St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
Collect: Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Then he summoned two of the centurions and said, “Get ready to leave by nine o’clock tonight for Caesarea with two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen. Also provide mounts for Paul to ride, and take him safely to Felix the governor.” He wrote a letter to this effect:
“Claudius Lysias to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings. This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them, but when I had learned that he was a Roman citizen, I came with the guard and rescued him. Since I wanted to know the charge for which they accused him, I had him brought to their council. I found that he was accused concerning questions of their law, but was charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. When I was informed that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him.”
So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him during the night to Antipatris. The next day they let the horsemen go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. When they came to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. On reading the letter, he asked what province he belonged to, and when he learned that he was from Cilicia, he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” Then he ordered that he be kept under guard in Herod’s headquarters.
Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.
Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man] shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; and the second married the widow and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.”
Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.”
I have had some time to get reflective recently. The move has been good for us. We have whittled down our piles of “stuff” and reduced to a point of joy and greater simplicity. I have so appreciated the time and space to do so.
This morning’s Gospel is so often read from the negative. It is written that way, but this morning I want to focus on the positive, “Giving to God what is God’s.” and “God is God of the Living.” It may be my mind is going there because of Sunday’s readings from Hebrews about the “great cloud of witnesses.” It may be how I read it today. Whatever the reason, it got me thinking about “What Is God’s?”
After Harrison’s sermon on the 11th at the 8 o’clock, I ran to my office, grabbed my copy of the Message Bible, and took it to him. I showed him this passage with these words, “This is your entire sermon in one paragraph!” (Not a bad thing, mind you, it just summed it up so well.” From Romans 12 (vv. 1-2ish) from The Message translation:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.That, my friend, is giving to God what is God’s, and giving ourselves as a Living Sacrifice to the Living God.
The other reason I am reminiscing this morning is from our reading in Acts. Now in Tuesday’s lectionary reading, Paul was about to be murdered, again. This time his nephew warns the tribune of the planned lynching and they leave a day early to avoid it. They bring Paul to Antipatris, a fort for a Roman garrison. In January of 1994 I was there. I was staying in a dorm at Petah Tiqva a far suburb of Tel Aviv, and someone on staff mentioned that a ruin of a Roman fort was behind the facility beyond the orange orchard. I could not believe it. But I think of the young man, the 24 year old looking for adventure and wanting to walk in biblical footsteps, and how much he thought he knew. And I think of who I am today, and how I long to learn so much more. I see a path, from there to here, getting further and further down the path of giving to God what is God’s.
Paul was being held for his faith, and his safety. I think back on the times when I have been held back, foiled, dismissed, and yet, so often protected in my faith. I was not surrounded by a garrison of Roman soldiers, so I guess my guardian angels have had to work overtime. God is God of the Living, not the Dead. Even in my young man’s follies. Even in my middle-aged routines. Even here I am being surrounded and protected, and called into deeper and deeper discipleship.
I loved that the governor is named Felix, which means “Lucky,” may we all be so lucky as to have someone named Lucky to hear our case. I invite you to take some time today. To think of some of the twists and turns that have brought you to where you are now, to who you are now. Even then, even there, even now, God is with you, and welcomes you home, even at home in yourself. Amen.