A.J. Thomas serves as the pastor of Morehead United Methodist Church in Greensboro, NC and shares these sermons with you.
You can join the Morehead congregation for worship on Sundays at 9 am (informal/contemporary) or 10:55 am (traditional). We're located in Northwest Greensboro at 3214 Horse Pen Creek Road, 27410.
16 Now the
eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. 17 When
they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. 18 Jesus
came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on
earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20 teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.
Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
10 The Human
One came to seek and save the lost.
Opinions are like belly-buttons:
Everybody has one.
Nowhere is that truer than in the church.Everybody has an opinion about a great number of things.My email inbox testifies to the reality that
you all have opinions.Come to a
committee or Church Council meeting, and you will see with your own eyes that
people have opinions.Opinions about a
great many things, from issues large to issues small, we can be an opinionated
Many of those opinions are quite good and worthy of serious consideration –
not all of them, but I won’t name names – but really, many of the opinions
expressed are good.The tricky thing is
to discern among those many good opinions which opinion gets the most serious
Growing up, we had a neighbor who had opinion about everyone else’s house
on the block.“I think you should paint
your house or your trim this color.”“I
think you should re-do your front porch in this way.”“Your yard would look so much better if you
planted this and trimmed it like that.”He had all sorts of opinions about what everyone’s house should look
like and what everyone should do, but there was one big problem.His neighbors owned those houses, not him.
What about the church?Who owns the
church?To whom does the church
belong?That’s a question with only one
right answer.It belongs to Jesus.He is its owner.He is its Lord.The church belongs to Jesus.
The church doesn’t belong to the pastor.Even if the pastor is the founding pastor or has been around for
decades, the church doesn’t belong to the pastor.
The church doesn’t belong to any group within the church: not even the
trustees or the Church Council or the leadership team.
The church doesn’t belong to the denomination, even though they own the
building, even though we are proud of our theological heritage, the church
doesn’t belong to the denomination.
And lastly, the church does not belong to the members, not even the founding
members.That doesn’t change the fact that
members sometimes act like they own
the church, such as the lady who said to me one time, “I was here before you,
and I’ll be here after you,” which was apparently her reasoning for why we
should do what she wanted to do, and I replied, “That’s true, but there is
someone who was here before you, and he’ll be here after you, and his name is
Every church has only one owner – Jesus.And unless we’re clear on that, we’ll always struggle about what we’re
supposed to do and how we’re supposed to do it.You see, our opinions and desires need to be informed by Jesus – his desires, his wishes, his will for
Ultimately, the church belongs to Jesus.He is its owner.He is its Lord.We don’t own the church, but it’s been
entrusted to us by its owner – we are here to do what Jesus wants us to do.
And what does Jesus want?Look at
the Scriptures we’ve read today.He
wants the church to make disciples.Why
do we exist?To make disciples.What is our purpose in being?To make disciples.Do you have a different opinion?That’s nice, but this church belongs to
Jesus, so we are going to do what Jesus wants – which is to make disciples.
The Scripture from Matthew 28 we read is called, “The Great Commission” –
it’s where Jesus gives marching orders to the fledgling church about what their
mission will be after he returns to Heaven.
Sometimes we get this idealized picture of the early church – a golden age
of the perfect group of Jesus followers who were super-spiritual and effective
at their mission, but they were deeply-flawed and prone to bickering and
confusion – like us.That realization
gives me some hope that if they could do it, maybe we can, too.Just look at the text:
Eleven disciples, worshiping and doubting
It starts out by saying “The eleven disciples went to Galilee.”Not the 12 Jesus called.Not the 12, that number of perfect, symbolic
harmony and completion.Nope, 11 – not
altogether with it, not perfect, flawed.11 – a reminder of thebetrayal
of Judas against Jesus that took place within their midst.
