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In order to expedite posting the worship services here on our website, we are reducing the transcript to just the scriptures used and the message. Union Grove UMC in partnership with Southland Books & Cafe, began holding Second Sunday Community Church in January 2023. Second Sunday Community Church takes place at 3 p.m. ET the second Sunday of every month, meets in-person at The Bird & The Book, and is also live-streamed on Facebook. Holy Communion is offered at every Second Sunday service. If you are worshipping on Second Sundays online whether during the live-cast or through on-demand viewing, you are encouraged to have bread and juice or wine available as you watch the service and to participate in communion just as if you are present with us.
God, open us to hear and receive your scriptures today as you would have us hear them, understand them as you would have us understand them, and to act upon them as you would have us act upon them.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Exodus 33:12-23 (ERV)
Moses said to the Lord, “You told me to lead these people, but you did not say who you would send with me. You said to me, ‘I know you very well, and I am pleased with you.’ If I have really pleased you, then teach me your ways. I want to know you. Then I can continue to please you. Remember that these people are your nation.”
The Lord answered, “I myself will go with you. I will lead you.”
Then Moses said to him, “If you don’t go with us, then don’t make us leave this place. Also, how will we know if you are pleased with me and these people? If you go with us, we will know for sure. If you don’t go with us, these people and I will be no different from any other people on the earth.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will do what you ask. I will do this because I am pleased with you and because I know you very well.”
Then Moses said, “Now, please show me your Glory.”
Then the Lord answered, “I will show my love and mercy to anyone I want to. So I will cause my perfect goodness to pass by in front of you, and I will speak my name, I AM, so that you can hear it. But you cannot see my face. No one can see me and continue to live.”
Then the Lord said, “Here is a place for you to stand by me on this large rock. I will put you in a large crack in that rock. Then I will cover you with my hand, and my Glory will pass by. Then I will take away my hand, and you will see my back. But you will not see my face.”
Matthew 22:15-22 (ERV)
Then the Religious Leaders left the place where Jesus was teaching. They made plans to catch him saying something wrong. They sent some men to Jesus. They were some of their own followers and some from the group called Herodians. They said, “Teacher, we know you are an honest man. We know you teach the truth about God’s way. You are not afraid of what others think about you. All people are the same to you. So tell us what you think. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus knew that these men were trying to trick him. So he said, “You hypocrites! Why are you trying to catch me saying something wrong? Show me a coin used for paying the tax.” They showed Jesus a silver coin. Then he asked, “Whose picture is on the coin? And whose name is written on the coin?”
They answered, “It is Caesar’s picture and Caesar’s name.”
Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”
When they heard what Jesus said, they were amazed. They left him and went away.
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Lens Correction*
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer, and may you see fit to use me as a vessel from which you pour out your Divine Word.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Moses used to take a tent a short way outside the camp. He called it “the meeting tent.” Anyone who wanted to ask something from the Lord would go to the meeting tent outside the camp.
But any time Moses went out to the tent, all the people watched him. They stood at the entrance of their tents and watched Moses until he entered the meeting tent, because whenever Moses went into the tent, the tall cloud would come down and stay at the entrance to the tent. And the Lord would speak with Moses.
So when the people saw the cloud at the entrance of the tent, they would go to the entrance of their own tents and bow down to worship God.
In this way the Lord spoke to Moses face to face like a man speaks with his friend. (Exodus 33:7-11a ERV)
The five verses just before our Exodus passage today say that God and Moses spent a lot of time in conversation, like friends. Like friends, meaning they enjoyed each other’s company, but argued as much as agreed. It was a contentious relationship from the beginning. No denying that. They complained to each other, dreamed together; they debated the meaning of life. All the usual stuff that friends do.
And, once again, Moses feels like he’s getting the short end of the stick. Remember that scene in the movie, The Ten Commandments, where Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai carrying the stone tablets only to discover many of the people he’s supposed to be leading have reverted back to idol worship and debauchery, so he gets really mad, throws the tablets down on the ground which opens up and swallows all the wrong doers? That scene?
