The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
October 18, 2020
20th Sunday after Pentecost
PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Jesus, our Companion in life, death and resurrection, call us into Your way of life. Guide us away from the ways of the world that tempt us to focus only on ourselves and our own gain. Keep us from the temptation to put ourselves above others, and instead open our minds to step into another’s shoes, to see through another’s point of view. May we be open to new ways of thinking, so that we might be reconciled and restored to one another. Lead us in Your ways of serving others, so that we might participate in your kin-dom here on earth. In Your precious name we pray. Amen.
CALL TO WORSHIP
O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless God’s name; tell of God’s salvation from day to day.
Declare the Lord’s glory among the nations, God’s marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; God is to be revered above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.
Honor and majesty are before the Lord; strength and beauty are in God’s sanctuary.
CALL TO RECONCILIATION
We are called to imitate Christ, but too often we emulate the lesser gods of our culture. We are called to be in the world, but not of it. Yet, we fail at making our discipleship that which is distinctive about us. Nonetheless, God is merciful and abounding in steadfast love. Therefore, we are confident in our coming before the Lord with our honest confession. Let us pray.
PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS
Lord, like those religious leaders long ago, we, too, have malice in our hearts. We wish ill upon those we do not like and fail to recognize our own shortcomings. We are certain in our opinions rather than humble about our assumptions. We think the best of ourselves and the worst of others, despite your admonishment to tend to the log in our own eye, rather than the speck in our neighbor’s. We want to partition off our lives, offering you a portion of our loyalty, time and resources, when we are called to give our whole selves to you. Forgive our pettiness, our hard-heartedness and our stubbornness. Use our repentance as a means for the Spirit to work in us and remake us into a closer likeness of our Lord, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Silence is observed
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The Lord our God answers us and forgives us. The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting. Friends, believe the good news, through Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Amen.
Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen, amen.
PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST
The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
And also with you.
(all children will remain in the sanctuary)
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
What more, Lord, could we ask for than the promise of your presence with us, your presence that gives us rest? Send your Spirit to open us to your Word read and proclaimed that we might hear and find rest for our souls and bread for the journey. Amen.
SCRIPTURE Matthew 22:15-22
15Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
SERMON “Whose head is this, and whose title?”
A little boy wanted $100 badly and prayed for two weeks but nothing happened. Then he decided to write a letter to the Lord requesting the $100. When the postal authorities received the letter addressed to the Lord, USA, they decided to send it to President Trump. The President was so impressed, touched, and amused that he instructed his secretary to send the little boy a $5.00 bill, as this would appear to be a lot of money to a little boy. The little boy was delighted with the $5.00, and sat down to write a thank-you note to the Lord. It said: Dear Lord, thank you very much for sending me the money. However, I noticed that for some reason you had to send it through Washington, DC and as usual, those jerks deducted $95.
We are not the only ones to feel that too much of our money is taken in taxes. We aren’t the first people to grumble over making payments to the government. Jews in first century Palestine, you see, paid numerous taxes: Temple taxes, land taxes, and customs taxes, just to name three. The tax in question was a particular – and particularly onerous – one. It was the Imperial tax paid as tribute to Rome to support the Roman occupation of Israel. That’s right: first-century Jews were required to pay their oppressors a denarius a year to support their own oppression.
Not that everyone saw it this way, however. Those put in power by the Romans, represented in this passage by the Herodians, advocated supporting Roman “governance” of Israel. Nationalists opposed to Rome, perhaps comprising much of the crowd, found the tax offensive as it was a constant reminder of their humiliation. And the religiously devout, represented by the disciples of the Pharisees, had to pay the tax with a coin engraved with a picture of Caesar Tiberius and a proclamation of his divinity, forcing them to break the first two Commandments.
All of which made the topic of the Imperial Tax tremendously disruptive and one’s opinion on it immediately revealing. And herein lies the cunning demonstrated by two normally testy parties united only by their shared opposition to this young Rabbi who the day before had entered Jerusalem to great acclaim and had been stirring things up at the Temple ever since. With their question about the Imperial tax, Jesus’ foes thought they had him trapped, as he would either disappoint the people by advocating for the tax or put himself in jeopardy with Roman officials by arguing against it.
But Jesus not only evades their snare, he entangles them in their own devices. “Whose face is on the coin,” he asks. Perhaps over-eager to advance their plot, Jesus’ opponents forget that by procuring a coin they betray their own collusion in the Roman system. For those not paying attention, Jesus makes explicit their self-indictment by asking whose image and proclamation adorn the coin. “The Emperor’s,” they answer, assuring those in attendance that they know full well the face and blasphemous confession of divinity they carry.
All this sharpens the bite of Jesus’ response: “give, therefore, to Caesar, the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And suddenly the tables are turned, as all in attendance confess that everything belongs to the holy One of Israel. With just a few words, Jesus reveals the truth about his would-be accusers and simultaneously calls them to a higher fidelity than they’d imagined.
