A SERMON PREACHED BY
THE VERY REVEREND CANON
(1LT SEP, USAR & LTC RET, RCSO; DEAN EMERITUS,
CHICAGO SOUTH AND ST. MATTHEW'S CENTRAL BROOKLYN
DEANERIES; CANON, ST. PETER'S CATHEDRAL, KIGEZI DIOCESE,
THE CHURCH OF UGANDA)
ALONZO CLEMONS PRUITT,
TSSF, MSW, M. Div., D. Min., D. D.
THE CHURCH OF ST. JAMES THE LESS, NORTHFIELD, ILLINOIS,
THE EPISCOPAL DIOCESE OF CHICAGO,
THE NINETEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST,
THE YEAR OF OUR LORD, TWO THOUSAND SEVENTEEN,
BEING OCTOBER 15TH
May the words of our mouths, and the meditations of
our hearts, be always acceptable to you, O Lord,
our Strength and our Redeemer. AMEN +
Perhaps, perhaps the reason that I can so comfortably admit that I have struggled with this morning’s Gospel lesson from St. Matthew is that, in one way or another, I have wrestled with it every day of my life.
Our Lord’s enemies were seeking to entrap Him; to trick Him into saying something that would make it easier for them to announce that Jesus had done something seriously wrong, and that He should be punished or put to death.
Indeed, Matthew sums up one of the reasons that the Pharisees and the Herodians, two leading religious groups of the time, were so opposed to Jesus. In their words, Jesus did not show deference to anyone nor He did not regard people with partiality.
That is so like Jesus, and so unlike the many for whom He died.
We often make it a point to show deference and partiality.
An old clergy friend that I saw once again at last Sunday evening's Diocesan clergy dinner, an evening so splendidly hosted by what Bishop Lee refers to as “Little Jimmy's” very caring members, an old clergy friend pointed out that after all these years, I was still kissing a bishop's ring when he saw me greet our Father in God.
It was clearly an example of deference and partiality, and it is one that I cannot remember not observing.
A captive of the belief that God has invested bishops, male and female, gay and straight, with a particular authority, an authority that it is to my soul's health to respect,
I would no more not kiss an episcopal ring than I would refuse to salute a comrade in arms when I was a soldier or a deputy sheriff.
But the deference and the partiality that are alluded to in the Gospel this morning are not about honoring the great men and women of God for having witnessed to God’s great love, and it is not about recognizing another who has chosen to live in harm's way.
It is rather about the perverse and punitive tendency of many to believe that only SOME people are worthy of our sharing air, and only SOME people have problems about which we should care.
The enemies of Christ ask Him if it is consistent with a love for God, to pay taxes, to give money, to the Emperor.
Then, as now, one could largely come to know what a person most valued by what they give their money to, and more than one contemporary theologian has suggested that if you want to know what a person believes in, you have but to look in their checkbook.
Jesus, aware of the malice in their hearts, nonetheless answers their question with an answer THEN, that raises questions for us, NOW.
Noting the emperor’s head and title on the coin, Jesus says, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Impressive answer, moving language.
EXCEPT THAT, EVERYTHING IS GOD’S!!!!
Yes, we should stop at red lights and obey no left turn signs, for doing so obeys the law of the land, but it is surely God's will that His children be safe as we travel to and fro.
We may complain about the requirement to have our vehicles checked to determine their safe running condition and to assess their impact on air quality, but would God want us driving unsafe cars and polluting the air we breathe?
We do have responsibilities to the emperor, whether we name him America or call him civilization, but Jesus reminds us in a way that escapes the attention of many that our greatest obligation is to God!
It was God, who called us all to live, God who makes the gardens grow, God who makes the rivers flow.
It is God who brings the joy to life, God who can end the nations' strife, God who gives meaning and is the source of delight, and it is God to whom we owe everything!!!
The geo-political entity that is our governmental home may constitutionally require a separation of church and state, but there is no separation between GOD and the human race.
As servants of a loving God, as the children of a devoted Father, we are called to listen on earth to the music of Heaven, because for the faithful, love is the coin of the realm that really counts.
Taking the position that everything belongs to God, I want to consider how what our culture often preaches is at variance from what Jesus teaches.
We will soon enough be again amused by the television commercial in which a luxury automobile is wrapped in an enormous red bow as a Christmas present.
Even if we thought such a present was within our means, we well know that smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and carbon monoxide detectors can be much more important gifts for those we love than any car at any price.
And speaking of Christmas, we are mindful that some who have studied the ancient world have concluded that Jesus was much more likely born in the month that we call April, but that the church moved the celebration to December 25th because it was the custom of the time to offer human sacrifices on or about December 21st, thinking that the deaths of those so offered would appease the sun god, whose obvious displeasure was made known by the fewer hours of daylight.
They did not understand the winter solstice, and thought that more light could be secured by more death.
