October 22, 2023
Readings: Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22
From St. Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians, “… For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you ...” I speak to you in the Name of God: Our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustaining Sanctifier. Amen.
I find it providential that on this day when we gather to observe and celebrate what some call, “The Feast Day After the Valle Country Fair!”, our scripture lessons speak to the very heart of not only all that has transpired in planning for yesterday’s event, but also, about who we are and continue to be as people of God, as a community of faith committed to truly be that “Little Church that helps People”.
Now, I sure that some of you are thinking: Well, I can see the connection between our work here and our Epistle reading because it champions unity and working together. But what does an Old Testament lesson about looking at God’s backside, and a Gospel story steeped in politics, have to do with us? Well, I believe these scripture readings not only describe our parish to a “T”, but describe our future path. And it all begins with this peculiar story from Exodus.
Moses asks, “How can I find favor in your sight (God) if I don’t know who you are or what you look like?” What follows is an amazing encounter between Moses and God. Now, much has been written by theologians about the significance of Moses being able to glimpse God’s backside, but not God’s face and yet, I find there is something far more to this story. See, it is not so much about seeing God’s back as it is about Moses becoming aware that God was just there, that God had just passed by. That he was standing in the very place where God just was. And with that realization, Moses grasps that God was and is always present because God never leaves; God never dies; God is eternal. And it is that realization of God’s enduring presence that will sustain Moses during times of doubt, as well as enable him to “see” God at work as he continues to lead the people of Israel towards the Promised Land, and do so with determined boldness.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus takes one’s awareness of God’s presence that much deeper. Holding up a Roman coin and affirming that it does belong to the Emperor because it bears Caesar’s image, Jesus reminds his hearers that what belongs to God is that which bears God’s image. And what bears God’s image? Every human being – all the Caesars of this world and every neighbor. Each of us has been created in the image of God. And so in this exchange between the religious and our Lord, Jesus affirms what Moses and all the prophets have said over and again throughout human history: one’s allegiance is always first and foremost to God, and embracing God’s ways and values should have pre-eminence in the lives of all who claim to be God’s people.
In his first letter to the Thessalonian Church, St. Paul affirms how whole societies are transformed for the better when God’s people, cognizant of God’s eternal presence around and within them, embrace God’s pre-eminence so deeply that it transcends their differences – you know their politics, their standing in the community, and so on. So much so, that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, seeking and serving Christ in all persons utterly reshapes one’s values and how one chooses to live. It creates a unity of purpose and common mission. The people of Thessalonica rendered to Caesar what belonged to Caesar, but their lives, their faith, the substance of their very being: their time, talents, gifts and abilities, belonged to God and that knowledge and commitment changed their community then, and can change the church and the whole world still today.
Yesterday, as we have done now for 45 years, we hosted thousands of people at our Annual Fair. While it is our most publicized event, it is easy to overlook the reality that it is just another part – a big part but a part nonetheless, of our daily ministry together. It is a palpable reminder of what transpires each and every day in this parish. It demonstrates to not only the broader community, but perhaps, more importantly to our own selves, what happens when God’s people unite in common mission and acknowledge God’s life-giving, eternal presence among us and God’s pre-eminence within us so deeply that we not only look for Christ, but we become as Christ to our neighbor and one another regardless of who they are: gay or straight, rich or poor, male or female, black or white, Jew or Gentile, citizen or alien, friend or stranger. And, beloved, that example of living is not just visible on the day of the Fair, it is has become, and must continue to be for us, our way of life.
For the truth is, your daily life example is how and why from this parish, to paraphrase the words of St. Paul, “the word of the Lord has sounded forth … and from every place our faith in God, (and) our commitment to sharing the good and redemptive news of the Gospel, has become known.” It has become known, not because we speak it, but because we choose to live it: live it every day. And for that I say, “Thanks be to God.” And so on this “Feast of the Day After the Fair” may God’s eternal and transforming presence continue to abide within and permeate this little church that helps people, and thereby, shine forth especially in us and through us always. Amen.