Today’s passage in Exodus is the conversation between God and Moses after the events in that scene. And Moses is a little bent out of shape, feeling like he’s been given the short end of the stick.
“You gave me this job,: he says, “but you don’t say how I’m supposed to do it, or who is going to help me do it, or even for sure what it is we are supposed to do now. I’ve got no road map; I’ve got no itinerary; I’ve got no clue what’s next. All I’ve got is this vague sense of call and the fact that you seem to like me for some reason. And besides, this is your mess to fix and not mine anyway.”
God says, “I’m here, take it easy.”
Moses says, “Well, duh. You’re here. You better be here since this is all your idea anyway. But I need more than that. Way more.”
God says, “OK. Because I like you. Because I told you my name. OK.”
Moses is a bit stunned by this turn in the conversation and he whispers, “Show me your glory.”
So, what did he ask? Did he ask for a light show? For thunder and lightning? Or something else?
Glory. How do we give God glory? Or, a more appropriate question, how do we acknowledge God’s glory?
By how we live. Yes, sometimes it is through our praise and worship, but mostly we glorify God by living as God would have us live. But Moses wanted something tangible. He wanted to see God walking around, living the way Moses was supposed to live.
What Moses didn’t realize is that, thousands of years before the time, Moses was asking for Jesus. He wanted God to put on flesh and come and hang out with him. Come and guide him. Come and sustain him —for the task he was feeling way too inadequate to do. To lead the people that he was sure didn’t want to be led by the likes of him. He wanted a glimpse of how it was supposed to be, how he was supposed to be in God. What Moses was asking for was Jesus.
In the morning, when I rise, give me Jesus. We are asking for glory when we sing that song … when we pray that prayer. Give me Jesus. Give me a glimpse of how I’m supposed to walk. Give me a hint of how I’m to do this task you’ve given me to do when I know it is beyond my ability to do. Parenting, pastoring, teaching, leading, living in love with neighbor and family, none of it is within my capabilities to do. None of it.
God says, “I know. So, here’s what I’ll do. I’ll make all my goodness pass before you.”
“My goodness,” God says, “just what you need, just what will equip you, just what will fill you. On your own, the tasks before you are beyond you. But filled with my goodness, then the impossible becomes possible.” “Filled with my goodness,” God says to Moses, “you can lead these people.”
Goodness is not some ethical standard, some state of being, it is the empowering force that equips us to live as God’s people. It is blessing.
God blessed Moses on that mountaintop, just as God blesses us anytime we let the Spirit fill us. “Filled with my goodness,” God says to us, “you can be who I created you to be. Filled with my goodness…”
“Empty me of my sadness, please Spirit, empty me of my fear. Empty me of loneliness and despair, of anger and suspicion, of intolerance and apathy. Empty me of the need to blame others. Empty me of hurtful language. Empty me of every negative thing, that there may be more room in my life for your love, and your love alone. Empty me that I may be filled.” Rt. Bishop Steven Charleston
We are so used to thinking these are attributes that we generate ourselves: If we just work hard enough, then we will become good. But that isn’t how it works. It is a gift. It is the Spirit at work within us. And we let it because we know that without it, we fall short of who we want to be, let alone who God can equip us to be. And we invite the Spirit to bring us God’s goodness because we want it; we want to be there. We want to be that. That something more, that something new. We want to love like that.
Then … just when we start to feel better, to think, “Yes! I want to love like that!” … along comes Jesus with a lesson on … of all things … taxes? Or is it?
This will come as a shock, I’m sure, but this isn’t really a conversation about taxes. Matthew tells us that from the start: “Then the Religious leaders went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.” We aren’t really discussing the ethics of economic policy here. We aren’t even giving folks today some help in how they should file their taxes, whether tax avoidance is smart politics/economics or bad morals (or both, somehow), and whether lying to the IRS is the same as lying to anyone else.
