Proper 24, Track 1, Year A
Exodus 33:12-23, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22
No one knows the Doctor’s name. There are things we are not to know. The knowledge of these unknown things have too much power and we are likely to use this power for the wrong purposes. If you are a Dr. Who fan, you know this is precisely why no one knows the Doctor’s name. But this idea did not originate with Dr. Who. It originated with God. When Moses first encounters God through the burning bush, Moses asks God for his name. “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’”1 Even this phrase is marked with uncertainty. For in Hebrew the precise meaning is not known. It can mean “I am who I am”, “I am what I am”, or even “I will be what I will be.”2 So we are left not knowing God’s name or what God is.
In today’s passage, Moses wants to see God. Similarly, Moses is not allowed to see God’s face. No one is allowed to see God’s face. I wonder if this is because if we did know what God looks like we would try to create images of God and it would be all too easy to create a shrine or idols of our God. Yet knowing God has little to do with our ability to see God.
I remember going fishing as a child. I put the wriggly worm on the hook and tossed it in the water. I would get a few nibbles but nothing big enough to make the catch. A while later, without a strike, I decided to bring in the line only to find that the worm was missing. This was about my twentieth worm for the day, all lost in the same way. So I decided to give it up and try again another day. I have also had similar experiences the first few times I set a mouse trap. I would put the bait on that little metal catch plate. Then ever so carefully I’d pull down the spring loaded wire and place the hook on the edge of the catch plate. Sometime later I’d find a trap with no bait and no mouse. This is basically what happened to the Pharisees and the Herodians today.
I think it is important to point out that the Pharisees and the Herodians are politically opposite and they generally do not agree on anything. The Pharisees are religious purists and believe that the Jewish people should be autonomous from the Roman government. The Herodians are also a Jewish group but they supported the puppet king, Herod. And they tend to be lackeys of the Roman government.
What we find is that these two groups, who can never agree, can agree on at least one thing and that is to get rid of Jesus. In working together they create a mouse trap; well a Christ-trap. And like any invention, they worked hard to make sure they got it right. Then they carefully set the trap. They came up with an excellent trap, for if Jesus said that it is OK to pay taxes to the emperor, then the Pharisees will demonize him as an enemy of the people. On the other hand, if he says it is not OK to pay taxes, then the Herodians will find him an enemy of the state. We see what happens, Jesus doesn’t take the bait. He diffuses the trap without being caught and slips away like many of my wriggly worms and mice.
There were two types of money in Christ’s day, the money of government and the money of the Temple. It was easy to know to whom the money belonged. The money that belonged to the government had faces and insignias of the Roman government and officials. I find our money rather curious while other people are very passionate about it.
If we remember back to 2007, we may recall a huge controversy about the new presidential one dollar coin. There were claims that nowhere on the coin did it say “In God We Trust.” The loss of God on our coins created a huge outcry. People were going to boycott this defiled coin because the coin lost God. The reality was that “In God We Trust” was simply moved to the smooth edge of the coin and it was not easily seen in a photograph. This controversy continued. It was so strong that in December, of the same year, President George W. Bush signed a law in which all coins are required to have the wording “In God We Trust” inscribed on one of the faces. The edge would no longer do.
If I ask the same question, that the Pharisees and the Herodians asked of Christ, we cannot so easily use Christ’s answer because our money bears the name of our country, often a president, as well as God. Last week we looked at how money can be our God, but today we are trying to see who our money belongs to. Of course, most of us would say it is ‘my money’. And even though our face or name doesn’t appear on our money anywhere, I would agree that this is the way we think about it.
Jesus says “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” He implies that this coin which is marked “Tiberius Caesar, majestic son of divine Augustus, High Priest” belongs to the emperor. It seems that things that are inscribed with a person’s name or their image belong to that person. Yet Jesus doesn’t tell us anything about what belongs to God. Give to God the things that are God’s. Maybe we are to use this coin as an example and we just need to look at what has God’s name or image inscribed on it.
We are God’s people and yet we are more than that. Through our baptism, God’s name was imprinted on us. Through baptism, Christ’s cross is marked on you and you are sealed as his own. And if we go all the way back to Genesis, we will read that we are made in God’s image.3 We bear the marks of God both physically and spiritually. We have sworn our allegiances to God above anything else. So if we are God’s and minted in his image then everything we have and everything we do should be for God and God’s purposes.
Hopefully, we realize that our jobs, our vocations are for God’s purpose. Hopefully, we understand that the money we offer to other charities is for God’s purpose. But we also need to realize that everything about this church has been dedicated to God. It has been set apart, made holy, for God’s purposes. Because we are God’s, God needs us and this church needs you. It needs your time. It needs your skills. And it needs your treasure.
I mentioned earlier that in Moses’s interaction with God we are left not knowing God’s name or what God is. But I think this is not entirely true. If we look deep within ourselves I believe that we do find glimpses of God. And when we interact with others we sometimes see God in them as well. We somehow innately know God in our lives.
One of the main purposes of the church is to make God known in the world. In the past year we have been making God known to hundreds of people in our community; some through lunches, some through financial assistance, and others with hurricane relief. This church needs your support so that it can continue its mission. We also need to be careful not to take the bait or be lured into the trap that the world sets for us. Often this trap is one in which we believe that we cannot be generous. We believe that do not have enough resources or money to be generous with. It is through our generosity, our hospitality, and our kindness that we turn from idols so that we can serve the one living and true God.
1) Exodus 3:14
2) Foot note from NRSV Exodus 3:14
3) Genesis 1:27