October 18, 2020
WELCOME AND ANNOUNCEMENTS
Let me remind you quickly of our protocols for everyone’s safety.
Attendance was taken by ushers as you entered
Offerings may be placed in the plate by the doors.
The bulletins were placed specifically for social distancing, one household per pew. Please sit exactly where you found your bulletin.
Please keep your masks on and remain seated through the whole service.
There will be no singing, and no physical contact.
You may read along silently,
The office is reopened
Church Service 9:30 am
Joint Meeting with the Sessions of both ours and 1st Congregational church at 12:00 pm on October
25th at the 1st Congregational church
Call to Worship:
In a world dominated by people claiming their rights and demanding autonomy, we come as servants, held in the arms of our Lord, instructed and offered assurance and assistance. We become the servants of our Living God, disciples of our Lord Jesus, Christ. Come Holy Spirit. Guide our worship and praise. Allow us to don your glory and be a part of your goodness. May we relinquish ourselves to you this day.
Prayer of Confession:
Gracious Lord. The world is a place where the loudest voice is very often the dominant one, where it’s easier to go along than to fight for your holy design. Forgive us for the many times when we’ve thrown up our hands and gone along with the powers that be, even when we knew that people were being harmed and your good earth was being desecrated. Forgive us for assuming that we had no ability to speak your love into hurtful situations. Forgive us for our lack of courage and our unwillingness to risk ourselves or even to ask for your amazing power to lead us through the danger. We can do better, Lord. Help us and love us, we pray.
Assurance of Pardon:
The heart of God rejoices when a son or daughter opens to the gift of forgiveness. We are God’s by grace. We are washed clean in God’s love. Let us rejoice in the new life given through Jesus Christ, our Savior. Thanks be to God
Our Amazing God stand with us and calls us together to know the joy of Christian Community,
INTERLUDE: There is a Sweet Sweet Spirt
Prayer of Illumination:
We come before you Lord to hear your truth and love. You call us by name and whisper into our hearts. May we set aside the many distractions to listen well. May we then be empowered to leave this place as your disciples, dancing with the joy of following you. Amen.
Exodus 33: 12-23
12 Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” 14 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”17 And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” 18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” 21 Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”
Matthew 22: 15-22
15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?” 18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”21 “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
October 18 2020
Sermon Title: When We’ve Run out of Gas.
“Who died and made you boss?”
“What gives you the right to challenge my decisions?”
“Why should we listen to you?”
Haven’t we all heard these questions? They always seem to rise up when we’ve spoken in opposition to the dominant voice—to the way things are organized or what’s good for the most powerful.
- Maybe it’s the lowly manager who is questioning his or her Company’s Vice President about a process that seems unjust or unethical.
- Maybe it’s an adult child who is chaffing at Mom’s unwillingness to let go of that parental authority to direct his life.
- Maybe it’s one committee member who has finally worked up the courage to make sure her voice is heard by the domineering group leader.
- We’ve just plain run out of gas. We don’t have what it takes.
Sometimes we need to just go along. At other times we have to stand up and speak our mind and push for what we know in our heart is right and good. It’s never easy. At least one part of the struggle is BELIEVING that we do have the right and the power to demand to be heard. That might mean we need to do battle with our own insecurities, discouragement, and sense of powerlessness in order to keep moving forward on the path that we are being led.
You know what I’m talking about, right? Haven’t we all felt discouraged and little broken by situations that seem so much bigger and more powerful that we can manage? “What’s the use? I’m just wasting my time and breath. I just need to shut up and accept things the way they are because I have no power here.”
All of us have felt a bit of this in the midst of a pandemic…add on the Black Lives Matter unrest, the financial hardships where so many have lost their jobs or businesses, we’ve had to let go of our plans and our routines, many times even our ability to be with family. More is needed from us at exactly the time when we have fewer resources to meet those needs.
Struggle. Loss. Fear. Anger. Disappointment. Depression. Loneliness. Anxiety. How do we be the faithful people of God in such a setting?
I actually think our scriptures for today give us some glimpses of the way forward. Let’s begin with Moses.
It’s been quite a trip. From the first time he stood on this mountain and God said, “I’m sending you to lead my people out of bondage. I am who I am, and this will be a sign for you. You will bring the people back to this mountain.” So much had happened. The plagues and still Pharaoh wouldn’t release them. Then that really big plague in which the angel of death passed over the Hebrew cottages that had been painted with the blood of the lamb, and it landed smack dab in the bedrooms of the Egyptian people. Then the people were running for their lives….. The Red Sea became an escape tunnel. The people whining for food and water, and Moses was able to provide it by striking a rock and God sent down the manna. God led them out, a pillar of cloud in the day and a pillar of fire at night.
And indeed, they did come back to this mountain. God gathered the people at the base of the mountain and with smoke and fire and trumpet’s blast he spoke to them in his own voice, giving to them the 10 rules for living as God’s people. Then God instructed Moses to come up the mountain to receive the finer details of his law. God wrote the 10 commandments on stone so the people would have it.
But the people….
They were afraid and unaccustomed to freedom. They had accepted Moses leadership—but he’d been up there for a very long time. What if he’d been eaten my a mountain lion? If he had fallen off a cliff? If he’d been struck by lightning or just got tired and run away? They NEEDED a conduit to God. They NEEDED something they could manage and control. The Egyptians used images formed from gold. Why not?
