Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at 10 am at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, October 16, 2011
And Jesus said, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's.” When they heard this they were amazed and they left him and went away.
The Pharisees were amazed. And then they left him and went away.
We read the Gospel every Sunday. Many of us have done this our whole lives. We hear Jesus in little snippets and stories and they have become so familiar. There’s comfort in that. But when was the last time we were amazed by the Gospel. I mean open-mouth, head shaking, heart-stopping amazed? Because Matthew tells us that’s what happened here. The Pharisees were amazed. And then they left and went away. That’s how amazed they were … they just couldn’t take it, they had to get out of there. Well, I look around and we’re all still here and nobody has called any paramedics yet, so I’ve gotta believe the Pharisees are hearing something we’re missing. Something that would stop us in our tracks and rock our world. Something truly amazing.
What could it be?
The Pharisees are coming to Jesus trying to trap him with this question about taxes. If Jesus says taxes should be paid then it looks like he’s in with Rome and he loses his street cred as a prophet. If Jesus says taxes shouldn’t be paid, then he’s a criminal and they can have him arrested. They’re thinking Jesus is the one who is going to be amazed at their cleverness and go away.
But Jesus does the amazing here. And not just because he was clever enough to avoid the trap. Jesus takes a coin and uses it to say that whatever image is on something tells us who it belongs to. The coin has Caesar’s image on it so it belongs to Caesar. Let Caesar have his own. No big deal there. But Jesus doesn’t stop there.
Jesus said, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
Well what is God’s? What bears God’s image? That’s what makes what Jesus says amazing. Because the answer is … us.
We are made in God’s image. We bear the image of God. And God will have God’s own. The implications of this are staggering. And if they don’t amaze us, then we are not paying close enough attention. What does it mean to give to God what is God’s? It means three things that can be summed up in one sentence:
God wants all of us.
First, God wants all of us.
A few years back, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called “Outliers,” which looks at what makes exceptionally successful people exceptionally successful. He found that, yes, there is a certain level of innate giftedness but even more than that it is about opportunity. And the most important opportunity is the opportunity to practice. And he tells this story about a boy named Billy.
Billy grew up in suburban Seattle in the late 1960s. Now every year, the Mother’s Club at Billy’s school did a rummage sale to raise money for something for the school. One year they decided to use the money to do something that was really weird for a middle school in 1968 … they used it to buy a computer terminal. What that meant is that at a time when most colleges didn’t have public computer terminals, Billy was able to do real-time programming as an eighth grader.
And he loved it. Billy lived in the computer room for hours and hours and even days and days. And so when the University of Washington was looking for people to work on some software in exchange for even more computer time, he jumped at it. At age 15, Billy was logging 20-30 hours of programming time a week, even sneaking out of his house in the middle of the night to take advantage of the 3 am to 6 am slack period when the computer at the university wasn’t in demand.
By now you may have guessed that Billy … is Bill Gates. And Gladwell’s point is not that Gates doesn’t have real talent but that what made him one of the world’s great masters of computer technology was not so much a superabundance of talent but this unique, ahead of his time opportunity to practice. Because here’s the thing: If you look at people across cultures who are world-class masters in something – anything – from figure skating to fiction writing, from being a master craftsman to being a master criminal , they invariably have one thing in common – they have at least 10,000 hours of practice. Ten thousand hours. That is the universal threshold for mastery.
10,000 hours. That’s 8 hours a day, seven days a week for nearly three and a half years without a break. That is giving your life to something. But if we are to become masters … at anything … that’s what research shows that it takes.
Give to God’s what is God’s.
10,000 hours. Giving our life to something. That’s what God wants. God wants all of us. God wants us to know God like Bill Gates knows computer code. God wants us to know God like Albert Pujols knows the spin on a split-fingered fastball. God wants us to know God like Pat Partridge knows the organ! And the only way we do that is to give our lives to God. Not just an hour a week or a little bit here and there. But 10,000 hours. Minimum. That means 10,000 hours of prayer at home and worship here. It means daily reading of the Bible. It means every month, every week, every day, giving ourselves to God in service of loving those most different from us and challenging to us. It means practicing giving of our money, of opening not just our hearts but our wallets and over and over and over again giving until we learn that money is not our master but just another way of giving glory to the God who gives us all.
Give to God what is God’s. And that is all of us. 10,000 hours. Minimum. And just ask Bill Gates, just ask Pat Partridge, there are no short cuts. God wants all of us.
But it doesn’t stop there. Because God doesn’t just want all of us. God wants all of us.
Our former Bishop, Hays Rockwell used to say, “The image of God is on every single person … only on some it is in deep … deep … disguise.”
I know many of us have been following the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York and some of us have been involved in the Occupy St. Louis protest at Keiner Plaza. I spent part of a morning there this week listening and learning. One of the priests in my colleague group, Daniel Simons, works at Trinity Wall Street in New York and wrote the best piece I have seen on the protests and I want to share a bit of it here:
“One of the taglines most seen and heard on the street is “We are the 99 percent.” It has an unintended double-entendre. It points to the supermajority who are suffering the systemic manipulation by ruthless profiteers, but it also points to the fact that we are all complicit in creating (and resolving) what ails us. And from my perspective it doesn’t go far enough: We are the 100 percent.