“But,” you might argue, “doesn’t Jesus do that Jesus thing where he takes what is essentially a nefarious trap and turn it into some good advice and, in the end, help us with the whole taxes thing?”
Well, maybe, but Jesus isn’t really in the advice business. Especially tax advice. He’s in the transformation business. He is in the radical rethinking life business. He’s about dying to sin and self and rising again to live a life without horizons. Not that paying taxes isn’t important for us, but it pales alongside eternity.
It is interesting how the argument plays out, or how Matthew presents it —after telling us that this was a plot to trip up Jesus and coming up with another of those no-win scenarios that the Religious leaders love to concoct. And then, once they hit upon a fool-proof plan, they send their disciples to go get Jesus.
Yeah, they sent the rookies in to do the dirty work. Maybe they weren’t convinced that this plan was indeed foolproof; maybe they had been burned by Jesus too many times in the past. Who knows? But they tagged in the guys who had been onlookers to this point; they sent the probationary ones to get into the fray. And it went about as well as could be expected when confronting Jesus with an unsolvable riddle. (Yeah, I always wondered why the Riddler was surprised when Batman figured out the clues in time to thwart his evil plans. Seems too easy in a way, don’t you think?)
How does Jesus respond to this testing? First, he lets them know that he sees what they are up to and calls them out … calls them hypocrites … for putting him to the test. Then he says, “All right, I’ll answer your bogus question. Show me the coin.”
When Jesus tells them, “Show me the coin,” he distances himself from their primary complaint. How can this Jesus carry a coin that is a blasphemous symbol of a godlike being? So, he shows that he isn’t carrying such a thing. He has stepped outside of the normal economic world and chooses to live a different way. Not unaware of how the world works, this isn’t naivete on Jesus’ part. He knows the coin; he just chooses to not have any of them on his person.
We could argue that living by barter was possible for that culture in a way that it isn’t in ours. We could point out that choosing to live outside our economic system isn’t a very healthy way for us to live. Yet, there are people who do it all the time. And Jesus would claim, we should argue, that we owe it to them to be supportive and sympathetic to their needs.
We could also dig a little deeper and ask what was the point that Jesus was trying to make? Was he really recommending that we all live off the grid? That we shun money of any kind and live hand to mouth? Maybe, but maybe there was another point he was hoping to shed light upon.
Give to God the things that are God’s.
Okay, so what, you may ask, are God’s things?
There were hundreds of laws and stipulations determining what was sacred – fit for use in the service of God— and what was mundane – of this earth and therefore not sacred and not fit for use in God’s service. But Jesus wants us to take a different look. Looking through the lens of Jesus, everything is sacred and fit for use in the service of God. Everything, starting with us and everyone around us, belongs to God and therefore it is a part of our calling to surrender ourselves to God.
Things are important, to be sure. But Jesus seemed much more interested in people than in things. The things that are God’s had to refer to everyone that he saw around him. The ones who were hanging on his every word, the ones who had given up livelihoods and family to follow him everywhere he went, and even the ones who were setting a trap for him, hoping that he would get tongue-tied talking about God and get himself in trouble with the people or the authorities or the empire.
Even the ones who were setting the trap, Jesus would claim. In the lens of Jesus, they belong to God, too. And maybe if we could treat one another as though everyone belongs to God, then we might come closer to living out the promise of the kingdom that he kept talking about.
Maybe if we saw everyone as belonging to God, then we’d have an idea of what glory was.
And there it is … the vision test and the lens correction. Learning to see through the lens of Christ which happens also to be the lens of God … learning and living The Way that Jesus taught us for the three years of his adult ministry. The Way we are to follow to the destination he gave us. To be not merely converts, but to become his disciples, his pilgrims on the journey to the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
We are a pilgrim people; we have a destination in mind as we move forward in our journey of faith. It may seem at times that we are just wandering aimlessly, doing our best to stay clean in an increasingly messy world. But the deeper truth is that we are heading somewhere. We are on a quest toward the kingdom of God. Sometimes we call it a kin-dom as a reminder that this is a corporate journey; it is a community vision. But whatever we call it, it is the vision that Jesus shared again and again with images both powerful and subtle.
