Sunday, October 19, 2014
This morning I’m going to start out with something a little less conventional, and ask you to name that logo, as I show different business logos on the screen here. Pretty easy, right?
The question that I hear Jesus asking us this morning, “To whom do you belong?” Perhaps when you first hear this question, you are wondering WHY Jesus would even ask such a question. We Americans so heavily value independence, our first reaction might be, “Belong? Hey, I don’t belong to anybody. Nobody OWNS me.” Or, if we recognize that “no man is an island,”, we can identify people and groups to whom we belong – parents and other family members, church, community groups, etc. But as I hope that “Name the logo” exercise demonstrated, there are lots of other things competing for our attention that are so common place that we don’t even realize the hold they have on our lives. I hope you noticed that none of those logos had any titles or names on them, yet you knew immediately what company they belonged to. While we may be free, independent citizens with family and friends and places we belong, we can quickly forget that first and foremost, we belong to God. Jesus’ question for us today is, when people look at us, do they immediately know we belong to God, or do we let all these other things define us instead? Do we belong to Caesar, or do we belong to God?
In this 21st century world, we are constantly bombarded with people and things vying for our money, our time, and our allegiance. A few years ago, Morgan Spurlock did a famous documentary called Supersize Me on the fast food industry. Maybe some of you saw it. In the film, there is a scene where Spurlock shows several first graders images of different famous people. In this study, all of these young people recognized Ronald McDonald immediately. But when they were shown a picture of Jesus, none of them could identify who Jesus was. Imagine the task we have then, as we try not only to explain to folks that we are ELCA Lutherans, but as we try to explain simply who JESUS is and what he means for our lives. What a powerful example of how people need the church to remind them that they belong to God, not to anyone or anything else!
Not only do we have companies and products competing for our money, time, and attention, we have all kinds of other things pulling on us – our jobs, our retirement accounts, our health, our busy calendars – you name it. Before you know it, our lives are full of living for all these other things – to make our boss or our kids happy, to cheer on our favorite sports team, or to a particular political party’s cause in this mid-term election season. We’re too busy to live for God. But here’s the good news. Jesus knows our lives are messy and complicated. Times haven’t changed much from the times of the Pharisees and Herodians. Even look at the similarities on our coins. In Matthew’s gospel this morning, we see that the Pharisees and Herodians are distracted by religious and political agendas. They want to know how they can possibly live for God in a world that pays more attention to Caesar than to God. And so Jesus asks them to look at that coin, to remember whose face is on that coin, and then to look at themselves. “Give to God the things that are God’s,” Jesus tells them. Are you created in the image of God, or in the image of Caesar? The words Jesus has for the Pharisees are also for us.
So, if we are to give to God the things that are God’s, as Jesus instructs us, we have to ask, “What ISN’T God’s?” And well, the answer is, “nothing! There isn’t anything that doesn’t belong to God!” Everything belongs to God. If we can look past the glitter and the noise, the trademarks and the cultural expectations, this world is marked all over the place with God’s fingerprints, and has been, since the beginning of creation. The water we drink, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, our very selves come from God our creator. You belong to God…not to Caesar, not to Uncle Sam, not to your boss or to your calendar. You were created in the image of God and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Other things all around us clamor for our attention, but we come to worship to remind ourselves and each other again and again and again (because we are forgetful people!) that we belong to God, to no one and to nothing else.
Regular worship reminds us that we are God’s, and so is the world that God so lovingly made, as messed up as we’ve made it. In worship, we were baptized and welcomed into a community of faith so we had somewhere to belong. At our baptisms, we were marked with the cross of Christ forever. Christ claimed us as his own. Every Ash Wednesday, we are marked with the cross again, to remind us that we were created from dust in God’s image, and we are called to reflect that image as we serve God and our neighbor. Nothing we do can change that. Whatever other logos and brands we choose to wear, how do we let the cross on our foreheads and the water of our baptism show others who we really are? How does what we give of our selves, our time, and our possessions reflect that truly everything is God’s to begin with? It’s a messy, complicated world we live in, and I certainly don’t have all the answers. I do think, however, that Jesus is clear that while money, politics, and other things can be tools used for the sake of God’s kingdom and glory, they do not own us or control us.
A professor of New Testament at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, Mark Allan Powell, tells a story about how when the Gauls of the Early Middle Ages were being Christianized in Europe, they would hold one arm up out of the water as they were being baptized. Later, when they took their swords with that arm into battle, they would raise their swords up saying, “This arm was not baptized!” and then proceed to do quite unchristian things! What do we try to keep out of the baptismal water as ours and ours alone? Our wallets? Our watches? Our care for creation? We belong to God, but it’s so easy to forget, that everything, all that we are and all that we have, belongs to God, claimed by God at our baptisms.
So as you go on your way today, know that you belong here and you belong to God, all of you. You have been marked to make a mark on the world, so that the world may know Christ and his good news. Let’s give God our all! Amen.