Some worshiped, and some doubted.Clearly, they weren’t all on the same page, they weren’t in agreement
about who Jesus was and what their next steps were, some were all-in and ready
to move ahead, others were still questioning everything and holding back –
sounds familiar, doesn’t it?The church
then wasn’t that different than the church today.Jesus didn’t wait for them to all come
around, rather, he gave them their marching orders, their reason for existing,
which was – to make disciples.Jesus
trusted his life’s work and mission of seeking and saving that which was lost
to this flawed, imperfect group of believers and doubters.Sometimes, not everyone is going to come
along or get on board with where the church is trying to go, but again, our
opinions, enthusiasm, or lack thereof doesn’t change the mission.We don’t change the mission based on opinion
polls or surveys or to suit the needs of skeptics and doubters.Jesus commissioned his flawed and imperfect
church to make disciples, and that’s what they did, and what we’re still doing,
Go, and Make Disciples
Jesus told them to, “Go, and make disciples.”He didn’t say, “Sit inside a building, make
sure the doors are unlocked, and if any happen to wander inside on their own,
make sure they learn about me.”No, he
said, “Go.”Get up, get moving, take the
initiative.Build relationships with
people who are not part of any church and invite them here.Tell them about your faith.Tell them the
difference Jesus makes in your life.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Everyone I know goes to church!” In fact, the
longer you’ve been a Christian and part of a church, the more likely it is that
most of your relationships also go to church. If that’s you, then it’s time to
meet some folks who don’t.Join a
bowling or golf league.Join a garden or
hiking club.Get involved in some sort
of community-based organization.Get to
know your neighbors.There are all sorts
of people all around us who don’t have a church to call home; we just need to
get to know them.
We also need to let go of the idea that “everyone” goes to church, because
“everyone” doesn’t.Across North
Carolina, right here in the buckle of the Bible belt where many counties report
having more Baptists than people, any given weekend only 22% of the population
is in church.
78% of the people around us are not regularly engaged or connected with a
faith family. Some folks see that as a travesty, but I see an opportunity, not
one that’s rocket science, either.Churches who reach those people in their communities have three major
things in common.
First, they are crystal-clear that Jesus is in charge of
the church, and Jesus wants the church to make disciples, and they stay on
target with that, no matter what.
Second, they discover something
about who they already are that lends itself to making disciples.
Third, they create a culture of
invitation among their members.
Friends, I believe with every fiber of my being that Morehead Church has
the potential to be one such church.We
have the potential and the ability, if we are also willing.
First, from this day forward, let us be resolute in the conviction that the
church belongs to Jesus, and is here to do what Jesus wants.Regardless of our personal opinions, let us
be firm in the knowledge that Jesus wants us to make disciples.From this day forward, let there be no
argument that this church belongs to Jesus, and we exist for the purpose of
Second, what do we have to offer?We
have a reputation for being a warm, welcoming, inclusive church.We have a reputation for being like family in
the best sense of the word.We are the
family of God!78% of the people around
us are not regularly connected to a church family – that means we have the
opportunity to be their church family, if we are willing to do the third part:
create a culture of invitation.
This is one we need to work on.All
of us.We have a culture of welcome down
pretty good.When folks show up, they feel
the love.What we need to do is move
from being welcoming, which is good, to also being invitational.Morehead Church is one of the best-kept
secrets in town, and friends, it doesn’t need to be kept a secret any longer.Every person here is part of getting the word
out, as each of us invites people to be part of this family of faith.
We’re not trying to be obnoxious or pushy, we’re not trying to shove
religion down people’s throats, but hopefully our experience as being part of
this family of faith is beneficial to us, and we want other people to
experience the joy and meaning we have found.News of new life in Christ, and the acceptance we find in this church is
too good to keep to ourselves.News like
that is meant to get out as we love people into the family.
In fact, if all those pieces come
together, that’s a good description of what we can, should, and will be as a
neighbors into God’s family.
Friends, that is what I believe we are called to do.It’s a vision that brings together Jesus’
desire that we make disciples, and the best of who we already are as a church:
a faith family.The only thing that’s
really missing is that culture of invitation, but here are some tools to help
you out in that regard.
