This week’s question is mine. I’ve always wondered why there are some subjects that fall into the forbidden topic zone whether you are at church or work or a party or in community gathering. It’s like these few words are a flashing stop sign. And I understand why. The question is mine but that didn’t mean that I didn’t spend the whole week avoiding doing the bulletin because I was nervous. I posted the topic and my heart started racing because I was nervous. Should I broach this in church? Then I remembered the stories of the bible. None of them shy away from talking about money or sex or politics … and you don’t have to look very hard to find them. A few years ago, I attended stewardship. They gave us this definition for stewardship – it is everything after we say yes to God and that means no topics are off limits with God. In her new book Shameless Nadia Bolz-Webber writes, “…our sexual and gender expressions are as integral to who we are as our religious upbringings are. To separate these aspects of ourselves – to separate life as a sexual being from a life with God – is to bifurcate our psyche, like a musical progression that ever comes to resolution.” (Shameless page 4) And she is right, when topics that are central to our lives like sexuality, like our faith, like money, like politics are off limits they hide in the shadows, can produce shame, anxiety and fear. None of this is what Jesus wanted for us. Jesus invites us to wholeness and abundant life.
Just before we dive in – this is a beginning. There is no way we can cover all these deep topics in one sermon. But maybe if we dip our toes in to the waters of the challenging topics, it will help us to keep explore, talking and learning. And maybe as we have these holy conversations, we will catch a glimpse of the kingdom that Jesus talked about so much.
How many of you have read the full book of Song of Solomon? If you have you will know that it is the bibles erotic love poetry – filled with passion. Our reading this morning is just one small part of that poem and a PG rated reading. Listen: “My beloved is like a gazelle or young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for the now the winter is past, the rain is gone.” (Song of Solomon 2:9 – 11) There is a long tradition of Christian mystics, like St. Teresa of Avila, whose prayers mimic that language we use to describe a lover. There is strong connections between our souls need for God and our relationships with our lovers. Today, we know from research in our education system that the teenagers who get comprehensive sex education have lower rates of pregnancy and are less likely to get a sexually transmitted disease. They had a space where they could learn, ask questions and have a conversation with their peers. Even if its uncomfortable and the room fills with awkward giggles. I wonder what change if we talked about sex as both gift and blessing from God instead of something that is forbidden or sinful or only for marriage? I wonder open conversation about sex and sexuality change the silence that happens around sexual violence? I wonder if there would be less shame and more joy?
Psalm 139 says, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. …For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” (Psalm 139:1 – 2, 13 – 14)) We are all made in God’s image beautifully and wonderfully made and that includes our sexuality and gender expressions. It includes how we live together in our communities and how we use the resources that God gives us.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus makes just this point. He is teaching the crowds when the Herodian and Pharisees show up. The Herodians and Pharisees don’t agree on much politically speaking but they agree that Jesus is a problem that needs to be fixed. The Herodians are fine with Caesar’s tax, given Herod’s cozy arrangement with Rome. For the Pharisees, the tax is a problem but so is the coin used to pay the tax. The coin proclaims Caesar as a god which runs contrary to the commandment that says “you shall have no other God before me.” So they set the trap with flattery and what seems like a simple question.
“Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" (Matthew 22:16 – 17) Their goal is to cost him his following or his life. If he approves payment of the tax, he supports the empire and people will abandon him. If says they should not pay the tax, he is committing treason.
Jesus calls them all hypocrites. "Show me the coin," Jesus says. With the coin in hand, Jesus then asks the two simple questions: Whose image is that? Whose title? They say, “The emperor’s” What follows is a well known passage of scripture. The King James Version translates it this way: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." (Matthew 22: 21)
Dr. David Lose writes, “All of which sharpens the bite of Jesus’ response: “give, therefore, to Caesar, the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And suddenly the tables are turned, as all in attendance confess that everything belongs to the holy One of Israel. With just a few words, Jesus reveals the truth about his would-be accusers and simultaneously calls them to a higher fidelity than they’d imagined. I wonder if Jesus is doing the same to us? Not trying to trap us, of course, but rather inviting us to declare our allegiance. Perhaps the key issue in this exchange isn’t whose image is on the coin, but rather whose image is on us.”
Back to our starting place. Everything after we say yes to God is stewardship – how we live out our faith. Jesus wanted to change the world for the everyone. Jesus talked about the kingdom of God – that place where all find home and welcome. It is our calling as followers of Jesus make this kingdom a reality. And if we can’t talk about how our financial resources get used and if we can’t talk about politics then, then how are we going to help transform our world so it reflects that kingdom?
I think it is becoming increasingly urgent for us to talk about money and politics. I turn on the news and I’m horrified that a world leader would have the audacity to citizens to go back to the country they came from. And in case you think it’s only happening in other countries, just listen to the rhetoric of some of our politic leaders at both the provincial and national level. We need to talk about racism and the kind of world we want to live in. I turn on the news and I hear about the many have no home or not enough money to buy food. We live in a world that has enough resources to feed and shelter everyone. Why can some people spend more money on a luxury item then some people make in 10 years? We need to talk about poverty and wealth. I turn on the news and hear about the planet that we call home and I worry for my children. We need to talk about climate change and how to change our destructive habits so our children can live in safety.
Father Gregory Boyle in a video by Work of the Peoplesays, “Jesus was only about dismantling the barriers that excluded. Jesus was only about expanding the circle of compassion hopeful that no one would be standing outside.” We need to keep talking about those things that make us uncomfortable or considered forbidden so that our world starts to be that circle of compassion where no one is standing outside. Amen.