St. Augustine of Hippo


Episcopal Church

 


“Who Has Your Allegiance?”


by

The Rev. Nathanael Saint-Pierre

(Matthew 22:15-22)


October 18, 2020


Have you been missing your church gathering during this time of confinement and physical distancing? What have you missed the most? Your friends or to worship in-person? What about your connection with God?


As if Matthew wanted us to forget he was a Tax collector; it is the Pharisees and the Herodians that he exposed in the text for today. Determined to eliminate Jesus – he was a thorn in their feet, meddling in their business – they sent their disciples and a few Herodians to trap Jesus with a question. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”


The answer to such a question was not simple. Sometimes, we are so softened by the flattery presented up front, we don’t realize the trap that follows. We spontaneously answer questions, neglecting to evaluate the consequences of our talking. What is it that Jesus in his answer wants us to learn? Who are we faithful to?


The text we wrestle with today is having Jesus make a choice between the state and the temple, between the emperor and God. It started with flattery designed to get Jesus to lower his defense and make him vulnerable. Then got serious when the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians asked Jesus “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” They thought their trap infallible, but Jesus made it a matter of allegiance. “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” What does then belong to God?


It is a fact that churches, all denominations included, go through change of leadership many times during their lifetime. Even churches that are founded by a person, go through change in leadership, for no founder can live forever. These changes are never without their challenges because people get attached to their leaders and we are animals of habits. But churches are not private properties bearing allegiance to a pastor, a priest, or even a bishop. When we are baptized, we offer ourselves to God and God becomes the object of our worship and faithfulness. Humans come and go but the church remains.


During my 28 years of ministry, I have seen churches decrease in attendance when a new priest arrives, I have seen donations plummet, and have heard so much misinformation. People, to justify these decisions, blame the new leader. S/he does not preach well enough may be among the most popular reasons. S/he is not as friendly as the previous priest/pastor. When Father So-and-So was there the church used to … Father So-and-So was kind, handsome… This minister is woman… Church of … is not the same since Fr So-and-So's departure. When we are part of those who stop attending church or donating, the right question to ask ourselves is who do we come to church for? Another one might be, why do we donate to church?


Taking Jesus’ response into account, we can affirm that church does not belong to an individual may s/he be a bishop a priest or pastor. Despite its tax-exempt status, the church must not forgo its mission to promote an oppressive government. The church is the body of Christ. It belongs to God. We attend church seeking to be God’s presence in the community. We give to the church to allow the church to meet its burdens and mission. We attend church to praise God together, to be the hands and feet of God in the world, to pray together and be in communion. A good preacher is just a bonus we are blessed with; s/he is able sometimes to enhance the worship. But every excellent preacher may have a bad day. We don’t attend church for sermons because God inspires the preacher and not all ministers received the talents of preaching. God’s message is not designed only to please. God’s message comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. The most important is to offer ourselves, our TIME, TALENTS and TREASURE, because they all have been given by God.


Attending church is an act of gratitude. Attending Church is an act of faith. We don’t support the church for self-recognition or to dictate our will to the leadership. We don’t support the church to punish or reward the minister. We give to and support the church “For all things come from you, O Lord, and of your own have we given you.” 1 Chronicles 29:14


Being Christian is to be committed to God and to God only. Being Christian is to have allegiance to God. We might live in the world, but we are not of the world. In all that we do, we must glorify our heavenly citizenship. We must embrace God even in those things that displease us. Amen.