Sermon October 18, 2020
Over the last three weeks, I have watched three different political debates. Actually, I struggled to watch the entire debates because there were so many negative things said. After one of the debates, I said to a friend, “I don’t know why we have debates. After all, the candidates don’t answer the questions that they have been asked”. I believed my comment applied to both of the politicians in the debate. But my friend became upset. He felt that my comment disparaged his candidate. I got a somewhat angry response as I was told that the candidate he supported did answer the questions and the other candidate did not. Another sign of the contentiousness of our election process. I feel that the quality of the debates has declined as candidates don’t always choose to artfully declare their position.
I wish that the debates would be a little more like the way Jesus dealt with the Pharisees and the Herodians in today’s gospel. To be fair, Jesus did get upset at the beginning when he responded, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? But after that, Jesus answered their question in a way that most of us wouldn’t have thought of. Jesus responded in a way that showed his excellent debating skills.
I am thankful that Jesus outsmarted the people trying to trap him. It was quite common for religious leaders to engage in this kind of back and forth debating where debating skills were valued. I think we could benefit from this kind of debating style in our political discourse.
In our Gospel today, Jesus said, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” We know that the coin given to Jesus had the emperor’s image on it. People often exchanged Roman coins for the so-called temple coins in order to purchase a sacrifice to be given in the temple.
As I think about the image of the emperor on the coin, I am reminded of our belief that we are made in the image of God. That understanding comes to us right out of Genesis. God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over all things upon the earth.’ It is as if God has stamped our soul, our very core, with God’s image. It means that every part of us, our heart and soul and mind and strength belong to God. That is why the second half of the verse means so much to me. We should give to God the things that are God’s. Since we are made in the image of God, we are to give everything we have to God.
We have a teaching in the Christian church that we are all born with original sin. It means that we carry the potential for sin inside of us. We say that this original sin comes from what Adam and Eve did when they failed to obey God. To this day, we are at risk always to fall into sin.
It is certainly possible that we are both born in the image of God and have the remnants of original sin is us from the time of birth. But I like an expression that I first read in a book called “Christ of the Celts” by J. Philip Newell. Newell felt that the image of God was so imprinted on us that we don’t really have original sin when we are first born but rather grow into an understanding of sin as we grow older. I think Newell made the point that the image of God has a stronger impact on us than the presence of original sin. I like the positive image and the sense the we are given God’s presence throughout our lives.
Most of us are pretty hard on ourselves. We think the worst, think we may not be good enough. If we could just find a way to love ourselves the way God loves us, our lives would be easier. Thomas Merton said it this way, “We are what we love. If we love God, in whose image we were created, we discover ourselves in him and we cannot help being happy: we have already achieved something of the fullness of being for which we were destined in our creation.” Let us be happy that we are made in God’s image.
In his debate with the Pharisees, Jesus may have felt the pull of evil in their question. It may have taken him back to his encounter with the devil out in the wilderness. Both times Jesus chose to live by God’s rule rather than to rule the earth.
Saint Augustine taught that true freedom is not choice or lack of constraint but being what you are meant to be. Humans were created in the image of God. True freedom, then, is not found in moving away from that image but only in living it out.” Rather than being afraid of temptation perhaps we can live into being in God.
And yet we know that we fail and make mistakes. We may even lose that image of God somewhat. The good news is God is with us. One commentator wrote that “Though the image of God on us has been marred by sin, and none of us is what we might be or wish to be, yet the likeness to God which is part of our creation has not been fully defaced” God is still in us. The likeness of God on our soul has never really left us. As Eleonore Stump, theologian suggested, “The God who made us in his image will not leave us in our sins. Through the redemption of Christ, God will make his image lovely in each one of us.”
As children of God we are faced with choices. There are times when a Christian should support and times when a Christian should resist the activities that are going on in the world around us. The answers are not always easy. It is a struggle that goes on throughout our life.
Just as we know God is within us, we also know that the image of God is found in others. In this introduction, Paul described seeing the image of God in the Thessalonians. Paul was so thankful for what they had become in their love of God and of each other. Paul wrote, I am “constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Such a beautiful description of other people that Paul provided. It is an inspiration for all of us. If we could look upon our fellow humans and always think such wonderful thoughts. It seems such an important thought during this election season as feelings about our presidential candidates create such strong emotions in all of us. We find it difficult to understand and accept the views of those who disagree with us. And yet the image of God is in everyone
There is a story about Leonardo Da Vinci. “One of Leonardo da Vinci's most famous creations is his painting of The Last Supper. It is said that while Leonardo da Vinci was working on the painting he got into an argument with a fellow painter. Leonardo da Vinci was so mad at this colleague that in anger and out of spite he painted that man's face as the face of Judas in his painting of the Last Supper. But then, having completed that, Leonardo da Vinci turned to paint the face of Christ and he could not do it. It wouldn't come. He couldn't visualize it. He couldn't paint the face of Christ.
He put down his paintbrush and went to find the man from whom he was estranged. He forgave him; they reconciled with one another; they both apologized. They both forgave. That very evening Leonardo da Vinci had a dream and in that dream he saw the face of Christ. He rose quickly from his bed and finished the painting and it became one of his greatest masterpieces.”
I hope that you can celebrate the gift that Jesus gave us. He wanted us to know that we are made in the image of God and that all of what we have we are to give to God. In doing so, let us be encouraged by the image of God that lies in us. Let us be happy with ourselves because we try to live as God’s people even though we sometimes fail. And let us see God in others. Amen.
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