And so, they made that golden calf. Aaron would later tell Moses that they threw their gold bracelets and necklaces into the fire and the calf jumped out. Yeah, right!
Can you imagine Moses? God’s mad. God is now ordering them to go forward from this place of relative safety. He’s called them a Stiff-Necked people and telling Moses that he won’t go with them because if he did, his anger would consume them.
It’s like everything he had worked so hard to accomplish is gone—just gone. Moses doesn’t know what to do, so he pleads with God to go with them and finally he asks a personal favor— “Show me your glory.” It’s like Moses is saying, “God if you want me to lead this people forward, I need you to come along AND I need the strength and the direction that only you can give.”
I understand Moses completely!
Now to Jesus.
Our passage for this morning is one that is often quoted by people who want to keep our faith out of our political lives. They would quote” Give to the Emperor the things that are the Emperors and to God the things that belong to God.” But before we go there, let’s step into the story a bit more.
Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem. He knows what’s ahead and has tried to warn his disciples, but they don’t get it. They only see the power and the miracles that he brings. So, they whip up the crowds to greet Jesus at the city gate. That doesn’t win any points with the Pharisees who have also heard all the rumors. Then Jesus goes to the temple and chases out the money changers and merchants of animals. How insulted the Pharisees are! Who does he think he is? Not only did he NOT bring his word from God to them so they could help direct it, now he’s trying to destroy the tradition of the Temple AND in the process getting people all riled up with his “Kingdom of God” talk. If riots break out, Rome will blame them, and the Jews ability to worship at the temple could be taken away. It’s their job to keep the people in line. Jesus is threatening all of that. This Jesus has to go.
So, they begin by asking him, “By what authority do you do these things?” Maybe they hoped Jesus would take the hint and get back in line. Instead Jesus tells a series of parables that make them look like the bad guys! Talk about rubbing salt in a wound!
So, they devise a sure-fire trap. Paying taxes. The people hate to pay taxes which are cruel and exorbitant. If Jesus says people must pay them, the people will turn their back on him. On the other hand, if he says they should not pay, then Rome will arrest him. Either way, they win. This Jesus problem will be taken care of.
I fully believe that Jesus, like Moses was fully aware that there was a tidal wave coming. He knew, and that human part of him stood in dread of those waves crashing ashore and destroying him. Remember all those times when he went out on his own to pray? It’s clear to me that a good part of those prayers was, “God give me strength and wisdom. Give me courage and faith and give me the right words to pull this off.” You, see, Jesus was also dealing with a Stiff-necked people. He would need all the help he could get.
So, for Moses, God showed his servant his glory. Jesus wouldn’t need that so much—He WAS God’s glory. But he was also human and that part of him would need the right words to deal with whatever the Pharisees and officials would throw at him.
And God gave Jesus the perfect response. Jesus asked for a coin and the Pharisees presented a Roman coin. Here’s the thing. There were also Jewish coins. Jewish coins were what the people used in the temple to make their offerings. What was the difference in these coins? The Roman coin had the image of Caesar and the Jewish coin had no image. Do you remember that second commandment that God gave the people at Mt. Sinai? “You shall not make for yourself an idol.” Another translation says, “You shall not make for yourself any graven image.”
Can’t you just see Jesus rubbing the face of the coin with his thumb and asking them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” When they answer “The emperor’s,” it’s like they have passed judgement on themselves, and all the people who watched knew it. Jesus can then respond with that phrase we all know, “Give, therefore, to the Emperor the things that are the Emperors, and to God the things that are Gods.”
What belongs to the Emperor? This coin which a faithful Jew should not really even have. But what belongs to God—EVERYTHING! Absolutely everything. Our natural world, our families, our abilities, our possessions, our lives, our political privileges—EVERYTHING.
Jesus received what he needed. The way out of the trap that the Pharisees set, and in the process taught us something about our allegiances and priorities.
You and I. Don’t we also need God’s power and reassurance. We also need the right words at times and the courage and faith to persevere. We also need to know that God stands with us giving us what we need in the moment. We’re no different than these 2 in this crucial aspect—One a prophet of God and the other the Son of God.
There’s something very powerful about laying ourselves at God’s feet and saying, “I can’t do this on my own. I can’t fight any longer because I’m tired and defeated. I am without the power to go forward.” We don’t like to think of ourselves in those terms, but don’t we all get there? Claim it—just as Moses did, just as I suspect Jesus did. We might not get the answer we need immediately. We might not get the answer in the way we might prefer, but our prayer won’t go unanswered. God will give us his glory and his power and his wisdom to meet the demands of our lives.
So maybe it’s OK to be a bit broken. Maybe it’s OK to find ourselves up against a stiff-necked people. Shoot, we ARE the stiff-necked people at times. But we are loved by our Lord, and we are equipped by his Spirit to offer God’s love and grace into the world around us.
May God cozy us into the cleft of that rock. May he hold his hand over us and pass by, giving us the assurance of his glory and power and love.
People of God, It’s OK to run out of gas. Then we need to hold ourselves to God and walk with our hand in the Lord’s. May we always rest in his love. Always.
AFFIRMATION: Apostle’s Creed, Ecumenical Version
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Charge and Blessing:
May we feel God holding us close and know the Glory of God that empowers us to be a people of love. Go forth God’s Beloved and know the goodness of our God who guides us in this life of faith. Amen.