Sermon Text: Matthew 22:15-22
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I need some money. I’d like you to all take out a piece of paper money if you have some on you. Don’t worry, I’m not going to have the ushers pass the plates. Just take out a bill and wave it up in the air for me. Good. Now look at the paper. What is written on the paper? To whom does this paper belong? The United States of America, right? It’s even signed by the Secretary of the Treasury, so it’s official.
In our Gospel text for today Jesus was confronted by his opposition and they tried to trap him. They wondered what his view was on taxes. Should God-fearing people pay taxes to Rome. Jesus responds in one of his typically brilliant and evasive ways. He says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” I love it.
We’re not talking about taxes today. We are in the second of three sermons on worship. So, what does this passage have to do with worship?
[level-free]Do you remember what Pastor Mark told us two weeks ago when he started this series? He told us that worship begins with God. God relentlessly pursues us and extends an invitation to us. God loves you.
Look at your paper bill again. Shake it around for me. Who’s name is written on that paper? The secretary of the Treasury. The government owns that money, so give to the government what is the government’s.
I want to look at something deeper. When I look at you, I see your hearts. Do you know what I see? I see God’s signature on your hearts. It’s like the apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 3:3, “and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
God loves you, God has paid the price for you, God has forgiven you and set you free from sin and fear and anger and all that garbage.
You are a new creation, signed, sealed and delivered.How does that make you feel? It makes me feel pretty good.
What did Jesus say in our text again? He said to give to Caesar what’s Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.
Here’s our big idea for today. Worship is giving back to God what is God’s. That means us. Worship is our response to the reality of God and what God has done in our life.
Now, there are two lenses through which we can look at this issue of response to God.We can look at it as a personal response and a collective response.You have a personal relationship with God that you develop in the space of your own heart. That relationship is based upon how God wired you.
At this point I could launch into a whole lesson on how worship is our personal response to God in our daily lives. I’m not going to do that, because that is what Pastor Chris is going to talk about next week. He’s going to finish our series on worship by exploring what worship looks like out there in life.
I want us to focus today on the second lens. I want to look at the collective response to God. We need to look at this space. Why do we come here together? What is it that we are doing?
What do you see? It’s kinda cool, right? There is a connection between the words me and we. I call it the me-we principle of worship.
As citizens of the United States of America, raised in a modern, western society, we have been raised on a myth that I think has done damage to our love lives with God.
We have been raised on this idea that everything is really all about me. It is that rugged American individualism.
God did not create us as individuals only. Yes, we are individuals, uniquely created and loved by God, but, if all we were was alone, then do you know what that is called?
We were created to be in community. The triune God—father, son, and holy spirit—the divine community created us male and female, black and white, rich and poor, to be connected to each other in community.
I want to make a bold statement. I don’t think you can truly worship God in the fullest response until the me gets connected to the we.
Get it? Good.
I’d like to frame this whole discussion around an awkward question. How’s your love life? This is the point where we start shifting in our seats and think, “I can’t believe he asked that.” But seriously, I think the best analogy that helps us really get at the heart of worship is that of a romantic relationship between two committed people.
One of the metaphors that the Bible uses for the people of God, the church, is that of a bride. We are the bride of Christ, collectively.
Together, we are in a relationship with the groom and he loves us.
I want to talk about my parents for a minute. They’ve been married for over 50 years. Isn’t that awesome!When they decided to get married you can imagine how they felt. Their emotions were soaring. They were excited. You know how it is when two young people are in love. They flirt with each other and take long walks holding hands. They just can’t wait to see each other. Everything builds up to that big wedding day and the honeymoon and bam, “oh sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you.” You know what I mean. That’s a wonderful moment.
Now, they’ve been married for over fifty years. Do you think it was always like that?
Let me ask you this. Do you think it’s possible for love relationships to grow stale? Hey, stop elbowing each other.Any marriage counselor would tell you that if you want to keep your relationship strong and healthy you need to be intentional about spending time together. You need to be fully in each other’s presence and talk. Tell each other that you love each other. Hug, kiss, touch.
