ScriptureReadings: Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99; I Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22
Theme: The God who has said “yes” to human beings invites people to conversion, so we might make our loyalty to the Triune God the first priority in our lives.
In parts of the church conversion is talked about as intellectual accent to a set of propositions (propositional truth). Other parts of the church have dropped all discussion of conversion no longer inviting people to make a choice for God. N.T. (Tom) Wright speaks about conversion as “loyalty shift”. Bob Dylan put it more bluntly: “You gotta serve somebody.” All of this Sunday’s readings raise the question where does our loyalty lie? Who are we going to serve?
The Psalm declares that God is King, the implication being that the monarch’s subjects will be loyal. Moses in his prayer states the only way Israel will be recognized as the people of God is if God goes with them – and that requires the people ofIsraelbeing loyal to God. Paul reminds the church in Thessalonica they face persecution because they are loyal to the God who chose them to be God’s people. Further these three texts regard loyalty to God as being explicitly corporate – “the peoples”, “the people ofIsrael” and “the church of the Thessalonians”. Conversion – being loyal – is not just a “Jesus and me thing” it is also about the community of the church – the people of God. While the passage from Matthew does not explicitly reference corporate loyalty, it is implicit.
In the Matthew passage Jesus asks people to decide who they will be their first loyal – Caesar or God. Jesus does not say Caesar has no role; instead Jesus puts Caesar where Caesar belongs. Caesar is to be given his due, as is God. And what is God’s due? Everything we have; for everything we have comes from God. Even Caesar’s authority comes from God. We are invited to choose which will be our primary loyalty – Caesar or God – the nation-state or God – the economy or God – our trust in human progress or our trust in God. This is not a once-for-all-time decision; instead it is to be made anew day by day, week by week in the life of the people of Jesus Christ.
“The habit of continuing conversion…has to do with more sweeping ecclesial practices that embody the purposes and intentions of God to make all things new. It comes by attending together to the formation-script itself. It involves ecclesial habits that so inhabit the biblical announcement that “the reign of God is at hand” that the church becomes a virtual announcement of it, presented to the views of all as a lived expression.” – George Hunsberger
“Jesus both dignified and delimited the state in his superb reply – dignified it by saying it had “things” due it, delimited it by distinguishing it from God.” – Frederick Dale Bruner
“A Wealth of Words” by Brenton Prigge
“Seek ye first theKingdomofGod”
“Lead on, O King eternal”
“All hail the power of Jesus’ name”
Almighty God, supreme Governor of all, incline your ear, we beg you, to the prayer of nations, and so overrule the imperfect counsel of human beings, and set straight the things they cannot govern, that we may walk in paths of obedience to places of vision, and to thoughts that purge and make us wise; through Jesus Christ our Lord. – Woodrow Wilson
Eternal God, because of what you have done in Jesus Christ we know that in spite of al that is wrong in it this world belongs to you. Help us, and all Christ’s people, to live and speak the good news of your love so that all human life – our life and every life – can be an offering to you. We ask it in His name.
From “A Call to Prayer” ed. Caryl Micklem