The Morehead bumper sticker – I want to see one of these on every car in
the parking lot.It’s a simple way you
can let people know you are proud to be part of this church.It raises awareness and visibility of the
church every where you go, and you never know the conversations it might open
up.I have also found I am less rude as
a driver with that thing back there – it’s hard to cut someone off in traffic,
with the name of our church staring back at them as I do.
These “join us” cards.We’ve got
stacks of these lying around all over the church.I find it can be easier to invite someone to
church if you have something in your hand when you do, and these little cards
give you that.Give them to a neighbor,
people you work with, wherever.Sylvia
LeClair uses these in the drive-thru: she hands this card to the cashier as she
pays for the order of the car behind her, and says, “Give this card to the
people behind me and let them know that the people of Morehead Church love
them.”If you see Sylvia pulling in the
drive-thru lane, it’s a good idea to get in line behind her.
From time to time, we put together postcards advertising a special event or
sermon series, such as these advertising our upcoming Advent series.These can also be handed out to invite people
– it gives you something tangible to offer them, and something they can hold
onto if they’re interested.Again, we
have stacks of these all over the church – pick a few up and give them away.
Never under-estimate social media, either.Don’t be afraid to post things that are happening at church, invite
people to them, or share what you appreciate about this church family.I’ve seen great conversations open up that
resulted in an invitation to church, all because you put up something about what
you appreciate about this church.
Be prepared that not everyone is going to accept every invitation.You may have to invite 7-10 or even more
people before one accepts your invitation.You may also have to invite the same person 7-10 or even more times
before they accept your invitation.Again, don’t be rude or pushy about it, and at the same time, don’t be
disappointed when they aren’t ready yet.Every no you receive is just getting you one step closer to a yes.
Above all, be genuine and heartfelt in your approach.You’re not trying to “sell” anybody
anything.You’re simply speaking from
your own experience – considering what you value and appreciate about being
part of this church family, and the difference this church makes in your life.As part of this part of God’s family, that
should come easy.
You and I may have opinions about what the church should be doing.Opinions, after all, are like belly buttons –
everybody has one.So let’s put our
opinions to the side, because Jesus, the one to whom the church really belongs,
has asked us to make disciples by capitalizing on the best of who we are – a
family of faith.
Why are we here?What are we doing?
What’s our purpose?We’re loving
neighbors into God’s family.
After this I
looked, and there was a great crowd that no one could number.They were from every nation, tribe, people,
and language.They were standing before
the throne and before the Lamb.They
wore white robes and held palm branches in their hands.They cried out with a loud voice: “Victory
belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.”All the angles stood in a circle around the
throne, and around the elders and the four living creatures.They fell facedown before the throne and
worshiped God, saying, “Amen!Blessing
and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our
God forever and always. Amen.”
Then one of
the elders said to me, “Who are these people wearing white robes, and where did
they come from?”I said to him, “Sir,
you know.”Then he said to me, “These
people have come out of the great hardship.They have washed their robes and made them white in the Lamb’s
blood.This is the reason they are
before God’s throne.They worship him
day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter
them.They won’t hunger or thirst
anymore.No sun or scorching heat will
beat down on them, because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will
shepherd them.He will lead them to the
springs of life-giving water and God will wipe away every tear from their
It is no coincidence that
a hallmark of Christian worship is music.We sing our theology.Whether
thumbing through the hymnal for time-honored expressions of our faith, or
utilizing newer songs that continue to express the timeless message of our
faith for new generations, our songs of worship are a treasure trove of
On this All Saints’
Sunday, when we celebrate the lives of those who have passed from this life
into the church triumphant, as we rejoice in lives that, in God’s love, do not
end, I think of the verse from that great hymn, The Church’s One Foundation:
“Yet we on earth have
union with God the three-in-one,”
“And mystic sweet
communion with those whose rest is won.”
I can’t sing that verse anymore without
getting choked up.It recalls to mind
all the saints in my life who have entered into their heavenly home and now
rest in the nearer presence of God.I
think of the saints whose lives I have celebrated in funeral and memorial
services.Though death is hard, the
tears that well up at those times are tempered with the knowledge that they
have been graciously received and embraced by God in the life to come.
