Sermon for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost
October 19, 2014
Now, many of you know that I love to play golf. I love being outside, I love the green grass, I love the game – but most of all, I just love to play. I’ve been playing off and on since I was five years old. I vividly remember my first round of golf when I was in second grade, and no joke, I almost hit a hole in one on the first hole.
So you would think that I would be better at golf than I am. But sadly, I’m not very good. And let me tell you why. It’s because golf is not a physical game. I’m in pretty good shape, but that doesn’t matter all that much. What matters, is that I have trouble concentrating for three or four hours out on the golf course. Golf is a mental game that requires awareness of small subtleties.
For instance, I won’t notice that the ball is just a little bit below my feet, so I’ll swing and top the ball. Or, I won’t notice that small break to the left on the green, and I’ll miss a simple three foot putt. Physically, these things are not difficult. The problem is that they require mental awareness, and I just don’t notice.
Awareness, or mindfulness, is a difficult virtue to acquire. It’s very easy to pass right by something without noticing, without really paying attention. Or, as Jesus is telling us this morning, sometimes we don’t even notice what we carry around in our pockets. Jesus makes the Pharisees and Herodians notice. Now, just for a little background. It says that the Pharisees and Herodians came together to trap Jesus. Now both of these parties were made of Jews, but this would be like saying, “John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi came together.” The Pharisees and the Herodians did not get along.
But the Pharisees and Herodians think they are so clever for asking about paying their taxes. If Jesus says it’s okay to pay your taxes to the emperor, then he’s giving in to a cruel, oppressive, pagan regime. He’s giving in to the Romans, with whom the Herodians were friendly. If Jesus says that they shouldn’t pay their taxes, then he’s in open rebellion and could be executed on the spot for treason, but taking up sides with the Pharisees.
So Jesus takes the third option. See, the Pharisees and Herodians haven’t noticed what is written on the coin. Inscribed on the coin it says, “Emperor Tiberius, Son of Divine Augustus.” That coin is proclaiming belief in another god that is not the Lord God of Israel. The Pharisees and Herodians didn’t even notice that they were giving in to pagan worship. They didn’t notice that they were carrying around pagan propaganda in their pockets. “So give it back to Caesar,” Jesus says, “because that belongs to Caesar.”
But we, we have a different problem. The Pharisees and Herodians didn’t notice that the coin belonged to Caesar. Our problem is that we don’t notice the things that belong God. We don’t notice God’s love, God’s very presence in our lives. We fail to see God at church, at home, at work, at school. We miss God’s handiwork that is the very fabric of our lives. As psalm 24 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” Jesus held up a coin to the Pharisees and Herodians. Jesus is holding up a mirror to our lives, asking if we have seen that everything in our lives belongs to God.
I think life is a lot like my troubles on the golf course. We go through life, hacking away, not understanding why things aren’t working out for us. But only because we aren’t aware. Because we don’t notice. We aren’t mindful of the fact that everything about us – even the air we breathe and the water we drink – has been touched by God. So I’ve got a challenge for you.
You know I don’t usually do this sort of thing. I’m handing out these little stickers to all of you. The little stickers say, “God has nothing to do with this.” During the course of this week, I challenge you, I dare you to find something in your life that God has nothing to do with. Because what I want us to do is to open our eyes, and see that everything around us has been touched by God. Because that’s the shadow side of what Jesus says. Jesus says, “give back to God what is God’s.” So ask yourself, “what belongs to God?” The answer – everything belongs to God. God created the universe, God created me and you, God even created mosquitoes and spiders and scorpions. So I challenge you this week, try to find something in your life that God has nothing to do with. And I bet that it will be really hard to find that.
And here’s the deal. If there is something in your life that God has nothing to do with, if there is something in your life on which you can put this sticker, then I ask you: why is it in your life in the first place? If there is something in your life that doesn’t glorify God or if there is something in your life that draws you from God, put this sticker on it. Let it serve as a reminder that it doesn’t belong to God. And no, you can’t just put this sticker on something that you may not like. You’re not God, so you don’t get to make that decision.
Now, I know that some of you are thinking, “well, this is a clever little sermon during a pledge campaign.” Yeah. I guess it is. But here’s why. It’s because the pledge campaign is primarily about us noticing God’s presence in our lives. The money we give to the Church for God to use already belongs to God anyway. This is about us opening our eyes to see God’s fingerprints on everything around us, even our money. This little exercise is an opportunity for us to be drawn to greater gratitude. It’s a way for us to say “thank you, God, for everything in my life.” Because I bet that every time you want to put that sticker on something, if you give it a second thought, then you could think of a way that God has touched that thing or that person.
So, this week, don’t be like me on the golf course. Really think about your surroundings. Think about where you are. Look at people in the eye. Listen to them. Listen for how God has touched them. But most of all, think about how God has touched you. How God has blessed. Don’t just walk up to the ball and try to whack it. Think about it. Notice the small things in your life. Notice the big things. See that everything you have and everything you are comes from God. And then heed the words of Jesus, “Give back to God what belongs to God.”