Reflection: Room for One More
Watsontown Presbyterian Church
“Room For One More”
Sunday, October 18, 2020
Lesson and Message -- Matthew 22: 15-22 -- Room for One More
I find it useful to listen to people I don’t want to listen to. There was this blogger who wrote an open letter to churches. Well, thank you very much. He urged us to be authentic, don’t try to justify yourself with God, admit to the struggle, deal with hard questions.
· Theology is fine, but watch out for fake piety. How are you Christians participating in the drama of faith?
· The gospel is great, but how does that fit with self-righteous moralisms?
· Are we following Jesus or using Jesus? Same with the Bible.
· Love worship when it isn’t entertainment.
· Are we really committed to God or are we following another god than the God Jesus reveals?
We could get annoyed at the advice, but, well, Jesus is saying much the same thing. Listen please.
Matthew 22: 15-22
15Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
Who are they? Who are these Pharisees, these Herodians?
The Pharisees are a special club. They are the rule enforcers. They all wear special clothes telling every one else they are Pharisees. The only invite special people to join their club. Invitation only. Only the most religious and scrupulous about obeying the laws. They are the holiness club, little different from the Taliban in Islam today. They go around correcting everyone else who they judge failing to obey religious rules and morality.
Who are the Herodians? They are those who will do anything to please King Herod and keep themselves near to the power and the money. The boot-lickers and throne-kissers.
All they – Pharisees and Herodians -- care about is tricking Jesus into saying something that will get him into trouble.
Jesus -- not so easily tricked, never shirking getting into trouble. What Jesus does say is more than a mildly seditious, suggesting there is a difference between God and Emperor (Caesar). Caesar thought he was God. Jesus says no. No, you’re not. Still, Jesus, because he loves even these hypocrites, doesn’t hold back criticizing them. And, at the same time, he’s cleverly reminding his follower to avoid being equally holier than thou.
Mildred, church gossip and self-appointed arbiter of the church's morals, kept sticking her nose in the other members' private lives. Church members were unappreciative of her activities, but feared her enough to maintain silence. She made a mistake, however, when she accused George, a new member, of being an alcoholic after she saw his pickup truck parked in front of the town's only bar one afternoon. She commented to George and others that everyone seeing it there would know what he was doing. George, a man of few words, stared at her for a moment and just walked away. He didn't explain, defend, or deny; he said nothing. Later that evening, George quietly parked his pickup in front of Mildred's house... and left it there all night…
What is a hypocrite? You’re looking at one. It’s comes from the Greek theatre – They loved their theatre with Euripides, Aristophanes, Sophocles, and all. It’s a theatrical term.
It’s a Greek term, referring to stage actors in Greek theatre who would wear masks to indicate the parts they play. Also would amplify their voices like this microphone. Upokrites: literally, “from behind the mask.”
Oh, teacher, rabbi, Pharisees and Herodians smile, we know you are sincere and teach the way of God according to the truth, tell us please, oh, please, oh please, if we should pay taxes to our Roman oppressors?
Jesus is onto them from the first. It’s a gotcha question. Either way he answers he’s alienates some power bloc. So Jesus does what he does best: he makes them squirm, forcing them to answer the real question.
“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s,
and to God the things that are God’s.”
Every day, we have to make that call. How do we live out the kingdom of heaven amidst the kingdom of the world? Living out the way of Jesus within the way of the world?
Now an interesting question is: Can you be a hypocrite if you have no principles to begin with?
A sidebar here. There’s a curious little book called Jim and Casper Go to Church, where a pastor takes an avowed atheist on a church road trip. They worship at a variety of congregations throughout this county and Pastor Jim records Atheist Casper’s impressions.
First, a disclaimer: I grin at folks who say they are atheists. Nonsense. There’s no such thing as an atheist. Everybody has a god they love, a god they worship. The real question is: which kind god? We like the one Jesus reveals.
A couple of this so-called atheist’s insights are useful for us hearing – sort of like market research – I’ve always found it useful to ask people who don’t care about church why they don’t care about church – well, what Casper appreciated in some congregations had little to do with either the music or the preaching but more so with the sincerity of it all. He was impressed when Christians were called to action and asked to put their faith on the line. He was put off by a culture of feel good and rewards in the self-congratulatory view that we are somehow more blessed than others.
It is helpful to listen to those we don’t want to listen to.
Casper appreciated when churches emphasized they are a movement, a way of living, rather an institution more concerned with being an institution than actually living Jesus’ message.