The scripture we have just
read from the Bible’s last book, Revelation, gives us a glimpse of that life –
a place of perpetual worship, un-ending fellowship, where the trials and
difficulties of this life have melted like frost in the sun.The promise from God is that there will be no
crying, no weeping, no hurt or pain, no sickness, no suffering, and that God
himself will wipe every tear from their eyes.
What’s more – a reunion
awaits all of us in the not-too-distant future.And, that reunion is closer than we realize.We don’t have to wait until we die; the
reunion can take place sooner than that.
Central to our faith,
confessed in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, is a belief in the communion of
saints.Friends on earth are connected
to our friends above.Think about the
intimacy of friendships and relationships that we experience as families and as
a church family – friends, those bonds of love do not end at death.
Ashley and I got back on
Friday evening from 9 days of vacation, driving ourselves around the desert
Southwest, some in Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah, but the bulk of our time was
in Arizona.We didn’t see everything,
but 1300 miles in 9 days, we certainly tried!
Arizona, you may know, is
a beautiful tapestry of Anglo, Native American, and Spanish influence all
melding together.With the build-up to
All Saints Day, everywhere we went, we saw signs that people were gearing up
for their celebrations of Dia de Los
Muertos, or Day of the Dead.
The origins of the day are
for people to remember those in their lives who have gone on ahead of them into
death and celebrate their lives – sounds an awful lot like what we do on All
Saints,’ doesn’t it?
The tradition in places
where Dia de Los Muertos is
celebrated are for families to spend the day in the cemeteries where their
loved ones are buried.They play games,
they sing songs, they pray prayers, they decorate the grave, and they share a
meal together, often bringing and leaving some portion of the meal – not as an
offering to the dead, as is commonly misunderstood – but as a way to include
their departed love in the celebration, acknowledging that though they have
died, they are still a part of the family, and when the family gathers together
to do what is central to families –sharing a meal – even those who have already
passed through the veil between this life and the life to come are still
granted a place at the table, and still included in the family’s meal.
I don’t know what you think about that, but it
sounds like communion of the saints, to me.I can’t help but think that perhaps they have a more robust
understanding and experience of the communion of the saints than we do.
But, you don’t have to
come from a Spanish-speaking culture to understand and experience the communion
of the saints.It may not be in the
cemetery, but we have a meal, too, you know.
Every time we celebrate
Holy Communion, The Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the love and grace served in
even greater abundance than the large pieces of bread I give you serve to draw
us closer to God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit AND to everyone
else who gathers at the table.Communion
connects us to Christ, it makes us part of his body in a way that is as
tangible as the bread in our hands.And
all those who are connected to Christ are connected to each other.Those who have gone on to the Church
Triumphant are still connected to Christ, and therefore, still connected to us
and we to them.Nothing than divide
those who are connected to each other through Christ, not even the seeming
finality of death.
If you read a little
further in Revelation, you’ll see another description of heaven as a great
banquet, a wedding feast, a dinner party.A good meal is a sign of the kingdom of God!A good meal is a foretaste of heaven!As a pastor, I’ve been to more covered-dish
suppers and funeral meals than I can remember.I’ve seen things combined in casseroles that don’t belong together, and
things suspended in gelatin that should never be suspended in gelatin.
On more than one occasion,
someone will say, “Well, we don’t know what else to do, so we brought food,”
but can I tell you, making and sharing a meal is exactly what we should do!It’s a way we show concern and care, and it’s a way we stay connected
with each other, even beyond death.
