A Sermon for Sunday, October 19, 2014
(Exodus 33: 12–23; Psalm 99; 1 Thessalonians 1: 1–10; Matthew 22: 15–33)
Moses request is daring. He wishes to know – of all things and beings – God.
Somehow Moses has heard the call to lead the Israelites from the mighty hand of Pharaoh, been the catalyst of miracles, fled an army, parted the Red Sea, and become known as one who converses ‘face to face’ with the YHWH.
Yet despite all this, Moses feels that he does not know God.
God’s promise of favour and presence caught Moses’ attention but deep down he feels these words remain unfulfilled. He dare not continue this quest into the promised land without knowing more of the ‘presence of God’.
Moses knows, rightly, that he has nothing to offer these newly homeless people he has led into semi-freedom.
Yes, these ex-slaves are not truly free. Of course there is no Pharaoh, but they are now aimless wilderness-wanderers. They seem unsure how to live this God-won freedom. In so many ways they remain lost.
Moses must have been a remarkable man. In the prayer that is our passage he fingers what he insightfully believes holds the potential to make the Israelites distinct from all others: God’s presence.
The Israelites are a rebellious lot. Moses struggles to lead them. They are hardly better or more faithful that others.
The Israelites only distinction is that they are chosen. God, is blessing the people of the earth – indeed the whole of creation – through a thoroughly inadequate people.
And Moses is seeing afresh each day just how ordinary these people are. His only hope for them is the presence of God.
And so Moses, as their leader, makes the most remarkable request: ‘show me your glory’. It is daring, bold, presumptuous, dangerous, and perhaps even desperate. But Moses wants to see God. Obviously he has no idea what he is asking.
Yet God both agrees and makes it clear that Moses will only survive this divine encounter if he is protected from this revelation. Even Moses has only the capacity to see the receding trail of the glory of God.
I hope today you desire to see God too. There are a myriad of other possibilities for your life, and seeing God is just one of them. But it is the most important. Your life, every life, is not appropriately dedicated to any other pursuit.
The trap set for Jesus by the Pharisees and Herodians was originally designed to drive a wedge between Jesus and Rome. It is controversial to the core. The tax referred to here is none other than the occupation tax applied to regions the empire needed to subdue. The Jews were covering the expenses of the Emperor’s oppression of them. To call it a hated tax would be an understatement.
And so they ask: ’Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?’
Jesus is not taking sides. He is more interested in whether these questioners are genuine. Jesus’ request for a coin is not difficult – but it is revealing. The denarius is presented and they confess that they know what it looks like. After all the requested coin is now their everyday currency.
And it was minted in Rome. Daily they thoughtlessly trade in their occupiers currency. Perhaps to win their freedom Jesus encourages them to return it – through the despised tax collectors. This also needs to be done for all that is owed to God.
Both these passages amount to a radical, edgy invitation for us to follow after God – and no other.
And then there is Paul’s little letter the the Thessalonians reminding us that there were people who really did undertake this realignment of their lives and priorities.
Paul is in celebration mode, opening with a generous acknowledgment of the dedication to God displayed in this community. He contemplates their faith, hope and love born of the ‘Lord Jesus Christ’.
Something remarkable, alive, genuine, and allegiance-changing has happened among these people.
And as a result, Paul is assured that they, like the Israelites, are chosen. After all, God has come into their midst in power, Spirit, and conviction. They are a changed people. So much so that Paul finds himself boasting about how he constantly boasts of all God has done among them!
Their testimony is sounding out across the globe and others are reporting of the reality that has occurred among them.
Paul describes this reality in these terms:
…you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus who rescues us from the wrath that is coming. (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).
It is a wonderful pointer to the Good News that is ours. We are a people who turn from that which is less to that which is abundantly more: from idols – as dead as Aaron’s golden calf and Rome’s metal coins – to one as living and true as Moses’ revealing God and the resurrected and reigning Jesus.
And the Thessalonians responded. They are now engaged in the service of God and an active waiting for the fuller revelation of Jesus – God’s once dead, but now living and heaven-enthroned Son who is rescuing us – and all who would place their trust in this ever present and active God.
Two millennia later Paul’s words amount to an invitation for each of us to turn and trust.
Each week in this church we celebrate God’s presence and God’s good news story. And each week we invite one another to respond to heaven’s grand plan. We do this through the sermon, through the reading of scripture, through our prayers and confessions, our symbols, and our songs and creeds.
But nowhere do we do this more than in the sharing together of the Lord’s Supper.
Around this altar we tell the story of our salvation and invite one another to respond by coming forward and making the body and blood of Jesus their own. It is – and I would encourage you to take this to heart – an altar call in the fullest sense. Communion is an invitation for you to move from where you are – for the first time or the thousandth – and to re-dedicate, re-align – even re-join – your life with the one who lived, died, and rose for you.
It is your regular invitation to turn from your idols and to encounter the living God.
It is my simple prayer this week that you may take this God-initiated invitation to heart so that, unlike the unbelieving Pharisees and Herodians Jesus’ addressed, we may truly know in our lives the wondrous message of ‘scripture’ and the very ‘power of God’.