Is it heaven? Well, yes, we are on our way to heaven, but not as traditionally described. Instead, it is the new heaven and the new earth of which we get a glimpse in Revelation, a new way of living and being in the presence of God always. It is affirmation and transformation. We are reminded that we are loved and called into new life and new hope and into a community of mutual support and encouragement.
This end, this goal, this hope is in sight because we are living it out every day. Every time we act as the church in the work of discipleship and reconciliation and joy, we reflect this hope; we glimpse this destination. We are a people who live with the end in sight.
Welcome pilgrims on the way to the cross.
For those who feel Christ near, may we not turn away from the discomfort of the journey ahead.
For those who feel as far from Christ as the desert is from the ocean, may we find Christ in the wilderness with us.
For all of us who stumble and fall in our silence, indifference, and lack of generosity, may we reach for the hand of Christ, who raises us up to continue on the journey.
In the words of Rich Villodas, “In our minds, holiness is usually about what we abstain from. But Jesus saw holiness as what you give yourself to, namely justice, mercy, compassion, love, and hospitality. In the end, the holiest people are the ones who love well.”
May we continue to live well by loving well all whom we meet. And all God’s children said, Amen!
The following prayer is from our Bishop, Debra Wallace-Padgett:
God of us all,
Our hearts are heavy and grief-stricken at the brutality, hostage-taking, deaths of those of all ages-including children- and growing conflict in the Middle East. The horror and pain being experienced by those involved in the war, including innocent civilians, is beyond our comprehension.
We pray for:
- comfort for those who are grieving,
- aid for those who are injured,
- food and housing for those who are displaced,
- a deep sense of your presence and guidance for those in the middle of the conflict,
- and wisdom for those in charge of decisions that affect the region.
You are the God who created the world and has brought peace in difficult circumstances throughout history. We ask that you bring the best possible outcome out of this complicated, heart-rending, and devastating situation.
We also ask that you use us as instruments of your peace in our personal relationships, families, work environment, nation, and world. These things we pray in the name of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.
Now let us pray for one another, for our church and community, for our nation, and for our world:
Holy Mystery, you have so many names. The Torah calls you Creator. The Quran calls you Peace. The Gita calls you Destroyer. The Dharma calls you Truth. The indigenous people of this land call you The Great Mystery. And the First Epistle of John calls you perhaps the most beautiful name of all: Love.
You are the strange love uniting all things – the love that drew elements together after that Big Bang, the love that drew life itself from those primordial oceans, the love that drew us all to this exact moment. The love we were born of, the love we exist in, and the love we will one day return to.
In Christian faith, you expressed yourself through a barefoot rabbi who embodied your perfect love. A crucified carpenter who gave only two commandments: Love God and love neighbor, because there is no love of God without love of neighbor.
Help us love not just in word, but in action. Help us honor not just the name of Jesus, but the way of Jesus. Help us free the oppressed, feed the hungry, house the homeless, heal the sick, release the prisoner, welcome the stranger, forgive the enemy and, above all, protect your creation.
The word of God is love. Let us not be hearers of your word but doers of your word in our families, in our communities, and around the world. Not just with prayers, but with actions. Not just personal love, but communal love, with agape that crumbles the walls and removes the gates of division, segregation, isolation, and oppression.
Holy Mystery, open our minds, open our hearts, open our hands so that we may build a new world in the shell of the old. A world that is more just, more free, more whole, and more in love with you. In all your many names, we pray.**
- Unless listed below, all works cited within the text above.
- *Today’s message was adapted from the planning and preaching notes for October 22, 2023, at Discipleship Ministries.
- **Adapted from Texas Rep. James Talarico’s Invocation before thee Texas House of Representatives, March 24, 2021
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