Good morning St. Michael’s
If I haven’t had the joy of meeting you yet, let me introduce myself. My name is Kate Schneider. This year I am so pleased to be the Seminarian serving with this wonderful congregation. I hope I will have a chance to meet each one of you and learn more about what makes St. Michael’s your church home. Whether this has been your home for years, or just for today. I hope it feels like home to you in the way it already does for me.
Our gospel reading today comes at the end of a string of three parables told by Jesus where after each one someone is trying to catch him in a trick question. When the Pharisees and Herodians meet Jesus with this question today I imagine he’s got to be thinking something like “this again.” But Jesus, with quick wit and grace meets the question with a response that has become a
catch phrase of sorts in our modern times. Give to the emperor, the things that are the emperor’s. These words are often used in relation to the separation of Church and State or just paying your taxes plain and simple. The reality is, our modern understanding of Church and State remains just as flawed as the Pharisees and Herodians of the 1st century, and I don’t think Jesus was really speaking to that in either time. To better understand the particular rock and hard place Jesus is wedged between with this question we must first look at who is asking it of him and what it even means in a historical context. So first, we’ve got The Pharisees. Now Pharisees often get a bad rep for being “legalistic”, the religious lawyers of biblical times, but in reality they were clergy. Religious authorities who were invested in worshiping God through the careful practice mitzvot, commandments passed down to Moses and the Jewish people from God.
Second, we have The Herodians who were supporters of the Roman appointed leader of Jerusalem at the time- whose name as you might have guessed it was Herod. These political leaders were often at odds with the religious authorities, and yet they work together here in hopes of entrapping Jesus. And now Third, we’ve got the matter of the coin that is handed to Jesus. The coin that would be used to pay taxes to the Roman government, which holds the emblazoned image of Tiberius Caesar, the Roman Emperor- an image, an icon that would have been considered against religious law for the Jewish people. Above the image is inscribed “Tibirius Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine Augustus.” This coin would have been considered blasphemy on so many different levels.
Now, neither one of these entities- the groups, or the coin inherently carries any moral value on its own. But it is the act of these opponents coming together, politicians and clergy, to conspire against the one thing they can all agree on. This Jesus guy is making too many waves and challenging the status quo in a manner that they do not like. That is what makes this story distinct. The religious authorities are just waiting for Jesus to step out of line and say something blasphemous so that they could cut his street cred amongst his Jewish followers, and these political operatives are listening in hopes that Jesus will discourage people from paying their taxes so they can charge him with treason. It’s all pretty dramatic. Jesus takes this rock, this hard place, and this coin and flips it all on its head.
(Allow me some paraphrasing if you will) “Show me the coin,” Jesus says. And he looks at it. “Whose head is on this? And whose name?” They answer, “the emperors. Caesar” Well then, Give back to Caesar what is his. Jesus says. If it has his face on it, then why would you want it anyways? He calls them in and he says, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and Give to God the things that are God’s.”
The things that are God’s. What is God’s?
You and I, beloved. From the very moment of our creation, sealed and ordained in the act of baptism, you and I belong to God.
The Pharisees and Herodians are so concerned with this material thing which is cast in the likeness of a human, Jesus says, great, let’s talk about likeness. His response here brings us back to the very beginning. In the creation story of Genesis God says “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our
likeness.” (Gen 1:26). That’s the likeness we’re talking about today. Jesus says give those things in the likeness of Caesar back to Caesar, but the things like God? You and I, each beautifully created in the image of God. Are we giving back the things that are God’s?
Each Sunday we give our offerings. Bread, wine, being, and yes our financial offerings as well. We give back the goodness that God has bestowed upon us in thanksgiving and praise. How much are we giving? Is it just enough so we can pat ourselves on the back and check that box? Are we present just enough to feel the bare minimum amount of Christian warm fuzzies that get us through the week? Or are we really seeking to give of ourselves?
Back in the summer of 2020, after a long pandemic Spring, pent up in my apartment and in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, I like so many New Yorkers found myself called to action in the fight against White Supremacy in a renewed way. I was marching in protest against Police Brutality. I was sitting in
community vigils mourning the lives lost at the expense White Supremacy. I was reading the books, and calling my representatives, and I was crying out to God asking how can I as a person of faith be giving more of myself to build a more equitable world. In these actions and prayers I felt myself grow closer to God. When I asked myself every day what does it mean to live out my baptismal promises?- to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. When I asked this question I found that I felt closer to Christ than I had in a long time. By recentering my firmly held belief that each and every one of us is made in the glorious likeness of God, and recentering my commitment to serve God by serving others, I found that I, myself was becoming an offering to God in a new and profound way.
It was also during this time that I was introduced to the concept of mutual aid, a form of financial giving that prioritizes wealth redistribution by giving directly to individuals or community run funds rather than non profits or other institutions. This new to me idea of mutual aid also became a core tenet of how I live out my baptismal vows, and a part of my portfolio of giving practices.
And it really clicked for me when I heard someone talk about wealth redistribution by saying “you should be digging for an amount that is uncomfortable. Not an amount that makes you unable to pay your bills, but also not an amount that you don’t have to think twice about.” That really struck me, and has drastically changed the way that I participate in financial giving
over all. It also made me wonder, what if that applied to the way we give our time to God as well? I don’t just mean time like showing up on Sundays or volunteering with Saturday Kitchen or Sunday School (though we should definitely do those things too). I mean really rendering ourselves, giving ourselves back to God in prayer, compassion, and yes, in service, action, and
financially too. They say you get back what you put in and it feels so cliche, but
it is so true.
As we find ourselves in the middle of stewardship season, we’ve heard wonderful stories from parishioners over the past weeks about what Stewardship means to them- what this community means to them. These are stories of people giving of themselves to God, and reaping the rewards with a renewed sense of spiritual connectedness and love. I really love the Stewardship theme for this year- Gathering to Grow. It invites us all to
consider how we gather together, each of us in our own unique likeness to God to grow in community, spiritual practice, and connection. How we gather together with the whole St. Michael’s congregation to give of ourselves as an offering to God by giving to this, our prayerful community.
I think it goes both ways, digging deep to find that balance of how much to give or where to give. An amount that is a good, deep stretch, but doesn’t break us. Because I know there are some among us who give so generously of our time, that we can’t pay our bills so to speak. We don’t have the time to give to
our families, to ourselves, to our one on one relationship with Christ. We’re exhausted, we’re burnt out. So, maybe for some of us, balancing our offering means a little less time saying yes to every committee that comes our way and a little more time in prayerful communion with God. I imagine some of us could
probably give a little more time. Some of us can’t remember the last time we prayed outside of these pews. Some of us are yearning deeply for a connection to something bigger than ourselves, but we don’t know how to find it. By giving those things which belong to God back to God- there we will find it. By remembering & really living out our baptismal vows- there we will find that which we seek. That connection to the Body of Christ, to the Love of God. Those things that were never far from us in reality- but oh, so often they can feel that way when we forget what offering can mean.
And so friends, let us Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God. Let us bring ourselves as an offering, our full beloved selves made in the image of God, to the goodness of God in all that we do. Let us render to God what truly is God’s.