These sacrifices would be accompanied by great celebrations and our ecclesial ancestors sought to impart the truth that the great light coming into the world is not more hours of daylight, but the true light of the Son of God, and if a party or a time of gaiety should be held, it should be in celebration of the light of Christ. We know that the spirit of Christmas is to be kept every day of the year, and it matters little what gifts that day brings, if the rest of the year our hearts do not sing, of Jesus and His love.
Many in our society measure their worth, and the value of others, by the balances in bank accounts, and I see little collective benefit in the announcement this past week that Bill Gates is worth some 89 billion dollars.
How nice for Mrs. Gates and the little Gates, but much of what that information does is to allow some to demean others for being further from that level of wealth than those doing the demeaning.
It no doubt inspires some to cut corners or in other ways maximize profits at the peril of others, simply so as to increase their wealth, and one recent example is the pressure placed on employees of Wells Fargo, who fraudulently opened millions of accounts in the names of unaware customers, so as to please their bosses and sustain their corporate employment.
The publication of one man's great wealth certainly badgers the human soul's health as others succumb to the thinking that they are better than those who have, make, or were born
Knowing that everything belongs to God, we do not measure a woman's worth by the narrowness of her waist, nor a man's by the width of his wallet, and while we appreciate
youth, we know that one does not age out of grace, integrity, or usefulness, and if Hollywood does not make many films which celebrate the winter years, those years are no less a gift.
We are painfully mindful that 1 in 4 girls, and 1 in 6 boys, will be sexually assaulted by age 18, and we take seriously the responsibility to advise and protect our young, even when it means they complain or call us old fashioned.
No less, we do the difficult work of having sensitive and open, if sometimes uncomfortable communications with our children, because by one report, only 16% of rapes are ever
We seek to instill strong values in our progeny, but not with such ferocity that they feel they must lie or hide when they are embarrassed or have made an unfortunate decision.
It is never the victim's fault, and the phrase, “I TOLD YOU SO” has no place in the language of the caring.
We sometimes hear people say, “Shame on you”, or hear them advise that a person should be ashamed.
They may or may not realize that shame is among the most corrosive and destructive of emotions known to our species.
Lovers of God, we do windows and dirty diapers, we do long drives and high fives, but we don't do fat shaming, sin shaming, poor shaming, or shaming of any kind.
While guilt says, “I DID SOMETHING WRONG”. Shame says, “I AM SOMETHING WRONG”, and that belief largely succeeds in contributing sadness and despair without help
If guilt is like a yellow warning light, alerting us to danger, shame is the pronouncement that we are permanently defective, and the more one believes that lie,
the less one is likely to change or even try.
Jesus did not shame the woman caught in adultery, and you will please here note that the male dominant orientation of the biblical writers did not speak to the sinfulness of the MAN with whom she committed adultery, an ancient statement of the contemporary truth that if a man does something objectionable or wrong, the return of his positive status is much more easily obtained than that of a woman who does the same thing; Jesus did not shame the woman caught in adultery, and the writer only noted that the adulterous woman was to be stoned to death; Jesus did not shame the woman caught in adultery. He said, “Your sins are forgiven; go and sin no more.”
There are people who measure the significance of their church by the number of people who attend services, but Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my Name, I am in the midst of them”
It is not how many that are here that makes here holy; what makes here holy is that JESUS is here, and that we share His love and commit to His example!!!
For many years, nearly all the then known world believed the world was flat. The world was not flat and it did not become flat simply because so many thought it so!
Many in many places are only concerned for themselves and their intimates.
Do you recall the reality that gave life to the great John Donne’s epic wisdom?
Laborers would be tilling the soil or harvesting its produce; others would be working in barns or caring for animals or home with children, and somewhere in the distance, would be the tolling of the Church bell.
Knowing that it was not Sunday, and noticing that it was not the pattern of tolling that would summon them to immediately defend their homes and village, each would send one from their group, one to learn who had died.
Wrote the 17th century priest and Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London:
“NO MAN IS AN ISLAND, ENTIRE OF
ITSELF; EVERY MAN IS A PIECE OF
THE CONTINENT, A PART OF THE MAIN;
IF A CLOD BE WASHED AWAY BY THE
SEA, EUROPE IS THE LESS, AS WELL AS
IF A PROMONTARY WERE, AS WELL AS
IF A MANOR OF THY FRIENDS OR THINE
OWN WERE; ANY MAN’S DEATH DIMINSHES ME,
BECAUSE I AM INVOLVED IN MANKIND;
AND THEREFORE NEVER SEND TO KNOW
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS;
IT TOLLS FOR THEE.”
We do not believe in shame; we do not adhere to the notion that the possession of wealth is the equivalent of the possession of character, and we know that being loved,
we are to love.
We respect the Emperor, but we are servants of God.
+ IN THE NAME OF GOD THE FATHER, GOD THE SON,
AND GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT, WITH GRATITUDE FOR
THE HOLY CROSS OF CHRIST. AMEN +