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Worship and Sermons
October 18, 2020

“Whose Image Do You Bear?” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, October 18, 2020, Year A / 19th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23) –   Isaiah 45:1-7 and Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13)  •  1 Thessalonians 1:1-10  •  Matthew 22:15-22

THEME:  Give our whole lives to God, whose image we bear.

 

        Have you ever thought about the sheer number of different logos there are on products we buy?  From shirts and shoes, to cars and computers, beer and soda, credit cards and banks – it seems like every company that makes a product or offers any kind of service slaps an emblem on it.

In the world of advertising, there is an entire segment of the industry devoted to helping companies create logos that are memorable.  And companies spend billions of dollars on ads to popularize these images with consumers.

        The whole idea behind a logo is it immediately identifies a product with the company who made it.  Further, the logo conveys the qualities and values that are synonymous with that manufacturer. 

        So when you see an image of an apple with a bite taken out of it on a laptop, you immediately know it’s an Apple computer.  Further, you associate this symbol with innovative product design, excellent reliability and ease of use.

        When you see a swoosh on a pair of running shoes, right away you think of Nike and the “Just do it” mentality of a serious athlete who also likes to look stylish.

That’s what good brand images do:  they immediately identify the product with the manufacturer and the values it stands for.

The use of logos is not a new practice by any means.  The modern era of product logos probably began 150 years ago when Bass Ale began placing a red triangle on its beer labels.  But the practice goes back thousands of years before that.  Back then, the most common place to find a logo was on a coin.

The ancient Greeks put images of gods and goddesses on their coins.  When Rome emerged as the supreme Mediterranean power, Emperors saw coins as a propaganda tool, a way to popularize their own image and the power and prosperity they stood for.  It was a potent combination.

Which is why Jesus uses one of these coins as an object lesson to answer the question of where we owe our ultimate allegiance.

It’s Tuesday of Passover week in Jerusalem.  Jesus’ confrontation with the religious authorities has escalated again, a foreboding sign of things to come.  By tomorrow, the plot to kill him will be in full bloom, but today the religious authorities take a different approach. 

Instead of confronting him directly, they send their minions to try to trick Jesus with a question that will force him to choose between advocating political sedition and the breaking of Roman law, or alienating his followers.  Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?

 But Jesus sees through their hypocrisy.  He asks for the coin used to pay the tax.  It bears the Emperor’s image, encircled by words that declare Caesar the son of God. 
 

“Whose image is this, and whose title?” Jesus asks.  The Emperor’s image, of course.

And then he stumps them all, saying, “Give to the Emperor the things that are the Emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 

They’re amazed at his response.  Not only has he managed to evade their trap, but he’s subtly managed to undermine the Emperor’s power. 

It leaves a question hanging in the air, begging an answer from his questioners.  “How about you? Whose image do you bear?”

The answer was as obvious to them as it is to you and me.  It comes straight out of the first chapter of Genesis:  all humankind, both male and female, are created in the image of God.  All of us bear God’s image.

So, when we contemplate Jesus’ command to give to God what belongs to God, it’s clear that he wants us to commit all we are, and all we have, to God.  That commitment is supreme.  It subsumes and surpasses any other commitment in our lives.

 You and I are living logos, bearing God’s image.  And like any good logo, how we serve God should convey her values and achieve her purposes.

Does that mean we should all drop everything we’re doing and enroll in seminary?  Or maybe go off to some remote spot to live a life of contemplation and prayer? 

Maybe some of us are called to do that.  If you think you’re one of those, please come see me first.  I have a little bit of experience in this area.

But most of us are not called to make such a radical life change.  In fact, the vast majority of us are called to serve God right where we are, in whatever worldly station or circumstance we find ourselves. 

This was the revolutionary idea of Martin Luther, the initiator of the Protestant Reformation.  500 years ago, the Roman Catholic church taught that the calling to become an ordained priest carried greater religious and moral significance than the work of an ordinary lay person.  

Luther wondered about that, so he turned to the bible for an answer.  He looked at the gospels.  He noticed how Jesus freely hands over authority to his disciples.

In Hebrews and other New Testament letters, he read that in Jesus Christ we already have a high priest who intervenes with God on our behalf.  The conclusion was inescapable:  all of us already have direct access to God without the need for an earthly priest. 

We can all pray with and for one another.  We can all share the good news of God’s grace.  This is what Luther called the priesthood of all believers.  It became one of the foundational ideas of the Reformation.

Then Luther expanded on this idea.  If every Christian is a priest, then all Christians have a God-given calling, regardless of where they work or what they do.  These various callings differ in function, but they are all equally holy and equally important in the eyes of God. 

For Martin Luther, that meant Christians don’t have to go searching for some special place where they can obey God’s call.  We have already been guided to the places where God intends us to be his ministers:  in our families and friendships, in our marriages, at work, at school, in our citizenship, and at church.

The example he used was the plowboy and the milkmaid.  Both of them, he said, do priestly work.  Both are called by God to do the work they do.  Both have been given the gifts they need to do it. 

As they serve others through the worldly work they do, they share God’s love, not only with the fruits of their labor, but in the human dealings they each have as they do this work.  All of this can and does honor God.

Friends, that’s how it is for us, too.  You and I have each been called by God to do his work, whether we realize it or not.  We’ve each been given gifts to do that work.  If we take our calls seriously, then all of our life becomes committed to serving God.  That’s exactly what Jesus wants.

Now, you may be wondering, since we are in the heart of our Season of Connection and Commitment, what all this has to do with stewardship.  You knew that had to come up sooner or later, right?

Well, when it comes to financial stewardship, we often hold up the Old Testament model of tithing.  Tithing means that together, we encourage each other to work toward the goal of giving 10% of our total annual income to God’s work here at the church. 

The best way I know to reach this goal is to gradually increase our pledge each year by 1% of our gross income until we can get to the full 10%.  We call this the road to tithing. 

I have spoken with several of you who are on this journey.  It’s gratifying to see the impact it’s having on your spiritual growth.  You know firsthand, not only does it draw us closer to God, but it regularly reminds us that God comes first in our lives.

Obviously, circumstances don’t always allow for this.  But over time, if we make this effort, the payoff in terms of our walk with God is life-changing.  That has been my experience.  And all of us will have the opportunity to take this journey next Sunday when we gather to celebrate Commitment and Reformation Sunday.

 But there is another, broader model of stewardship that encompasses more than money.  You might call it total life stewardship.  It’s the goal that Jesus holds up to us in today’s passage.  The target he sets is not only 10% of our income, but 100% of our lives.  It means offering up to God all that we are and all that we have for God’s purposes. 

Martin Luther himself described what happens when we do this, “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all.  But whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”

Friends, let’s place all that we are in God’s hands.  Let’s serve him with all the gifts he’s given us – not only treasure, but time and talent, too. 

That’s how we become living logos of the Lord.  Not only will we bear God’s image, we will also convey his grace, mercy, justice and love in all that we do.  That is a logo everyone will recognize.   May it be so.

Last Published: October 19, 2020 3:51 PM
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