Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sermon For 10-19-2014 "It Is What It Is"

This sermon is a commentary on Exodus 33:12-23, and Matthew 22:15-22

"One of my favorite comic strips is PEARLS BEFORE SWINE. The main characters in it are a mouse and a pig. And in one issue, the pig goes to his very human next door neighbor and says, 'howdy neighbor, how's your week going'. Neighbor says, 'Oh, not too good, but you is what it is.' Mouse picks the human up, goes and throws him off of a cliff. He heads back to the pig and says, 'I'm getting rid of that turn of phrase, one person at a time.'

Now when I laughed at that when I first read it, it was a nervous laughter because I say that sometimes, 'it is what it is'. And I'd never thought about it, but I can understand why it would annoy some people. It's this hip way of sounding all Zen and accepting of life, even when that's often not what you really mean, it's not what the guy meant in the comic strip. So it is part of this move towards ambiguity in our language. So often, people say things in such a way that everyone else hears them say whatever they want to hear them say, when just as often nobody is actually saying, anything at all. And that bothers me, as I'm sure it bothers many of you.

But for those of us who are annoyed by ambiguity in language, the Gospel reading is a problem. In Jesus time, everyone heard Him saying here whatever they wanted to hear him say. For Jesus words today are a practice in imprecision. And that's deliberate, you see if Jesus had simply told people not to pay their taxes, well that was a crime under Roman Law and he could've been arrested immediately, and He didn't want that. But if he'd told people to pay their taxes, He would've been undercutting His own message. You see Jesus was a first century Jewish apocalyptic thinker, and one of the marks of Jewish apocalyptic thought is that the great Empires of history, of which Rome was the supreme examples, that these were incarnations of satan. And yet if Jesus had said nothing he would've alienated the Jewish crowd He was trying to reach out to, and would've seemed to acquiesce to the Jewish leadership, whom He was trying to challenge at the time.

So He comes up with this phrase, 'give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's", which in essence means you give to Caesar what you owe Caesar and to God what you owe God. Now if a Roman citizen hears these words, he hears Jesus telling people to pay their taxes, because it would've been obvious to a Roman citizen that you owe Caesar your taxes. But if a member of the Jewish crowd hears these words, He hears Jesus saying you shouldn't HAVE to pay your taxes, because what you owe to Caesar may be nothing. And so this may be the cleverest way anyone ever came up with to say nothing, and everything, all at the same time.

But the crazy thing about the Gospels man, is what means one thing in it's original context, can mean something different for us. And so what was original an ambiguous statement can come to us as something very clear and concrete. That is because the CHRISTIAN has to place everything Jesus says and everything He does in the context of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. And placed in that context, Jesus words here come to us as a simple, concrete question which is: 'what do you owe to God?' And for a people who believe that their salvation is bought at the price of the life of the Son of God, well for such a people we cannot honestly say we owe God any less than EVERYthing.

Jesus words here then become a vicious attack on the human tendency to separate life into spheres. And that is a big problem for us as post-Enlightenment people because the Enlightenment was big about separating life in to spheres: in the public and the private, the governmental and the economic, the religious and the secular. So religion as the result of the Enlightenment becomes something very personal, something between you and God, and that's what it is, but that's not the Gospels (John De Gruchy). The Gospels are something altogether different, they are in essence the story of God's total self-giving for His people and the almost rhetorical question of what the proper human response to that self-giving should be.

It is like the end of the film SAVING PRIVATE RYAN when the Lieutenant saves that young man, and as he lies dying he says to him, 'kid, earn this....EARN IT'', that is roughly the place the Christian finds himself in when he puts today's reading in the context of the whole of the Gospels. And I think it is very telling, then, that this conversation about spheres of life takes place over the issue of taxes, you know, of money. Because where do we compartmentalize our life more than when we're doing our finances, when we're doing a budget. We say 'this over here this is mine, and this over here this is my family's and this is the government's and this is the Church's'. And how often do we undertake that process while thinking that ALL OF IT, the whole of existence itself turns on the suffering of God?

You see these spheres of human life become little clefts in the side of a rock where we can hide and try to ignore the ever-present Eye of God and the fact, the absolute fact of the Crucifixion. God reaches out to us and says, 'I offer you something nobody before my Son could have. I offer you intimate relationship with me...I want to see you Face to face.' But when we learn that this kind of meeting can only take place at the level of sacrifice, our response more often than not is: 'no than you, God....No, your back is good enough for me....just don't ask me for *this one thing*...don't make me believe *this one thing* is any less than entirely mine'...But that's just self-deception, and cowardice.

I invite all of you to join me in using this time of Stewardship to ask that all important question about the cost of discipleship. I want to ask myself if I truly want that highest kind of experience, and if I'm willing to meet God at the level at which He offers it. I want to know if I can live as I believe, if I can live as one whose everything....all that I have and all that I am....was bought with the Blood of Jesus Christ...what would that life look like? And could I ever live that way? Do I ever want to?

I hope so, I mean I want to want to, but maybe at the end of that self-examination I find out I don't. And that would be sad, wouldn't it? That would be the loss of something clear, and concrete. If I'm not willing to give to God's Kingdom what I owe it, I lose something I can never get back. Right? [sarcasm] Or then again, maybe not. Maybe half-in and half-out is good enough. And good enough's good enough, right? Sure, its cool, yea, its just whatever man, it is all good...It is what it is.

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