Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings – Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99; I Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22: 1-14

!God wants you!  That’s right, God wants you.  Just like God chose the Hebrew slaves who were living in Egypt.  God chose them for service; God chose them to be unique among all the peoples of the earth; God chose them to be different. 

St. Paul wrote to the congregation in Thessalonica, you are chosen.  You are chosen for service that grows out of love.  They were challenged to be like Jesus, to be imitators of God, to be people of grace and mercy, to be the people of the God of grace and mercy. 

Likewise, we have been invited to be the People of God, and there is no greater challenge we will ever receive. 

In saying, “Yes”, to this invitation, to this challenge, God’s love is poured into our hearts.  God’s love is the enabling fuel to meet the challenge.  This month’s communion hymn #516 is about this love.  Bianco da Siena, a wool worker of Venice wrote this poem in the 15th c.  Richard Frederick Littledale translated the poem into English in the 19th c.  He was a priest with poor health.  As a curate in rural England, he spent his days translating and writing.  Ralph Vaughan Williams composed the tune in the 20th c, naming it for the village of his birth in England.  Love is the fire, love is the fuel, of the human soul.

Come down, O Love divine, seek thou this soul of mine, and visit it with thine own ardor glowing; O Comforter draw near, within my heart, appear, and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn, till earthly passions turn to dust and ashes in its heat consuming; and let thy glorious light shine ever on my sight, and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

And so, the yearning strong, with which the soul will long, shall far out-pass the power of human telling;  for none can guess its grace, till Love create a place wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling. 

Now let’s observe an application of that fire, that love of God come down, to an ongoing topic.  Taxes were a hot topic in the days of Jesus.  Somethings never change.  As the People of God, as the chosen of God, as the imitators of God, what do we owe Caesar, the emperor, and what do we owe God? 

The Pharisees and the Herodians were out to entrap Jesus.  To paraphrase a contemporary of ours, when they went low, Jesus went high.  They wanted to entangle and entrap, and Jesus went high.  Jesus looked to the heavens, to the eternal values.  His response –

                Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.

What are God’s?  How about we start with the Book of Genesis.

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.  And there was morning, the first day. 

And there was a second, and a third, and a fourth, and a fifth, and a sixth day.  The Pharisees and the Herodians sought to confine and entrap.  Jesus sought to free and expand, for all is God’s.  All creation is sacred Holy Scripture tells us time and time again.  And the question, “What do we owe God?”  It is not a guilt question for the People of God, for people of faith. It is reality question. 

Personally, what have I really earned?  I have not earned the love of Leigh(spouse), or John and Ashley (our children), or Noah, Ainsley, Haidyn and Adelaine (our grandchildren).  What have I earned?  I have not earned all the people of Christ’s body who have loved and nurtured me, and who have allowed me to love and nurture them. 

First Methodist Church, Germantown, Philadelphia        

Calvary Evangelical and Reformed Church, Philadelphia

Glenside United Church of Christ, Glenside, Pennsylvania

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Glenside

The Falls Church, Virginia

Christ Church, Stratford, Connecticut

St. Andrew’s, Lewisburg

All the parishes of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania

All Saints, Selinsgrove. 

I am sure that each one of us has similar people and similar places where the love of God has been poured into our hearts.

We, you and I, we have been called, we have been invited, we have been challenged, to be distinct, to be chosen, to be imitators of Jesus.  And the love of God has been poured in to our hearts. 

That love of God has enabled us to take the high road rather than being entangled and entrapped.

That love of God has enabled us to look up to the eternal where mercy and grace prevail. 

That love of God, poured into our hearts has richly blessed us, so that we can serve and bless others, so that we can be gracious, so that we can be merciful, so that we can be lovers. “For God so loved the world that he gave….”      Amen.

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