“Giving to God the Things That Are (Already) God’s”
Jesus manages to stay centered and clear, continually keeping those who would challenge him off-balance by answering their questions with questions, all the while proving again and again that they are, in fact, asking the wrong questions altogether.
This dramatic moment in Matthew’s Gospel is not only about taxes, is it? Indeed, all of life is a constant negotiation for all that we have and all that we are and certainly that by Jesus using the example of the emperor’s face on a coin, he is actually pointing to all of this — to all those things which compete for our obedience and our loyalty today.
What part of me — my gifts, my resources, my time, my energy — do I give over to whom? For instance…
- How do you spend your money, your time, your energy, your resources, your gifts to reflect the truth that all of it and all of us have been imprinted with the very image of God? What would it look to take a personal inventory of your life — starting perhaps with your priorities or your calendar? What might that reveal?
- What might you discover as you look over the past week or month and considered how many times your actions or lack of actions were motivated by fear and not courage, despair and not hope? And how does that reflect the truth that all of it and all of you belongs to God? That you bear the very image of God?
Don’t expect we will ever get it perfectly right, which is why we are grateful to be able to rest on the promise of grace and forgiveness. What it means to seek to live a life of faith — to be striving to give back to God what already belongs to God and day by day to work out what that means. And that means all of me. That means all of us together. All the time. (excerpt from dancing with the word)
The lessons this week provide us with a wide range of perspectives on spiritual formation and the impact of human behavior on spiritual growth, and the scope of divine hospitality.
An observation was raised by a member of our parish that the numbers of our Sunday attendance seem to have dropped. I should admit that there was a moment of anxiety on my part when I engaged in this conversation. Suddenly, our attention has been focused on a key issue to many congregations which is about survival and stewardship.
The Epistle to the Philippians is giving us a set of spiritual practices that will transform our lives, and bring forth a “harvest of righteousness” (Phil. 1:3-11) in our individual and corporate lives. Spiritual formation involves both life-orientation and repetitive practice. This would include regularly coming to our Sunday Worship Service. In fact, joy emerges from our prayer lives, gratitude, sense of God’s nearness, affirmative thinking, and kindness. All these behaviors are transformed by an attitude of joy and faith in God.
Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast speaks, first, of rejection of God’s way, leading to the inclusion of unexpected guests. Divine hospitality is not limited to the “best people” and often these “best people” have better things to do than follow God’s way.
Each one of us is invited to this party. Each one of us should also invite others to come and join the banquet God prepared for us all.
Do we come spiritually dressed for the party? Do we reject God’s invitation to celebration because we have better things to do, and different priorities from God’s realm of Shalom? Are we preparing to meet God in unexpected as well as expected places? What values and behaviors would make us out of place at a divine banquet?
On October 4, the Church celebrates the life and witness of St. Francis of Assisi, whose greatest honour was to be known as il Poverello, “the little poor one of Christ.”
He grew up in a very wealthy family and seemed to have not a care in the world until he was twenty years old, when a chance encounter with a leper left him appalled by his own uselessness. Soon afterwards he heard Jesus speaking to him from a painting of the crucifixion over the altar of a local church. He threw away his wardrobe and renounced his father’s wealth in order to care for the poor and the crippled. In 1208 he heard the commission which the risen Lord gave to his apostles, “Go, make all nations my disciples,” and knew that it was also addressed to him. Francis began to train his followers for the task of making Jesus truly known and loved among the ordinary people of Italy. Out of this movement developed the Order of the Lesser Brethren, commonly called the Franciscans.
Francis cared deeply for his new Order, but he also grew restless as it became an established institution of the Church. He distanced himself from its day-to-day life and eventually went his own way as he strove to imitate Christ’s total obedience to God. Two years before his death he was granted a sign which manifested this desire. One September day in 1224, he had a vision of the Crucified borne on the wings of a seraph. As the vision withdrew, the wounds of Jesus appeared in Francis’s own flesh — the scars like nail-wounds on his hands and feet, and in his right side a scar like a spear-wound. These marks, called the stigmata, remained on Francis’s body until his death two years later. (For All the Saints, The Anglican Church of Canada)
Saint Michael and All Angels: We celebrate those mysterious beings which Scripture calls “angels”, a name which comes from the Greek word for “messengers”. Messengers from God can be visible or invisible, and may take human or non-human forms. Christians have always felt themselves to be attended by healthful spirits – swift, powerful, and enlightening. These spirits are often depicted in Christian art in human form, with wings to show that time and space do not constrain them, with swords to signify their power, and with dazzling raiment to represent their ability to enlighten faithful humans. Of the many angels mentioned in the Bible, only four are called by name: Michael, Gabriel, U’riel, and Ra’pha-el. In the Book of Revelation, the Archangel Michael is presented as the powerful agent of God who wards off evil from God’s people and delivers peaces to them at the end of this life’s mortal struggle.
Many good and faithful Christians find it difficult to accept the existence of angels; for them, angels have no more reality in fact hand unicorns, griffins, or the phoenix. It may be true that the existence of angels is not one of the things in which Christians must believe if they want to be saved. Yet whenever Christians say the Nicene Creed, they confess that God has created “all that is, send and unseen.” Entertaining the possibility of angels may be one way of acknowledging the sheer diversity of life, visible and invisible, that God has ordained in creation.
(For All the Saints)
We honour Saint Matthew, a disciple and apostle of Christ who is traditionally believed to be the author of the first Gospel in the New Testament. According to that Gospel, Matthew was a tax-gatherer when Jesus called him; the Gospels according to Mark and Luke agree, but say that the tax gatherer’s name was Levi. It is probably one and the same person, the disciple we call Matthew. In first century Judea, tax collectors were viewed as foul collaborators who extorted money from their own people in order to sustain the Roman occupation and enrich themselves. Matthew was an outcast in his own nation, so polluted by his job that he could not take part in the worship of Israel. The fact that Jesus consorted with the likes of Matthew, and even called him into his circle of disciples, was one of the things that scandalized his fellow Jews the most. With such a background it may be ironic that the Gospel according to Matthew is considered the most Jewish of the four versions in the New Testament. It takes the greatest pains to show that Jesus was faithful to his Jewish heritage and constantly cites Old Testament texts to prove that he did not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them. Matthew’s Gospel is also the work of a true literary artist who not only wrote well but also knew how to organize his materials to their best advantage. These qualities have made it, down through the centuries, the favourite version for many of the preachers, teachers, and reading public of the Church.
Collect for Saint Matthew
who through your Son
called Matthew to be your apostle and evangelist,
free us from all greed and selfish love,
that we may follow in the steps of Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.