Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Divine Currency - October 19, 2014

“Divine Currency”
Rev. Katelyn B. Macrae
October 19, 2014
Prayer: Dear Lord, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. O God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

What’s the value of a dollar? What can a dollar buy?

At the Rummage Sale that our church hosted on Friday and Saturday, we learn that a dollar can buy quite a bit, especially with $5 bargain bags on Saturday morning. I got a DVD player for $2! It doesn’t have a remote, but it works.

When I first got my driver’s license, I remember a time when you could get a gallon of gas for $0.95. However, now even a chocolate bar at the grocery store, especially the fancy ones, cost more than a dollar.

In the time of Jesus, a day laborer in the vineyard typically earned one denarius per day.

 A rabbi earned half a denarius a day, and a scribe earned 2 denarii

At the market bread cost 1/12 a denarius.
A cucumber or an amphora of olive oil cost 1 denarius.
Rent for a house was 4 denarii a month, a calf cost 20 denarii and an ox cost 100 denarii.

Then, as it is now, people struggled to make ends meet. Then, as it is now, the people were taxed. Have you heard the saying that there are two constants in life – death and taxes?

Some things haven’t changed in 2,000 years.

In Jerusalem there were two kinds of taxes and two kinds of currency – as I showed the Sunday School kids during children’s time, there were several kinds of coins in use including the shekel – a Jewish currency, and the Roman currency, the denarius, which had the image of Caesar Augustus on it and the words Tiberius, Caesar Augustus, son of the Divine Augustus and Pontiff Maxim – High Priest.

The temple tax, which was mandated by Moses, required every Jewish man 20 years of age or older to pay a half shekel, which was used for the upkeep of the temple.

The second tax was a toll for the public use of bridges and gates. However, when Judea became a Roman Province under Emperor Caesar Augustus, he also levied a tribute tax, which was required to be paid in one’s birthplace and in the roman currency, the denarius.  If you recall the birth narrative from the Gospel of Luke, when Mary was pregnant, she and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem in order to register for the census and pay their taxes.

Undoubtedly, people felt burdened by their taxes. In addition to the tax, there was also the expense of having to travel to their hometowns to pay them. However, few people dared speak out against the Roman Empire.

This is situation we find ourselves in in the Gospel of Matthew today.

Our story begins a chapter after Jesus has banished the money changers from the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus has already irked the ire of the Jerusalem authorities, and they are watching him closely.
 The Herodians – people loyal to Herod Antipas and the Pharisees collude together to trick Jesus.

First they flatter him.

Jesus, we know that you show no partiality.

They lay it on thick.

Then, here comes the question – is it lawful to pay taxes to Cesar or not?

If Jesus answers yes, then he will be seen by the Pharisees as anti-Jewish and in cahoots with the Roman Empire. For the coin used to pay the tribute tax goes against the first two commandments, thou shall have no other gods before me, or make any idols.

If Jesus answers no, then he will probably gain more popularity with his followers, but such a response could spark an insurrection against Rome.

Jesus saw through the trap. Or as Matthew writes, he perceived their wickedness and asked “why do you tempt me, you hypocrites? Show me the tribute money. (Matt 22:17-19).

Jesus didn’t have any denarii on him….

Which was part of his point.

Jesus would not be carrying the coin with the image of Cesar Augustus, and the words, divine son of God, in his pocket.

Jesus has caught them in their own game.

Whose coin is this? Whose image is this?

It’s Caesar.

Well then, that’s who it belongs to.

In Jesus response, “render to Caesar what is Caesar's, and God what is God’s” he upends the entire system of Roman authority that viewed Caesar as divine.

Jesus doesn’t tell people to stop paying taxes – sure, give Caesar back this coin with his image on it.

But give to God what is God’s.

And what is God’s?

Everything is God’s.

The prophet Isaiah says,”See I have inscribed you in the palm of my hand.” (Isa 49:15-16).

We’ve been minted, imprinted, inscribed, pressed, molded, shaped and created with divine intention. Our whole being bears the image of God. 

The entire world, including us, is God’s divine currency, and therefore, we must render to God what is due to God – and that is everything!

When Associate Conf. Minister Jim Thomas came to speak at Richmond Congregational Church a few weeks ago he pushed us to think about Stewardship as a year round endeavor, and to consider all of our resources – including, but not limited to our dollars and cents, as gifts God has entrusted us with to use for God’s purposes.

All that we have and all that we are comes from God.

Our US currency is actually minted with a reminder “In God We Trust.”

Unlike the Roman denarius which proclaimed Cesar Augustus as God, our currency reminds us to trust in God and use the principles and practices of our faith to guide how we allocate the resources that have been entrusted to us.

