  security,  our  future  to  the  strength  and  health  of  
our  nation’s  economy.    Jesus  looked  at  the  denarius  and  saw  it  was  just  a  coin.  
The  same  is  true  for  a  dollar  bill,  a  bank  balance,  a  piece  of  stock,  or  any  kind  
of  wealth.   It  is  one  aspect  of  our  lives,  one  necessity  -  we  have  to  participate  in  
an  economic  system  to  live  in  this  world.   But  it  is  no  more  important  than  that.   
For  too  long,  we  have  allowed  the  accumulation  of  wealth  to  be  far,  far  too  
important  in  our  lives,  to  have  too  much  power,  too  great  a  hold  on  our  hearts.     
And  it  is  true  that  love  makes  both  God  and  an  idol;  whatever  we  truly  love-and-
trust   in the  depth  of  our  hearts    is,  finally,  our  God.

When  they  go  to  trap  him,  the  Pharisees  and  Herodians  say  to  Jesus:  “Teacher,  
we  know  that  you…show  no  deference  to  anyone,  for  you  do  not  regard  people  
with  partiality.”   That  is  true.  Jesus  does  not  play  favorites,  fawing  all  over  some  
people  while  ignoring  others.   But  it  seems  equally  clear  from  today’s  story  that  
Jesus  shows  no  deference  to  money,  either.   He  takes  the  coin,  looks  at  it,  and  
says  “pay  what  is  due”  almost  as  if  he’s  tossing  that  coin  over  his  shoulder  into  
the  dust.  Jesus  cares  about  people  --  whether  you  have  enough  to  eat  (and  your  
neighbor,  also),   whether  you  have  a  safe  place  to  live  and  people  to  love  you  
(your  neighbor,  too),  whether  we  have  clothes  to  wear  and  our  health  is  care for   
--  but  beyond  that,  it’s  just  money  and  it’s  only  purpose  is  to  do  good  for  
someone  --  to  help  that  family  Calvary  is  buying-wood-for  so  they  can  heat  their  
home  this  winter,  to  give  regularly  to  your  church  so  we  can  do  ministry  in  
Jesus’  name,  to  save,  yes  --  but  not  to  horde  for  personal  wealth,  to  save  so  
that  it  may  be  a  blessing  to  you  and  to  others.

We,  also,  know  what  we  owe  to  whom;  we  owe  everything  only  to  God.   More  
important  than  that,  we  know  who  loves  us.       God  is  our  strength  and  our  hope.   
Our  future  depends  on  God,  not  on  when  the  stock  market  recovers,  not  on  
whether  banks  get  back  on  their  feet,  not  on  who  the  next  Secretary  of  the  
Treasury  will  be.   Regardless  what  happens  to  the  economy,  God  is  with  us,  God  
sustains  and  provides  for  us.   As  the  psalmist  has  said:  “though  the  earth  should  
change,  though  the  mountains  shake,  though  the  waters  roar  and  foam…  God  is  
our  refuge  and  strength,  a very  present  help  in  trouble.”  Life  may  get  very  
difficult  for  some  of  us  but  we  know  where  to  turn  --  we  turn  most  deeply,  most  
consistently,  to  God.   And  God  receives  us,  God  gives  us  each  other  for  comfort  
and  help,  as  time  passes  we  might  grow  to  see  anew  that  God  is  our  rock  and  
our  foundation,  and  God  alone.    

The  stock  market  does  not  give  us  life;  our  lives  come  from  the  Creator  of  the  
Universe,  who  made  us  and  loves  us.   We’re  not  shaped  by  the  things  we  hear  
on  radio  and  television  thus  becoming  competitive  consumers  who  fight  against  
each  other  for  the  little  that  is  left.   No,  we  are  aware  that  God  has  given  us  the  
opportunity  for  companionship  in  one  another  as  neighbors  –  as  Christian  sisters  
and  brothers  –  as  friends,  as  family.    We  are  not  desperate,  fearing  that  if  the  
economy  fails  all  will  be  lost.   We  live  in  confidence  for  we  know  our  Lord  Jesus,  
who  had  compassion  on  the  crowds  seeing  as  they  were  like  sheep  without  a  
shepherd,  who  taught  them  about  God  and  when  it  grew  late,  took  5  loaves  and  
2  fish,  blessed  it,  broke  it,  and  divided  it  among  5000  men,  plus  women  and  
children.   All  ate  and  were  satisfied.   What’s  the  stock  market  compared  to  that?    

Let’s  not  hedge  our  bets  any  more.  The  stock  market  isn’t  god;  neither  is  the  
economy.   Lets  put  our  whole  treasure,  our  entire  trust,  right  where  it  belongs  --  
in  God’s  absolute  ability  to  keep  us  and  care  for  us.    I  remember  Kermit  Hugo,  
an  old  farmer  and  a  hard  workin’  man,  a  good  church  member,  late  in  his  life   
coming  and  telling  me,  his  eyes  twinkling,  “aw,  Pastor  Kris,  I’ve  been  worth  a  
million  dollars,  and  then  again,  I  haven’t  had  two  nickels  to  rub  together.   But  the  
Lord  has  always  taken  care  of  me.”    And  ya’  know,  that’s  just  about  right.