Here is the video for worship for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, but it won’t go live until 10am on October 18, 2020.
The worship bulletin can be found here.
If you want the full at-home worship experience, please have a bowl of water for the Thanksgiving for Baptism, something small to eat and drink for communion, and a lit candle to assist the ambiance of the space. These are optional of course, so you only need to use them if they are actually helpful for you and your worship.
As always, the full sermon manuscript is below the video.
Holy God, you are our true and living Sovereign. Through the message of your gospel and the power of your Spirit, make us imitators of our Saviour, Jesus Christ our Lord, through and with whom we pray. Amen.
Who do you belong to?
Most people right of the bat would just say either “nobody” because they’re independent and make their own choices, or they’re truthful and say “my wife”. But in all seriousness, asking someone who they belong to can be really offensive, as none of us like to be seen as property.
Which I think is kind of funny, because we all want to belong to something. We all want to fit in. Pretty much our whole lives we want to find a place where we can call home, where we know others and can be known, where we ultimately feel loved.
I think about some of the kids that I grew up with and how drawn they were to street gangs or at least the thought of it. How they tried so hard to be tough and really wanted to fit that image. That need for belonging was so strong that it had my friends change who they are just so they can be perceived and someone who is sought after, someone who is desired, someone basically who belonged.
And I never really understood this as I was lucky in that my family, both immediate and extended, was pretty tightly knit and I was just naturally popular at both school and the church I grew up at. I never had to question my sense of belonging. I was basically that big fish in a little pond so I felt like I belonged everywhere I went.
But then I went to high school and oooohhhhh that is what everyone else goes through. I had this massive growth spurt during the summer between grade 7 and grade 8, which was the transition from elementary to high school in Vancouver, and man alive was I ever awkward. I very quickly went from that big fish into a little pond to a small fish in a big pond, and I just didn’t know where I fit in. But I know I wanted to fit in somewhere, badly. So I would change myself, try to fit into some mold, be something that really wasn’t me in order to belong to something… anything. Just so I didn’t have to feel like an outsider anymore.
Maybe you had a similar experience to this. Not that you joined a street gang or something, but maybe you had to change something about yourself to fit in. Or maybe you compromised some of your beliefs or morals to be able to hang out with those people you really wanted to hang out with. Or maybe you found yourself in too deep so to speak, and you could barely recognise yourself anymore because of your need to belong.
And maybe you still do. I mean, let’s think about it for a second, how many of us identify with a group or demographic so strongly that we actually blame that for our actions? Things like “boys will be boys” or “as an introvert, I can’t help but…” or “my horoscope says” or even the term “dad jokes” insinuates that being a dad means you have to, by nature, have corny puns and really really hilarious and witty comebacks. How many times do we pigeonhole ourselves into our ethnicity, gender, social class, personality type, or what’s become super apparent to me lately, political party affiliation? How often do we feel helpless in having our own opinions and thoughts heard because we are trapped in the mob mentality? How often do we need to cover up our own hypocrisy just to appease that group to which we feel like we belong to?
And you know what? We aren’t the only ones. Today’s gospel lesson has these Pharisees and Herodians being all Pharisee and Herodian, which kind of says a lot as we totally know what the Pharisees are about, but we barely know anything about the Herodians but we read this and say that we know enough. Jesus calls them hypocrites, they are trying to portray something when they actually are something else. They try to intimidate and gain power through their masks to hide their deep seated fears. They try to trap Jesus yet again in hopes that life for them would go back to normal, that is, full of privilege and inequality in their favour.
So is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not? We in our 21st Century North American lives would say of course it’s lawful, it’s actually unlawful not to pay. But in those days it was different. The emperor wasn’t the Israelite’s emperor by choice, rather it was forced on them when this emperor took over. This tax they had to pay was this yearly tax imposed by the Roman government to fund their continuing occupation in their land. The coin that they had to use to pay this tax was actually blasphemous in itself as it said that the current emperor, Caesar Tiberius, was the son of the divine Caesar Augustus. In other words, this coin was an image of a false god. An idol. And you all know what they say about idols…
But the thing is the Pharisees and Herodians do know. They know that if Jesus says pay, then he is betraying the Israelites. But if he says don’t pay, then he should be arrested for tax evasion. They had him on the ropes this time… or so they thought (again).
Jesus does something very interesting here. He asks them to show him a coin, and one of them very innocently just pulls one out of his pocket. That begs the question then, why did he have one just in his pocket? This coin that they are making such a big deal over just happened to be within arm’s reach and handy for show-and-tell? This idol as they would have seen it was on his person somewhere, and perhaps more than just one. So then really, who do they belong to?
We know where Jesus is going, he shows them the image and says give to the emperor what is the emperor’s and to God what is God’s. Whoa. How did God come into this question?
Jesus was calling them out on their hypocrisy. He was calling them out on trying to trap him in hopes of driving him out of their town just because he was preaching equality and forgiveness. He was calling them out on their supposed loyalty to God when they actually liked this emperor for giving them the power and belonging that they so sought after.
But Jesus was saying, “Don’t you see? You needn’t look for belonging from the external world, for you have an internal belonging because you have been created in the image of God.” And many of us saw that coming. Yes, we know that we’re made in the image of God, and yes that means that we belong to God, and yes so we should give ourselves to God, and so on and so forth.
Yes, that is true. But just as you were made in the image of God, so is everyone else in this world, past, present, and future. Just as you, with who you belong to is sometimes undetermined, are made in the image of God, so are those whom you don’t agree with or who you think they belong to. Just as you, as made in the image of God, need to tie you allegiance to God, so must you also tie their allegiance to God as they are also made in the image of God.
And this is tough. Really tough. Because there are a lot of people out there that we really don’t agree or see eye-to-eye with. There are those of a different political party, those of a different ethnicity, those of a different gender or no gender at all. There are those of a different social class, those of a different part of town, those who root for a different sports team. There are those who believe in certain things and those who don’t. There are those eat a certain way and those who cannot afford to eat at all. There are those act unscrupulous and those who are just hypocrites. All of them, made in the image of God.
God’s image. Not yours. Not who you think they follow. Not even their own. God’s.
And this might sound a little stifling, as now we can’t really hate those we want to hate. But that is actually liberating, because that takes the yoke of being judge off our shoulders and gives it back to God. It frees us from the bonds of hatred and allows us to love. It erases the lines that are drawn between whole people groups and it allows us all to belong.
So who do you belong to? You belong to God. For you are created in the image of grace, mercy, joy, peace, and above all, love.
In this season after Pentecost, let’s put down our weapons of aggression, let’s drop our assumptions of loyalty, and let’s tear down the walls of separation and learn to accept ourselves and each other as a brother or sister, equally loved and created in God’s image, and invited and welcomed to belong to the one body of Christ, living together in God’s kingdom, now and forever. Thanks be to God. Amen.