I will be the first to admit deciding how to use resources, particularly my fiscal resources, is challenging. I have many things I render unto Caesar – student loans, rent, car payment, credit cards, utilities, gas, and groceries.

After rendering unto Cesar, there doesn’t seem like there’s a lot left over and it’s downright frustrating. It doesn’t put me into a spirit of love and generosity or gratitude for the gifts that God has given me.

Please do not hear this as a complaint about pastoral compensation.

I’m using myself as an example because I have struggled with my relationship with money for a long time. In this text from Matthew I hear Jesus’ challenge loud and clear, what are you rendering unto God and how are you doing it?

Our Stewardship theme this year is blessed to be a blessing. For we have each been blessed with this life, and we are each called, as followers of Jesus, to be a blessing to others in whatever way we can.

Our church is called to this mission too!

How could we shape this local community, and even our global community if we not only viewed all our resources as gifts from God, but got together to allocate them?

At the rummage sale this week, one person’s trash became another person’s treasure.

For some, the rummage sale is an opportunity to clean out the detritus that occupies our garages and attics.

For others, the rummage sale is a place to find a great bargain – and for some – perhaps one of the only places that one can afford to go shopping.

A local Methodist pastor came to the rummage sale and found several kitchen items to help a homeless family who is moving into an apartment.

In addition to being a clearinghouse for low-cost items, the rummage sale also provides community for the people who work the sale, and the folks who come in and have an experience of hospitality while shopping. There were baked goods and apple juice for free at the door. You don’t find that when you walk into Macy’s.

But for the first time this year, the rummage sale decided that they would donate a tithe, 10% of the proceeds from the sale to Our Community Cares Camp – a 6 week summer camp at the middle school that feeds kids for free - as a way of sharing out from the resources entrusted to them – to help it go a little further to help even more people in the Richmond Community.

This is a shining example of how the church can get together and be a vehicle for sharing God’s resources.

Here’s a secular example.

In Seven Days this week there was anarticle about van pooling. Vermont Transit is trying to increase vanpooling and carpooling initiatives in Vermont. The challenge to getting more people on board is helping them to give up some of their autonomy of having their own car and the flexibility that gives them in their commute.

The vanpool commuters report that the advantages of vanpooling outweigh the disadvantages. They report savings in commuting costs, the reduced stress of driving and the friendships developed with fellow commuters, and the ability to distress from the day and transition on the ride home. In addition to having more fiscal resources, these commuters also perhaps have better mental resources when they get home from work!

Friends, these two examples illustrate what can happen when people try something different by getting together to share the resources they have. It’s no longer every person for themselves - its neighbor helping neighbor.  

So, here’s my challenge, and I invite you into it too.

In the 12-step community they have a saying, ‘Act as if.”

If you change your actions, your thoughts and attitudes will begin to change too.

Usually I reach for my phone and check my email each morning before getting out of bed.  That is not the way to start my day!

I get a UCC daily devotional email each morning, but lately I admit it’s not the first thing I read. So I’m going to read it first and pray. I’m going to start my day with an attitude of gratitude.

And I’m going to say “thank you” to God when I pay my bills instead of complaining, because God has given me the resources to do it.

And most importantly, I will take a serious look at my personal budget to see where I can make different economic choices that help better support the community and spread God’s resources further.

I’m going to commit to these actions, and I’m going to report back to you to how it goes in November. I invite you to join me in intentionally discerning how God is calling us to allocate the resources God has entrusted to us – these resources are fiscal, emotional, physical and mental. God has entrusted us to be good stewards of these resources, and Jesus encourages us to “render unto God what is God’s.” Friends, may we rise to the challenge.


Blessing of the Animals - October 12, 2014

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

One Bread, One Body - October 5, 2014

“One Bread, One Body”
Richmond Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
Rev. Katelyn B. Macrae
World Communion Sunday – October 5, 2014

Prayer: Dear God, May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. O God our creator, redeemer and sustainer. Amen.
Today’s text from Exodus is known as the Decalogue – or as we commonly call them, the Ten Commandments.

What do you think of when you hear the Ten Commandments?

Perhaps you might picture Charlton Heston playing Moses in the movie the Ten Commandments, holding the stone tablets.

Or maybe a particular commandment comes to mind –
Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.
Or, do not covet your neighbor, and your neighbors property.

Or perhaps you think about the debates about displaying the Ten Commandments in Courthouses and on public property?

