Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reformed Love

Our gospel today, Matthew 22:34-46, is another one of these really familiar readings, so familiar we often miss the point. Here we see Jesus at work offering his new yoke, his “new way” of understanding the Torah. Jesus, the master interpreter of Scripture brings together two texts: Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, and not only makes them equally important, but the basis and grounding for the whole of Torah (Law). What he does is really interesting. Priests and Pharisees would have understood that loving the Lord their God was done through obedience to the Law and through performance of the temple rites. Loving our neighbour was then a second requirement – with the added questions around who my neighbour might be. But by pulling together these two passages from the Torah, Jesus not only makes them equally important, but makes loving our neighbour the means by which God is loved. The requirements of the law are then understood as the way people become people of compassion and mercy. The law is fulfilled when God is loved through the loving of neighbours. This changed everything. And for many it was too hard. The church has regularly drifted back to separating the two commandments and developing a whole new list of requirements by which we make ourselves worthy of God’s love – all of which is way too hard.
This Sunday is also remembered by some as Reformation Day. Celebrated on the last Sunday in October, Reformation Sunday commemorates the Protestant Reformation as well as Martin Luther, who nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517, the eve of All Saints' Day. It is a religious holiday often celebrated alongside All Hallows' Eve (Halloween), particularly by Lutheran and some Reformed church communities. It is a civic holiday in some German states as well as in Slovenia (since the Reformation contributed profoundly to that nation's cultural development), and Chile.
As Anglicans we do not often think of ourselves as part of the reformation movement. And yet on October 16th we were invited to remember two martyr reformers, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, who were burned at the stake on 16 October 1555. (Thomas Cranmer was burned at the stake the following day). The reformation is a significant part of our story.
The Reformation can be understood as being all about how we read todays Gospel. The Roman Catholic Church of Luther’s time had separated out these two commandments and developed a whole new system by which people could both earn God’s love and forgiveness and in turn love God. Luther struggled under this burden.  One day he read Paul’s letter to the Romans, and he understood that justification was by faith alone. We cannot earn love. He was reformed, and his consequent questioning of church practice and theology sparked a religious and political revolution that changed history and helped shape the church in England. Today we are invited to reflect on whether we have allowed other things to divide these two commandments, and how we need reformation ourselves?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Seeing the back of God

Gate Pa – October 19th, 2014
(Pentecost 19, 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time)
Psalm                                    99                                                                                
First Reading:                    Exodus 33:12-23                                 
Second Reading:              1 Thess 1:1-10                                    
Gospel:                                Matthew 22: 15-22                              

What I want to say:
I want to use the Exodus reading to ask, what does the back of God look like? Moses was most concerned about how to be a distinctive people. How does our seeing the back of God help us be distinctive? And using the gospel reading, how to we as people who are shaped by the back of God live in such a way that all creation and all that is in it is honoured and treated as God’s?

What I want to happen:
People to reflect on how our seeing the back of God helps us be distinctive? And how we as people shaped by the back of God live in such a way that all creation and all that is in it is honoured and treated as God’s?

The Sermon

1.       Introduction:

Old Testament and gospel readings are both well known
kind of stories don’t really need listen to or think about
we know what they are about
Story of Moses
                one level beautiful story
                touches some our deepest insecurities, longings
                well, some peoples insecurities/longings
ones I hear as spiritual director
not enough to be known by God
                even in our deepest levels
                that’s what knowing name is all about
                (that can be a little freaky)
want, need to know God
essence of God as encapsulated in name God
want to be certain of God
see, hear God for ourselves
that’s all Moses wanted
                to know God
                the essence of God
                to be certain of God
In this way he thought – Hebrew people could become a distinct people
different from every other people
as their God was different from all other gods.
wonder how many here want that?
                to know God
                the essence of God
                to be certain of God
                we might be a distinctive people
Moses was told that he could not
                know name God more than he did
                I am who I am
                I am who I was
                I am who I will be
tense of verb hard nail
kind of like God really
not see glory God
                -too much
                - God is inherently mystery and uncertainty
                that is what makes God different from all other gods
instead covered in rock as God passed by
he sees back of God
so much debate about what that means
                actual back
                sense presence?
                qualities of God abounding where God has been
what is back of God for us?
We are offered Jesus,
                who was one of us
                yet God Incarnate
reminding us who we are as people made in image of God
reminding us what it means to live as people made in the image of God
abounding with the qualities Jesus lived by.
Jesus is back of God
and as people who live with those qualities
in a way we become the back of God for people of this time?
where do we see the back of God around us?
how are we the back of God?
how does that helps us be distinctive as Moses hoped it would help the Hebrew people be distinctive?