Imagine the Lord’s table
as standing in that mysterious place between this life and the life to
come.Picture two chairs at the table –
one on the front side and one on the back side.That front chair is for us – it’s where we take our place at the
table.That chair is easy to see and
accessible.But what about that chair on
the back side?It’s a bit harder to see,
but it’s there.It’s for those saints
who have gone ahead of us into the fuller presence of God.Our communion liturgy witnesses to the
reality that we worship and fellowship among “God’s people on earth and all the
company of heaven.”And so, we in this
life take our seat on this side, and our friends who have gone on into the life
to come take their seat on the other, with Christ, the host of the meal, at the
We are at the same meal,
reunited with loved ones as we all connected in Christ, and yet we know that
their reality is different from our own.Our life still contains its fair share of suffering and difficulty,
tragedy and tears.But our friends
seated in that other seat – their life no longer includes pain and suffering
and tears.It doesn’t lessen that
reality for us, or make our grief any less real.You’ve heard the saying, “Time heals all
wounds,” but there are some wounds time will never heal completely.Those of you who have lived longer than I
have carry wounds that time has not healed. Lessened, perhaps, but not completely
healed.The fact is time doesn’t heal
wounds – God does – and some wounds will only receive complete healing in the
life to come.If you want to know what
Heaven looks like, it looks like healing.It looks like mighty and powerful God intimately wiping away every tear
from every eye.That doesn’t take away
our pain, but perhaps it gives us some hope about what our loved ones on the
other side of the table now know and experience.
As we prepare to come to
the Lord’s table today, let us think of those who are in that seat on the other
side of the table.Joining us as we
feast and dine with Christ, filled and sustained with his love and grace, are
James Knight, Chic Aydelette, and Bobby Stanley.Today we break bread again with Minnie
Mitchell, Susie Wall, and Dalton Davis.Today we share the cup with Calvin McGuire, Mable Jones, and Jean
Thornton.Not only today, but every time
we come to the Lord’s table.
Not only each of these,
but all the saints who have gone on to the Church Triumphant.In that banquet in heaven, I imagine it much
more like a covered-dish meal than a catered affair.The body of Christ is a place where each
member brings their best to the table, that’s true whether in heaven or on
This year, I think of
Ashley’s Papa Buddy, and his famous biscuits and coconut cake hitting the
table.I always think of my
grandparents, and Ashley’s grandparents, and my Mom.I know they’re joining us from the other side
of the table, and are already experiencing the fullness of that banquet from
that place where God has wiped every tear from their eyes
As we prepare to come to
the Lord’s table today, who is it you have pictured sitting at the table from
the other side, and what are they bringing?Not even so much the food, but their characteristics and traits?Think of the impression they left upon us,
what of them still lives and grows beyond death, because it lives and grows in
each of us.Think of how the world today
is a little better reflection of the kingdom of God because they walked among
Today, as we light candles
and see their light and feel their warmth, may we sense the presence of those
represented by each one.Today we dine
with Christ, one another, and even those who have gone on before us.Today, a bit of heaven has come to us, and
it’s as real as the bread in our hands.
15 Then the
Pharisees met together to find a way to trap Jesus in his words. 16 They
sent their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to him. “Teacher,”
they said, “we know that you are genuine and that you teach God’s way as it
really is. We know that you are not swayed by people’s opinions, because you
don’t show favoritism. 17 So tell us what you think: Does
the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
18 Knowing their
evil motives, Jesus replied, “Why do you test me, you hypocrites? 19 Show
me the coin used to pay the tax.” And they brought him a denarion. 20 “Whose
image and inscription is this?” he asked.
said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to
God.” 22 When they heard this they were astonished, and
It’s said you can bring up the topics of religion or
politics once at a fancy dinner party, but do it twice, and you won’t be
The Bible, however, is no
slave to social norms, and our passage today is a complex web of politics,
religion, and money – three things my grandmother taught me never to talk about
in polite, public company.The only
thing missing from this conversation is sex – add that one to the mix, and
we’ll have people running for the doors, or perhaps we’d have them running in,
I’m not sure.
Why are these topics off
limits?Perhaps, they are too personal
and private to be discussed among polite people.Perhaps they are too inflammatory – opinions
on such matters run deep – and we avoid these topics in the interest of “just
Politics, religion, and
money get center stage in today’s passage from the 22nd Chapter of
St. Matthew’s Gospel.Here’s the
backstory: An occupying army of Roman soldiers had invaded the country with
much bloodshed and cultural upheaval.Then taxes were collected, and used to fund the same occupying army.The tax wasn’t popular, but refusing to pay
meant imprisonment or death.Taxes were
not paid to demonstrate good citizenship so much as to stay alive.Benjamin Franklin famously said “There is
nothing certain in this life except death and taxes,” but for the people of 1st
Century Judea, it was a matter of taxes or death.