Living Jesus’ message. Always costly. Always inconvenient.
Some here might remember Oscar Romero, bishop of San Salvador, who was murdered years back while performing Roman Catholic mass because he loved those who upset the State. Romero was on track to official sainthood until one Pope pulled on the brakes. Isn’t it interesting how all our great Christians are those who got themselves in trouble with the people in power?
A later Pope unblocked him for the path to sainthood they believe.
Good thing, for Romero was a saint in the way we Protest-tants think of saints, our ever loving all of us imperfect, flawed saints, for only a saint could say this:
“There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried”
My favorite evangelist (and it isn’t Jerry Falwell, Junior) once preached that a couple of hundred people gathered at Riverside Church to hear a sermon and then sip coffee afterwards does not make it a church. Wear faith on your sleeves or roll up your sleeves and get to work for the gospel?
What makes church a church is what I wanted to mention and commend you for last week when you all talked about making sure you all make a point of phoning the sick, the homebound, visitors, and checking up on them. In other words, caring for them. In this time of isolation and anxiety and fear, you are church reaching out to others. We need each other. We need Jesus.
It’s tough. Should we fear this virus and its repercussions? Just ask any mother. Ask grandma.
What a great opportunity for the church to be church. Thank you.
A US Navy cruiser anchored in Mississippi for a week's shore leave.
The first evening, the ship's Captain received the following note from the wife of a very wealthy and influential politician: "Dear Captain, Thursday will be my daughter Melinda’s Debutante Ball at our fine Country Club. I would like you to send four well-mannered, handsome, unmarried officers in their formal dress uniforms to attend the dance. They should arrive promptly at 8:00 PM prepared for an evening of polite Southern conversation. They should be excellent dancers, as they will be the escorts of our lovely refined young ladies. One last point: "No Jews please." Sending a written message by his own yeoman, the Captain replied: "Madam, thank you for your invitation. In order to present the widest possible knowledge base for polite conversation, I am sending four of my best and most prized officers." "One is a lieutenant commander, my first officer, and a graduate of Annapolis with an additional Master’s degree from MIT in fluid technologies and ship design." "The second is a Lieutenant, one of our helicopter pilots, and a graduate of Northwestern University in Chicago, with a BS in Aeronautical Engineering. His Master’s Degree and PhD in Aeronautical and Mechanical Engineering are from Texas Tech University and he is also an astronaut candidate." "The third officer is also a lieutenant, with degrees in both computer systems and information technology from SMU and he is awaiting notification on his Doctoral Dissertation from Cal Tech." "Finally, the fourth officer, also a lieutenant commander, is our ship's doctor, with an undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia and his medical degree is from the University of North Carolina. We are very proud of him, as he is also a senior fellow in Trauma Surgery at Bethesda ." Upon receiving this letter, Melinda's mother was quite excited and looked forward to Thursday with pleasure. Her daughter would be escorted by four handsome naval officers without peer (and the other women in her social circle would be insanely jealous). At precisely 8:00 PM on Thursday, Melinda's mother heard a polite rap at the door which she opened to find, in full dress uniform, four very handsome, smiling African-American officers. Her mouth fell open, but pulling herself together, she stammered, "There must be some mistake." "No, Madam," said the first officer. "Captain Goldberg never makes mistakes."
You may have heard this excuse too about why some don’t want to come to church. Folks giving an excuse as to why they don’t want to be involved with a church. That there’s too many hypocrites in church who say one thing and do another. They profess being Christians but fail to live like Christians.
It’s a very typical complaint from teenagers when they evolve from that early middle school uncritical concrete level of faith where at that age they do want to conform and please and belong.
Moving into High School they leave their conformist phase of life and they begin to think abstractly. They begin to see people as they really and can become critical of people for the inconsistencies they see. Amazing! Teenagers getting jaded, cynical, when they begin to see people they admired as imperfect, flawed. They begin, as they should, questioning, even doubting, in order to stake out their own identity, challenging group values. My kids sure did.
The problem is when the church lets teenagers get stuck in this thinking that life is a matter is a matter of either-or, good-bad, right-left, weak-tough, black-white, all one way or all the other.
Some adults grow up (some actually mature), and eventually realize life is far more complicated, complex, layered, and contradictory.
One of my favorite evangelists, when he heard this excuse that church is just filled with a bunch of hypocrites, would reply: “Well, there’s always room for one more.”