A Thriving Spiritual Community

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Annisquam
Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Annisquam
Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

A Thriving Spiritual Community

photo of AVC sanctuary
Sermon: “A Godly Lens”

“A Godly Lens”

October 22, 2023

come-share-in-god's-joy

A few months ago, I was having a conversation with a friend.  I’ll call him “Dan.” It was about politics. 

“Yes, I voted for Trump,” he said.  “It’s not like I like the guy. I’m a Christian. I don’t agree with a lot of what he says or does.”

“Why did you vote for him?” I asked.  

Dan replied, “Because my 401k was doing better with him, than with this guy. I’m always going to vote with my pocketbook.”

My friend, Dan, is like a modern day Herodian, someone whose worldview and many of his most significant decisions are based on his bottom line. 

He’s not alone. 

There are plenty of people in this country just like him, maybe some of us. (Why might this be? Perhaps economic inequality drives this phenomena to a degree.  If I am worried that I don’t have enough money to survive and provide for my family, perhaps my financial well-being is more likely to become a significant lens through which I see the world.  But, Dan drives a brand new SUV and just bought a new home, so I don’t think that is the case.)

Could it be that many folks in our country understand and appreciate the tenets of capitalism better than the tenets of democracy? Could it be that some people in this country don’t even fully distinguish between the two?   (We really need a return Civics classes.) In our current political jungle, there are plenty of loud voices that promote leaders and policies that support the economic well-being of some, at the cost of the rights, freedoms, and well-being of others. 

As long as what matters most is my bank account, as long as that is the lens through which I see the world and make important decisions – like who to vote for – the needs of others often matter less.

The power brokers of the Jewish community in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees, wanted to maintain their position in society, too. Like the Herodians, they benefited from the system of taxation that burdened the Jewish people under Roman occupation. To maintain their religious power and way of life, they not only tested Jesus, but were ultimately complicit in his execution.

Why might this be? In a society with such grave economic inequality like theirs, perhaps the idea of slipping out of the ruling class into the only other class there was – the destitute peasant class –  stoked their fears. When push came to shove, the Pharisees were more concerned with staying in power and maintaining their way of life than following their own teachings: to serve God alone, to serve God with everything – heart, soul, and strength. 

Political leaders whose only aim seems to be power for power’s sake often appear willing to say or do anything to get or maintain their position. Just look at what is happening in the U.S. House of Representatives or in autocratic movements around the globe. When the goal is nothing more than power, the bigger picture of what Jesus clearly cares about – and wants us to care about – loving God and loving others –  falls to the wayside.

Living under Roman occupation, the Herodians and Pharisees calculated what they needed to do to stay in the good graces of Rome – to protect their money and their power.  That meant trying to entrap and test someone who had just overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple, someone they believed wanted to upend the economic and political order, Jesus. 

Jews in first century Palestine paid a lot of taxes. There was a temple tax, land taxes, customs and trade taxes. The tax that the Pharisees and Herodians questioned Jesus about was particularly despised – the Imperial Tax. It’s purpose was to fund the Roman occupation of Israel. Think of it – as David Lose points out – first century Jews were required to pay their oppressors a yearly tax to support their own oppression! No wonder rebellion was simmering.

With their question about the Imperial Tax, Jesus’ foes thought they had him trapped.  If he advocated paying this tax, Jesus would disappoint his followers. If not, he would be in trouble with the Roman rulers.

But – and this is a key point – Jesus did not accept the terms of the question he was asked. For him, life is about so much more than money or power.  He could see beyond a framework that only allowed for a “yes” or “no” answer. He didn’t take the bait. He wasn’t playing the same game as his questioners. Jesus refused to allow their limited perception of available choices to dictate his response. He refused to allow his answer to be determined by their agendas, within the box created by Roman rule. 

Jesus did not perceive the world only through a narrow lens – through money or power – through economics or politics; He perceived the world through an expansive and creative godly lens – the lens of love, the lens of caring about others, especially those who suffer. For him, following the laws of Rome was not as important as following the laws of a loving God. 

And that is what makes all the difference; that is what guides his perceptions, his decisions and his priorities. 

What guides ours? 

If we care primarily about our own pocketbooks or power, we will be forever trapped in systems that will eventually dehumanize and destroy ourselves and others. Preferencing money and power over God will always shrink our vision and our hearts. Neither of these worldly goods, money and power, can ultimately satisfy us or give us the kind of peace and security we long for. Those are gifts only God can offer.

But, when we recognize and deeply embrace who we are and whose we are – all of us without exception – created in the image and likeness of a loving God – not Caesar! – then we can put on a godly lens and discover creative possibilities for life that we could never have imagined otherwise.   

This is not easy to do. We live in a world that is constantly tempting us to choose from a truncated menu, a menu of money and power. Meanwhile God offers us more – participation in the kingdom of God. When that is our horizon, we discover a life of meaning and purpose that comes from giving of ourselves, including through sharing our money and whatever  power we may have!

We are inundated and overwhelmed on a daily basis with images of poverty, violence, natural disasters, and war. We long for safety and security – but often mistakenly think that our money or our power will protect us.  But as Robin Wall Kimmerer reminds us, “All flourishing is mutual.”  

It is through a whole-hearted devotion to God, who is the source of life and blessing and security and peace, that we can discern the wisest decisions and set our priorities. Seeking to please God, seeking to serve God, we are less likely to get manipulated by others who are looking out only for themselves, not for us or the common good. 

The poet William Stafford says it this way:

If you don’t know the kind of person I am

and I don’t know the kind of person you are

a pattern that others made may prevail in the world

and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

Friends, these days demand that we proceed with the greatest possible knowledge and wisdom. The stakes in our country, in the Middle East, in Ukraine, and in our climate-imperiled world are grave. We need to be motivated in our daily and significant decisions by more than money or power. We need a compass. 

And we have one. God.

If only we pause and remember and put on a Godly lens. 

I don’t know what was motivating 20-25 House Republicans last week to vote the way they did. But, it seemed that maybe something bigger than money, something bigger than power, was guiding them.  

When we are faced with significant life decisions, when we are setting our priorities, may we remember the expansive worldview and words of Jesus.  Life is about so much more than money or power. What motivated Jesus is the same thing that can motivate us – love –  love of God and love of neighbor. Amen.