Something Money Cannot Buy

The Pharisees seek out Jesus because they are frustrated.  They want to catch Jesus on the horns of their dilemma.

Jesus is unraveling their world; all of their allegiances and assumptions.  And so they go to trap Jesus with an inscrutable riddle, and with flattery.

“And so the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he had said . . . Is it lawful to pay the tax?”

  This is a serious question of conscience for Jews at the time.

Their country is occupied by a foreign military.  The occupation is funded by the taxes paid by those who are being occupied; paid for with Roman coins carried in Jewish pockets. 

Therefore, someone’s stance towards the Roman tax is a kind of litmus test of their stance toward personal security, religious devotion, loyalties to a foreign power.  The Pharisees are begging the question: “What we owe to earthly rulers, and what we owe to God?”

It is a real question.  How do we live our daily lives serving two masters?

And I believe that Jesus is trying to help them; rather than play a game of tit for tat.  He tries to help them – “Aware of their malice.”

“Whose head is this, whose title . . . you blockheads . . . whose image is this?”

“The Emperor’s,” they say.

“Then give THIS thing, these things, {rattle coins} to their owner; and give to God the things that are God’s”  If the man who had these bits of metal hammered out and forged in his own image, these coins, wants them back . . . then give them back to him.

. . . But remember to give to God what is God’s.  I am always looking for what may lay behind the implications of Jesus’ words; something like . . . “Because you, yourselves, are hammered out, cast, forged, sculpted, in an image . . . God’s image.” 

“You just remember that . . . give to God what is God’s . . .”

Jesus is reminding the Pharisees, and us, that we are not our own, nor are we the Emperor’s.  We are God’s children, created in God’s own image – imago dei.  This is the first and primary clue to understanding our lives, and what we “owe” to anyone or anything.  And God’s own Son gives us the currency for this very transactions.

God is a giver.  God gives us the gift of life – the gift of his Son – the gift of spending a life in growing closer to him so that we might have some sense of how we will spend our eternity.

Our chief end in this life is to reflect and resemble that gift of the Giver – to become the imago dei that lay with our heart’s, mind’s, and bodies.   

The simple truth of our lives is that when we give, that is when we become most like God – that is when our spiritual DNA is working in the proper direction.

Within each of us there are pieces of the One Gift that we are destined to become for God and for others; our task is to begin putting those pieces together now.  And when we give, when we take from those things that we might think of as our own and give them to God and others – we begin pulling the pieces together.  We begin to see the portrait of holiness that is being made from the pieces of our lives.  This is our sacred journey.  This is the adventure of our lives.

We might find ourselves turning those corners that sometimes elude us: purpose, hope, meaning, and love.  When we give ourselves away, we may begin to discover the One who gave Himself away for us, for you and me. 

This is the heartbeat of Christian stewardship – surrendering to the one Master, rather than trying to serve a multitude of tyrants their tyrannies. 

God desires us, loves us, more than the tyrannies that would divide our hearts and allegiances.  God loves us more than the petty fabrications with which we surround ourselves.

Christian stewardship does not begin with something that we do, but rather with something that God is doing for us; loving us home, loving us to Himself.

When this question, what is our Alpha and Omega, is answered here {heart} and here {head}.  When the Creator and the creature come into alignment, then the questions of our wallets, our checkbooks, and our day-planners will also be answered. 

And if we can’t take Jesus’ word for it:  The Gospel of the WSJ.

According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, researchers have found that “adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not. . . . They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly and have greater resistance to viral infections.”

Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California-Davis, was one of the leading researchers in study that reached these conclusions. He’s quoted as saying that the act of feeling gratitude requires “self-reflection, the ability to admit that one is dependent upon the help of others, and the humility to realize one’s own limitations.”

We are entering our annual Stewardship Season.  The weeks ahead of us give an opportunity for us to ask the question, in the spirit of what is taught in scripture, “What percentage of my income and my time is God calling me to give to his community called The Body of Christ – The Church?”

Generally there are three responses:

There are those who are already giving a tithe to God, and so for them, our Stewardship conversation is an opportunity to cover familiar ground.

There are those who are unsure.  There are those, who like me some years ago, always left the question of stewardship and what to give to God a moving target; rather than give myself to a commitment, I simply meandered and suffered as a consequence.  Leaving the questions unanswered as a young man, I was secretly hoping the question would go away.

And so a commitment at 4 percent, or 6 percent, or 5 percent would be an honest beginning.   And if the truth were told there is a sense of relief in knowing that others are also discerning, and that simply making a beginning is the important thing, putting a flag in the ground of our lives; and there will be the gift of having made a decision for God, and a peace at having made a start.  There are some questions in life that if left unattended, unanswered, actually bring a certain amount of anxiety and uncertainty in the rest of our lives.

And there are those who a friend of mine has called the “hilarious givers.”  They are so far along in the depths of their relationship with God and the Church that they might find themselves well beyond a tithe, at say 15, 18, 20 percent and beyond.

In fact it seems that as they grow in their generosity, there simply seems to be less and less room for what they might consider their own – eventually, perhaps as in the lives of the saints, there is simply room left only for God.

Stewardship season is a time to have a conversation with God about where you have been, where you are now, and where God might be calling you in the future.

Our St. Mark’s community, at its best, is something like a workshop of love, truth, and grace – a place where each of us is trying to pull the pieces so that we might discover the portrait of holiness that it is our destiny to present to God.  And Jesus tells us over and over that we will not find those pieces alone, without one another.  My portrait depends upon you, and you, and you.  And your portrait depends upon others in this room. 

Believe it or not, we are not simply here for ourselves.  Believe it or not, we each are playing an irreplaceable part in one another’s sacred journey. I cannot find all the pieces of my life with God without Bill, Susan, and Kate. John cannot find all the pieces of his life with God without David, and Mark, and Thomas. We are walking in the midst of one another’s lives in order to find ourselves closer to Christ.

Archbishop Rowan Williams used to say, the longer we walk on this journey, we will discover that we are one another’s salvation; we are the pieces upon one another’s path to God.

As you sit over your checkbook and your day planner wringing out in your heart and your mind, wringing out what is the Emperor’s and what is God’s, please remember, always remember, the only thing we are left holding at the end, are those things that we have given to God and to others in love. 

Be encouraged, and make a commitment with no regrets; it is in our spiritual nature to come to resemble a generous creator and redeemer.

God’s love is not hidden in a riddle.  It is revealed in his son.  God’s image is made real in a human heart that breaks, a life that breaks open, to say, “I am yours.  Lord help me to become the gift you have created me to be during this life.” 

God will provide the path; and we will rejoice as we hand over that portrait of holiness that has been our project in this life, and hear the words – “Well done good and faithful servant.”

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