I’ve been in many hours of marriage counseling with couples and I’m amazed at how many times I’ve heard a variation of this conversation. The wife says, “he never tells me he loves me any more.” The husband responds, “I told her I loved her when we got married and if I change my mind I’ll let her know.” It just doesn’t work that way.
If a love relationship is going to last then the couple has to be intentional about coming into each other’s presence and sharing their love for each other. They need to talk and be together.
This is a crucial point for us. Every relationship that is going to last comes to an important realization. Vital Relationships are not built upon an emotional response. It isn’t always music playing and being swept away by the moment. Yes, those moments happen along the way and they are wonderful, but a lasting relationship is built upon intentional communication and time together.
Sometimes people can get discouraged about worship because they don’t always feel it. They don’t get caught up in some rapturous moment. That’s OK. The point of regular, collective worship is to create space to meet with our lover and king.That’s what this space is all about.
I have to share a personal note here. This is one of the reasons I have been drawn into the Lutheran church. Lutheran theology has preserved a deep truth about the presence of God. God is present everywhere, that is true. However, when something is everywhere, it’s also nowhere. It blends in to the everything. Communing with nature is good, but it’s so vast that the presence of God can be lost in the noise of creation.
That is why we have the theology of the sacrament. A sacrament is a space in which the presence of God becomes heightened and focused. Lutherans call it the ‘real presence.’ Greek orthodox call it the mystery. The Celtics call it “thin spaces.”
I don’t want to get too mystical or out there. Let’s just say it plainly. When WE come together, we come into the presence of God in a way that is different than any other time in our daily lives. Part of what makes it different is the fact that it is the WE and not just the ME.
We call worship the liturgy. Do you know why? It comes from the greek words leitos which means people, and ergon which means work. Liturgy means the people work, or the work of the people.It is our response to God’s presence.
Think of worship as a romantic, mystical, wonderful encounter between the groom and his bride. I like to think of it as a dance. God leads and we respond.
There are four basic parts to the liturgical dance.
God gathers us in, and we respond by coming together as the WE.It’s like God is saying, “come on in. I’ve prepared everything for you.” And we say, “oh, it’s so good to be with you. I’ve missed our special time together.”We clear the air for anything we may have done to upset each other by confessing our sins. We make things right and we settle in for the dance.
God speaks to us through the reading of scripture and the sermon. We respond to God through prayer and praise. This is the conversation. We dialogue with God. We listen and grow in our understanding. God listens as we cry out to him from our hearts.
God feeds us forgiveness and strength. We eat and are nourished. This is the moment of intimacy. This is the happy exchange. This is where God offers his body to us and we take it in. We are in union with God. It is a beautiful moment.
God sends us out on God’s mission. We go, charged and revived from having been with our lover. God waves to us. He says, “Go out now and know that you are mine. Show the world how wonderful it is and invite them to join in the dance.”
It is the presence of God.
Have you been tracking the Royal Visitation in the news? The King and Queen of Norway are in Minnesota right now. Isn’t interesting how much differently people behave when they are in the presence of royalty? College students are learning Norwegian greetings, even if they’re not Norwegian. Why do we do that? Simply because the title itself deserves respect and a heightened awareness.
When we come into this space we are not just hanging out in a local pub with our buddies to watch the game. We have come to have an encounter with our lover who is the King of the universe. On all levels our awareness should be heightened. God is here.
Can you see it now? Worship is a dance with God. This space is our weekly date with God at the dance hall.Many of our high school students just went to a homecoming dance recently. Maybe you’ve been to a dance at a wedding, or even a formal ball. It’s like this. God has prepared everything for you. He’s purchased the hall. He’s hired the band.
There you are, in the hall. You’ve got the clothes on that God purchased for you. You have God’s name written on your heart. You have been set free and are a child of God. Everyone is dancing and you’re standing against the wall. And then, from the crowd, God—the king—comes up to you. God says, “I’ve done it all. I have written my name on your heart. You’re mine. I love you. Would you care to dance?”
How will we respond?
This was a sermon for October 16. Ordinary Time 29. Matthew 22:15-22[/level-free]