Two groups who ordinarily
have nothing to do with each other have joined forces in their quest to defeat
Jesus.The Herodians were those loyal to
King Herod, who was seen within his own country of Israel as a sellout to the
occupying Roman government – a puppet king whose loyalties lie in Rome, not to
his own people.The Pharisees – devout,
religious, purists – detested Rome and anyone sympathetic to Rome.It was insulting enough to pay the tax, but
to have to use Roman currency to do it – engraved with an image of Caesar and
proclaiming the divinity of Caesar – required them to regularly violate the
first two of the ten commandments.
The Herodians have the
lock on government power, the Pharisees the lock on religious power.Along comes Jesus, an unlikely third party
candidate, but lately he’s been gaining in the polls.The Pharisees see him eroding their religious
traditions and heritage, the Herodians see his popularity as a potential
political threat and the seeds for an uprising.Politically, the only thing the Herodians and the Pharisees had in
common was their hatred of Jesus.Indeed, politics do make strange bedfellows, as now they caucus together
in a united front against Jesus, asking whether it is lawful to pay taxes to
Even Admiral Ackbar could see from a mile away that it’s a
trap.If Jesus answers, “yes,” he risks
losing the support of his adoring public.If he plays to public opinion and answers, “no,” then he can be arrested
for advocating lawlessness and possible insurrection.It’s a trick question with no right
answer.Jesus recognizes the inherent
flaw in the question is that he is being asked to pick a side.
Jesus doesn’t take the
bait, but reframes the question. “Does
anyone have the coin used to pay the tax?”Someone in the crowd produces a Roman
denarius, like this one, and presents it to Jesus.Go ahead and pass this around, although, I
would like it back, so whoever ends up with it, please bring it back to me!
As he casually holds the
coin in his hand, Jesus asks, “Whose image and inscription are on this coin?”
and he knows full well, as his opponents will answer, that the face of Caesar,
as well as words ascribing glory and power and even divinity are on that
coin.The coin that’s being passed
around is badly worn, but you can just barely make out the face in the middle,
and evidence of some sort of writing around the edges.
And so, Jesus says, give
to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.
He hasn’t technically
answered the question.He hasn’t helped
us make heads or tails about the question of paying taxes, but has introduced a
new, more fascinating and utterly more important wrinkle to the fabric: namely,
what – and who – belongs to God.
Before I tackle that question, let me ask one of my
own: why is it, actually, that we’re not supposed to talk about money,
politics, and religion in the first place?Yes, these matters are personal and potentially divisive.People feel very strongly about these
matters, which is just why we should talk about them in the community of faith
– not to tell people what to do but to help them see these issues from the
vantage point of their faith. When you ask what church folks look for in a good
sermon, one common theme is that the sermon will connect to and inform their
daily life; how the biblical story, in other words, connected with their life story.
What is more daily, more
directly related to our decisions and priorities than our politics and how we
spend money?Does not our faith and who
we believe and experience Jesus to be not have some influence on both?Do we not have at least some idea of what the
kingdom of God is like, some picture of what that might look like, and are we
not called to work to bring God’s coming kingdom to fruition?Are we not called to bear a little more light
to an often dark world, to bring a little bit of heaven to earth, and really
mean it when we pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in
Give to God what is God’s
– we don’t have to scratch down too far to realize that it all belongs to
God.Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the
Lord’s, and all within it; the world, and all who live in it.”But that doesn’t really solve the dilemma –
if God already owns everything, how can we give God what God already has?
Think about that coin for
a minute.That coin stamped out by human
hands for human purposes, and the image of Caesar imprinted on it - it’s hard
to ignore the connection to those words from the beginning of Genesis about the
first time God stamped out a human being: “Let us make humankind in our image”
An unspoken question hangs
in the air as the eyes of Jesus meet ours. “And you, my friend: Whose image do you bear?”