But the question for today is really a question of purpose and significance. The Hebrew Bible is full of laws such as the priestly codes in Leviticus. There are guidelines about diet and clothing, and what is clean and unclean. In the book, the Year of Living Biblically, A.J. Jacobs, the author tries to live all of the biblical laws over the course of one year. AJ finds it nearly impossible to live all of the laws at the same time – following one law means violating another. Many of us our violating that law right now by wearing mixed fibers – even my preaching robe is a mixed fiber garment! But these laws came later than the Ten Commandments.

For the Hebrews, wandering in the desert after escaping from Egypt, these ten laws, also known as a Decalogue, we are an initial way to establish how they should conduct and comport themselves together. They had been oppressed in Egypt, they didn’t have the power to make their own laws.
Now they are a new people, shaping and forming a new identity. These laws help them draw some guidelines and basic cultural norms – this is how we’re going to be, and this is what we agree on.
Later, more laws were added to govern more specific things as concerns arise. The Ten Commandments are both a legal and a cultural founding document, much like our Declaration of Independence and Constitution in the United States or our Constitution in the United Church of Christ.

The Premble to the UCC’s Constitution “affirms the responsibility of the Church in each generation to make this faith its own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God.” The preamble to the United Church of Christ’s Constitution, like the Ten Commandments, lays out foundational core beliefs which shaped a covenant between God and the People. In the case of our denomination, the Preamble exemplifies the theological consensus that brought four distinct traditions, and two denominations, the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches, together in covenant at the uniting General Synod of 1957.

As a United Church of Christ congregation, we continue to relate covenantally with other local UCC churches in our Champlain Association, to the Vermont Conference of the United Church of Christ, and at the national level to our denomination, which gathers every two years at General Synod to conduct the business of the church.

In the United Church of Christ, each level of the church is encouraged to honor our covenantal relationship. We balance our covenantal relationships with congregational autonomy. Each level of the church, can speak two, but not for, any other part of the church. At its best, our polity, the way we are governed, allows the United Church of Christ a great flexibility and opportunity to be on the vanguard of responding to social justice concerns. For example, the national setting can pass a resolution about worker justice, and develop resources to help states and local churches respond to the issue. Or, as the Association in San Francisco did in 1972 when they ordained William Johnson, the first openly gay male to be ordained in modern times. The Association ordained Johnson prior to the national setting passing a resolution allowing the ordination of people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

Our denomination has great theological diversity – there are very conservative churches, and some that identify as post-Christian. We don’t always agree. And yet, we are still a part of the same denomination – called “in each generation to make this faith its own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God.”

A few weeks ago, Jim Thomas, the Associate Conference minister in Vermont came and met with members of our Stewardship Team on a Thursday evening. Jim said that UCC Vermont churches that are vibrant hold something in common – they have an outward gaze. They care about what is going on in their community and their world and seek to find ways to respond– whether it’s through prayer, hosting meals, fundraising, mission trips, or advocacy.

At RCC this past week we hosted our 67th annual Chicken Pie Supper. We served 642 Meals. We had so many people here that we ran out of chicken! RCC is known for our Chicken Pie. People from as far away as Canada, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Alaska were here. We are a church whose identity is rooted in feeding people. We can cook! We feed people physically as well as spiritually. But what is at the root of this feeding, beyond the fun, and the fundraising and the community and the tradition – why is feeding people, and being fed, so important?

God has always been in the business of feeding people. For the past few weeks as we’ve heard in the Exodus narrative, God provided manna, quail and fresh clean water for the Hebrew people to drink while they were wandering in the desert after escaping from Egypt.

            Feeding was also central to Jesus’ ministry. Jesus dined with people that society called undesirable. He broke bred with tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes. Jesus also dined with his friends, the disciples. One night, he shared a special meal with them in an Upper Room – a meal of bread and wine.   

Today we remember this meal as we celebrate World Communion Sunday.  From New Zealand to Zimbabwe people are gathering together today for a holy meal, and celebrating both the great unity and diversity of the Body of Christ.

I think that we need this meal today, just as much as people did when World Communion Sunday first started at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh in 1933. We need this meal to remind us of our connectedness as people of God – people who strive to follow the greatest commandment to love God, and love our neighbor.  We live in a world where there is great violence and discord. We need this meal to remind us that we can find commonality despite differences of opinion. We need this meal to remind us of God’s way of love and peace and justice.

Friends in Christ, it is a blessing to celebrate and share a holy meal with you, it is a blessing to know that we are connected across time and space through people around the world, and it is indeed a blessing to be able to help serve someone else – to help feed someone else who is spiritually or physically in need.

It is not only a blessing, but it is our call, as God’s people to be in relationship with each other – to celebrate with joy, help each other with needs, and work for a world where all may have enough.

May we answer the call this day to “make this faith our own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God.”

May it be so.  Amen.