Might Jesus also be doing the same to us? Oh, not trying to trap us, but rather to invite us to declare our allegiance. Perhaps the key question to this passage isn’t, after all, whose image is on the coin, but rather whose image is on us. It would be hard for Jesus’ audience to listen to his words and not hear echoes of Genesis 1, where God declares the divine intent in to make us in God’s own image. And that’s what always seems to get lost in conversations about money and politics. For while we may feel strongly about our political loyalties, before we are Democrat, Republican, or Independent, we are Christian. And while we may be confident that how we spend our money is our business and no one else’s, yet if we forget in whose image we have been made we may succumb to the temptation to believe that we are no more than the sum total of our possessions and that our bank accounts tell a true story about our worth and value.
Jesus raises important questions here, but notice that he doesn’t give pat answers. There are elements of our lives that are, indeed, part of the world order and should be “rendered to Caesar.” But those are elements – our deepest person and self is God’s, and if we remember that, all of life takes on greater focus and meaning. And when I say that – that our deepest self is God’s – I actually don’t mean that in the sense of putting more obligations on us: behave yourself, God is watching! Rather, I mean that as a reminder that no matter what we may do or say, no matter where we may go, no matter what may happen to us, yet we are first, foremost, and forever God’s own beloved child. And that identity will, in turn, shape our behavior, urging and aiding us to be the persons we have been called to be.
Several years ago, one of my seminary classmates serving in California, put a number of markers in the pews one Sunday morning and after reminding her members that all we have and are is God’s – and that all God has and is— is also ours! – she invited the worshippers to mark one of their credit cards (or dollar bills if they didn’t have a credit card) with the sign of the cross. Many members did as the pastor asked, and for the next several months it was nearly impossible to buy something and not reflect on whether or not this purchase aligned with their own sense of values and God-given identity. It wasn’t an answer, of course, the members of that congregation had to think for themselves about how their faith impacted their decisions about spending. And it wasn’t a burden. In fact, it was rather empowering to be reminded of their identity as a child of God, something no amount of spending or saving could change. What it did was root them in their faith and invite them to actively reflect on how their faith shaped their daily life and particularly their economic life.
God wants more from us, in the end, than polite conversation about money or politics. God wants for us abundant life. Because while Benjamin Franklin may have once said that death and taxes are the only two certainties of this life, each week we have the opportunity to declare that the one who was raised from death shows us that God’s love is more certain than anything else. Thanks be to God! Amen!!
Commentary provided by Erik J. Thompson, Eric Shafer, Shannon J. Kershner, Scott Hoezee, Karoline Lewis, Lance Pape, Jill Duffield & David Lose.
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH The Apostles’ Creed
I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
THE PRAYER’S OF THE PEOPLE
Loving God, we feel at times as if we are being tested. One crisis passes and another one comes in its wake. The hurricanes churn over warming waters, the fires burn on the West coast, injustice follows injustice and this pandemic will not cease. How long, O Lord, how long? We cannot endure without a sure sense of your presence. We cannot rest without a glimpse of your power. While we want to remain faithful, we cannot help but lag in zeal. Hear our cries for help, we pray.
Gracious God, knowing all too well that today’s problems are enough for today, we entrust to your compassionate care all the burdens we can no longer carry, the worries we can no longer bear. Take from us the anxieties that threaten to overtake us, the grief
of cumulative losses, the fear for our well-being and that of those we love, the shame of deeds we cannot undo and the doubts that prevent us from moving forward. We hand them over, right now, believing that our Lord intercedes for us and the Spirit translates our sighs too deep for words.
Merciful God, you never abandon us, your faithfulness to the covenant you make with your people is unwavering. You walk with us, go before us, envelop us with your goodness and grace. Help us to feel your close presence with every breath and each heartbeat. May our awareness of your nearness empower us to do justice, love kindness and keep walking with you so that others will come to know your love through our witness. Make of us a grateful, joy-filled people, a light to which others are drawn.
Glorious God, we are told only to ask and that in asking, we will receive. We ask now for whatever tugs on our hearts, weighs on our minds, calls from our souls. You know it before we name it. You desire what is best for your beloved world. You plan a hope-filled future for us. You refuse to give up on your good and beautiful creation. Help us to dream your dreams and envision your will until that day when Christ returns and all is well. We pray in the name of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, who taught us to say when we pray, Our Father…
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
Flowers are given in the glory and honor of God by Charlotte Nelson and Family in loving memory of Hank Nelson.
MINUTE FOR STEWARDSHIP “ABILITY” Jack Hill
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
Extol the Lord our God, and worship at God’s holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy. Let us extol and worship our holy God with the gift of our morning’s offering.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Praise God, all creatures high and low. Alleluia, alleluia! Praise God, in Jesus fully known: Creator, Word, and Spirit one. Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Lord of all, we render to you that which is yours. We recognize that all we have, that all the earth, every fiber of our being and every cell of creation is yours. We can do nothing apart from your presence and power working with us. In thanksgiving and joy, we give to you this offering. Bless it, we pray, and use it for that which will bring you glory and share your love. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Go forth into the world in peace. Be of good courage.
Hold fast that which is good. Render to no one evil for evil.
Strengthen the fainthearted. Support the weak.
Help the afflicted.
Show love to everyone.
Love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit;
and the blessing of almighty God,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always. Amen.