Give to Caesar the things
with Caesar’s image, but give to God what bears the image of God – yourself,
your whole self, nothing less than yourself.We belong to the one whose image we bear.We belong to God.
Whatever we render unto
Caesar, or to the retirement fund, or to the offering at church, we can never
afford to forget this: we belong entirely to God. We may divide our budget, but
we must never divide our allegiance.Our
first citizenship is in God’s kingdom, the church exists as an outpost of that
kingdom, the embassy of a people who gather not under the flag of any one
nation, but under the shadow of the cross of Christ.
That’s what we’re supposed
to be anyway. Yet, I find that too often our other allegiances are allowed
higher priority than God.We too often
modify and qualify our identity in God, describing ourselves as conservative
Christians or liberal Christians; young Christians or old Christians; traditionalist
Christians or contemporary Christians.Every modifier and qualifier divides our loyalties and muddies our
identity.Our lives are influenced more
by forces that are economic, cultural, and geographic than they are shaped by
the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Friends, God comes first.Before anything else.Our ultimate, absolute, and final allegiance
is pledged to God and God alone.
While we may feel strongly
about our loyalties, before we are Democrat, Republican, or Independent, we are
Christian.Before we are liberal or
conservative, we are Christian.Before
we are American, we are Christian.No
matter what else, our identity is in God.
Why does that matter so
Think about that coin that’s going around, and think
about the image on that coin.That coin
is 2000 years old.The image has faded
and is barely recognizable.The emperor
died long ago.His empire has
collapsed.Everyone who pledged their
allegiance and loyalty and identity in that earthly empire now have nothing to
show for it.The image on that coin is
faded, and everything that image represents is now gone.
Eventually, all kings and
kingdoms shall fade into oblivion.Rulers and realms will be relegated to the ages.Powers and principalities will pass away.Every nation that rises will eventually
fall.But the name of the Lord endures
The image of God, unlike
the image on that coin and all it represents, doesn’t fade.It is marked indelibly on each of us, it will
last for all time and for the time that is beyond time.
Our value, worth, and
identity is not found in that coin.Not
in the accumulation of those coins and the things they buy, not in the image on
that coin and all it represents.We are valued, every one of us, with
sacred and inestimable worth, because we bear God’s image.Recognize that value on yourself, and
recognize it on all others who bear that image, and you’re on the right track
toward giving God the things that belong to God.
So sure, give to Caesar
the things that belong to Caesar.Some
trinkets?A coin?Sure, why not!That will all fade away, anyway.But give to God the things that belong to God
– starting with yourself.Give yourself
to God, and those other issues about what to do with your energy and time and
money will come along, as well.
But, just to give you an
opportunity to practice, at both ends of each row, you’ll find a permanent
marker.What I want you to do is to
reach in your wallet and pull out a credit card or your debit card, or a dollar
bill if you don’t have any cards.I want
you to mark the sign of the cross on that card or bill, and then put it back in
your wallet.From now on, when you pull
that out of your wallet, the first thing I want you to do is remember that you
are made in God’s image, and nothing you or anyone else does can change that,
especially not the amount of money in the account tied to that particular
card.Once you’ve done that, ask
yourself if the purchase you’re about to make is consistent with the values of
God’s kingdom, and your identity as one who bears God’s image.Use that as an opportunity give yourself to
God again, and ask God to shape your priorities and identity to be more like
It’s been said “Who you
are is God’s gift to you.What you do
with yourself is your gift to God.”Give
God your self.Your whole self.Your very best self, and nothing less.
Let us pray.
O God, all that we are and
all that we have is a gift from you.Out
of your great love, you formed us in your image and breathed into us the breath
of life.When our love failed and we
turned away, your love remained steadfast.
Forgive us for those times
when we live with divided loyalties.Forgive us when look past you for our identity.Bear with us as we learn to give you the
highest place and our first and primary allegiance.
We thank you for the value
and sacred worth you have placed upon us, the honor you give us simply by
forming us in your image.As those who
bear your image, help us to live like that actually makes a difference in our
lives.May we worship you not with lip
service only, but with our whole lives.In Jesus’ name, Amen.