October 25, 2020
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So 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. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They 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.’ When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
These past few weeks, I’ve found myself unexpectedly encountering hope. It seems odd given the state of our world, and the grief that has been laid so heavily on our congregation. But I’ve felt the roots of hope strengthening, awaiting to bloom. After months of taking it a day at a time, I’ve found myself dreaming of what is to come, and seeing God at work in our midst.
I have been missing each and every one of you. The past few weeks though, I’ve found myself, instead of running from this sadness, filled with new creativity, inspired by you, to meet the challenge of this moment. We continue to keep each other safe by wearing masks and practicing love-your-neighbor distancing and worshipping online. Now, I’m seeing that we can begin to creatively experience one another’s presences in new ways. I got to drop in at Broadmead for a Wednesday afternoon gathering. Last week, seeing Loraine and Brian, Laura, and J’Marie at the Rockrose Farm to worship and harvest sweet potatoes, was such a gift. In the midst of seeing a terrifying increase in COVID cases and hospitalizations nationwide, the beginning of a new wave here in Baltimore County, while a thousand of our neighbors die almost every day, we are building the infrastructure to be able to gather in our cars for worship. It has been inspiring to see the creativity and the care for human life as our Elders and Leigh, and our newly hired Minister for Music, Cassidy McGinty, and Kevin and Brittany from Deep Rooted Folks preparing for us to safely gather for drive-in worship services. It may seem odd that our first drive-in Church service will be for All Saints Day, when we remember our dead, and give thanks for their lives. But it also has been a source of hope for me; a reminder that not even death can separate us from the love of God, a reminder of the hope of the Resurrection. The hope of our faith is finding a way. I have felt hope in our national life together, not by ignoring the news, but by putting it in the context of our Revolutionary faith. I know that so many of us have been missing our children from Church, but this week I heard from parents whose kids got books from the cool church ladies at MPC, and their delight in you getting to know them, and loving them well.
These past few weeks our national politics have become, who could believe it, even more sinister. We learned that over 500 children who were indefensibly separated from their parents, many of whom were babies when they were snatched from their parent’s arms by the Trump administration, may never see their parents again. Our government can’t find their parents, which isn’t surprising, given that many of these adults were trying to seek asylum, and if deported, may no longer be alive, or have had to go underground to survive. And yet there is a rumble of change, of a national movement that I pray will lead us to choose to be a different people. While this election may result in mass protests if the President tries to steal this election, and the threat of white supremacist militias are real, I have found myself daring to hope as people of courage and conscience take up their ballots, mailing them, dropping them off, standing in early voting lines for hours. This week, we learned that 8 million Americans have been thrust into poverty, and there is no stimulus package that will be arriving soon. Many of us watch in horror as a Supreme Court nominee, who is a clear risk to marriage equality, women having autonomy over their bodies, is forced upon the American People. But this week also had so many moments of neighbors loving neighbors, of you checking in with one another, our Ministry coordinating team working to make sure that our neighbors in Woodbourne-McCabe have Thanksgiving baskets, of friends of mine and this congregation sending food to MPC for us to distribute with the Interfaith COVID Taskforce.
Beloved, these days are full of sorrow and fear, grief, and outrages. But there are also moments where I have found myself inspired by a richly creative, impossibly hopeful source of love. There have been small and big moments of being with you, cards and emails and texts sent and received, chance encounters, volunteering together. In the face of death, oppression, and loneliness, somehow life, liberation, and deep human connection are resisting the powers of this world and reminding me of God’s love for us.
I think that’s where we find Jesus this morning in our scripture text. He’s given a clever trap of a question; is it lawful to pay taxes to the empire? Lawful isn’t about what is supported by Roman rules, but instead a question of what is pleasing to God, what is in line with the Torah and its teachings, the kind of life that is full of the Breath of the Word of God. The Romans harm us, our neighbors, and make a mockery of God, the teachers of the law ask. Is it acceptable to pay our taxes?
Jesus sees the struggle of the people; he knows it personally. He knows the injustice of empire, its death dealing and dehumanizing force. And yet, he also knows that money is not all that there is to us. He trusts that the powers of this world, do not have ultimate authority. While empire would like to think they can take everything from us, there are so many ways to resist, and partner in the Holy Spirit’s in-breaking revolution.
Give to the Emperor what is his. Give to God what is God’s.
Presented with the question, Jesus takes a coin. Whose face is on this? Caesar. And then he reminds the teachers and his disciples, and the crowd of a deeper, more powerful truth. Whose image is imprinted on you, Beloved child of God? The Lord who loves you with the strength of a Mother, has claimed you as Her own. So, Give to Cesar what is his, but no more. Because there are parts of you that are formed by the presence of the Holy One, deeper parts of you that no empire can lay claim to. Treasure that. Share that with your neighbors, and watch the world be turned. Give to God what is God’s, and to the Emperor his, but remember that God is in the business of tearing tyrants from their thrones through the power of ordinary miracles, human love, and divine empowerment.
There are parts of me that the tragedies and tyrants of our world don’t get to control. While I have been grieving the deaths we have experienced as a community, I have also found myself making time to be with those who mourn, and allow the Holy One to knit us back together, never the same, but wrapped in love.
With our political mess, I’ve set a boundary. I’ve voted, I continue to stay informed, but there is a limit I’ve set for the health of my spirit. When I am filled with anger and sadness, instead of becoming stuck in a sense of powerlessness, I’ve found myself reaching to others who can inspire and move me to action; to make phone calls, to help me write to elected officials, to empower me to do my small part of loving our neighbors through volunteering. Sometimes we have to set a boundary. I’ve had to be clear that there are parts of my life that the Presidential and Senate elections don’t get to control. Parts of myself that don’t belong to the party in power. Sorry Supreme Court, you have no jurisdiction over my love, my marriage. It is a gift from God, and what God has bound together, Jesus will not let Amy Coney Barrett separate. We have to decide what power the evil in this world has, acknowledge it, and struggle against it. But there is another power we have, to decide what parts of our lives are to be lived for God. What actions and relationships and ministries we will be a part of, pointing the way to the one whose image we still bear.
The forces of despair and cynicism and the unquenchable fires of the power hungry will try to consume us. But there is only so much power we have to give to those who fail to care for our neighbors. There is grief in our lives, but may we remember not to go that journey alone, so that in the presence of one another, we may be reminded that we are not alone, that in fact Christ is among us, within us, and around us, holding those we have lost in perpetual light.
Many of you know this well. You’ve contended with demonic struggles in your lives: addiction, toxic or abusive relationships, racism, homophobia and transphobia, white supremacy. You have learned to set limits, and say “this part of me, it isn’t for you. I belong to God.” In the next few weeks, may we remember that, and practice that, and remind one another through simple acts of resistance and re-imagining this world.
Let us feed the hungry, comfort the sick and the dying, console those who grieve, speak truth to power, and hold them accountable at the ballot box and mailbox. Let us remind one another that we are beloved. It might seem like foolishness to those in power, and yet, it is the spark that dreams are made of, impossible dreams that, through the Power of the Resurrection hope of Jesus Christ, is waiting for us all. As we gather next week for drive-in church, may we be responsible, setting limits on ourselves so that we may safely gather, and instead of mourning what cannot be, instead celebrate that God’s love finds a way. In the Name of the One who loves us, redeems us, and reminds us of the Holy One’s love burning within us, Amen.