October 22nd Sermon: What is your god? (Paul Strike)
Matthew 22:15-22, Psalm 96, Isaiah 45:1-7, and 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
What is your god?
As the day for the commemoration of the Reformation comes ever nearer,
Perhaps an insight from Martin Luther might be appropriate here
In answering this vital question.
In the Large Catechism, Luther, explains the first commandment:
You shall have no other gods.
In his explanation, he defines what a god is:
“A ‘god’ is the term for that to which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need. Therefore, to have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart… it is the trust and faith of the heart alone that make both God and an idol… Anything on which your heart relies and depends I say, that is really your God.”
“Anything on which your heart relies and depends I say, that is really your God.”
In the fall season, of course,
The most obvious places where you see people white-knuckled and
In the stadiums
Where football is being played.
Around our corner of New Haven, you can spot fandom
Among the blues and whites, the big letter “Y” and the bulldog emblems,
Worn by proud Yale students, alums, faculty, staff,
And vociferous fans of our neighborhood university.
Judging from the photos on Facebook,
It seems Bethesda had a good gathering at last weekend’s Yale football game,
Though there was an odd photo with Bryan Leone in a…
Purple Holy Cross sweater?
Yale beat Holy Cross, 32-0. Better luck next year, Bryan.
In my native Iowa, the most serious divide of devotion is revealed
On one day of the year:
The University of Iowa vs. Iowa State University football game.
The typical midwestern niceties are done away with on this particular day.
Social media goes nuts!
Hostile words push people away much like the stiff arms that happen on the field.
And, of course, the winning team’s fans gets bragging rights for the next year,
Which, really, is the sweetest prize of all.
Better luck next year, Iowa State.
Okay, college teams seem too superficial to be “gods.”
However, we could probably think of
Other little things that can become little gods for us,
That we depend on in a real way to help us have hope.
In the Gospel story for today,
We read about two competing forces
And their quest for finding hope in
Things that are not God.
The two groups, Jewish Pharisees and Roman Herodians
Combine in order to, quote, “entrap” Jesus.
By this point in Matthew, the gospel portrays the Pharisees
As tireless head hunters,
Looking for any opportunity to catch and convict Jesus for wrongdoing.
This has become their god, it seems:
They won’t rest until they have Jesus right where they want him.
Now, the partnership between these Pharisees and Herodians is very odd.
They ask Jesus about a tax
That all are required to pay to the Roman government.
The Jewish people at this time, including the Pharisees,
Despised this tax.
But, the Herodians are supporters of the Herodian dynasty.
(recall King Herod in the birth narratives)
They’re loyal to the government and support its taxes.
So, the Pharisees deeply oppose the tax,
While the Herodians support it,
And they’re teaming up to ask Jesus about whether or not to pay it.
This puts Jesus in a tricky situation.
If he sides with the Herodians, he’ll be a traitor to his fellow Jewish people.
If he sides with the Pharisees, he’ll be treasonous toward the Roman government.
Somehow, some way, Jesus has to lose.
Yet, somehow, Jesus wiggles out of the trap.
The biblical account claims, “all were amazed” by him.
The unlikely partnership yields nothing.
The Pharisees’ god—that of capturing Jesus—continues to deprive them of peace.
We also get a glimpse of the little god at the top of the Roman government,
Which the Herodians support.
Jesus asks for someone to show him the coin used for the tax.
Now, people would probably know what that coin looked like.
It would be as if I were to ask you for a quarter.
People know what is on the coin.
Jesus seems to be reveling in the moment for some reason.
And what is imprinted on that coin?
It is something gross to those who professed to worship
The God of Israel.
On the coin is the emperor’s face,
And its inscription would read something to the effect of,
“Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest.”
Does anyone else see a problem there,
Any tension between central Jewish beliefs
And the claim that the emperor is divine (and, if I may add, worthy of praise)?
The other Scripture readings for today declare God’s sovereignty
Above everything else.
This seems to be the sentiment in
Isaiah 45:5, which states, “I am the Lord, and there is no other;
Besides me there is no God.”
In Psalm 96, God is worthy of worship,
As opposed to the other lower-g gods.
Verses 4-5 read: “For Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
He is to be revered above all the gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the Lord made the heavens.”
And, the Apostle Paul writes about the Thessalonians’ turn toward God in service from these idols.
1st Thessalonians 1:9-10 read:
“…you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God,
And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus.”
The emperor claims to be divine,
But there is no room for any sort of worship of a man-made idol,
When God claims to alone be worthy of worship.
The attempt to entrap Jesus seems to show
The Pharisees and Herodians that they have left God for their own aims at peace,
For their own gods.
The Herodians have thrown in their lot with a government
Led by the “divine” Caesar,
And the Pharisees’ partnership with the Herodians
Yields nothing for them.
The plan backfires, and they labor vainly on.
But, how, really, are we supposed to claim God as our God
In this day and age,
When we have soccer games, weekend work shifts,
Homework, and, like the people in the Gospel, taxes to pay?
Lots of things demand our time and energy,
And our sense of duty.
We look to so many things for comfort and reliance.
As people pretty well entrenched in the world
But also in the church,
We have to figure out how we are to devote ourselves
To worshipping God and caring for the spiritual life,
Before we become like the Pharisees and Herodians,
Relying on things that are not God for our peace.
Over the past month and a half or so,
Bethesda has worked on the CAT,
Or Congregational Assessment Tool.
It’s not so much a progress report
As it is a tool to help us all see how we feel
About Bethesda’s ministries and our place within it.
In the interpretation of the results,
We found that spirituality seemed to be an area of focus
That people wanted more of from the church.
The spiritual life is our lifeblood,
The way that we continue to remember that God is our God.
So, perhaps now is the time to begin the conversation and think of
Ways to tend to the spiritual life in daily life.
Pray! Pray in the morning, pray in the evening.
Pray with thanksgiving for creation when you’re working in the garden,
Pray with wrestling words as you struggle with something, like Jacob.
Pray with lament as you mourn, like Job or David.
Read the Bible!
The smallest passage will do. Soak in it.
Even memorize parts of it!
As monks even today memorize the entire book of Psalms,
Maybe we could commit some of the Gospel message of salvation
To our minds. Perhaps the beatitudes of Matthew 5.
And, come to church!
We experience the means of grace here.
As Pastor Tim said last week,
The church is a meal fellowship;
Come to experience God who comes to us
In the wine and bread.
There are so many ways to dig into the spiritual life
That I couldn’t possibly name them all.
Ask Pastor Tim (or me, or a spiritual giant in the congregation)
For more ideas.
But, suffice to say, we are called, first and foremost,
To devote our time and energy to God,
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all,
That in which our hearts rely and depend.
What is your God?