Worship Service for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship for this 21st Sunday after Pentecost, landing on October 22, 2023! We are glad that you are here!

The bulletin for this service can be found here for your downloading convenience. In it, you will find the order of service, the words of the liturgy, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon manuscript. The words that you need to know will also be on your screen, and the sermon is included on this page below the video.

For a fuller online worship experience, you are invited to light a candle in your space at the beginning of the service, and extinguish it near the end when the altar candles are extinguished after the sending hymn. You are also welcome to participate in communion where you are, by having something small to eat and drink ready for consumption at the appropriate time. Further instruction will be given during the service.

May God’s strength and wisdom shine in your hearts and lives, now and always!

Holy God, strengthen us with your Word and truth and empower us to be your people, bearing your gospel and love for all the world, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

So this war going on is pretty horrible.  What perhaps is even more horrible is that anyone who heard me say this can honestly ask, “Which one?” and it wouldn’t even be a joke, and I don’t even mean the two big ones that we see in the news now.  A quick Google search tells me  that there around 30 some odd wars going on right now.  That’s a lot of violence, a lot of death, a lot of brokenness. 

I’m reminded of a scene from the TV show M*A*S*H that I saw earlier this week.  The crew is working together performing an operation when Hawkeye mentions how there’s always a war going on and another person mentions that war is hell.  Hawkeye refutes that with, “No, war is war, and hell is hell.  And of the two, war is worse.”  And he goes to explain that only sinners go to hell, so in hell there are no innocent bystanders.  But in war, all but a select few of those involved are innocent.

Poor eschatological theology aside, Hawkeye has a point about war.  If we think about all the wars that have happened in our lifetime or even in all of history, rarely, if ever, is it for the benefit of those fighting.  There is always some political agenda behind it, whether it stems from religion, money, or just the want for more power. So it’s never about what they tell us it’s about, whether they say it’s to stop terrorism, to stamp out evil, or ridiculously enough, for peace. 

All war ever is, is a violent way of getting more power.  Because really, power is what makes the world go around.  Whether it be power in politics, power in influence and control, power even in religious authority.  It’s this power that we as a species want, need, and would even kill for if it came down to it.  And probably the most prevalent and apparent measure of that power in society now is in our pocketbooks.

Yup, money makes the world go round.  Because to us, money controls, money rules, money is where the power is.

This reminds me of another meme that I saw earlier this week that had a quote from Lester B. Pearson that read, “If a man has an apartment stacked to the ceiling with newspapers, we call him crazy.  If a woman has a trailer house full of cats, we call her nuts.  But when people pathologically hoard so much cash that they impoverish the entire nation, we put them on the cover of Fortune magazine and pretend that they are role models.”

That is the power that money has.  It throws away good reason, morals and ethics… and even identity.  For many of us, money is what makes you who you are, what defines you as a person, and what categorizes you in value and worth to society.  We’ve been accustomed to think that the more money you have, the better you are, the happier you will be, and the more power you have.  So, no wonder people fight over this so much now and throughout history.

This is the political landscape that provides the backdrop of today’s gospel lesson.  Throughout this time in history, you probably know that Israel was under Roman rule.  And while on the most part, Rome couldn’t give two shakes of a lion’s tail about this small, backwater, hick town of Israel, the Israelites still had to do their part and pay their taxes to keep the rulers ruling.  And so roughly once a month the people of Israel had to pony up some of the Roman currency to keep the Romans occupying their land. 

I don’t know, it sort of sounds like extortion to me.  Like “protection” money, where they pay Rome a certain amount every month, and nothing bad happens to them.  Rome had the muscle, the means, and the moral depravity, in other words, the power, to actually do something about whatever threat might come their way.

And at this point in time, the Pharisees and Herodians see Jesus as a threat.  They had to get rid of him.  So a trap was set.  A trap that pulled on the people’s heart strings.  A trap about money and power. 

The Pharisees had no love for this Roman government and their responsibility was to the true Israelite people.  They knew that if Jesus would tell people to pay the tax, then the people would see him as a Roman sympathizer and would turn on him.  The Herodians, however, we don’t know much about.  But just by their name we can assume that they actually are Roman sympathizers, perhaps some that were put in power by the Romans in order to keep Israel in check.  They knew that if Jesus said not to pay the tax, they could arrest him for treason and have the government deal with his traitorous ways. 

A win/win situation for these Pharisees and Herodians, two groups that we don’t hear about working together at all, but are able to put their differences aside for this one plan.  They just wanted to get this Jesus character out of their hair.  This was their play to regain the perceived power that Jesus had and put it back in their own hands.  This power that Jesus garnered from the people by spouting crazy ideas of equality and compassion and community. 

And we know how the story unfolds.  Jesus points out the image of the current emperor on the coin and tells them to give to Ceasar what is Ceasar’s and to God what is God’s.  

While that just sounds like it makes sense to us, maybe because we’ve heard this story so many times, we might not see the absolute genius in this response.  In a matter of a few words, Jesus dismantles the hierarchy of money, the constructed structures of control, the whole system of power.  In a short sentence, Jesus reimagines the way that we see community, life, and the kingdom of God to which we all belong.

Jesus recognises the feelings the Israelites feel whenever they have to hand over that coin with the image of a false god on it.  Jesus knows the hurt that the nation has from being occupied in their own God-given land.   Jesus understands the struggle the commoners go through from not having any power of their own.  And in that, he almost comically asks, “what power?”

This coin?  It’s just some metal that is bent out of shape.  These rules of society?  That’s just some structure made up by those who have in attempts to put those who have-not in their place.  This image of power?  Ceasar can keep his image of intimidation and threat and violence, but God will keep the image of compassion, love, and peace.

Give to Ceasar what is Ceasar’s and to God what is God’s. 

Give to the world its image of greed, inequality, and unfair power structures.  Give to God the image of generosity, service, and love.  The image of the world is all around us, in money, in society, and in these struggles for more power through war and other acts of violence.  The image of God is harder to find, but can be in community, relationship, and in each of us, just as we are, lovingly made.  The image of the world is what we’re taught to strive for, what controls us, and what calls the shots.  The image of God is what is given to us, welcomes us, and empowers us… not to do, but to be.

You see, the power that the world promises if we follow the world’s rules is a power of might, intimidation, and materialism that doesn’t last.  Things that we are conditioned to think we need in order to “make it” in this life.  But the power of God allows us to see who we are and whose we are, with the ability and drive to have compassion, serve our neighbours, and live in community.  We are given the power to be God’s children in the world, anointed and strengthened to see the value and worth in each other and in all people, who we are together brought to live in the kingdom filled with God’s steadfast and eternal love.

So in the face of war, the power mongering, and the greed, we can reject the image of the world and embrace the image of God, and be reminded of our collective call to be God’s people, joined by the grace of God as the body of Christ, reflecting the love of God onto all people by the righteousness, faith, and good news of God.

In this season after Pentecost, may we be reminded of the image of God in our communities, in our relationships, and in our hearts, that we might be empowered to strive toward compassion, justice, and peace for the sake of this broken world that continues to be dearly loved by the God who created it.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.