2.       Jesus, the Pharisee and the Herodian.

Jesus was in the temple
He had re-entered Jerusalem the day before and immediately threw out the money changers
He was back,
offering his easy yoke
Temple leadership – chief priests and elders asked by what authority he did these things
                overturning tables and causing chaos and hardship for money changers
                teaching his yoke?
                whose Rabbi’s yoke was it anyway?
Jesus asks them question they refuse to answer
and tells stories of two sons, bad tenants and the absent landowner
and wedding feast where those should know better didn’t attend – to their cost
and those not expect to be invited suddenly were on guest list
all too much
something needed to be done
so some Jerusalem leadership –
normally have nothing to do with each other
these were extraordinary times
Pharisees and Herodians
cooked up really good question
"Teacher, we know you have integrity, teach the way of God accurately, are indifferent to popular opinion, and don't pander to your students. 17 So tell us honestly: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"
full of false flattery
unanswerable question
kind question never ask –
Some might wonder by whose law are they talking
Roman law is very clear – don’t even think about not paying
But Torah – law of Moses??
is this bound or loosed by the Law
what does your yoke say about this Jesus?
if say no – well Romans will be all over you –
                their Herodian lackeys make sure of that
if say yes
landless populace driven off land because debts accrued paying tax will lose faith in you – Roman puppet
win win for askers
loose loose for Jesus

3.       The Answer

Jesus asks calmly for a coin
who is wealthy enough to be carrying around Roman coins?
wealthy Pharisees and Herodians
people complicit in the oppressive Roman economy
that’s who
and whose image is on it?
Caesar Tiberius
Jesus then says
   "Then give Caesar what is his, and give God what is Gods."
sounds so straight forward
over centuries used by Christians and wealthy and leaders say
church stays out state affairs
not place economics
just concerned with spiritual stuff.
Heard those comments by a current minister crown in regard to Anglican churches statements about Treaty Waitangi
on face it – seems fair enough
so what is Caesars and what is Gods?

4.       O Wait

just two tiny problems
and can anyone tell me the first two commandments?
no other God but me?
not make any idols?
if I had a roman coin
                quite dodgy
                what does it say under the image?
"Tiberius, Emperor, son of God."
Where are we? - Temple?

5.       What is Gods?

one other little problem
what happens if I turn Jesus answer around
                give to God what is God’s
                give to Caesar what is Caesars?
what is God’s
and what is Caesars?
as an aside every Jew who heard Jesus answer understood this
no roman would have
so how does that change you answers from before?
how does that change help us be back of God?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Big themes

There are some big theological themes at play into today’s readings. They should give us cause to pause and wonder at their implications for us in this week of prayer for world peace.
The reading from Exodus displays Moses angst and insecurity. It is not enough that he is known by God. For him to continue he needs to know God. Interestingly these stories about knowing God are set in the midst of laws describing the tabernacle, the priesthood and their paraphernalia, and laws describing the accompanying ritual life – all of which symbolise the presence of God among the people. For Moses, this was not enough. He needed something more direct; he needed to see God’s glory. In God’s response we are invited into the mystery and uncertainty of God. We are invited in this story to take note of our own longings for God. Are we like Moses? Do we long for something else from God? Or are we content? When have we been certain of God’s presence in your life?  When have we been caught in the mystery of God? Where do we see the glory of God in our world?
The gospel reading is a well-known story, one that has led Christians over the centuries to declare that religion and politics do not mix, nor should economics and faith. But we would do well to remember Matthew 6:24 and Jesus warning against divided loyalties before we take this line. As we read this story we should keep in mind that the Pharisees and Herodians despised each other. For them to have a common approach to Jesus is startling. These are members of the Jerusalem elite working together to remove a problem. Their question is a good question, veiled in flattery. Jesus will be in serious trouble however he answers, either with the crowd who hate the Romans and their taxes, or with the Romans themselves – the Herodians are hoping they can dob him in – they are the collaborators. Jesus response seems simple and clever, and yet is filled with layers that we too often miss, layers of idolatry, of whose image we bear, and most importantly, what exactly is God’s, and what might rightly be called Caesars?