Rev. Molly F. James, PhD

Proper 24A, Matthew 25:15-22
22 October, 2017
Grace Episcopal Church

"Render to Caesar that which is Caesar's. Render to God that which is God's."

Probably one of the most familiar passages in Scripture. But as one of my seminary professors said, "Never confuse familiarity with understanding."

And so I find myself trying to see this passage with new eyes and to figure out what it is this passage is saying to us, the people of Grace, at this time.

It could be that is just a reminder to do our civic duties and to be faithful citizens who exercise their right to vote, to make our beliefs and values known to our elected officials, and pay our taxes. Those are important things indeed. I do believe we are called to be participants in our common life and in our republic. Participation is part of the privilege and responsibility of living in this nation.

And I find myself wondering if the text isn't also trying to tell us something deeper as well. I wonder if there might also be an invitation here for us to do some deeper reflection about who we are, what we value, and where our priorities are.

I don't know about you, but I find the questions of values and priorities resonating with me right now. Whether it is the scourge of gun violence in our nation, the seeming unending news headlines about natural disasters - hurricanes, fires, floods and earthquakes, the continued political polarization in our government and our society, or the budget crises in our state and our city, not mention whatever challenges and losses we are facing in our own lives, I have times of feeling adrift or even overwhelmed. The magnitude of human suffering we witness in the news and on our own social media streams can seem like too much to bear.

I am grateful for this text because it invites me to pause and reflect. It invites me to think about what is actually my responsibility and what can I let go of, what I can turn over to God.

"Render to Caesar that which is Caesar's. Render to God that which is God's."

Render to God that which is God's. Hmm. That which is God's. Well, if we think about it, what is God's is actually quite a lot. What do we say when the gifts are brought to the altar? "All things come of thee O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee." ALL things come of thee O Lord. All things indeed.

And so, I find this text being an invitation to let some things go. An invitation to remember whose we are and the finite nature of our own existence. To put it bluntly this text puts us in our place. Of course, it could be easy to let that fact depress us and to complain that we don't want to feel small and insignificant. But I think there is actually a lot of freedom here.

The good kind of freedom - the kind that means we are free from bearing all the burdens and responsibility. The sheer magnitude of human suffering we have witnessed in recent weeks - from Texas to Puerto Rico to Las Vegas to Somalia and Afghanistan and so many other places - can seem positively insurmountable and beyond the pale. There is no way any one of us can possibly fix all that seems wrong with the world. The very good news for us today is that we donít have to fix everything. We can turn it over. We can give our heavy hearts to God.

Now, this doesn't mean we are off the hook, as though we get to just wash our hands of everything and go on vacation. We are still called to be responsible citizens. We are called to be participants in civic life, to share our resources for the benefit of the common good. And of course, ultimately, we are still called to be followers of Jesus, and as such we are commanded to love God and to love our neighbor.

Now it might seem that there cannot be much freedom in being ďcommandedĒ to do something, but it is worth remembering that we freely chose to be followers of Jesus and that God commands us not ought of spite or anger, but out of love. Yes, God is commanding us, but it is like the command of a beloved mentor or coach. God commands us to strive toward a higher standard, because God believes we are capable of achieving it. God commands us to live holy and righteous lives and to live lives that exemplify love in the world, because that is who we are, because it is what we were created to do.

And so I hope we can all find a way to hold on to the challenge and the invitation in todayís Gospel. I hope we can simultaneously feel inspired and strengthened by Godís command to be faithful people in the world, people who live lives that show Godís love to the world. And I hope that we can feel a bit unburdened by the invitation to turn things over. I truly believe that we can live out more faithful, grace-filled lives when we are willing to let go and turn things over to God. May we have the strength and courage to do so each and every day.

AMEN.

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