“I write and preach regularly that in God’s economy there is only an “us,” and whenever we fall back to us-and-them thinking, we are contributing to a powerful but failed system that Jesus came to tip into collapse. Jesus in his Resurrection, steps beyond death and creates a new dimension. There is no retribution for his killers, how could there be? – he has just stepped into larger life where the only message can be: ‘Come on, join in the party.’ Any act of scapegoating - it’s their fault; this one is to blame - feeds the old death-bound beast. Making something new is making something together - receiving something together from a God who gives all.”
Give to God what is God’s. And God doesn’t just want all of us. God wants all of us. And there is no them. We are not the 99%. If we are in Christ we have to be the 100%. Because the image of God is not just on some of us, it is on all of us. It sounds great. It sounds great when we sing of ourselves as a fully inclusive Cathedral. But the truth is it’s incredibly hard.
And that’s why Daniel goes on to say:
“Pretty as it sounds, it’s never smooth; there is huge upheaval and conflict along the way to larger life; there are huge risks and uncertainties, and there’s always the underbelly of human fear and insecurity that all of us strive to overcome. Fortunately, Jesus is pretty patient, since it’s taking us awhile to get it.”
“We are the 100%.” No scapegoating. No exclusiong. Only “Come on, join in the party.” When we call ourselves an Oasis congregation that is what we are saying, but it can’t just stop at the water’s edge of sexual orientation. God wants all of us. I hope if someone came here and said, “You know, no offense, but I really don’t want to be around gay and lesbian people and ‘their culture.’ So sure they can be in the room, but they just need to go over there and not bother us.” I hope that if someone came in here and said that, that nobody in this room would have any problem saying “I’m sorry, that might fly in other places, but it’s not OK here. Because Christ Church Cathedral is for everyone.” And having said that say, “Come on in, join the party.”
But here's the thing. If that’s going to be our answer for that, it has to be our answer for everything. It has to be our answer when someone says, “You know, I really don’t want to sing those African-American spirituals … can’t they just do that at the Black History Month potluck and leave us out of it.” Or “You know, I’m really not interested in being around children – why do we have to worry about whether they are connecting with our liturgy.” God wants all of us and God gives all of us to each other. And we get to receive those great gifts! And we’re all invited not just to join in the party but to join Jesus in throwing the party together. We are the 100%. Poor and rich. Young and old. Liberal and conservative. Gay, straight and everything else. White, black, brown and more. And it’s hard work seeing that image of God on each other. It’s hard work letting the people most challenging to us have an equal voice in shaping things that are so dear to us. But this is the party Jesus is throwing with us. But that’s the path to the kingdom of God. Because God wants all of us.
Are we beginning to see why the Pharisees were amazed and went away. God wants all of us. God wants all of us. 10,000 hours. Fully embracing the people who make us the most uncomfortable. A party with lots of different music, some of which we’re not really sure about. It can feel like climbing Everest. Except there’s one more amazing thing … the most amazing thing of all.
Give to God’s what is God’s. Well we belong to God. God wants all of us. The greatest power, the deepest love in all the universe and God passionately wants each and all … of us! We begin every Eucharist with a prayer that starts “Almighty God, to Whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from Whom no secrets are hid.” And like Jesus’ words to the Pharisees, I think if we ever truly got what we were saying we would scream and fall over unconscious.
Because what we’re saying is God WANTS ALL of US. That God knows us intimately, better than we know ourselves. God knows us in ways that if we stopped to think about it would scare the pants off us. If it takes 10,000 hours to master something, God has not only a master’s degree in each of us but a Ph.D and 15 post doctoral degrees. That God knows us that much and wants us more than we can possibly imagine. More than Bill Gates wanted to be at that computer. Enough to live for us and die for us.
The life we are called into together is amazing. And if we’re not amazed we need to look and listen again. The life we are called together to embrace is challenging and rewarding beyond measure. It will take 10,000 hours and more and there are no shortcuts. It will take rejecting the world’s us vs. them thinking and not settling for anything less than “We are the 100%.” It will take the security of loving each other into believing that God knows us more deeply than we are comfortable anyone knowing us and loves us more faithfully and powerfully than we can believe possible.
But we can do it. Together.
Together, we can give our lives to God, 10,000 hours and more.
Together, we can face the incredibly challenging quest to be not the 80% or even the 99% but the 100%.
Together, we can love each other through any conflict and slay any giant. And together with Jesus we can throw the blowout party of all time.
Together, we can do all these things and more because what we all have in common is each of us and all of us are loved beyond bounds by a God who will let no barrier keep God from us. We are loved by a God who wants us more deeply than we can imagine wanting anything. And who will walk with us every step of the way. AMEN.