29TH  SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST Lessons & Meditation

29TH  SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST   10-18-2020

FIRST READING:  Isaiah 45:1-7

We were in this section of the Book of Isaiah, the portion that seeks to offer promise and hope, several times in the summer. For Biblical scholars who divide the book into two major divisions, we are in “The Book of Comfort” (Chapters 40-66); and for Biblical scholars who divide the book into three major divisions, we are in “Second Isaiah” (Chapters 40-55). In either case, Jewish exiles – who have been defeated, deported, and devastated – are being encouraged by proclamations of future deliverance from exile in Babylon, a return to their homeland, and the restoration as a nation and faith community of an Israel that has been judged and punished by God.

Today’s reading is addressed to a people who have no king, no political power, and no military might. But they do have a mighty God! And God chooses and anoints Cyrus the Persian emperor to end Israel’s exile through defeat of the Babylonians. Just as God had used the empires of Assyria and Babylon to punish Israel, now God would use another foreign king as a “messiah” to deliver them and bring them home. And not only is the Lord greater than any earthly leader, he is also more powerful than the Persian god of light and their god of darkness. There is no other god! God has power over creation, power over nations, even the power to create both good and evil!

What does it mean that Cyrus, a Persian who does not acknowledge God, is now called God’s “anointed”? How might the exiles have viewed the rumored approach and conquests of Cyrus and the Persians differently after Isaiah’s proclamation? There are certainly Christians in our time who believe and affirm that Donald J. Trump is God’s “anointed” servant for our nation and our world. You might support this notion wholeheartedly, or you might be in strong disagreement. But even if you see little sense or positive quality in Trump’s presidency, might you – in light of what the prophet says about Cyrus – see President Trump as God’s agent “anointed” to accomplish God’s own purposes, regardless of his own faith or character? When and where and how have you seen a mighty God working God’s purposes in seemingly strange ways?

 

SECOND READING:  1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Probably Paul’s earliest correspondence, the two letters to the Christian community in Thessalonica show Paul addressing problems faced by Gentile converts to the new Christian faith. Like Philippi, Thessalonica was a major city of Macedonia on the Aegean Sea; it was located along an important trade and travel route between East and West. The Christian church was founded there around A.D.50 on Paul’s second missionary journey. A few Jewish persons joined, but most of the members were Gentiles. Paul wrote from Corinth after receiving good news from his colleague Timothy that all was mostly well (1:1 and 3:1-6). Opposition from the synagogue (2:14-16) and confusion over Paul’s preaching about Christ’s return were the main issues.

Following the opening greeting, Paul’s thanksgiving begins with a word of gratitude for their response to the gospel. Paul commends, encourages, and reassures these new Christians who face rejection and perhaps persecution in an antagonistic and pagan world. Their commitment of faith, love, and hope makes them a model for other new Christian communities.

Acts 17:1-10 offers the story of Paul’s stay in Thessalonica. He was apparently only there for three weeks before Jewish opposition morphed into mob violence and made it necessary to smuggle him out of town. Only three weeks of preaching there! When have you witnessed or experienced the power of God at work and making a profound difference through someone who was only “here” or “there” for just a short time?

St. Paul writes and celebrates that the Christians of Thessalonica have become “imitators” of Paul and of other Christians, “imitators” of Jesus Christ, and kept the faith in hard times. THESE are some hard times, aren’t they? But we have God’s Word to help us in our decision-making and our living. We have the life and the witness and death and resurrection of Jesus to lead us and guide us in our living… the power of the Holy Spirit to encourage and strengthen us… and other persons who mold us and guide us and help encourage us. THANK GOD FOR OUR ANCESTORS AND OUR PARENTS OF FAITH! THANK GOD FOR THE CHURCH! THANK GOD FOR JESUS! LOOK FOR PEOPLE WHO WILL BE A MODEL FOR YOU OF FAITH AND FAITHFULNESS! BE AND BECOME A MODEL FOR SOMEONE ELSE, INSPIRE OTHERS THROUGH YOUR JOYFUL, LOVING LIVING! 

 

GOSPEL READING:  Matthew 22:15-22

The Romans referred to Caesar (their word for “Emperor”) as a god. The coin the men would have shown Jesus reads “Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest”. The coin was imprinted with the head of Caesar and that godly title.

Responding to one of many questions intended to trap him – this time from the PHARISEES (who were Jewish religious fanatics and passionate nationalists opposed to the Roman rule of Palestine) and the HERODIANS (who were Jewish people who were loyalists to Roman occupation of their land, who supported and affirmed the Empire’s governing of them through the Herod family tree) who had put aside their many differences and their genuine dislike for one another for a moment, and come together to oppose him – Jesus answers “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and give to God the things that are God.”

He wasn’t trapped as they had planned and expected. He didn’t choose his oppressed people over oppressive Roman authority. And he didn’t choose the risk of rejection by his people by publicly insisting that the tax be paid. In truth, his answer was more like a question back to those he called “hypocrites”. And it is also a question asked of us, of you:

        WHO or WHAT do you give your primary allegiance to?

Is it GOD… or somebody or something less than God?

What are “the things that are God’s”?

Doesn’t everything belong to God?

What does that mean for the emperor?

Jesus asked those PHARISEES and HERODIANS, “Show me the money. Whose image, whose likeness is on the coin?”  Now think about yourself. Genesis 1 says that you are created in GOD’S image, you are GOD’S child, you are gifted with GOD’S breath and filled with GOD’s spirit, you belong to GOD. Brothers and sisters, GOD has created and loved and blessed and saved you.  Give to God what belongs to God – your whole life. You have been marked for grace and for love. God claims you as his own. Give to God what belongs to God. There can be no higher allegiance than to God, no greater response than faith and faithfulness. Do the right thing. Walk the right way.

I’m suggesting to you that Jesus is talking about far more than just taxes… Jesus is telling us to apply this principle of faith to every aspect of our life. We must always be in a time of careful reflection… and sincere prayer… about what pleases God, what obeys God, what serves God. And – if I am indeed created in the IMAGE OF GOD, as the Bible proclaims… if I am bearing the LIKENESS OF GOD – then I should not be deceived… I should understand that my lifestyle choices are FAITH decisions, my political decisions are FAITH decisions, my economic decisions are FAITH decisions… my love decisions, my anger decisions, my mercy decisions, my hate decisions are FAITH decisions…all my decisions are FAITH decisions. In fact, EVERY ASPECT OF MY LIFE – including my beliefs and values, my time, my energy, my resources, my money, my gifts and abilities, my opportunities, my commitments, what I say and how I say it, what I do and how I do it, my present and my future – RELATES TO MY FAITH… and is part of my response to God!

“GIVE TO GOD THE THINGS THAT ARE GOD’S.”

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